When many foreigners talk about their lives in Japan to their families and friends back home the reaction often begins with awe. This can swiftly change to surprise as certain misconceptions are debunked and our own cultural norms are turned on their heads.
The world over, Japan is still hailed as a technological giant by your average person, so revealing that 90% of companies still incorporate fax machines into their regular day-to-day business can be a big shock. Going by this assumption, it is probably not surprising that most foreigners also assume that the Japanese are well informed and share in an intelligent global discourse where they have access to any information they want. For the most part this idea stands.
However, in terms of sex and sexuality there are a few gaping holes in the fabric. This, of course, is partly cultural. Sex is far more repressed in some ways, such as physical contact in public, and very creative and celebrated in others. One only needs to wander the streets of Akihabara or visit the cellar comic (doujinshi) stores in Ikebukuro to see that. This might suggest that a lot of what is public about sex in Japan is more about fantasy than reality. A phenomenon also seen in the west when porn is generally the first and foremost education for young people.
After discussing experiences dating in Japan, there were some quite glaring trends in terms of expat experiences. For example, sexual health clinics in Japan, where you would expect professionalism and cold statistics, had in fact perpetuated the stereotype that only foreign people have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). During one woman’s check up she was even told by her doctor that she could be lax with her use of condoms when sexual partners were Japanese. Another was told that she should be discreet when taking the pill because of what onlookers would think. In an article in the Japan Times it was revealed that around 17% of Japanese women believed the pull-out method to be a legitimate form of contraception. This kind of attitude is believed to have contributed to the rising number of HIV and AIDs cases in Japan over the past decade.
It’s also a fairly normal thing, in the west, to request that a new partner undergoes a sexual screening before intimacy fully occurs. In Japan, however, this conversation rarely takes place and if it does, it is likely to cause offence. The lack of standardised testing among young people is also believed to have given Japan it’s lower rate of STD’s on official statistics. However, most experts feel these results are an inaccurate example of the countries true infection rate. It’s not only couples who refrain from discussing sex, education in schools has been a plethora of misinformation or silence.
So what does this mean for visitors and foreign residents? Well like any sexual activity in any country, safety precautions should be taken, it’s just a case of common sense really. Japan is an amazing country with a culture that is unique and varied but like any country it has its problems. Educating yourself about social issues, such as sex culture, in Japan shouldn’t impact your stay or opinions on Japan. It should merely give you a better understanding and ability to stay safe and healthy while here.