TOKYO – The Covid-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc across businesses worldwide, but in Japan players in one overlooked industry may be emerging as surprise winners.
Condoms makers are seeing a bulge in demand, business is booming at love hotels on the outskirts of Tokyo and adult toymaker Tenga says sales are holding firm, despite a lockdown that has seen foot traffic plummet at offline sales outlets.
And with the month of “Masturbation May,” well underway, Tenga advises, “this is a great time for self-love and self-care.”
Condom stocks rise
Japan, like many countries around the world, has experienced a shortage of essentials: toilet paper, face masks and flour. Perhaps more surprisingly, prophylactics also make the list.
In April, key global rubber producer Malaysia closed down condom factories, sending shockwaves across the world. On April 13, the Japan Interview Press broke the story that Japanese condom makers Okamoto and Sogami were seeing their stock prices rapidly rising at a rate of 5-10% compared to previous periods.
Okamoto, which claims to make one of the world’s thinnest condoms, is beloved of Chinese tourists. But despite the supply of Chinese tourists falling, Okamoto’s fortunes seem to be on the rise.
A spokesman for Okamoto was not able to tell Asia Times whether sales had actually increased, but on their website, the company apologizes for possible delays in delivery and accepting orders.
Okamoto are not alone. The makers of “Sagami Original: The Happiness of 0.01 milimeters” and the revolutionary “Jelly Push,” Sagami Rubber Industries said their supply lines remain solid despite surging demand.
A company spokesperson told Asia Times that the firm did not have sales figures covering the period of the pandemic, but the demand for condoms has been swelling at a higher-than-expected rate.
Anecdotally, convenience stores in Tokyo near Dogenzaka – Shibuya’s “Love Hotel Hill” – are in short supply of condoms.
Loving the hotels
Tourism – encompassing transport, hospitality, food and beverage and more – may well be the sector hardest hit by the pandemic so far. But in Japan, one sub-sector of the hospitality industry is finding business far from flaccid.
“Love hotels” are the generic term for lodgings that rent rooms in two-to-three-hour segments, catering to couples seeking a discreet rendezvous.
In or near Japanese cities, love hotels do brisk business as many people live in tiny apartments with poor sound-proofing. This means enthusiastic or noisy bedroom activities can upset neighbors.
Often boasting dodgy interior décor and furniture – mirrors on both floor and ceiling, for example, and vibrating beds – many love hotels offer condoms as complimentary gifts.
Some old-school love hotels offer vending machines stocked with lubrication gels, adult toys and vibrators. More recently, rental costumes have become a staple of classier establishments.
Amid the pandemic, repeated admonitions by Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike to stay at home appear to have had the opposite impact – generating a boom for suburban love hotels.
According to J-Cast News, love hotels just outside Tokyo in neighboring Kanagawa Prefecture have seen frothy trade from visiting Tokyoites. On Japanese Google, “love hotels” were trending as topical search words during the “Golden Week” holiday in May.
A love hotel staffer tweeted: “What’s all this about staying at home? Since the State of Emergency, the number of people coming during the afternoon has doubled. Does the governor have any idea?”
Others lamented about too much work. “Every day we’re full. When will this end? I want to cry,” read a tweet from another staffer.
Perfect business conditions
Meanwhile, an unusual company is celebrating is 15th year in business – and the prevailing self-isolation conditions may just be ideal for its products.
Tenga – which sometimes promotes itself with the strapline “The company that revolutionized masturbation in Japan” – is the nation’s biggest maker of sex toys and adult goods.
Founded in 2005, Tenga focused on non-obscene product design while innovating handy tools for safer, better sex. The company first launched its “Tenga” brand of male self-pleasure items, and in 2013 expanded its offering with “Iroha,” which caters to females. The company says it has shipped more than 80 million units worldwide since its foundation.
Tenga brought sex toys off the back shelves of dingy sexy shops and into brightly lit department stores, where their core products are displayed alongside Tenga T-shirts, Tenga energy drinks and even Tenga chocolates.
Despite the reduced traffic in offline stores where Tenga retails its products, sales are “holding very firm” the company told Asia Times.
“On our own online sales channels we don’t see any big fluctuations so far, thanks to the still functioning distribution network in Japan, which allows us to ship out orders from our warehouses as usual,” Marie Aoyama, from Tenga’s Global Marketing, said.
“Some of our store partners, on the other hand, are having hard times with less customers visiting the shops and limited stores opening hours.”
Relief at hand
In this time of self-isolation Tenga has almost a missionary zeal, insisting it is helping customers relieve themselves of stress.
“Many people see masturbation as one of the most stress-relieving activities,” Aoyama said. “A lot of people are using it as a form of self-care, saying it improves their mental well-being.”
Sabrina Stone of Tenga’s Global Communications Department points out that this year is the 25th Anniversary of Masturbation May – created by a US sexual device firm to protest US education authorities’ refusal to include masturbation in sex education.
She suggested that those stuck at home need to take matters in hand.
A visit to the Tenga display stand at Village Vanguard books in Tokyo’s trendy Shimokitazawa district on Thursday indicated that many are in tune with Stone’s advice. Some shelves were understocked; others were bare.
Kenji, a 22-year-old college student, seemed troubled while perusing the inventory. “I don’t want to brag but I’m … larger,” he said. “And the US-sized Tenga Cups are out of stock. I’m bummed.”
So why does he not order on-line? “What if my mom opened the package?” he answered. “I’d die!”