Morishita Jintan has been around for a long time. The Osaka-based company was founded 130 years ago, during Japan’s Meiji period, when Japan still had a court of nobles and hereditary governors. Morishita Jintan was probably ahead of its time, since one of the first products it made (and imported) was condoms. Now, one of them, aged at 120 years old, has just been rediscovered.
It was a Yamato Kinu-model condom — one of the first mass-produced condoms in Japan (and the world). Yamato-Kinu literally means “Japanese clothing” or “Japanese silk”, and the model was meant to protect against the massive outbreaks of syphilis that ravaged Japan at the turn of the 20th century. The syphilis outbreak was referred to as “baidoku”, meaning “plum poison”.
Remarkably enough, Japan is currently going through another syphilis outbreak, though not as devastating as the one from over a century ago. Luckily, Morishita Jintan is still in business — and their products have gotten significantly better since then.
The condom was found inside a “kominka”, a traditional Japanese house with a thatched roof, in the town of Shikamachi, in the Ishikawa Prefecture. The house had been turned into an inn for travelers, and the owner recently came across the condom in an adjacent storehouse — which probably means that 120 years ago, someone was preparing for a good time (and good on them for being responsible).
The Yamato Kino condoms became remarkably popular, although at the time, they weren’t actually produced in Japan, they were first imported from France. This may well be the only Yamato Kinu condom still in existence. We’re not exactly sure if it ever fulfilled its purpose.
The inn owner has donated it to the company, where it will probably be displayed at the headquarters.
Condoms have been in use since the 15th century, with their usage being confirmed even prior to the 15th century when they would have been made of oiled silk paper or lamb intestines. In Japan, they were sometimes made from tortoiseshell or animal horn. Luckily, technology has advanced quite a lot since then.