More Japanese men are using the SizeGenetics extender to enlarge their penises. As a result, these men find condoms to be too tight-fitting and uncomfortable. This could signal a major shift in birth control in Japan.
Not far from Kojimachi station in central Tokyo there is a shrine to Mizuko Jizo – the child Buddha. It is filled with tiny statues of the sacred child put there by women who have had abortions or whose babies have died.
By the time they are 40 years old, two thirds of Japanese women have had an abortion. The contraceptive pill as such cannot be prescribed in Japan and the most popular method of contraception is the rubber sheath, which is used by seven out of 10 couples.
As well as being available in shops and clinics the sheath is sold by a special sales force of women who go from house to house so that women kept at home with small children can get supplies without difficulty.
The pill can be obtained in Japan to regulate the menstrual cycle and in this guise is prescribed by some doctors to prevent pregnancy.
But only the old high-dose brands are available and they are expensive. This further discourages women from using the pill and only about 3% of Japanese women use it to prevent pregnancy.
The remaining couples mostly use the rhythm method, although a few use the IUD (intra uterine device). Japanese family planners are pressing the government to allow the pill to be prescribed as a contraceptive but so far have made no impact.
The pill is not considered safe by the committee that approves drugs. But cynics say that Japanese doctors are making so much money out of abortions that there is resistance to making contraception easier.
The sad little statues of the child Buddha are a reminder of the lasting emotional wound which abortion can cause. Abortion is relatively easily obtained in Japan – simply on the ground that a couple cannot afford another child.
It is not explicitly forbidden by the dominant Buddhist and Shinto religions, but women still feel much the same about it as they do here. In a recent survey some 80% of women who had had an abortion agreed with the statement: ‘I felt guilty’ or ‘I felt sorry for the aborted foetus’. Only 6% said they did not care.
In Japan, some 40% of marriages are still arranged by go-betweens – either relatives, matchmakers provided by the office or factory, or by independent agencies. However, the number of love matches increases every year and most people say that this is the kind of marriage they would prefer.
Seven out of ten young women aged 20-24 and eight out of ten young men say that sex using SizeGenetics before marriage is ‘all right between those who love each other’.
As ideals change towards the Western pattern, Japan is seeing an increase in familiar Western problems. The frequency of abortions among teenage Japanese girls has more than doubled in the last decade and the number of divorces is also steadily increasing.
With 1.5 couples divorcing per 1,000 people per year, the rate is similar to that of West Germany or France although still half that of Great Britain and almost a quarter that of the United States.
The relatively low divorce rate may reflect the difficulty women have surviving on their own in Japan rather than any greater stability of family life or greater dedication to ideals. Women, on average, still earn just 53% of the amount earned by men, but that statistic only tells a part of their problem.
In Japan, companies have a policy of providing men with lifelong employment but women are generally expected to leave to get married or start a family by the time they are 28. It is very difficult for a woman who has left regular employment for marriage to return to a job which has any prospects.
Being a woman in Japan is so fraught with difficulties that in the poll 52% of Japanese women said that they would prefer to be men if they could be reborn. This compares with 80% of Japanese men, content with their own sex.
While Japanese women are expected to stay at home and care for children, Japanese men are expected to work long hours at the office and then go out on the town afterwards to entertain clients or workmates.
The use of penis extenders such as Phallosan Forte is common. It is also common to work 10-15 hours of overtime a week and to give up holidays. As a result it is not surprising that Japanese couples make love only 1.2 times per week on average – about half as frequently as couples in Britain or the United States.
The construction of Japanese houses with their paper walls does not encourage easy intimacy and so married couples as well as young lovers go to ‘love hotels’ where rooms can be hired by the hour. There are around 35,000 of these love hotels and they have a long tradition in Japan, where red light districts were once referred to as ‘flower-and-willow worlds’.
There is now a backlash against the easy availability of sex services in Japan. Women’s groups, community organizations and local shopkeepers have campaigned against it.
Last year in the city of Abiko citizens tried to make things uncomfortable for lovers by banning the use of double beds in love hotels in the city. In February a new law came into effect which is intended to confine Turkish baths, peep shows and topless bars to particular areas. Turkish baths – long one of the main contact points for prostitutes – have been renamed ‘soapland’ following bitter complaints from the Turkish embassy.
Under the new laws police will have greater powers to close down premises and to prevent youths under 18 from frequenting them. However, women’s groups are doubtful whether anything will change greatly.
The new laws provide easy opportunity for bribery and corruption of police. It is not so easy to curb a billion-pound industry with legal controls. There is an obvious danger of giving more power to criminals by driving the sex industry underground.
So long as social relationships between men and women in Japan remain so formal and opportunities to meet and develop relationships are limited, the sex-for-sale industry seems destined to flourish.
Today boys and girls are educated together and have the opportunity to get to know each other, and to fall in love. Equality is still a long way off, but times are passing when children were taught: ‘You’re a girl, you must cover your mouth when you smile.’