Love and Libido: Inside One of Japan's Condom Factories

A shrinking population. Aging customers. And a sex drive considered one of the lowest in the world. Japan has proved to be a tough market for condom maker Sagami Rubber Industries, but thanks to demand from Chinese tourists, business has been booming  as of late. Here, we explore a factory run by Sagami, Japan's second-largest condom maker. Photographs by Kiyoshi Ota for Bloomberg

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    Sagami workers test latex condoms at the factory in Atsugi, Kanagawa Prefecture, around 25 miles southwest of Tokyo. 

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    The products undergo a bursting test to examine the strength of the material.

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    An employee tests for water leaks in condom supplies. Sagami is best known for its extra-thin polyurethane condoms, which the company produces in its factories in Malaysia. Its 0.01 millimeter product, measuring one-sixth of thickness of a human hair, has completely sold out.

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    A condom is filled with water to check for leaks. 

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     In an interview in January, Sagami President Ichiro Ohato talked about the difficulties of selling to Japanese consumers: "There's no question that Japanese people are using condoms less and less," he said. Ohato's grandmother founded the business in 1934.

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    Latex condoms are arranged on a conveyor system for packaging. Lovers in Japan are the least amorous, having sex 45 times a year, according to the 2005 Durex Global Sex Survey, which polled more than 317,000 people from 41 countries.

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     With limp demand at home, Sagami and other Japanese condom makers are finding love overseas— particularly in China. Demand from Chinese tourists visiting Japan was so great that Sagami began directly distributing its products in mainland China this year.