National / Social Issues

Ministop ends sale of porn magazines at convenience stores nationwide

JIJI

Unrestricted displays of pornographic magazines at retail stores are rare overseas. With the number of inbound tourists expected to increase sharply for the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo, calls for the removal of porn magazines from convenience store shelves in Japan have been increasing.

Ministop Co. has stopped selling pornographic magazines at its chain of some 2,250 convenience stores across Japan, effective from January, to protect young people from sexually explicit materials.

“There are customers who feel reluctant to enter stores with children because of the presence of adult magazines,” Akihiro Fujimoto, president of Ministop, told a news conference in the city of Chiba last November, announcing the company’s decision to remove adult magazines from all store shelves. Ministop first enforced the decision at its stores in the city, near Tokyo, in December.

Chiba Mayor Toshihito Kumagai, who had called for such measures by convenience store chains, praised the decision as “bold.”

Convenience stores often display pornographic magazines in a partitioned section set up near a bathroom or an automated teller machine, but they can be seen by anyone passing by.

“It’s shocking that the ready availability of porn magazines at convenience stores in the living environment is taken for granted,” said a woman in her 40s.

Some local governments, such as the Chiba city office, have sought to address the issue but found it difficult to ban the sale of adult magazines using administrative guidance. They have merely asked convenience store operators to take measures such as wrapping them in plastic bags to hide the covers.

In 2016, FamilyMart Co. instructed its stores in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, to cover up adult magazines in compliance with the municipal government’s request. But only 11 stores introduced the measure.

Convenience store chains are reluctant to wrap plastic around pornographic magazines, due to the increased work for store workers. In addition, the publishing industry opposes the measure, citing freedom of expression.

Sales of magazines, including those for adults, at convenience stores have been on the decline in line with the growth of online sales and electronic publications. An official at a major chain operator said that the removal of porn magazines from store shelves will “have only a limited impact on our sales.”

But demand for adult magazines at convenience stores remains strong among certain groups such as elderly shoppers unfamiliar with the internet. “We cannot stop as long as the owners of franchised stores want to continue selling them,” said an executive at a leading chain.

Convenience store chains see themselves as part of social infrastructure. It seems they have yet to decide whether they need to emphasize store environments welcoming to all customers or continue to serve die-hard demand among certain segments.