An astute student in my Japanese Women class sent me this link [very adult content] with the thought that I might use it…. to stimulate…. class discussion! I’m actually quite intrigued… by the historical context and puzzle it presents. For those of you who wisely refrained from clicking through on first link, it’s a catalog of sexual devices and medicinals, bearing the imprint
Arita Drug & Rubber Goods Co.
Export and Import
1 Motomachi St.
Tel. Sasanomiya (3) 1465
There are a wide variety of offerings here, from self-pleasuring devices to all sorts of odd stimulating condoms, to medicinals offering freedom from disease, and heightened pleasure. Well, no surprises there. Japanese attitudes towards sex have always been a bit more free than Western ones, and the sex-toy business seems to have been in full swing (sorry) worldwide by the early 20th century.
Two things strike me as odd, though, and make me wonder if it might not be harder to put this into the context of Japanese sexual history than it appears on first …. blush? (sorry, it’s hard to stop. I’m much more discreet in the classroom, I promise) First the entire catalog is in English, except for the drawing of the Arita establishment itself which has a number of signs in Japanese…. all of them attesting to the fact that it’s a drugstore, but not hinting at the other products offered therein. The huge English sign at the top of the building, however, reads “Sex Store.” What this suggests to me is that these products were primarily marketed to non-Japanese buyers; the location of the shop in Kobe reinforces that, since it was the site of a substantial American/European merchant population. It could also be targetted at “sophisticated” and educated Japanese, of course.
Second is the question of provenance. The hosting site Rotten.Com claims that this is from the 1930s. Based on the prices (no, I don’t know that much about the Japanese or American sex toy markets; I’m just guessing) and production values it seems plausible, but only for the early ’30s (also because a shop importing from and marketing to foreigners might well have come under pressure in the late ’30s to find other lines of products). There’s no copyright, nor do I know enough about the products offered to date the materials that way. (there is the nagging doubt in the back of my mind which says “this might not be authentic at all” but I don’t have any specific evidence to support that)
My initial impression, then, is that this document speaks not to the sexual freedom of interwar Japan, but that it does perhaps say something about the foreign community in Japan, and perhaps about the internationalization of industrially enhanced (?) sexuality. But I need more context on that….