Sex in Japan

As with anywhere else in the world matters dealing with sex are of considerable importance in Japan. Japan seems to have a much freer attitude towards sex than does the U.S., at least as to the selling of sexual items. You can buy magazines in vending machines showing nude and semi-nude women whereas in the U.S. trying to sell magazines like that through vending machines would be a quick trip to an arrest and trial.

Japan has, in fact, basically looked the other way on extra-marital affairs. The husband having sex with another woman does not automatically lead to divorce as it often does in the U.S.

"Japan, as again many have observed, is a nation brimming with sexuality. It is a land of so-called ‘love-hotels', signaled by mauve neon lighting and Disneyland architecture, where rooms are booked by the half-hour by astonishing numbers of enthusiastic couples. It is a land where...a majority of husbands have had adulterous sex in the previous year. It is a land that gave the world the ‘bottomless café', where ‘bottomless' does not refer to free refills of the cups.' "Dimensions of Japanese Society: Gender, Margins and Mainstream, 1996

One reason there are so many love hotels, though, relates to the Japanese homes which are still relatively small and don't offer a lot of privacy to couples wanting to have sex, so if you're dating someone the love hotel is about the only practical option available if the two of you just want to have sex.

Love Hotels

One of the unusual things in Japan is what is termed the "love hotel." This is basically a hotel, sometimes with a gaudy external appearance, that features rooms you can rent for a few hours in order to bring your love interest and perhaps have some fun. Some of the rooms are set up in various theme formats and you generally rent a room for one a couple of hours.

There is no stigma attached to using the love hotel, and no major stigma attached to actually having sex with your lover but you should not be seen entering or leaving the hotel. In other words, do what you want as long as no one sees you doing it.

In one of the Maison Ikkoku comics Godai was escorting a young lady he had met home. She had drunk too much and was ill and he was passing a love hotel when he thought he should take her inside and rent a room for a couple of hours to give her some time to recover. In other words you don't always use a love hotel for sex. If you just want a couple hours sleep then you can go there.


There is also the "lolita complex" where older men are attracted to young girls, particular those in school uniforms (sailor uniforms). This is termed rori-kon. Some high school girls are making extra money by going to work for what amounts to sex phone services, handling calls from men and on occasion meeting one for a date. There is no major outcry against this, though, at least for now.

(There is another form of "lolita" appearing today and it is not related to sex at all but is related to a particular form of clothing worn. See my section on Japanese fashion for information on this.)


Then there is also the "Miss Soapland" aspect. The "soaplands" are what used to be called the Turkish baths (complaints from Turkey caused a name change). Many of the soaplands are very elaborate, luxurious and a few are big including one that is some eight stories above the ground and two below complete with one floor that is strictly for women only.

You sign up and are then taken by a lady to a private bath suite. The customer removes his clothes, puts a towel around his waist and enters a steam box where he stays until he has had enough of the steam and heat.

Then he gets out and the woman douses him with warm water and then scrubs him all over. After that comes the massage bunk and what happens from there depends on a number of factors but it might include some form of sex.

In addition to being boiled, washed, massaged and who knows what else (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) you can even get your underwear and socks washed, heat-dried and pressed. Foreign men are less likely to get the sex part, though, due to the AIDS fear and a belief among some Japanese that Japanese don't get it, only gaijin (foreigners).

Vending Machine sex

One of the extremely unusual things in Japan is are vending machines that sell magazines that feature nearly-nude women, sexual ads, etc. In the U.S. such a thing would result in the swift arrest and conviction of the seller but in Japan it's nothing major at all. Here is an example of a cover of one of these magazines:

Another type of thing sold in japan is the doujinshi, or amateur anime fan publications. These vary considerably in size and quality and are very, very hard to get hold of in the U.S. They often feature characters from popular anime shows but shown nude and in various sexual situations.

Women's attitudes towards sex

Something to keep in mind, though, is that the U.S. attitudes towards sex are not necessarily the attitudes of everyone else in the world.

"One should be aware of the fact that women's attitudes towards sex and prostitution are very different in Japan then in the West. Unlike the overwhelming majority of their counterparts in countries where Anglo-Saxon culture is dominant, Japanese feminists do not necessarily see prostitution as evil or degrading in itself. rather, what is really degrading is the way men and women generally use and view prostitutes in Japan. In a country in which prostitution has a long and ,until fairly recently, not especially undignified history, prostitutes are often nonetheless despised by polite society ( including by the men who avail themselves of their services.) Moreover, the very real problem of sexual slavery, notably involving a lucrative Yakuza trade in women from overseas, is often ignored." Consuming Bodies: Sex and contemporary Japanese Art, 2002.


The book Dimensions of Japanese Society: Gender, Margins and Mainstream, 1999, says that "Male homosexuality has continued to be widely accepted in Japan through to the present," but female homosexuality has been less open then men's. It also adds that an androgynous look in clothing has become quite popular.

From the book Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age (2005):

"During the Edo Period there was no necessary connection made between gender and sexual preference, because men, samurai in particular, were able to engage in both same- and opposite-sex affairs. Same-sex relationships were governed by a code of ethics described as nanshoku (male eroticism) or shudo (the way of youths), in the context of which elite men were able to pursue boys and young men who had not yet undergone their coming-of-age ceremonies, as well as transgender males of all ages from the lower classes who worked as actors and prostitutes...The latter group included onnagata, or female-role players, from the kabuki theater as well as kagema, or transgender prostitutes."

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