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)
Voices and Faces from Tokyo 1
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
ITS UP TO OUR COMMUNITY.
I’m a sociologist and do a lot of research. In the course of my studies, I’ve also done research into HIV-infected young people. I asked young men between 20 and 24 what it meant to be HIV positive. How they felt! How they saw their future! For that research, I lived two years in Thailand. Back in Japan, in August 2013, I discovered I was infected myself.
No, I wasn’t shocked when I heard of my infection. Through my research, I knew that symptoms of flu and fever can indicate HIV. When my doctor found no explanation for my flu at the time, I asked him for an HIV test.
My HIV has changed me. I used to be quite focused on my own life. I didn’t give a lot of thought for others. Through my HIV, I became aware that there are many more people who suffer from troubles: people who are sick, people who live in difficult situations…
Medical conditions in Japan are very good. What I want to get across to people is that there’s still a lot to do in the social field. What does it mean in everyday life when you have HIV? How do you feel? I’m currently researching a group of 20 people with HIV for the sociological aspects of HIV infection. It’s important that we learn how to live with HIV.
That’s a task we have to take up ourselves as an HIV community. We have to do it together. At the hospital you’ll see people in the same boat as you, but the hospital isn’t a good place to talk with others. And due to strict privacy rules, the hospital is forbidden to put people in contact with one another. It’s really up to the community.
The most difficult thing is to accept yourself, to talk openly about your HIV, to tell others that you have HIV. That’s why I want to take part in this special initiative. I want all that to change.