Written by

Andrew Millar


September 28, 2009

Japan is a country of paradoxes. The fact that a kiddy/cutie brand can add condoms to their range without backlash is just one. I can only explain it away as a difference in culture and attitude. Imagine for a moment if the Wiggles did the same.

But there is a different attitude to sex here. Perhaps it is because you simply need to be practical about such things. This morning I woke to our neighbour making breakfast. Her rooms are so close in the back streets that I could hazard a good guess to the type of breakfast cereal she was pouring. It was, by the ring in the glass bowl, which sounded brown by the way, that it was definitely Kellogg’s flakes from a plastic bag… And so, sex is kind of out of the question unless you are very, very, very, very quiet. Well, dead really… So it’s off to a sex hotel for you.

So sex is practical and planned. And acknowledged. Perhaps that’s why sex comics are readily available at most convenience stores. And whilst they mostly contain violent sex or rape, often with school girls, it is common to see grown men browsing these pulp rags openly on trains. There is a problem with groping in the crowed subways and there are posters deriding such behaviour, but websites where gropers share stories. The police mounded a plain clothes operation to try and reduce the insolence but had to call it off because they keep arresting each other for being suspicious. And then there is the prudish law that forbids the depiction of pubic hair in photos. This leads to a very unusual occupation in Japan… that of crotch scratcher… all imported mags must be individually sandpapered to remove the illegal dots per square inch…

Sure, it is rare to see open acts of affection, even amongst young people… but the all invasive Hello Kitty can be open with it’s marketing… there is a rumour of a Hello Kitty vibrator going around but condoms first…

So to advance the quest for Kitty Condoms we ventured into Harajuku on a Sunday. Harajuku is the area taken over by the youth culture to express their individuality before buckling under, having babies or becoming a faceless. emasculated and exhausted Salary Man. Everything I’ve read said to expect the bizarre and oblique.

What we found was that the rule book was not shredded but simply shelved for the weekend.

It was sad and disappointing.

Firstly most of the alternative culture was very… well, washable… the hair cuts could be combed out, the earrings removed, the tattoos washed off. the hair colour shampooed out. It had a false, temporary and pretend feel. And it had been invaded by foreign transvestites and cross dressers.

There was the odd (no pun intended) Goth or Elvis devotee or Gothic Elvis.. but little else.

On the odd occasion I felt more radical than people a third my age. We got lost in a second hand Kimono stall and the owner was trying to fit me with a yakuta, and ‘informal’ Kimono, when she noticed my shoes. She fell about laughing at a pair of black and white checked Dunlop Volleys… She laughed. And I did a little fashion catwalk parade… she laughed even more. I was genuine in what I wore. I wore them every day. It seemed to dull the local colour.

But my thoughts of an end to my quest in the famous Harajuku were heightened when I saw ‘Condomania’… a small kiosk style store on the busiest intersection of Harajuku. I could not help but go in… and I was followed by a Japanese man who carried a single golf club. The Japanese love golf and from the Shinkansens you can see large netted driving ranges with two or three stories of people swinging a clubs for practice. With country club membership fees that can be as much as a $1 million a year, these driving ranges are the only chance he’ll have to swing at a ball. He may never have touched a wedge or a putter. To him it is the modern Kendo, the ‘way of the sword’ or Kyudo, the ‘way of the bow’, or Aikido, the self defense ‘way of the harmonious spirit’. His 3 wood is his weapon as he follows Golfdo…’the way of the club’. The Japanese have a word for these disciplines… shugyo… it describes a kind of austere discipline aimed at spiritual improvement.

The shop was small and the walls were covered in packets of condoms sitting on little shelves. There were hundreds. He nudged me and pointed to a range of condoms that hung on the wall. These particular ones were wrapped in images of feudal samurai with swords drawn and intense expressions. The analogy was easy to imagine.

‘Grow in the dark…’ he growled in that false base tone Japanese men use to seem more important. I didn’t need to know his preferred ‘Johnny’ was luminous. What, can’t he find it in the dark? ‘Chocorate…’ he growled again smiling and pointing. I didn’t want to ask if he knew where the Hello Kitty ones were hanging so I left.

I watched my new friend walk off down Meijidori with is golf club slung Samurai style over his shoulder.

Martial arts by day. Marital arts at night. He was having a good day.

But my quest remained unfulfilled.