TOKYO -- Dr. Whoopie, Doonesbury's condom delivery service, would have a rough time opening a branch office in Japan where each day hundreds of saleswomen peddle prophylatics door-to-door.
Unlike Dr. Whoopie, the Japanese condom sellers are not opportunistic businesswomen out to make a fast buck on the AIDS scare.
The door-to-door sales technique is just one consequence of the condom's status as king of Japanese birth control since the end of World War II.
Ironically, as condom sales reach new heights in America, Japan is anticipating a drop in the protective sheath's popularity.
The factors that made the condom popular in Japan, including a ban on contraceptive pills and a male-dominated society that frowned on women dealing with birth control devices, are changing.
An indirect casualty of these changes is the door-to-door condom saleswoman.
Takeshi Yonese, a sales manager for Okamoto Industries, Inc., Japan's largest condom maker, speaks highly of what he calls the 'silver tongued' saleswomen who used to account for 30 percent of his business.
The condom saleswomen deal only with housewives and always in the privacy of the home, he said.
Sitting close and speaking in hushed tones, they compliment the housewives on their healthy glow and insist it must be a sign of an active sex life, he said.
'The sales unit is one gross (144 condoms), and these women have housewives buying three or four gross before they leave,' Yonese said.
But as Japanese women become bolder about discussing sex in public, they are less susceptible to the whispering saleswomen.
Door-to-door sales have taken a dive and now account for only 10 percent of condom sales.
The former targets of the condom saleswomen are buying their prophylatics off supermarket shelves, according to Okamoto's market studies.
Family planning experts think these bolder women may soon give up condoms altogether in favor of the soon-to-be-legalized contraceptive pill.
But for the time being condoms are still the protection choice of almost 80 percent of the Japanese couples practicing birth control, compared to only 10 to 15 percent in the United States.
'Condoms were very popular in Japan before the problem of AIDS arose,' said Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, a senior official at the Health and Welfare Ministry. 'So we have no need to make an announcement about the use of condoms in leaflets.'
The recent boom in U.S. condom sales has resulted largely from publicity that they are a defense against AIDS.
But in Japan condom sales have been steady for years at about $100 million a year.
AIDS is a concern in Japan. There was widespread panic early this year when AIDS claimed the life of Japan's first victim, a prostitute, and as of May some 27 AIDS patients had died.
But only 1 percent of the people polled by the prime minister's office this month said they are terribly afraid of AIDS and only 13 percent are somewhat afraid.
Condoms owe their almost universal acceptance in Japan to favorable government policy.
During World War II the military issued condoms, which the army dubbed 'the first attack' and the navy called 'the metal helmet.'
When the soldiers returned, birth control became a major problem for post-war Japan and the government again distributed condoms free.
The male-controlled device became extremely popular in the male-controlled society.
Finally the health ministry insured the condom's dominance when it outlawed oral contraceptives, saying the pill's side effects were too dangerous.
But Japanese are rejecting the old social codes, and the health ministry has promised to legalize the pill in two to three years.
'Condom use will probably decline by 10 percent when the pill is legalized,' said Haruo Konagai, of the Japan Family Planning Association, a non-profit group similar to Planned Parenthood.
As condoms sales decline in Japan, the American market is sure to provide a safety valve for Japanese condom makers.
Fuji Latex, Japan's second largest condom producer that operates out of a condom-shaped, tan-colored building in downtown Tokyo, says it already cannot fill all the U.S. orders it is receiving for condoms.
Fuji is discussing building a second plant to help its Newark, N.J., facility turn out more Circle Rubber brand condoms.
Okamoto markets the Skinless brand in America and has already seen sales grow from $2 million in 1984 to $3 million last year, a trend they expect to continue, perhaps with the help of Dr. Whoopie's real-life counterparts.