Shops hawking sex toys, inflatable dolls and such SM goods as whips and dominatrix costumes, are what you'd typically expect to find in raunchy drinking areas like Kabukicho.
But increasingly, reports Sapio (Sept 29), such outlets have been springing up in a two-block area on the west side of Chuo Dori, the main thoroughfare bisecting Akihabara, thereby turning what used to be an district for retailers of transformers, soldering irons and variable capacitors into a colorful bazaar of merchandise catering to carnality.
Dokkyo University economics professor Takuro Morinaga visits "Love Merci," which opened in June 2004. Just beside the JR Sobu Line's elevated tracks and fronting Chuo Dori avenue, the shop consists of a basement -- or perhaps should we call it a dungeon -- stocked with SM paraphernalia, and four floors above ground, all selling sex- and fetish-related goods.
Morinaga comments, "With the ongoing improvement in these kinds of devices, I suppose the more males find communicating with females to be troublesome, the greater demand such items will enjoy."
The shop's second floor displays a variety of sex aids and lotions for females. While Morinaga tours the premises, he notices a steady stream of female visitors.
The next stop is SUNSHOP II, a specialty purveyor of SM goods. Its interior is festooned with photos of women in a variety of poses, artfully hogtied by a bondage master. On its shelves can be found handcuffs, ankle chains, ropes, whips and a variety of humiliation goods. The proprietor tells SAPIO average daily sales are about 200,000 yen, of which 80,000 yen is pre-tax profit.
Morinaga then drops in on Akihabara NeX, which opened last July. Its ground floor displays mostly adult comics. Upstairs, merchandise displays are accompanied by explanatory tags in English and Chinese. The shop employs Mandarin and Korean speaking staff to assist foreign customers.
Readers are next guided to pioneering shop "m's Akihabara," which opened in September 2001. The company also operates branches in Ikebukuro and Tachikawa City. The fifth floor includes a fitting room where customers can try on costumes, and those willing to pose for Polaroid photos in the outfits receive a 20 to 30% discount.
The past several years have seen the successive closures of the district's used computer and electronic component shops, and in their place more and more stores selling adult goods and pornographic DVDs are springing up. Of course, this phenomenon is by no means limited to Akihabara, but reflects a greater openness in attitudes toward sex in general. How else, Morinaga asks, can you explain the people who openly shop for such goodies in broad daylight?
"In past times, Japan was a 'marriage-oriented' society, where one only got to have sex by first getting married," Morinaga observes. "But the current percentage of males in their early 30s who are still single has risen to 49%. One of the reasons for this increase may be that now men can obtain sexual pleasure without marriage. So this demographic has been enabled by the evolution and increased sales of these adult goods."
"Yes," he concedes, "we may very well be on the road to national decline. But this is the reality, and it might actually develop into one of Japan's strengths. This country boasts the capability to come up with all sorts of products, such as machines that emulate complex movements, or dolls with skin having the tactile sensation of real humans.
"Perhaps in the near future, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) might even consider designating adult goods as products for strategic growth," Morinaga chuckles.
SAPIO's article notes the total annual market for such goods is estimated to reach 1 trillion yen.© Japan Today