Japan’s oldest “love doll” manufacturer wants to strip the sex toys of their seedy image and encourage people to see them as works of art instead.
“Even now there is still a stigma,” said a spokesperson for Tokyo-based sex doll maker Orient Industry, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a three-week exhibition showing the evolution of its dolls that drew over 10,000 visitors.
“But at our exhibition there were lots of men and women visitors — more women than men, in fact,” he said. “There were young and old, men and women, a really wide range of people. I think people came because they had heard the reputation of how beautiful our dolls are. We want to get rid of the stigma.”
Orient Industry was founded in 1977 by former sex shop owner Hideo Tsuchiya, who noticed that customers who had bought inflatable latex sex dolls from his store were returning to complain of punctures. Tsuchiya sold his shop and used the money to set up his own business with the aim of manufacturing a more durable product.
Orient Industry, which is based in Tokyo’s Ueno district and has a factory in Katsushika Ward, now employs 26 workers including makeup artists and face sculptors, many of whom are art school graduates.
The dolls range in price from ¥262,440 to ¥685,000, come with removable heads and genitals, and are strikingly lifelike in appearance. The silicone skin is soft to the touch, joints are fully flexible, and real human hair and other details further fleshes out the illusion of reality.
“When the company started, the dolls’ faces looked like mannequins’ faces,” said the spokesperson. “Now we have staff who mold the faces and they are highly praised for the way they look.
“In 2001, we started using silicone to make the dolls. By doing that and by molding the faces and using makeup, we were able to make dolls that looked much more realistic than before. We were able to increase the quality by using better materials, and that was a big step forward for us.”
Noted photographers such as Laurie Simmons and Kishin Shinoyama have made the company’s dolls the subject of books and exhibitions, with the latter showing his work at Orient Industry’s anniversary event that ran from May 20 to June 11 at Shibuya’s Atsukobarouh gallery.
The spokesperson believes that validation from the art world is helping to shift attitudes toward sex dolls.
“We get a lot of different customers,” he said. “Some are only interested in buying dolls for sex, some want to buy them so they can take photos of them, and some want to take them out and about with them. Some have blogs where they write about living with them.
“A lot of our customers are over 40 but we also have customers in their 20s. It can be expensive to hire models, so photographers can use them for their pictures. We also have customers who buy them to use in shop displays.”
A survey released in February by the Japan Family Planning Association revealed that sexlessness among married couples in Japan is on the rise, with almost half admitting to not having made love for more than a month.
A record 35.2 percent of men surveyed cited “exhaustion from work” as the biggest reason for their indifference to sex, while 22.3 percent of women described lovemaking as “a hassle.”
An estimated 2,000 sex dolls are sold in the country each year. The spokesperson believes that many buyers are looking for comfort as much as physical gratification.
“People in Japan generally live for a long time and a lot of elderly men lose their wives to old age,” he said. “Men in their 70s or 80s whose wives have died may feel lonely. They have lost a friend.
“Those men might buy one of our dolls to make themselves feel better. I hear that a lot. Our dolls can be useful in that regard.”
But Orient Industry has also come under fire for producing a range of dolls that resemble children. The childlike dolls stand just 136 cm tall, and are pictured wearing school gym gear on the company’s website.
“In every country there are incidents where elementary school or junior high school children are sexually abused, and Japan is no different,” said the spokesperson. “Some people are sexually attracted only to them. We once had a customer who came in and all of a sudden he told us that he was only sexually attracted to children.
“Of course if you did anything to harm real children then you would be arrested. There would be real victims. So some people want to buy our products to use as an outlet. I think, in some ways, it can act as a deterrent.”
Orient Industry has an English-language website and receives orders from overseas. But the firm also faces global competition from a burgeoning industry looking to harness the latest technology in the service of sexual fantasy.
Dozens of companies in a “sex tech” industry worth an estimated $30 billion are developing dolls with features such as artificial intelligence, but the spokesperson insists that Orient Industry is happy to follow its own path.
“Our love dolls are not robots,” he said. “Our aim is to make even better dolls. I have heard that there is a company in the Netherlands that uses AI in their dolls but they cost about ¥5 million each. Ordinary people can’t afford that.
“If you start to make robots that use AI, the price goes up. That isn’t something that our company is thinking about doing.”