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“The sexual products industry is a growth market.”

The European adult market has seen its fair share of change over the course of the last twenty years. Once a market focusing almost entirely on male consumers, the design and product range of stores have broadened to cater to new target audiences. Women-friendly design and products for couples have long since stopped being an oddity, and are now in fact dominating many stores. The development in Japan has followed a similar trajectory, albeit at a more deliberate pace. Miki Watanabe is in charge of sales and marketing at Miraicolors, a Japanese company that has been distributing adult products for ten years. In our EAN interview, she sheds some light on the latest developments and changes in the Japanese adult market.

Miraicolors is a Japanese distributor and retailer. Before we talk more about the market in your home country, could you tell us a bit about yourself and the company?
Miki Watanabe: My name is Miki Watanabe, I’m in charge of sales and marketing at Miraicolors. Miraicolors has specialized in the distribution of high quality sexual products and cosmetics (for example lube) for the Japanese market. Our company was founded in 2007, we have been introducing toys for 10 years to over 100 businesses in Japan. We cover wholesalers and retailers all over Japan.

When was Miraicolors founded and how would you describe the philosophy of the company?
As I mentioned above, the company was founded in 2007. We respect various types of sexuality and want to support a diversity of perspectives for society through sexual products. Also, we’d like to foster the idea that “Sexual wellness products can help one keep oneself healthy, beautiful, and communicative” in Japan.

How would you describe the general business situation for distributors and retailers of erotic goods in Japan at the moment? Are you experiencing a boom or is it complicated?
First of all, the sexual products industry is a growth market and it is growing even stronger with the expanding e-commerce market in Japan. Also, unlike many other countries, there are a lot of porn media shops all over Japan. However, while porn DVDs and videos were the main products in the industry, the sales figure of these media are decreasing.

Consequently, the retailers try to increase sales through sexual products. In the retail shops, the major items are male masturbators and the sales in that category accounts for over 70 per cent of the total.

Normally, the main users of the sexual products are men and the men’s market makes up the majority, but thanks to the increasing number of women who masturbate, the women’s market is also expanding rapidly.
Since the Japanese market has particular business customs, that is the biggest difference compared to the European market. We have wholesaler businesses, and they are still the key factor for overall business, because they cover retailers across all of Japan. Thus, the price calculating system is a bit different; we have three prices –wholesaler, retailer, and consumer.

In addition, retailers still have much more impact than e-commerce, depending on products. For example, in the countryside, there are a lot of shops which generate good sales with men’s products.

In the retail shops, the major items are male masturbators and the sales in that category accounts for over 70 per cent of the total.

You are offering many well-known brands in your web-shop. Are your customers looking for specific brands when they are shopping for sex toys?
Yes, I think so, because the consumers search specific brand names and visit our e-commerce site. Due to our marketing efforts, the name value isn’t so bad in the Japanese market. But this situation only applies to our own e-commerce site. For example, on Amazon, they also search “couple toys” or things like that and then buy it. I’d like to say that high quality items have become well-known, but for normal consumers, these items are also interesting.

Online shopping has changed a lot everywhere. How would you describe the situation in your home market? Are people still visiting brick and mortar businesses to buy sex toys or is the internet taking over?
E-commerce is one of the influence channels for sexual products in Japan, especially women’s toys, because there are few retail shops that women can go to without hesitancy and such shops are only in big cities. However, there are still a lot of shops and the sales are better for men’s products.

When looking at your website, it seems that the best sellers are the same as in Europe and the US. Would you say this is true or are there some products that are unique to your country?
We have been selling We-vibe, SWAN, SVAKOM, Satisfyer and so on. Such high-quality sexual products surely have generated demand in the Japanese market. Most products that we have introduced are women’s or couple toys and they respect women’s perspective on design and functions. This perspective is the key for European or the US toys as well.

Miki Watanabe
Miki Watanabe is in charge of sales and marketing at the Japanese company Miraicolors

What can you tell us about the legal situation in Japan? Can everybody just open a sex shop if they want or are there bureaucratic hurdles they have to overcome?
Actually, sexual products aren’t illegal but there is a cabinet order regarding the products. Regarding the cabinet order, we cannot sell the items to minors under the age of 18 and we cannot display products with designs that are similar to genitals. Additionally, because of the Entertainment and Amusement Trades Control Act, we must not sell sexual products near schools, universities, libraries, and hospitals. Also, we think that these laws will become stricter before the Olympic games.

How would you describe the attitude of the people with regard to sex and eroticism? How liberal is Japan when it comes to these topics?
As for the attitude of the nation about sex and eroticism, the situation is different from Europe. As you know, there is a gap between men and women regarding things like sex and eroticism; I think the situation is quite open for men, but for women the situation isn’t the same because of our culture. I’d like to share with you some details about the situation for Japanese women.

There are two main reasons: First of all, regarding our culture, until about 20 years ago, there were a lot of gaps between men and women. Women didn’t have much freedom – education, career, and leisure – and it was a taboo for women to have a positive attitude towards sex. Of course, there were a few open-minded women, but the number was low. Also, there was only one shop for female-friendly sexual products, so, women weren’t considered customers for sexual products. On the other hand, the market for men is massive and has its own culture.

Secondly, our sex education is really strict, and teachers don’t want to teach the positive aspects of sex. As a result, we subconsciously think that talking about sex is a taboo. As you know, Japanese porn is really flourishing, but there isn’t any place young people, especially girls, can study sex positively and safely.

So, because of the culture and education, it was difficult for women to become open-minded about sexual things, but these days, society has started changing and becoming more open about women’s sexuality. There is no huge gap between European girls and Japanese girls, they both like to have girls’ parties and talk to about a lot of things including their sex life. Despite the number being lower than in Europe, the attitude towards masturbation is also positive.

There have been reports of the Japanese having less and less interest in sex and relationships. Is this true and how is this influencing your business?
I think, this movement doesn’t only exist in Japan but also some European countries face the same problem. However, because of the culture gap, this issue’s existence in Japan stands out to the world. For example, in Japan, it isn’t common to divorce or break up because partners don’t have sex anymore. Hence, even if Japanese couples are sex-less, they won’t leave each other. Therefore, as a result, couple-oriented sexual products are among the best-selling products in the Japanese market.

Also, the hard-working environment might be the cause of the issue. That’s why the sexual products that can provide easy orgasms for women are selling well. For instance, Satisfyer is very popular in Japan, and the items have quickly spreading across the market.

In short, there are two ways how sex-less couples have an impact on the sexual products market: Sexual products for couples and for products that provide women with quick orgasms have become more popular.

What are Miraicolors’ plans for the future of its business?
Now that the diversity of sexuality is getting more popular, we’d like to support the movements in Japan. Additionally, sexual communication is lower in our country and Japan is one of the countries with a decreasing birthrate. So, we also would like to help solve these problems.