HIV Awareness in Japan: Things are still not changing

Red Ribbon for AIDS Awareness
HIV Awareness in Japan:
Has anything changed?

Thus far, we have two articles about HIV and AIDS in Japan on (the first and the second). Another year has passed since we last touched on this issue, but a recent episode in my own life drove home that things still are really not changing fast enough with regard to the blurry awareness of HIV/AIDS in Japan, and the studied nonchalance of the Japanese people whenever the topic arises.

In Japan, everyone knows the word AIDS, but still very little is known *about* HIV or AIDS by the general public. This giant disparity of awareness was brought clearly to my attention one day after overhearing the following conversation between a physical education teacher and a young math teacher in her early twenties in my office (I work in a Japanese School):
Ms. Math: So wait, I don’t understand; what is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
Mr. PE: If you are infected with the HIV virus, it will eventually lead to AIDS and if you catch another less serious illness you can die because the virus weakens your body. If you have HIV, it doesn’t mean you have AIDS, but that you will eventually get AIDS. As long as you don’t catch the virus, you don’t need to worry.
Ms. Math: I don’t understand. What is HIV?
Mr. PE: It’s the virus that causes AIDS. If you have HIV, you will get AIDS.
Ms. Math: I still don’t understand.

The fact that this conversation could occur between two adults in a First World country nearly 12 years after I can recall asking the same questions of my teachers in America is absolutely baffling to me. Japan is slow to catch the news because the virus has only just recently started to increase within the population despite its low numbers; here is an article explaining the situation, including the country’s reaction to its .02% prevalence rate of the virus reported. However recent statistics are showing that the virus is on the rise in the country, due mainly to increased contact with foreigners abroad and within the country, and the government is scrambling to inform and educate the public about HIV.

This year my junior school has become one of presumably many which are currently including information about the disease in its annual curriculum. In early December 2007, they distributed red ribbons at the weekly student body meeting and included information about it both spoken and in print.

The following is a translation of a PTA Bulletin from November that is sent out to students of our school and their guardians each month:

December 1st is World AIDS Day. We ask for the student body cooperation in accepting a red ribbon. The red ribbon is a symbol of support and understanding for people who are suffering from AIDS. We are distributing the ribbons to promote the message that we will not discriminate against or have a narrow-minded view of AIDS.

AIDS is a sickness that leads to death. However, the infection rate is very low, and there are three main ways of contracting the virus:

  1. Sexual transmission
  2. Transmission during birth from mother to child
  3. Shared intravenous needles

You cannot contract it from touching the body or sweat of an infected person. It is very important that each of you have understanding about this disease.

By the way, do you know the difference between AIDS and HIV? AIDS stands for “acquired immune deficiency syndrome” and HIV stands for “human immunodeficiency virus.” In other words, if you contract HIV, the resulting disease is called AIDS. We would like you to understand and have proper knowledge about the people in the world infected by this virus. Please wear these ribbons on your school uniform during this period of time.

This information is new for the children at my school, as well as for the adults who are teaching them. How it can be new so late in this age is an indicator of extreme isolation. I am always curious just how this isolation still exists.

Even when Japanese people enter into adulthood, awareness about AIDS and its prevention never seems to be high on anyone’s agenda. Women Japan is a popular site amongst “around 30” girls in Japan. It features several 相談室 (consulting rooms) where girls can ask doctors, and several prominent personalities questions about almost anything they like. One of the rooms is a セックス相談室 (sex consultation room) where people can ask “Dr. Seiko先生” their deepest and darkest questions about their sex lives that they could never share with their friends or colleagues.

Dr. Seiko self-professes herself as, 性に関して日夜研究。研究結果をみなさんの悩み解決のために役立てたいと願っています。 (Translation: “I am researching sexuality day-and-night. I hope the fruit of my research can help you solve your sexual hang-ups and problems”). It is a semi-serious, “Ask the Doctor” type site, generally keeping a down-to earth approach on proposed solutions – except however for some of the condom usage advice given to the girls (who assuming from their questions, had the math teacher above for sex-ed class) where it is inappropriate and dangerous.

Here where a 22 year old girl asks for advice about her コンドームをつけてくれない彼 (Boyfriend who wont ever wear condoms), Dr. Seiko answers with three not very well thought out solutions. 1. Don’t have sex, 2. Get on the pill, and 3 Ask another guy to tell him to wear condoms. There is not one mention of STDs in her response, or any of the other reader’s comments. The Doc even goes so far as to say, 私の場合は医者にピルを処方してもらった (“One time when I had a boyfriend like yours, I just got my Doctor to give me the pill”). Hmmm.

As the answer to another 35 year old (!!) reader’s consultation entitled コンドームをつけるタイミングは? (“At what stage should I put a condom on him?”, Dr. Seiko gives this advice:
1 口でフェラチオ
(First, give him fellatio)
2 一度挿入 ※性病が怖い人は挿入する前から
(Put him into you without a condom first – unless you are afraid that he looks at risk of having an STD)
3 プレイとして、口で女性がつけてあげる。 ※これはテクニックが必要となりますのでバナナで練習しましょう。
(Then before he comes, roll a condom onto him with your mouth – This takes technique, so practice with a banana first)

Well, advice for champions. This is the state of condom usage and STD prevention awareness in Japan.

6 thoughts on “HIV Awareness in Japan: Things are still not changing”

  1. It is pretty shocking, but every country has its own version of ignorance/stupidity. Abstinence anyone?

  2. You might laugh, sorry daijin, but my sex-ed teacher taught me exactly that. The only sure form of protection is abstinence.

  3. All,

    I’m shocked at the answers, attitudes, lack of education. Then again. I’m not surprised. Currently I’m in the UK. We have the highest level of teenage pregnancy in Europe, if not the world.

    When I was at school I was having sex ed from the age or 9 or 10. It was repeated every few years no matter where my education took me.

    Sex is for many still the great unspoken…untouched…yet yearned for. I still wonder what has to happen for all of us to have safe sex? I don’t think abstinence is the answer. Since as we have seen here in England. That just makes sex more appealing to our youth. Certainly in England. I’d stop the financial support for the young woman and men (if they stick around). To some that may sound harse.

    Yet, for a long time I’ve been of the opinion. If you are old or think you are old enough to have sex, you are or think you are old enough to be an adult. Therefore you must be prepared or think you’re ready for the consequences.

    Currently it would appear both here and in Japan, the current style or type education is failing us all.

    Happy Travels


  4. hills-zoku > Abstinence is 100% effective!! Until you have sex, then it’s less than 5% effective.
    It still amazes me how prudish people are with respect to sex. Everyone has it, everyone enjoys it, we’re Programmed to want to do it. Yet taking sensible precautions is “weird.”

    I’ve heard from so many Japanese girls (my gf included) that they’re amazed when western guys put on condoms without being asked, or without the girl having to do it for them.
    Japanese guys don’t seem to have it drilled into them that:
    sex + no condom => kid. Full stop. (I know this isn’t true but it’s the best way to think about it I think.

    Don’t even start me on Sex vs Violence.

  5. Don’t worry, it’s just as bad in my home country of South Africa. The Health Minister has stated that a diet of garlic, African potatoes (amongst other veggies) can cure AIDS. Then the president has stated that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS, a view echoed by our Health Minister at one point (not sure if she still believes that though).

    The annoying thing is that this has caused a huge amount of disinformation and confusion,especially amongst the poorer people, contributing to the sky-high AIDS rates here 🙁

  6. HIV can also be transmitted through oral sex – use a dental dam or plain (no spermicide, no lubrication) condom to protect yourself.

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