The Case of the Missing Babies of Tokyo
I read somewhere that Tokyoites have stopped making babies. Close intimacy has become a bore, a burden, not worth the mental effort. Lateral markets have emerged and are thriving: cuddle-brothels, life-size dolls, tentacle porn. Tokyoites prefer friendships, careers and intricate hobbies. Sex comes with feelings attached. Ew. Icky. Relationships are too complicated. Why pay for a date when you can just buy cuddles? On paper the cost-benefit ratio is clear as day, and the risk is all but non-existent.
I’ve been trying to write this poem recently where the central metaphor is people, just like you or me, burning with desire while looking at each other across the graveyard of past relationships. A generation walled in sepulchres, wary eyes glowing from between jars of eyeballs and limbs and internal organs — our failed Frankenstein monsters. Each dead love looms larger than the last, corpses at our feet that we dare not step over, lest we wake them.
That’s one of the great things about creative work: you can explore things from a distance, without becoming too involved. Metaphor is the best self-defense.
I read somewhere that people deliberately, if not lucidly, destroy the things they care about the most in some demented, preventative move to make sure they don’t risk the pain of loss. This is commonplace. This is relatable. This was on Thought Catalog.
That’s kind of like shooting your mother so you don’t have to wait for her to die.
I remember in my first or second year of University feeling desperate for someone to snuggle with and so confused as to why this was such a difficult thing to find. I was, and still am, in the median in terms of feature symmetry, kindness, ability to crack a joke, penis size, tallness and breadth of vocabulary. Maybe in the lower median for some, but still, I’m right there in the meat of the bell curve.
Then I remember this one time as I sat smoking a rollie on the tarmac of the Sorbonne forecourt, distinctly noticing I was being hit on. Her name was Juliette and she was cute, bouncy red curls and a big smile. She has this strange 80s-inspired style and I made fun of that, playfully, but still, a jab is a jab. She kept coming back. When I pushed her to the brink of hysteria with my calculated indifference, she just did the movie thing and kissed me right there in front of a crowd of people we didn't know. Rom-com tactics.
I spent the next 45 minutes telling her why I was not able to date her, and not a nice person in general, and not ready for this kind of commitment, and to just drop it, ok? All she could say was, why? Why not give it a chance? What do you have to lose? I just focused on applying the number one lesson garnered from my University social life: the display of calculated indifference will be your salvation.
I still think about Juliette and inevitably, the adjacent thoughts will be about cowardice. Or time travel.
The uneducated, unwashed masses, they don’t have these kinds of problems. Ok, that’s a false-positive: a white middle-class yuppie kind of statement — “I’d love to be a farmer!” However, the uneducated, unwashed masses are most definitely making babies. They have a host of other, more critical problems, but finding the courage to become involved, take an emotional risk and eventually make a baby — this, they find relatable. I’m sure most don’t read internet listicles about the joys of big-city singlehood and why you should put You first.
So, here we are — we the civilized, post-modern post-humans — hyper-focused on “finding ourselves”, willing to settle for petabytes of porn and terminally non-committal relationship structures: friends with high-return benefits, squeezes, doormats and long-term residents of The Friend Zone. Seeing someone, but not dating them — God forbid. We nuke potentials before they are even given a chance to take root, because there is no anaesthetic for that kind of root canal.
We are too smart for our own good, smart enough to know that love is a blood-sport. The writing is on the wall: everyone’s beating their spouses, breaking up, making up, losing themselves in fixer-upper snags, emotional addictions, co-dependencies…
Babies? Are you kidding? We have career ladders to scale, art to inflict on the world, marathon records to break… Indeed. As the great philosopher said: ain’t nobody got time for that.
Furthermore, it can seem hard to justify at a macro level. China’s one-child policy had unforeseen consequences (gender imbalance, female infanticide, forced abortions…) but many, even today, might reason that the end justifies the means. We’ve all taken biology classes — we all know what happens when populations hit the glass ceiling of their environmental resources. It gets ugly. Thus, we have Green Inclinations, No Kids(GINK) and other similar Childfree movements.
“It’s the selfless thing to do: an environmentalist act of will.”
I respectfully disagree. An environmentalist act of will would be to raise an environmentalist. Rather than take a stand against our natural inclination to pass on our legacy, maybe we should be working to pass on a value system that is not solely based on the accumulation of material wealth.
Children born in rising economies might not have the carbon footprint of First World Kids, however, that is exactly what they aspire to. The current paradigm paints out #FirstWorldProblems as the height of achievement — compulsive shopping, addictions to consumer electronics, eating disorders. No one wants these problems per se, but everyone wants to be able to afford to have them. And with the economic shifts currently in place, the BRIC block breaking the sound barrier on its rapid economic ascent, this might become a reality in the next few decades.
It’s a hard case to make — given my own carbon footprint, my own emotional traumas, my own twisted worldview, how am I to raise a child who will be a better human than me? The answer is simple: that is what our parents and their parents have been trying to do since the dawn of time. I like to think it’s a worthy challenge.
The glass ceiling of Terran resources is not just a metaphor: we will be culled. The culling of humanity may take the form of climactic catastrophes, pandemic diseases, resource wars, or perhaps a shift in the psychosocial mentality of the mammals we have become. Indeed, we may choose to end our very own bloodline, wipe out our genetic contribution to the human race.
And so it goes. Tokyoites and the Japanese in general are heading towards a demographic catastrophe. They are trailblazers on so many levels: technology, fashion, comic book art, nuclear disasters… For all its offbeat character, its fundamental otherness, Japan could be described as a miner’s canary for planet Earth. They are ahead of the curve for better and for worse, like a microcosm of humanity, a virtual forecast.
Except it’s not a simulation, it’s a country — hyper-urbanized, densely populated, production-driven, career-driven, mutating faster than a Godzilla going through puberty — a country in which the median age by 2050 will be 53–55. Germany is another good example, but let’s not mix metaphors.
The big green Canaryzilla is coughing and wheezing, slowly dying of carbon monoxide poisoning. And the rest of us civilized folk are just heading deeper into the mine shaft, following veins of gold and hoping to land on a stash of diamonds. Only it won’t be to make diamond rings, but rather audio cables and drill-bits. It’s really poetic, in a Greek tragedy sort of way.
(Metaphor is still the best self-defense.)
It is especially tragic because underneath the pathos, the drama, we’re still just animals: our primary biological objective is still to take that leap of faith, to grow a spine and step over the pile of dead bodies and into the cold moonlight. Because that is where babies come from.