If ever anyone seeks an example of a cultural gap, they only need examine the way American and Japanese men view masturbation.
In America, masturbation is sometimes looked down upon and considered dirty, or scorned as a last resort when a real, live woman is not available. (Prompting the late George Carlin to once quip, “If God had intended us not to masturbate, he would have made our arms shorter.”)
“In Japan, we look at masturbation as a sport, not as a sex act,” explained Masanobu Sato, director of sales for the Japanese-based company Tenga, as well as a world masturbation record holder. “It’s very healthy.”
But despite their positive views on auto-eroticism, many Japanese men did not find the masturbation devices imported from America very appealing.
“There were a number of devices available, but a lot of them were unattractive or gross,” Sato told AVN. “The Japanese saw them as too pornographic, so they didn’t use them. They were used by a very limited market.”
Eventually, some Japanese companies began to develop devices that would be more appealing to their countrymen. It was then that Tenga entered the market, creating devices like the OnaCup, which had packaging that resembled sports drinks in Japan. Tenga items were designed for one-time use, and were biodegradable.
The minds at Tenga believed that if one in every 100 Japanese men were willing to purchase a pornographic DVD, and 1 of every 100 of those men were willing to buy a masturbation device that was more appealing to them, their venture would be successful. Their reasoning was sound: Tenga has been around for more than a decade, sustained by the Japanese market. Now, it’s looking to make a dent in the American market.
“We decided it was time to change our image some and expand into other markets,” Sato said. But officials realized that their products would need some tweaking.
“We knew there were lots of masturbation devices available to American men, but we also knew not a lot of them could be considered beautiful,” Sato said. “We were convinced that our philosophy and concept were right and that we could enter the American market and be successful.”
To that end, Liberator—the brand known for its Bedroom Adventure Gear products—also saw the potential, and partnered with Tenga to become its exclusive distributor in North and South America.
“We are extremely excited to be working with Tenga to help them reach the next level of success here in the U.S. By utilizing our marketing power and channel distribution, as well as mainstream advertising venues, we are confident that Tenga USA will enjoy a great deal of success not only in traditional adult stores but through retailers and wholesalers never before open to adult toys,” said Michael “Sky” Kane, chief sales officer for Liberator.
Plus, Sato said, Tenga officials were aware that a much bigger market existed in America, so many of the items that had proven to be hits in Japan were modified for American consumption. While they were still designed to be disposable products, the packaging was modified a bit, the sense of snugness was increased, and the length of the product was extended.
In addition to the one-time-use masturbators, Tenga has already introduced the Tenga Eggs (textured, handheld silicone masturbators) and the Tenga Flip, a reusable masturbation tool that outwardly resembles high-tech electronic speakers, as well as lubricants specifically designed for Tenga products.
But, Sato noted, just as company leaders saw the possibilities that existed by entering the American market and targeting men, they now realize there is another entire market they can explore with products for women and couples.
“We will have new products coming out soon for men, but we want to expand our ideas and philosophy about masturbation to women and couples,” Sato said. “They will all tie in with our basic thought that masturbation is fun.”
For more information, visit Liberator.com or Tenga.com.
This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of AVN.