This article appeared in Made in Japan Vol. 4.
To read the entire issue, click here

Since its launch in 2005, Tenga has become a household name in self-pleasure. Even if you think you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably seen its products. Its iconic red, hourglass-shaped vacuum cups, designed for male enjoyment, are everywhere in Japan — from Don Quijote, where they’ll occasionally occupy an entire floor, to convenience stores. If you’ve been to a busy city, you’ve likely seen a big sign advertising “TENGA SOLD HERE.”

The scope of Tenga’s popularity is immense: Over nearly two decades, the company has sold a staggering 148 million products across 73 countries and regions. For years, it was nearly synonymous with its signature product and its many offshoots — the Tenga Egg, the Tenga Puffy and the Flip, all of which are targeted at men. But Tenga wants to reach much further than that. In recent years, the company has released Iroha, a line for women, as well as a gender-neutral product, with the aim of revolutionizing the culture surrounding personal sexual health. Its ultimate aim is to normalize and celebrate sexual pleasure by integrating art, functionality and sexual wellness.

tenga japan


The Birth of an Icon

Tenga was born from a simple observation: All the sex toys on the market lacked branding and aesthetic appeal, as they were seen as shameful and lewd. The company’s CEO and founder, Koichi Matsumoto, wanted to change this perception. His goal was to create a hygienic, safe and functional product that could stand proudly alongside mainstream products — personal technology, for instance, or home appliances  — without the stigma often associated with sex toys.

He wanted to break away from the existing market, which he thought reinforced negative perceptions about sexuality; he felt that self-pleasure was an enjoyable and normal activity, not merely a furtive substitute for sex with another person. “Masturbation is a natural act and most people do it. There shouldn’t be anything shameful about it,” he says.

To pursue this goal, he quit his job in the auto industry, investing all his savings into his new venture. He spent over  three years in isolation, perfecting the product design. His initial goal wasn’t to create an empire — he just wanted to try something new. “From the beginning, we never thought of becoming number one in sex toys. We didn’t want to be associated with what was already on the market,” he says. But the fact that Tenga takes pride in its products, with its name boldly emblazoned on each one, seemed to resonate with customers.

“Sex toys used to be underground. With underground products, you don’t know the company name or manufacturer. You don’t even know where they were made. There’s no contact information,” he muses. “In other words, there’s no responsibility for the product. Responsibility is important. We take responsibility for our statements. We live with responsibility for our words.”

tenga japan


Pioneering Pleasure With Purpose

One of the main appealing points of Tenga’s products is that they’re intentionally designed to not resemble or replicate human genitals, something that was unusual 20 years ago. This was done on purpose — both because disconnected body parts can be seen as dehumanizing and because masturbation is a separate activity from sex with another person. This innovative approach has helped shift perceptions and set new standards in the personal sexual health industry, and it’s also enabled the brand to consistently push the boundaries of what pleasure products can be.

Yoshikatsu Miyasaka, Tenga’s chief creative officer, says the company has a dual approach to innovation: improving existing products based on user feedback and creating new products to attract those who haven’t been interested before. “There are various approaches to designing, sometimes starting from new materials or new technologies … and sometimes it purely comes from the creator’s imagination,” he explains.


An example of the second approach in action is Tenga’s latest product, Uni. The name draws from the words “unisex” and “universal,” which highlight its key features. Uni offers a gender-neutral self-pleasure experience, adaptable for solo or partnered play and suitable for any gender pairing. Crafted from soft material and with a gemstone-inspired design, it ensures gentle stimulation and is disposable for hygiene. “Past products like Tenga 3D and Tenga Geo served as the foundation for this concept. These were originally male pleasure items, but by reversing and redesigning them, we created something that can be used in various ways,” says Miyasaka.

Kai Endo, head of Tenga’s development department, notes that the company’s meticulous design process is concerned with both internal ergonomics and external aesthetics: Tenga wants to create something both pleasurable and beautiful. This is especially noticeable through the company’s Iroha line, which was launched in 2013. Iroha aims to make self-pleasure synonymous with self-care, while also making its products fit seamlessly into people’s daily lives. Many of Iroha’s products, which use soft colors and materials, also come in uniquely Japanese shapes. Keen-eyed users will recognize that the Zen series was inspired by matcha whisks, while Rin is meant to recall kanzashi hairpins, and the Sakura model draws from cherry blossom petals.

Endo finds great meaning in contributing to positive changes in Japan’s sexual culture, positioning sexuality as something healthy and fun that people of all gender identities can enjoy freely. “One of the most meaningful aspects of working with Tenga is the feeling that we are helping to steer Japan’s slightly distorted sexual culture in a better direction,” he says.

tenga iroha


Transforming Perspectives on Sexuality

By marketing Tenga’s products as cutting-edge tools for enhancing personal pleasure, rather than substitutes for sexual partners, the brand has resonated with a broad audience. “Our message around sexuality and sexual wellness involves enjoying yourself. It’s not something you use every day, but a good treat for yourself,” says Eddie Marklew, the department manager of marketing and e-commerce.

  “We communicated the vision of transforming sex into something everyone can enjoy openly,” he emphasizes.

As Tenga sees it, self-pleasure can be a healthy, wholesome part of life — but the public may still need some convincing on this point. The company has conducted extensive research into international attitudes towards masturbation; according to its 2019 global self-pleasure report, which surveyed nine countries and about 10,000 responses, only about half of respondents viewed masturbation as healthy, with those from Asian countries more likely to view it as not having health benefits.

Marklew argues that there are myriad benefits to openly discussing and exploring sexual pleasure. “We’ve found that people who are open to talking about masturbation and trying new experiences are often more satisfied with their sex lives,” he explains. This openness not only enhances personal pleasure but also improves relationship satisfaction and fosters better communication, intimacy and overall well-being.

tenga iroha


Broadening Horizons

Tenga’s commitment to sexual health extends beyond self-pleasure items. Matsumoto emphasizes the importance of sex education, particularly in Japan, where talking about sex is often considered inappropriate. Tenga is actively working on initiatives such as Seicil, an agony aunt-style website aimed at teenagers. Users send in their questions, which are answered by at least two medical doctors to give balanced and informative responses.

Matsumoto’s latest project is a sex education picture book created together with famed manga artist Gataro Man. Aimed at younger audiences, it’s titled Umarete Kurete Arigato, Unde Kurete Arigato (Thank You for Being Born, Thank You for Giving Birth to Me), and is another effort to convey the importance of valuing people, love and life. “By conveying the basics of sex education, we hope to reduce unwanted and non-consensual sex,” Matsumoto says.

The brand has also recently opened a conceptual, brick-and-mortar store, Tenga Land, inside Tokyu Plaza Harajuku Harakado. Located in the same spot where the iconic Condomania store stood for almost 30 years, Tenga Land represents a new era. Here, pleasure aids are sold in a sophisticated department store environment, making the experience fun and inviting — no longer underground and secret.

During the first weeks of opening, Matsumoto was on-site to meet customers and gather feedback. He recalls a touching moment when a family thanked him for Tenga’s health care aids — which include a variety of items to support sexual stamina and even conception, including an at-home sperm status checker and more — which had helped them conceive their youngest child. “That’s the goal, really — to help people,” Matsumoto says.

  Tenga’s journey from a bold idea to a global phenomenon underscores the importance of innovation, design and social responsibility in the self-pleasure industry. Through its aesthetically pleasing and functionally versatile products, Tenga has helped to integrate sexual wellness into people’s everyday routines, enriching users’ lives and contributing to broader societal acceptance of sexual health in the process. As Matsumoto puts it, “Better sex is happiness. Knowing the joy of sex you didn’t know before is good and healthy.”

Find out more about Tenga and its products at their website.

For artist collaboration merchandise — which ranges from self-pleasure products to T-shirts, socks and more — head to the brand’s concept store in Harajuku.

Tenga Land
2F Tokyu Plaza Harajuku Harakado
6-31-21 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku

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