Figures for Japan’s HIV-positive population comparable to those provided to UNAIDS by most other countries are unavailable, which may be related to the difficulty of the topic in Japanese culture. Being gay is generally still stigmatized in Japan. However, with Japan’s population of 127,000,000, they report a total of 16,900 people living with HIV (PLHIV), of whom 1439 were infected through contaminated blood products in the 1980s—a significant point in the history of Japan’s official HIV policies. In 2014 they had about 1100 new cases.
They attribute 57.3% of cases to men who have sex with men (MSM) and 27.2% to heterosexual contact, with only a tiny percentage from people who inject drugs (PWID). New cases of all these types have approximately leveled off since their peak in 2008, but seem now to be growing among young people. Since 1998, persons diagnosed with HIV are treated as having a disability, with access to lower-cost treatment.
Japan elaborately classifies cases by “Japanese/non-Japanese” and locale of infection (in Japan, abroad, or unknown). In 2011 they permitted NGOs to establish a few centers to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and reduce discrimination and stigma.
(Japanese government report to UNAIDS, 2016)
The past and the present of HIV in Japan
According to the latest figures from UNAIDS, only 17,000 people (0.013%) of Japan’s 127 million live with HIV. That’s a manageable number compared with other Asian countries. More than 60% of the infections are found in the gay community, so it’s not surprising that the most registered infections are in Tokyo.
We’re curious about HIV in Japan because of this great country’s unique history and culture. What does the HIV epidemic mean to the gay community? How easy or difficult is it for people to communicate about sex and HIV in Japan? Is HIV a taboo, or is there more to it?
April 2017, Tokio, Japan