Ashley Madison, the world's biggest online hookup site for married people, works only when monogamy is the rule on the surface but, deep inside, couples want to cheat. That's why it is scoring big in Japan.
The nation that prides itself on conformity and proper appearances reached a million users in eight and a half months, the fastest pace among any of the 37 countries where the adultery site operates. The previous record was Brazil at 10 months. The U.S., which has the biggest number of users at 13 million, took a year to achieve the one million mark. Spain took nearly two years.
Extramarital sex and affairs are not new to Japan, but a site such as Ashley Madison is a ''a leveling out of the playing field'' for women, said Noel Biderman, chief executive of Avid Life Media Inc., which operates AshleyMadison.com. There is a tradition of wealthy men taking mistresses in Japan and its male dominated society has provided plenty of outlets for married men to find casual sex.
The divorce rate in Japan is relatively low at about two cases per 1,000 people vs. four cases in the U.S., although sinking marriages rates in Japan also lower the divorce numbers. In the 1960s, divorces were even rarer, with fewer than one per 1,000 people.
With its slogan, ''Life is short. Have an affair,'' Ashley Madison has drawn nearly 25 million users worldwide since being started in Canada in 2002. It now has 1.07 million users in Japan after opening here in June last year.
Biderman, who is in a monogamous marriage and has two children, insists the social network is just a tool and no one can force anyone to betray a spouse. A friendly uninhibited man with quick answers to almost any question about infidelity, he doesn't shy from declaring he would cheat if his marriage were sexually unsatisfying.
One appeal of the site is that it allows for pseudonyms or anonymity. It's secure and closed so digital tracks like emails don't get left behind, reducing the chances of getting caught. It's far less messy than trying to find an erotic outlet on Facebook or in the office, said Biderman during a visit to Tokyo this week.
A small but significant portion of users around the world don't have affairs and merely flirt in ''fantasy dates'' in cyberspace, according to Ashley Madison.
Singles can join but only if they are