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Tenga brings pleasure out of the dark with its designs: Sex toy manufacturer wants to make masturbation something that is not hidden

Nov 27,2018
Matsumoto Koichi, president of Tenga, meets with local press on Thursday in Seoul to celebrate Tenga Korea’s second anniversary. [TENGA KOREA]
Left: Tenga will soon launch a brand for women named iroha. Above are vibrators in the shape of lipstick and a banana. Right: The disposable Egg Series, a disposable masturbator for men.
The Standard Cup Series includes different types people can choose from, such as the “Deep Throat Cup,” left, or the “Soft Tube Cup,” bottom right. The “Deep Throat Cup” is the company’s best seller. In its efforts to appeal to more people, Tenga creates special edition goods, such as a series featuring artwork from renowned artist Keith Haring, top right.
You may be surprised to find that a cute tube of lipstick is actually meant for something else: to bring you the most intimate pleasure.

It’s been 13 years since Japanese company Tenga was founded and two years since they officially came to Korea. On Thursday, the company met with local press to celebrate their local success.

An adult product company in Korea is interesting in itself, never mind the company holding a press conference to properly introduce themselves and talk about their vision and philosophy. But, for their two-year anniversary, Tenga did just that. Koichi Matsumoto, founder and president of Tenga, came to Seoul to explain how his company came into being and his future goals.

“It’s been two years since we founded Tenga Korea,” said Matsumoto. “Before that, our products were sold at a price that was three times higher than the prices in Japan. I intended for my products to be used and enjoyed by everyone, but that had not been the case here. As the manufacturer, I wanted the products to be available at the right price. That’s how Tenga Korea was founded.”

Before starting the company, Matsumoto was an auto mechanic who enjoyed working with his hands. When business went downhill, however, he had to turn to car sales to make ends meet. Around that time, he visited an adult toy shop for the first time.

“When I stepped into the shop, I saw that the masturbating products - especially the men’s products - included very vulgar and explicit illustrations of women on the packaging,” said Matsumoto. “When I saw those boxes, I thought the illustrations were sending the indirect message that masturbating is filthy, so you should think about the filthiest images [when doing so]. To me, that seemed so wrong.”

Rather than avoiding the topic, Matsumoto accepted that sex was just as important in people’s lives as food and sleep. Instead of being hidden away deep in people’s drawers, Matsumoto wanted to make products that could be seen out in the open without embarrassment, hoping that the world would open up to the company’s vision, “Pleasure, the way it should be.”

“10 out of 10 people I know masturbate, because sex is one of the very basic desires of a human being. So instead of treating adult products as something special or even awkward, I wanted to make something that people all around the world can use without feeling uncomfortable or worrying about how they were made,” said Matsumoto.

All of these ideas came to him within just 15 minutes of walking into the shop. He walked out full of ideas for a new business. Two years later, in 2005, Tenga was born. In the past, adult products - or sex toys, as they are commonly referred to - omitted crucial information that was required to be included for most other products. Instead of including a list of materials used to make the product, the price of the item or even the name of the manufacturer, the boxes were covered in images of naked women.

Even the products themselves appeared pretty obscene, exaggerating parts of the human anatomy in both form and color.

Tenga changed all this. Not only did their products list all of the ingredients used in their production, they were intentionally simply designed and instead took the shape of everyday products that are familiar to most people.

For instance, the Tenga Standard Cup series, including the “Deep Throat Cup,” which sold over 1 million models within a year of its release, resembles a red tumbler with grey stripes. The company has even released special edition goods in collaboration with artists, such as with renowned pop artist Keith Haring (1958-1990), which encourage people to display their products on their shelves with the rest of their household goods.

Within the two years, Tenga Korea found that the local market is very quick to follow and change trends, but at the same time, is very conservative when it comes to being open about sexuality.

“We [want to] bring out people’s sexuality from a deep, hidden realm to the light,” said Matsumoto. “Sex should make everyone happy, from the aged to the sexual minorities. We hope to bring the idea of sex into the light and help everyone enjoy it.”

As of this year, a total of 70 million Tenga products have been sold over 60 countries around the world, with sales growing each year. “One product is sold every three seconds,” said Matsumoto.

The company also revealed two new brands to come within the first half of next year in Korea: female product brand iroha and Tenga Healthcare. While Tenga means elegance - a word the president chose to give a new image to the idea of masturbation - iroha comes from “irohani hoteto,” a phrase used to describe the Japanese alphabet, similar to “ABC.” According to the company, the name came out of their desire to help develop women’s rights in Japan.

In Korea, Matsumoto plans to open up a Tenga Shop before the end of next year, so that Koreans can become even more familiar with Tenga’s products.

“Our goal isn’t to become the biggest and the best within the adult product market,” said Matsumoto. “Our goal is to help people experience a richer sex life and happiness through that. We want to ultimately create a new cultural field in the name of sexual wellness, which would start by confronting our sexuality and bringing it out into the open. We can’t force anything on to anyone, but we hope people try it out and then see if they like it.”

BY YOON SO-YEON [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]