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The Kinky Shopaholic's Guide to Japan

When you visit Japan, go to all the temples, gardens, theater and other tourists sights listed in your favorite guidebooks. Once you're done with all the high culture and G-rated, family-friendly goodness, make some time for lowbrow comparative cultural research. There's a load of fun shopping adventure to be had in the various types of sex shops of Japan.

Until recently, Japan led the world in sex toy manufacturing and innovation. After all, Japan is the home of the Hitachi Magic Wand and the original rabbit pearl vibrator. In the past decade, however, the engineering-minded Germans and the quality-focused indie American manufacturers have changed the sex toy landscape considerably. Despite these interlopers, Japan still holds a giant presence in the sumo ring of pleasure technology. So it goes without saying that when in the land of the rabbit pearl, you've got to make a pilgrimage to the source of some good vibrations.

Speaking of Good Vibrations, if you're expecting stylish, gracious and aesthetically pleasing shopping environment as you would at the beloved San Francisco landmark and similar stores, don't hold your breath There's only one shop like that in the whole of Japan. More on that later…

Instead of a serenely elegant erotic shopping experience, expect jam-packed visual clutter of over stocked shelves exploding with color and oozing with graphics of cutesiness, all under the unforgiving glare of fluorescent lights and even more glaring shop clerks. Whether ginormously huge or claustrophobically tiny, the shops generally feel like a cross between eighties-era Times Square porn shop and a dollar store. Sometimes it's part of an actual dollar store.

The easiest start to your sex shop tour is a common but popular discount chain called Don Quijote. It's one of my favorite weird-Japan shopping destinations. Commonly referred to by locals as "Donki", it's a cross between Target and a deep discount outlet. Wind through the narrow isles filled with cosmetics for secretaries and Goth girls alike, and electronics for housewives and bachelors, and you'll find yourself in a corner with a sign barring the under-18 crowd. Not that anyone actually cares, it seems. Everyone from teenage guys and girls to hip young men and women and the creepy guys with bushy ear hair equally shop for adult toys. It's refreshingly democratic.

Along the way to the adult-only corner, pay attention to the party supply, toys, clothing and novelty sections. There you'll find oddly kinky goods. Inventory changes all the time with seriously weird stuff showing up, so repeat visits are highly recommended.

My favorite items this time:

  • Booty pillows complete with thong bikini.
  • Mexican wrestler Santa and Wrestler Christmas Tree masks, which covers several fetishes at once.
  • Pikachu, Hello Kitty and other cartoon character Snuggie-style adult pajamas.
  • Adult-sized schoolgirl outfits in the party supply sections.

In the X-rated corner you'll find vibrators and lubes of all sorts. The pricing is very reasonable here, so get your naughty souvenirs before you fly home. You can find a Hello Kitty vibe for a mere US$18 (they run about $35-$40 in the States).The Shinjuku branch is set up for Duty Free shopping if you bring your travel documents, but I'm not sure if sex toys qualify for it. It's worth a try, though.

The packaging graphics tend to be sweetly cute, with illustrations and color choices that seem more suited for candy bars and kid toys rather than sex. While some of the design choices are meant to appeal to female customers, it's a general trend in Japan to package erotic goods with illustrative cutesiness rather than photographic smuttiness.

Generally speaking, most Japanese find the porno aesthetics of Western sex goods packaging to be grotesque, while Western consumers often find the child-like sweetness of Japanese adult goods packaging to be vaguely disturbing.

Ah the joys of multi-cultural sex attitudes!

As you look around further, you'll notice something different from the Western adult stores. It's hard to find items that look like real human genitalia. Porn star dongs don't ding the cash registers in Japan. Apparently the representation of realistic yonis and lingams fall under the porn censorship law as being injurious to public morals. Combine this with the general Japanese obsession with "kawaii" (cute), and you get oodles of doodle toys designed in Anime sweetness. In recent years, this restriction seems to be loosening. I speculate that it may be due to an increase in on-line product orders bypassing the common inspection methods.

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Midori
January 8th, 2010
Midori's picture
Midori is an artist, educator, and writer about sexuality whose books include The Seductive Art of Japanese Bondage, Master Han's Daughter, and Wild Side Sex: The Book of Kink. Links to her classes,...