Japan condom-makers fear anticlimax at Olympics

Japanese condom-makers fear Olympic anti-climax: Covid restrictions and a ban on overseas fans kills hopes of sales boost

  • Japanese condom-makers had been hoping for a rise in sales at Tokyo Olympics  
  • Typically, hundreds of thousands are given to athletes to promote safe sex  while tourists buy novelty or one-off products 
  • One manufacturer even opened a new factory to cope with expected demand
  • But Covid rules have banned overseas visitors and close contact among athletes 

Japanese condom-makers who had been hoping for a major rise in sales at the Tokyo Olympics are now facing a summer flop with foreign tourists banned and strict contact limits among athletes. 

Since the 1988 Seoul Games, hundreds of thousands of free condoms have been distributed at the Olympics, to encourage safe sex as the world’s elite athletes mingle at close quarters. 

But this year just 160,000 will be distributed, while a lack of overseas tourists means the opportunity to sell novelty or one-off designs will also be lost.

It will come as a major blow to manufacturers such as Sagami Rubber which had opened a new factory in Malaysia in 2018 to cope with burgeoning demand.   

Japan’s leading condom-makers have been left facing a shortfall in sales this summer after Covid rules banned foreign visitors at the Olympics and close contact among athletes (file) 

The rulebook for athletes specifically warns them to ‘avoid unnecessary forms of physical contact’, leaving some wondering why condoms are being distributed at all.

The plan to give them out ‘is something I just cannot comprehend’, tweeted Ken Noguchi, a Japanese mountaineer and environmental activist.

Games organisers say distributing condoms is meant to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and that the International Olympic Committee has asked for the handouts to continue this year, despite the pandemic.

‘The distributed condoms are not meant to be used at the Olympic Village,’ the organising committee told AFP.

Instead they are supposed to be ‘brought back by athletes to their respective home countries and to help them support the campaign to raise awareness’, they added.

While the distribution is going ahead, there’s a wrinkle for manufacturers: a ban on their prized model, condoms that are just 0.01mm thick.

As soon as Tokyo was named 2020 host, Japanese condom firms thrust ahead with their manufacturing to ensure maximum coverage in time for the Games.

Now it turns out the manufacturers can only distribute their latex-based condoms, while the ultra-thin models are made of polyurethane, according to the Japan Condoms Industrial Association.

‘When I learned about the requirement, I thought, ‘Oh my God… can that be right?’ an industry source told AFP.

‘We had really counted on being able to offer these (ultra-thin) ones.’

‘It’s only Japanese companies that now manufacture condoms as thin as 0.01-0.02mm,’ spokesman Hiroshi Yamashita told AFP at the time.

‘We see (the Tokyo Games) as an extremely precious opportunity to let the world know about Japan’s high technology.’

The pandemic has brought on hard times, with Japan’s borders effectively closed to tourists and Olympic organisers barring overseas spectators for the first time in history.

In Tokyo’s quirky Harajuku and bustling Shibuya neighbourhoods, the Condomania boutiques managed by Koji Negishi usually attract large numbers of tourists.

But ‘foreign tourists have basically disappeared from this area, compared to 2019’, he told AFP.

Negishi’s shops stock a variety of products intended to appeal to visitors, ranging from the famed barely-there prophylactics to souvenirs printed with iconic Ukiyoe woodblock prints, like the ‘Great Wave’ with Mount Fuji in the background.

‘The ones that are designed as souvenirs don’t sell at all,’ Negishi said mournfully.

‘Now our shop is staying afloat thanks to regular customers from the neighbourhood,’ he added.

However, virus restrictions in Tokyo have also reduced the number of Japanese customers.

An industry source said domestic tastes appear to favour condoms with extra lubricant, rather than the ultra-thin style.

‘From a safe sex perspective, what we want is people using any condom, rather than none,’ he said.

‘So at the end of the day, whatever people choose because it feels good to them is a good thing to us.’

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