Yes, you read the title correctly: while Americans are stocking their shopping carts with presents for their friends and family, Japanese shoppers are fighting over the last box of Mega Big Boys.
Okay, that may be slightly exaggerated, but according to JEX Condoms, sales of condoms in Japan increase by roughly 8% around the winter holidays, the bulk of which is thought to occur before or during Christmas Eve.
But why? Do Japanese people have nothing better to stuff their stockings with? Not quite, and to understand why condoms sell so well on the holiest of nights, we need to take a look at how the holiday is celebrated by many people in the country.
As you can imagine, in Japan, a country where less than one percent of the population is Christian, Christmas represents a different kind of tradition.
In the early 1980s, when prolonged economic prosperity was beginning to lead to more conspicuous consumer spending, women’s fashion magazine Anan decided to run a Christmas special where they sold readers on the idea that Christmas was a time to “grab your boyfriends heart” by spending a romantic night out on the city together.
It was the perfect holiday for Japan’s new consumer culture. At the time, it was common for Japanese company workers to receive winter bonuses worth two to three times their monthly salary in mid-December.
People had the money and Christmas gave them an excuse to use it; and since Japan already had a traditional holiday for spending time together with family— oshogatsu, or the first few days of the New Year— a holiday dedicated to quality time with your romantic interest seemed like the natural choice.
Christmas Eve was soon reinvented as the premier date night of the year. For many men, taking a women out for a nice meal at an expensive restaurant and then spending the night together at a fancy hotel became not only an annual ritual, but a symbol of status. If you had date plans on Christmas Eve, it meant you had money and a girl to spend it on.
Conversely, if you were a woman, having a sugar daddy to spend Christmas Eve with was the fashionable thing to do. Some women would go so far as to make date plans with men they weren’t even romantically interested in just so they wouldn’t look like loners. And hey, who can complain about a free dinner and hotel room? All you had to do uphold your end of the deal at the end of the night…
These days, however, more and more young Japanese people are opting to stay in for Christmas Eve. This is due much in part to a lackluster economy; it’s much cheaper to make dinner at home than eat out at a five star restaurant.
Many people last year also decided to spend the holiday with their family after the tragic events of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. They may very well do the same this year.
Still, the idea of Christmas as a “couple’s holiday” is still strong in the minds of starry-eyed Japanese women. According Takanori Sakaguchi, an analyst at business community website Insight Now!, even though overall condom sales in Japan are about half of what they were 15 years ago, they’re still one of the most popular items sold at convenience stores on Christmas Eve.
So take a lesson from the Japanese and remember to stay safe this Christmas— we don’t want to celebrate any more births than the one.