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    Social disease

    Well, knock me over with a feather:

    A rapid spread of AIDS over the past decade has reached a level that has confounded and alarmed the health establishment in Japan, a country that has long felt protected by a first-rate health system and widespread condom use.

    Infections which had stayed at infinitesimal levels [as in, official levels–SRK] are surging at rates similar to developing countries, and some experts say the real number of Japanese with HIV or AIDS is two to four times the official toll.

    The rest of the experts probably peg it at five times. This is one of those Japan stories that get recycled every few years (I commented on a few others last year when Susanna asked about a specific one). That isn’t to say that such articles aren’t addressing real problems; it’s the air of discovery that’s irritating. Likewise the tendency toward exaggeration:

    Among women, Sato is one of the careful ones. The 23-year-old Tokyoite has unprotected sex with multiple partners, but at least she occasionally gets herself tested for HIV.

    That first sentence is idiotic. Ms. Sato may be “one of the careful ones” among the women who live in Tokyo (or Osaka), go clubbing frequently, and hook up with strange men all the time. But Tokyo and Osaka don’t represent Japan any more than New York and LA represent America, even if they do comprise a higher proportion of the population.

    Still, the government is not worrying over nothing. I will leave straight people and their dissolute ways to those who know them more intimately. But I heard plenty of real lulus as a gay guy newly arrived from New York in the mid-90’s. Chief among them was the one that said you can’t get HIV from Japanese people (unless they’ve lived abroad, in which case they’re practically foreigners, anyway). For at least two or three years, the messages with the free condoms in the bar toilets have emphasized that the incidence of reported infection in Tokyo has been on the rise and that Japanese-only saunas are not to be considered extra-safe. I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to bring down infection rates in a country in which “if nobody talks about it, it’s not happening” is a major social principle and tolerance for male playing around is frequently taken to an extreme.

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