Tom of Finland (1920-1991) was a pioneer in LGBQT and homoerotic art, blazing a trial in Finland and his works have been shown all over the world. From today September 18th, his work will be exhibited for the first time in Japan (ever) at Parco Shibuya. In a country where alternative sexuality is still barely recognized and some politicians spew homophobic bile, it’s a small accomplishment that the show is being held.
The exhibition will only last until October 5th.
The show has taken nearly years to put together, was delayed by COVID19, and ran into numerous obstacles along the way; thanks to the collective efforts of all involved, including the Embassy of Finland, the show is finally taking place. The whole story behind the curtains is told eloquently in this piece by Justin McCurry in The Guardian ↘
The exhibition will show that his work was a catalyst for social change and acceptance of homosexuality while celebrating sensuality and the beauty of the male body. The curator of the exhibit and director of The Container, Mr. Shai Ohayon points out that Japan is still very much behind in the recognition of gay and LGBQT rights.
The exhibit is being sponsored by: The Finnish Institute in Japan. Finnish Institute in Japan. The Container (art gallery) and PARCO.
The exhibition was designed to coincide with Tom’s 100th birthday anniversary and ｆeatures a selection of 30 historical works, ranging from 1946 to 1989. They span the artist’s entire professional career, and highlight both his artistic versatility and present his identity as an LGBTQ legend who paved the way for LGBTQ rights worldwide and helped to shape gay culture.
2020/09/18~2020/10/05 Reality & Fantasy: The World of Tom of Finland at GALLERY X (B1F, Shibuya PARCO) https://art.parco.jp/
Open hours 11:00-21:00 *Last entry time 30mins before close *Close at 18:00 in 10/05 Admission is 500 yen.
*Pre-school child not allowed in
A documentary on the importance of Tom of Finland and the meaning of his art will also be shown at at two different theaters during the exhibition. “Award-winning filmmaker Dome Karukoski brings to screen the life and work of one of the most influential and celebrated figures of twentieth century gay culture: Touko Laaksonen, a decorated officer, returns home after a harrowing and heroic experience serving his country in World War II, but life in Finland during peacetime proves equally distressing. He finds postwar Helsinki rampant with homophobic persecution, and men around him even being pressured to marry women and have children. Touko finds refuge in his liberating art, specialising in homoerotic drawings of muscular men, free of inhabitations. His work – made famous by his signature ‘Tom of Finland’ – became the emblem of a generation of men and fanned the flames of a gay revolution.
Text & video by Phoebe Amoroso, cover image courtesy of Kanamara Shrine
Our roving reporter, Pheebz, visited the annual Kanamara Festival on April 7th, which involves a lot of phalluses. The Kanamara Shrine (literally, “Metal Penis Shrine”) is where people pray for sexual health and fertility.
What’s the story behind this upstanding event? Watch the video below to peel back the mythological foreskin and get to the root of the matter.
The festival has its roots in local sex workers praying
for protection against sexually-transmitted infections, but in recent years, it
has come to represent LGBTQ and diversity with profits going towards HIV
Quite rightly, however, many have pointed out the hypocrisy inherent
in a country, which made international headlines for condemning vagina art by Megumi
Igarashi, better known as Rokudenashiko. Who was arrested on obscenity charges
for distributing 3D data of her vagina that she used to 3D print a vagina canoe
as part of her work.
Yet the obscenity of the flagrant double standards
provokes discussion, and an event that promotes inclusivity is worth
celebrating in a notoriously conservative society.
Many festival attendees are likely satisfied with pure spectatorship and sucking on phallic-shaped candy, and that’s fine too. But for maximum enjoyment, it’s worth digging a little deeper into the legend of a SAVAGE VAGINA DEMON (you read that right).
One legend has it that a beautiful woman was plagued by a jealous demon, who hid in her vagina and killed Husband Number 1 by biting off his penis. Husband Number 2 met a similar fate. Dismayed, she enlisted the help of a local blacksmith who seems to have been really chill about dealing with vagina demons. He made her a metal phallus, which she inserted. The demon, of course, bit it, but he broke his teeth and fled. Presumably she lived happily ever after, especially since she had her own personal metal phallus.
In Japan, the convenience store “baito” or part time job, is a rite of passage. Teenagers work at their neighborhood ‘conbini’ after school as a way of padding their allowances and college students work graveyard shifts to pay for living expenses. I did it, my friends did it. Most every Japanese person I know has worked at a conbini at one point or another. And in 2016, Sayaka Murata won the prestigious Akutagawa Literary Award with her autobiographical novel “Conbini Ningen,” in which the protagonist woman is addicted to her conbini job, to the point that she can’t think about anything else.
“I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.”
In case you think conbini work is boring and easy, let me tell you right now that the job calls for brains, guts and ace reflexes. For women, it’s often a test of mental endurance as well. A woman I know, in her late 30s, has been working the 9 to 7 shift at her local Family Mart for the past 5 years. She says the job is fine, except for one thing: she hates handling the porn magazines that comprise a “not insignificant chunk” of the store’s revenue. “I hate touching those things,” said this woman who has been diagnosed as an HSP. “I know it has a lot to do with the fact that I’m hyper sensitive but honestly, I feel that women shouldn’t have to deal with porn, especially in a convenience store. It’s sexual harassment.” Twenty-seven year old Reina, who quit an office job to work at a Seven Eleven run by her mother, says she feels “slightly sick” every time she has to ring up a porn mag for a male customer. “I’ve been at the job 3 years and I still can’t get used to it,” says Reina. “I don’t lose my cool or anything but I get really uncomfortable. I don’t talk to my mother about it but I call tell she knows how I feel.”
But Reina and thousands of conbini workers like her are about to get a break. In deference to the Tokyo Olympics and the expected soar in foreign tourists including families and minors, major convenience stores Seven Eleven and Lawson have announced the decision to abolish all porn magazines from their outlets by August 31st. The third member of the conbini triumvirate Family Mart, has announced that the company has “no intentions of following suit.” Bad news for my HSP friend (who wants to remain anonymous). At her place of work, the porn stays.
Reina says that the announcement gave her much “relief,” though there are some months to go before she’s free from the unpleasantness of handling porn for work. “That stuff is always about rape,” she says. “The covers show women being tied up and the headlines are violent. Frankly, they’re scary.”
In Japan, the public display of porn – rape or otherwise – has long been a sore point. In 2004, then Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara issued a law that required convenience store porn magazines to be partially bound in cellophane, to prevent casual riffing. “If anyone wants to look at those things, they’re going to have to show some courage, go up to the register and pay for them, right in front of everyone else.” This was a statement Ishihara apparently made to an aide, and later picked up by Japan’s sports tabloids, infamous for their own abundant porn content.
For some weeks afterwards, “show some courage” was a popular, mirth-filled punch line among Japanese men. Whether Ishihara really said those words isn’t the point – the move was classic ex-Governor. Always a gung-ho macho, one of Ishihara’s pet laments was the “pathetic-ness” of the slinky, under-confident Japanese male. He didn’t need to trot out the Olympics to turn the screws on their source of fun.
Unfortunately, his cellophane law simply gave rise to another problem: “harmless porn.” Instead of riffing through X-rated content, men turned to “gurabia,” magazines that featured bikini-ed young women on the covers in provocative poses and more of the same inside the pages. Since the women weren’t nude, the magazines couldn’t be described as hard porn. And the blurbs were all about how “beautiful” or “cute” the girls were so how could it be offensive, right? (Though their cup sizes were loudly touted along with their prettiness) Emboldened by this new wave of accessible and ‘kawaii’ porn, salarimen took to visiting the conbini on their lunch hours and picking up the magazines along with their bento and canned coffees. The early naughts were also about “tosatsu,” or shooting voyeuristic pictures of random young women on the streets, or catching them unawares through open windows. And these photos often found their way into – you guessed it, “harmless porn” magazines, stacked on conbini shelves.
Now, 15 years later, porn magazines (whether hard or harmless) comprise a dismally shrinking market. In the late 1990s, the conbini magazine market sold to the tune of 500 billion yen a year and the adult genre made up nearly 50% of that revenue. Retail analyst Hiroaki Watanabe says that those heydays are long over, and the market has been reduced by almost 70%. “These days, the main clientele of adult-only magazines are seniors, who don’t have smartphones or Internet access,” he says. Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”
Indeed, the aforementioned Reina says that porn mag buyers are nearly always “older men, who never make eye contact and have an air of shame.”
At this point, Mini Stop is the only major convenience store that has completely cleared theirs shelves of adult mags. This is understandable, as Mini Stop is owned by retail conglomerate AEON known for a squeaky clean, family-oriented image. As for the conbini triumvirate, about one-third of their outlets don’t carry adult magazines, according to the companies’ PR.
The PR for Family Mart stated that ultimately, the company leaves the choice to stock porn up to the individual outlet owners. “Some of our outlets don’t carry magazines at all, regardless of content,” said the PR spokesman. “Anyway, we’re heading toward an era where customers can purchase and download magazine content right at the cash register. Paper magazines will be obsolete.”
Ex-Gov Ishihara probably didn’t see that coming. If a tap on a smartphone is all it takes to buy porn at the local conbini, what’s going to happen to male courage?
Some men in Japan just don’t seem to get that objectifying women is wrong.
In the land of the rising sun, the objectification of women is not only a thing, it’s a solid tradition and time-honored marketing ploy. Sometimes though, the tables can be turned the other way. This happened when Weekly SPA, a magazine famed for insisting that sex and money are the only things worth striving for, came out with a story in late December about which colleges had the most number of ‘yareru’ (i.e., easily f*ckable) women. Honorable first place went to Jissen Women’s University, followed by other prestigious women’s universities Otsuma and Ferris. Co-ed universities Hosei and Chuo came in 4th and 5th.
Normally, this would have caused a total of zero ripples on the calm surface of Japan’s societal pond (all the scum lurks beneath) but one young woman dared to raise her voice. This is Kazuna Yamamoto, a senior at International Christian University. Yamamoto saw the article and wrote to petition websitechange.org – that Japan should stop objectifying women, and noted the nation’s women “do not exist [soley] for the benefit of men.” In two days, Yamamoto’s petition amassed close to 30,000 sympathizers.
SPA editor-in-chief Takashi Inukai issued a public apology, saying that ‘yareru’ was in this case, inappropriate. Sorry. What SPA really meant to say, was ‘become on friendly terms with.’ Come on guys, is that the best you could do?
To make matters marginally more demeaning, SPA’s article was really about the practice of ‘gyara nomi,‘ which is a thing among young Japanese. (The ‘gyara’ comes from guarantee – in this case, cash.) In a ‘gyara nomi,’ a group of men meet a group of women at a drinking party. The men pick up the tab, and they are also obligated to offer money to women they find especially attractive. The women may or may not be pressured into sex by accepting the monetary gift but according to ‘Reina,’ a woman who regularly attends such gatherings, says “the sex is sort of mandatory. I mean, you can’t say no after the guy pays you. For myself and a lot of other girls, it’s a side hustle.” SPA covered an actual ‘gyara nomi’ party and an app that matches up college girls from the aforementioned universities wanting to earn a little cash, and men looking for a quick roll in the hay. It goes without saying that gyara nomi are limited to women under 25, (pre-Christmas cake age) though men do not face that censure.
Two factors are at play here: the objectification of women surely, but it’s also about women seizing the opportunity to cash in on their objectification. In a pathetically perverse way, you could say this is a win-win situation, or at least a supply and demand equation. Such a scenario is nothing new under the rising sun. Until Japan finally opened its doors to the West, objectifying women was so taken for granted the women themselves thought nothing of it.
By the way, the geisha trade of old was all about pushing the envelope of objectification: the closer a geisha got to simulating a perfectly made-up doll who danced and poured sake for her male clients (with a hinted promise of post-party sex), the better.
And in spite of all the water under the bridge and modernization with a vengeance, not a whole lot has changed. The practice of gyara nomi attest to the fact that Japanese men would would rather pay for sex, than god forbid, having to go through the arduous process of talking with a woman and getting to know her, and her consent– before taking her to bed.
As for the women themselves, like the aforementioned Reina many see their youths as a side hustle. If men and society insist on viewing college girls as ‘yareru’ cuties slinging Samantha Thavasa handbags over their arms, then there’s no shortage of college girls who bank on that view. Wearing short skirts, attending gyara nomi parties and then the next day, laugh about the men with their girlfriends at Starbucks. What’s the harm – but more to the point, how will they finance those Samantha Thavasa handbags if not through men? No self-respecting college girl wants to admit she had to buy one all on her own. With the exception of a weird few who want to waste their precious youth pursuing a medical degree (we know where such lofty ambitions wind up), young women find it easier to cater to male fantasies, and be compensated in one way or another for their trouble.
An apology from SPA will not likely change the way things are, but maybe, just maybe – it’s a tiny step taken toward…not anything so drastic as equality but non-objectification? On the day after the SPA fiasco, Peach John – one of Japan’s most lucrative women’s lingerie companies – issued an online apology about ‘inappropriate wording’ on one of their products. This was a supplement, touted as a ‘love potion.’ “Slip it into a loved one’s dish or cup, to get that person in the right mood for love” said the product description. (Editor’s note: At least that sounds better than menstrual blood in Valentine’s Day chocolates ) Peach John terminated its sales and promised that they will be “more careful” about choosing the right phrases. Cash, potions, deception, discrimination…would this all go away if Japanese men and women just learned to talk to each other?
Recently a Company called Shuukan Spa has released a ranking of “University students with easy-access girls” on a public magazine. (Published October 23, 2018)
2018 was a year where women from all over the world fought for women’s rights, so that our voices were delivered.
Japan will be having the first G20 summit this year, 2019 and it is ridiculous for an article such as this to be published. It’s not funny at all.
I would like to fight so that especially on public articles such as this one, sexualizing, objectifying and disrespecting women would stop.
We demand Shuukan Spa to take this article back and apologize, and promise to not use objectifying words to talk about women.
This sexualizing of women is not funny.
In Japan according to a study done by the Ministry of Justice, only 18.5% of the women report sexual assault or rape.
How about the left over 81.5%?
They don’t speak up. Can not speak up.
Because sexual assault, random guys touching your butt in public trains, having their crotch up your butt, rape, is something women have to deal with.
Because We use underaged girls in bikinis to fulfill the fetish of those who love baby faces.
Because we idolize young girls.
Because honestly, the society hasn’t changed ever since the time of comfort women.
Because men and women do not believe that we are worth the same as men.
In this world, 1 out of 5 women are raped or sexually assaulted before their 18th birthday.
According to the ministry of Justice, only 1 out of 10 people actually get convicted, after being sued for sexual assault.
In 2018, the world fought.
In some countries, abortion finally became legal.
100 year anniversary since Women got voting rights.
Women in Saudi Arabia were able to drive.
And using Social Media, people spoke up using #MeToo #NoWomenEver and in South America, #NoEsNo and #AbortoLegalYa.
This year we will not only hold the G20 nor but the W20 (women 20)
We demand that the media stops using words to discriminate women, objectify women, disrespect women and sexualize women.
We, women are not less than men.
We are human too.
We do not LIVE for men.
We do not exist for men.
Let’s raise our voices because I am sick of this society where women are objects.
I shuddered while reading the first line of this email on my mobile, I remember dropping it on my bed in disbelief. This wasn’t the usual time-waster, this wasn’t the usual sex pest abusive messages that escorts usually got.
“I know your name it’s ______ and you’re a student at _____ University”.
My heart stopped. I don’t use my first legal name anywhere online, nor do I tell people it. The only person who would know my entire legal name would be someone with access to official documents about myself. Like a professor.
“If you don’t send me nudes, and whatever the hell else I might want. I’ll expose you. I’ll tell everyone at University about you. I’ll tell your talent agency about you.”
Plenty of people within the entertainment industry moonlight as sex workers, including now famous A-list Hollywood actors. The difference between myself and them was that I was an idol. An idol in Japan is a young person active as a singer, as a dancer and most importantly a talent, whose biggest attribute is Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club-esque squeaky clean nature and hopefully manga-like cute cuddly shining eyes, perpetually open wide.
“If you don’t send me nudes, and whatever the hell else I might want. I’ll expose you. I’ll tell everyone at University about you. I’ll tell your talent agency about you.”
In Japan, I had come to meet a few idols who worked jobs as hostesses, girls bar work, erotic massage and for escort services. I even knew a guy who knew a guy who claimed to be the Papa-San or “sugar daddy” of a lesser known ***48 member. As common as this tends to be, it obviously is a liability for talent agencies.
For lack of more eloquent words, I was scared shitless. Whoever this person was had leverage on me as a student, as a migrant and as someone in the entertainment industry. However, I was more afraid that if I heeded his orders it would quickly elevate to more unscrupulous demands.
So, I ignored it. I ignored it for as long as I could. Until two weeks later he sent information about fan event I would be holding with something threatening along the lines of: “It would be a shame if I came here and showed everyone your ad. You’re a dirty whore! Muahahahahah” The original email was worded differently, but the meaning was clear.
He was trying to exploit my latent feelings of shame around the sex work I was doing at the time and the stigma society has around sex workers and migrant sex workers. As dumb as this is, I ended up sending him a few recycled lewd photos. I was too afraid of the repercussions…or maybe I have a humiliation kink I can’t admit yet. Even though I can dryly laugh about the situation now, it was horrifying when it was happening to me.
He predictably took it up a notch. “Go to coordinates _____ and there’s a vending machine. Put ¥20,000 (roughly $180) under it. Don’t look around or ask questions. If you don’t want this option you can give me blowjobs every week but you will remain masked the entire time”
20,000 yen it is, I decided. I kept being urged by friends to report this to the police. Despite what I said in my twitter post in Japanese, I didn’t. Well technically I didn’t. I’ll get back to that. I couldn’t report it to the police because what I was doing to earn money was probably way outside of the kind of work my visa would allow.
Later that day I looked up the coordinates to the vending machine where I was instructed go leave the cash. I wanted to sarcastically reply, “which vending machine” because in Japan there’s a vending machine on every street corner, sometimes on every floor of a building. The coordinates were smack dab deep in Dougenzaka, Shibuya’s red light district, also known as “Love Hotel Hill’.. It’s a bit like all of Roppongi but without drunk expatriate asshole merchant bankers. It’s also a bit like the East side of Ikebukuro but without the old men holding hands with high school girls openly. It’s a bit like Ueno but Dougenzaka doesn’t reek of piss. You get the idea. Dougenzaka is a red light district. It has the neon lights, beat cops, happening bars, love hotels and all the trimmings. But it tends to be a bit quieter than the others. Somewhere nicely in between the gaudiness of Kabukicho in Shinjuku and the tawdry sleaziness of Uguisudani.
He wasn’t the most intimidating guy to bring along, however he had a penis and he was Japanese.
I decided, that I would pay him once but no more after that I told myself. Going with me was a male friend. By friend, I meant a guy who was a part-time host at a host club and part time nursery school teacher who I had friend-zoned. I don’t like host clubs or hosts, both are painfully boring to me. I’ve never understood the appeal to the host system. I’ve had this theory, since most of the women patrons of host clubs are also sex workers, who have to deal with assholes all day, hosts allow them to try their hands at the dynamic themselves. Something like “reverse sexism”. As I said, I don’t like hosts but this guy was different. He was a total geek.
He was a Kaiju (怪獣） and Kamen Rider （仮面ライダー) nerd, totally into the world of Japan’s superheroes and super monsters, and quite small in stature. He wasn’t the most intimidating guy to bring along, however he had a penis and he was Japanese. If the situation became out of hand, those two important factors would be all that would matter with having an ally on my side.
As we toddled down the dark Dougenzaka alley trying to find the exact location of the vending machine from the email, Kaiju-host told me “I don’t feel so well about this.” Well no shit Sherlock. Neither did I, but in my mind if I gave this guy money he’d lay off for enough time for me to figure something clever out.
“I think this is it!” We walked near a vending machine similar to one I had seen on Google maps. The location was a far cry from the neon lights and drunks bumbling out of Izakayas. The only illumination about was from that vending machine; the neon glow lit the alley like a lighthouse far in the distance. I wish I could say something more meaningful or prolific about that, but I can’t. Just know the place was really damn dark and the only light was from a metal box with drinks inside of it. I would definitely feel more afraid being alone there. I remembered the line from the email: “Don’t look around or hang about too long!” I wondered whether or not this idiot was hiding somewhere in the darkness with a trench coat on and a seventies porn mustache ready to pounce.
I slid the envelope containing the ¥20,000 under the vending machine.
“Man! T–t-this is crazy!!!”
As Kaiju Host whimpered I wondered to myself why I brought him, of all people, as some sort of security. Then I quickly reminded myself he was Japanese with a penis, and the professor harassing me was most likely American or Canadian, based on his writings. In my mind if the police had any questions, providing this idiot actually did pounce in a trench coat, me being a whore was cancelled out by having a Japanese person with me and maybe I would have a fair chance.
I went home that night and emailed the idiot professor who somehow thought 20,000 yen was a lot of money to blackmail someone for.
“I’ve given you the money. Please leave me alone”
I stupidly assumed all was well the next day when he responded, “Great. I’ve got it. I won’t bother you anymore.”
And then silence. I assumed silence was great in this case, until two weeks later when I was contacted again. I know the readers are probably wondering where this story ends, if it’s fake or if I’m really all that stupid for continuously giving into his demands. I’d say a bit of the latter is true.
“You know…I’m starting to think you should um, come to a love hotel once a week or so and give me a free blow job, while wearing an eye mask so you won’t know who I am.”
And I ignored them. The emails got more and more harassing with every day, with about fifty or so emails sent every single day over a week’s time.At this point, I confided with a few friends about what I should do. Whether Japanese or not they all had a theme
“Go to the police. He will lose his job, everything. It’s illegal!”
“Dude this is how people get killed. You need to tell the police or I will!”
As much as I wanted to, as much as I told myself to do so- I couldn’t. I knew the score. Women are stalked in Japan all of the time and police often do nothing until it’s far too late for the woman. Women have been stalked, beaten and even murdered with the Japanese police and media blaming her post-mortem for “leading him on”. It wasn’t until 2014 that Japan’s stalking laws drastically changed, society will take longer however. So to say I was hesitant on contacting authorities at all in an understatement.
So I did the best next thing.
I impersonated a police officer. This guy seemed like an idiot, so I figured it wouldn’t be too hard to fool him. I searched online for Japan’s laws on stalking and internet harassment. “Bingo!” I found a long bill of text and decided to use it. There was a lot of complicated wording in it, but it didn’t matter as long as it looked official to scare him.
I took time to translate the text, because I imagined this guy as one of those Western men in Japan who took zero time to learn anything beyond “Areegatoe” and broken pick up lines to use on obviously resisting Japanese women.
“Haha” it was so funny how official the penal code looked. I even added in Japanese and English: THIS IS AN OPEN POLICE INVESTIGATION. LAW ENFORCEMENT ARE LOOKING INTO YOUR ACTIVITIES AND HAVE TAKEN CONTROL OF THIS ACCOUNT.
He responded almost instantaneously, “I’m sorry can we reverse this somehow? I was just kidding.”
Thankfully, I never heard from him ever again. But it still haunts me. My legal name isn’t public knowledge and it isn’t something I even used within university. This was someone with access to my legal documents, my Instagram, my twitter and was most likely a lecturer, as he claimed himself. Everyday at University from that point, I wondered, “Is it him?”
The university I went to wasn’t renowned for having a great administration or anything. There were so many strange people there. I had far too many theories on who it might have been and far too many unusual suspects. Maybe you don’t have sympathy for me because you don’t like sex-workers and don’t believe people should have the right to full autonomy of their bodies. But the sin of having consensual sex, for money shouldn’t be one that has so much shame attached that it could lead to someone in authority blackmailing a student.
A part of me laughs a bit though, at the entire experience and wondering if he was scared shitless for a few months worrying if it was the day law enforcement would come question him. Or maybe he didn’t care at all.
Welcome to our semi-annual pledge drive. Japan Subculture Research Center (@japankenkyu) was founded in 2007 by Jake Adelstein and many contributors to expose the hidden side of Japan – its underground economy, its transient and strange trends, its robust sex trade, wacky politics, corruption, social issues, many subcultures, yakuza, host clubs and hosts, Japanese cinema and all the other intriguing and seedy aspects that keep the country running. Balancing commentary, reporting and dark humor–we’re the kakekomitera (駆け込み寺) aka “last resort” of some news stories that no one else will touch. We’ve covered rebel graffiti artists, crusading lawyers, and some real heroes.
We would like this summer to support two interns so that we can post more original material and also revamp the layout. We’d like to add a current events section, more book reviews, more informative and provocative essays about Japan, and fund some investigative journalism. Ambitious yes, but we have lofty goals here at JSRC. Please read our manifesto: If you love Japan, make it better. Our mission statement.
Meanwhile, as part of this year’s pledge drive, we are giving away to the lucky two readers who donates before Thursday (drawing by lottery) free tickets to to see Shoplifters with English subtitles and a Q & A, by the director Hirokazu Kore-eda. Your contributions are greatly appreciated, however small or large.
If your motto in life is “one good deed a day” (一日一善）, here’s your chance to get those good karma points.
You’ve heard that foodie movies trigger your appetite. Love stories trigger tear ducts. Documentaries will cause political rants. In that vein, “Shonen,” a film about a male prostitute pleasuring his women clients with relentless energy and single-minded dedication, will…
Okay, well “Shonen” doesn’t exactly have that effect, because as a line in this brilliant film goes, “women are not simpletons.” Still, some segments were evocative.
For Japanese women viewers, the film may be a catalyst for some um, deeply stirred soul searching, if only because most Japanese women are conditioned from birth to cater to the needs of others, specifically men and ignore some basic physical needs of threir own. Confusing women further is the mixed and murky, societal message. Yeah, women are taught to appease and please men but at the same time we’re constantly warned against casual sex, couched in terms to make us feel like either victims (rape! groping! being dumped before marriage!) or sluts (self-explanatory). Men called all the shots and were the enemy but women couldn’t live without them because we’re women. It’s an image that Japan’s male-dominated culture has thrived on. As for sexual pleasure equally enjoyed by both parties? Ahhh, didn’t get the memo on that one.
“Shonen” however, urges women (and by implication, men) to explore their pleasure spots and revel in the fleeting moment because hey, what’s wrong with things being a little transitory sometimes? And to ease any apprehensions, the film proffers a cute young guy, not so much as a seducer but a persuader or a guide, who happens to be unclothed for the majority of the film’s nearly two hour duration. Not surprisingly, the screening room was crammed with women and more were waiting in line on the sidewalk, only to be turned away with promises of additional screenings the following week. Months before “Shonen’s” official release date was announced, online rumors heralded it as the Japanese “Fifty Shades of Gray,” but with a much better cast and specially tailored for a female audience.
Indeed, only the bravest of Japanese men could sit through “Shonen” without feeling massively out of place, unwelcome, inadequate and dismally uncomfortable. The warning is written into the title: the kanji character “sho” means prostitute and the “nen” points to a young male, and in this case he’s played by none other than resident sweet boy-next-door Tohri Matsuzaka whose adorableness is matched by a good-sport, non-threatening vibe. The movie shows us that both traits are assets in the world of male prostitution because the work is One client is a 70 year old lady in a kimono (played by Kyoko Enami, who’s actually 76). Another is an older, wheel-chair bound husband (Tokuma Nishioka) who requests Ryo to rape his young wife (Kokone Sasaki) in an onsen (spa) inn, so he could video-tape the whole thing and watch it later.
In one scene, Matsuzaka’s character Ryo is recruited by the glamorous Shizuka (Sei Matobu) into her “club” of male prostitutes. Ryo assumes he is to have sex with Shizuka, but in fact, he’s ordered to perform with Sakura, a young deaf woman who happens to be Shizuka’s daughter. After it’s over, she quietly places a 5000 yen bill on the bed, telling him matter-of-factly: “your sex was worth 5000 yen.” And then Sakura plonks down another 5000. “She’s taken a liking to you,” says Shizuka, indicating that he passed the test. As far as job interviews go, this is probably more pleasurable than most and the initial pay isn’t bad: 10,000 yen an hour and any tips are Ryo’s to keep.
Just in case you’re shocked, shocked!, like Claude Rains in “Casablanca,” male prostitution in Japan has been around as long as female. Historians have written that the original kabuki actors were homeless gay prostitutes, performing on the banks of Kyoto’s Kamo River by day and selling sexual favors by night. Currently, the rumor is that there are 30,000 “hosuto (escorts)” working in Tokyo and roughly 40% are into prostitution as side hustles. Tokyo’s male escort industry is ruthless – stories abound about how they will bleed their female clients dry and when the money runs out, sell them off to Chinese sex traffickers.
“Shonen” isn’t a sweat and tears documentary about the underside of Tokyo’s sex industry. It is in fact, a fairy tale that showcases the sexual prowess of Tohri Matsuzaka, who at 29 can play an alluring 20 year old who routinely cuts classes at a posh Tokyo university.
The very first scene shows Ryo hard at it, grunting and gyrating on the splayed body of a young woman moaning with pleasure at appropriate intervals. It’s a one night stand and the girl leaves in the morning after ascertaining that she just did it with a guy from a top-ranking university (“Wait till I tell my girlfriends!”) but Ryo can’t get no satisfaction. Later, when he meets Shizuka for the first time, he describes the sexual act as a “hassling exercise routine with all the moves already mapped out.” But as soon as he’s paid by his first client, Ryo feels more alive than he ever did. By turning his back on the normal world of sex with girlfriends, one door closes but a new one opens, one that inducts Ryo into the business of pleasuring women. It’s to director Daisuke Miura’s eternal credit that none of it is demeaning for any of the characters, even though he defies every taboo in the book of mainstream filmmaking. Audiences may find hard to stomach how Shizuka deploys her daughter to test the sexual abilities of new recruits, as she stands not three feet away, watching impassively with arms folded over her chest like an inspections officer.
In the end, a certain melancholy hangs in the air like an invisible pinata. Ryo couldn’t enjoy sex when it was free, but as a source of employment and act of labor, he begins to love it, and commits to the job like any dedicated salariman. He couldn’t be bothered to talk or be civil with casual girlfriends but with clients, he’s willing to have meaningful conversations and be kind, considerate and gentlemanly. Is work the all-controlling, always-defining core of Japanese life? One of the questions to ponder, in the midst of all that panting.
It’s Valentine’s Day again in Japan or it will be soon….And while Valentine’s Day is a mutual exchange of gifts and professions of love in the West, in Japan it’s a holiday where women give expensive fine chocolate to the men they love and crappy obligatory chocolate to the men they work with or work for, known as 義理チョコ (giri-choko) or “obligation chocolates.”
According to Encyclopedia Aramata, Valentine’s Day was first introduced into Japan in February of 1958 by an employee of Mary Chocolate Co. Ltd, who had heard about the European chocolate exchanges between couples from a friend living in Paris He decided it would be a brilliant marketing technique in Japan so he organized a collaboration with Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku, Tokyo. It was an incredible….failure. “During one week we sold only about three chocolates worth 170 yen at that time,” an employee recalled. Yet this employee persisted, later becoming the president of the company, and by the 1980s, he and Japan’s chocolate industry, along with the department stores, had enshrined Valentine’s Day as a holiday that is “the only day of the year a woman confesses her love through presenting chocolate.” The spirit of love.
But of course, as time went by, giving chocolate became something women were expected to do for not only the their “true love” but people at work, their bosses, their friends, and even, their brothers. 義理チョコ (giri-choko) aka “obligation chocolate” has branched off into “友チョコ (tomo-choko)” chocolate for friends, 世話チョコ (sewa-choko), chocolate for people who’ve looked after you, 自分チョコ (jibun-choko), a present for yourself, and even the rare 逆チョコ (gyaku-choko) —the rare event when a man gives chocolate to a woman on Valentine’s Day (revolutionary).
When we say “Valentine’s Day” in Japan, it doesn’t quite mean what it means in the West. (We’ll talk about White Day in March). And if you think about it, what do we really mean when we talk about love? Japan has some very specific terms for discussing and classifying love. Although the terms can be expressed in English, the compactness of Japanese words for sex, love, and everything in between is quite charming.
Japan has many words for love and sex. It’s surprisingly rich in words for love such as 友愛 (the love between friends) and 親愛 (love between family members) and of course 恋愛 (passionate love) . Here are some of the words you may find useful as you travel through love hotel island.
*出会い（Deai）–“meeting people” Also used to describe dating sites 出会い系サイト and one-night stands.
不倫 (Furin)-“adultery, infidelity.” Has more of a negative connotation than uwaki
慈愛(Jiai)–compassionate love. Much like the love a parent feels for their child–a desire for the happiness and well-being of another. When the Dalai Lama speaks of love in Japanese, this is often the word used to translate his words.
*浮気 (Uwaki) –1) to describe someone who can romantically love many people 2) infidelity; an affair 3) being in love with in someone other than your partner 4) (old usage) cheerful and gorgeous
*恋人 (Koibito) “lover”
*熱愛 (Netsu-ai) “passionate love”
*恋愛 (Ren-ai) “romantic love” A word very popular in Japanese woman’s magazines
*恋い (Koi) “love”
*一物 (Ichimotsu) “the one thing” According to an old joke, the definition of a man is this: a life support system for an ichimotsu (the penis).
*慈悲, 慈悲深い (Jihi) (Jihibukai) “compassionate love/sympathetic joy” This comes from Buddhism and describes a maternal love, originally means to give joy and peace to someone and remove their pain. 慈悲深い人–someone who is compassionate and finds happiness in the happiness of others.
*情熱 (jounetsu) “passion”
*ラブ (rabu) “love” pronounced Japanese style.
ラブラブ (rabu rabu) “love love” used to described a couple deeply in love.
*同性愛 (douseiai) “homosexual love”
*愛 (ai) love. “to love” 愛する (ai suru)
*好き (suki) like. Used often to express love as well. 大好き (Daisuki) “really like” Old school Japanese males never say, “I love you” (愛している) they would say, Daisuki. This line:“君が大好きだ” (Kimi ga daisuki da). “I really like you” is often the profession of love in a Japanese movie or television show on both sides.
純愛 (Jun-ai) “pure love” An almost mystical concept of love as something beyond physical or material reality. I’m still not sure what this means but it sets off lights in the eyes of Japanese women. It’s a television drama buzz word.
*惚れる (horeru) fall in love
*惚れ込む (horekomu) fall deeply in love
*一目惚れ (hitomebore) love at first sight “hitome” first sight. “hore” fall in love (see above)
*セックス (Sex)—This is “Japanese English.” It means sex.
*前戯 (Zengi)–Foreplay. Mae (前）means before and “戯れ” means “play, goof around”. Technically this entry should have been before Sex (セックス) on the list but then I wouldn’t be able to make this joking reference here.
*セックスレス (Sexless)—Maybe half of Japanese marriages are sexless. Who knows why? It’s a common complaint for Japanese women and some Japanese men..
アイコンタクト (eye contact)” Important in courting.
*エッチ (etchi) A cute-word for anything sexual, flirty. Usually has a fun connotation.
*男根 (dankon) “male-root” If you can’t figure out what this means, please refer to 一物 (ichimotsu)
*おまんこ (o-manko) The female genitalia, sometimes just the vagina. Also referred to as simply manko. However, we prefer attaching the honorable “o” as in “orgasm”. Also, it’s never bad to show respect. Even amongst the closest of friends, decorum is necessary. 親しき仲にも礼儀あり
*愛人 (aijin) Lover. The aijin is usually the partner in a forbidden romance. Similar to “koibito” but more of a shady aspect.
*オーガズム (ougasumu) orgasm
オルガスムス (orugasumusu) orgasm in Japanese taken from German Orgasmus
絶頂 (zettcho) climax, orgasm in Japanese language
*失楽園 (Shitsurakuen) A very popular novel and movie about a passionate modern day affair that ends in double suicide, with the lovers found dead in each others arms in mortal post coitus bless. Yes, you wouldn’t think this would encourage people to have affairs but it did! Women’s magazines had multiple features on the books and movies.
潮吹き (shiofuki): female ejaculation. Some Japanese women release a squirt or excess lubrication on orgasm. There appears to be some science suggesting that this does happen.
鼻血 (hanaji): bloody nose. There is a strange folk-belief that when a Japanese man is sexually excited he gets a nosebleed. Go figure.
In Japan, when man or women reaches orgasm, they don’t come (来る) they go (行く/iku). Likewise, to make a man or woman reach orgasm, is to 行かす (Ikasu) “make go.”
楽園 (rakuen) mean paradise. 失（shitsu） means “loss” or as a verb 失う（ushinau） to lose.
If I was running a campaign aimed at women for Japan’s favorite 浮気（uwaki) dating site for married people, I might make a pun on this along the lines of “恋愛の楽園を失いましたか。Ashleymadison.jpで禁断の楽園を再発見しよう“ (Did you lose your lover’s paradise？Rediscover the forbidden paradise on Ashleymadison.jp) BTW, the site already had a 1,000,000 members within 8 months.
*恋い焦がれる (koikogareru)=”burningly in love” to be in love so deeply that it’s painful, to yearn for the other 恋い (love) + 焦げる (burn).
Not a negative word, but a way of expressing a deep passionate consuming love. Many men and women seem to be seeking
*ベッド (bed)—usually a roundabout way of discussing sex in Japanese female magazines
–プレイ”—(play) This is usually added to various types of sexual fetishes.
性愛 (sei-ai) Erotic love, eros (sex/gender 性 + love 愛)
For example, 赤ちゃんプレイ (Aka-chan purei)—When the guy likes to be diapered like a baby, possible shaved completely nude, and nurse, sometimes with a woman who’s actually lactating. I could tell you a really strange story about a police raid on a place specializing in this type of service but I’ll skip it.
*遊び (Asobi) “Play”—this can refer to sex, an affair, a one-night stand. It has a wide usage in Japan and adults “play” just as much as children. Hence the costume fetish in Japan—
コスプレー (cosupurei—“costume play”)
密事 (mitsuji)—An old word but a literary one for discrete affairs.
*禁断の愛 (kindan no ai) Forbidden love
*密会 (mikkai) secret meeting
*ばれない (barenai) to not be discovered, to get away with something
*絶対ばれない (zettai barenai) “absolutely no one will find out”
Editor’s note: the following article contains graphic descriptions of sexual activity. If you’re easily offended or under 18, please cease reading this article and read this one instead.
Have you ever wondered what is happening in Tokyo at night? And what is the meaning of “Happening Bar”? Have you ever been curious what all the fun is about? Why do people from all over the world come to Tokyo for the supposedly funky and fetish sort of fun and some the other ‘f’ words?
Well, I have… This would come as a shock to people other than close friends to see me saying this. People are always quick to judge. They could never see it from my outer appearances. What can I say? Don’t judge a book by its cover,…unless it’s Fifty Shades of Grey. And as many people say, I am one of the most hard working, self-improving, disciplined person you may ever know. But I am also very active, out-going, and I value experience, any kind of experience. This is the one I felt I lacked, even after so many years in Japan.
This year’s golden week, instead of the usual grand plans to travel to international locations, I decided to stay in Tokyo and relax. And of course, convince my partner to visit one of Tokyo’s happening bars to satisfy one of my many curiosities.Happening bars (ハプニングバー。。。。or the other カップル喫茶 (couple coffeeshops)。。。）
I am not one for swinging; loyalty is my strong suit in a relationship but I have to admit that the idea of having kinky sex in front of a crowd turns me on.
It was around 10:07pm at night when we left our place. We hailed the first cab we saw and told the driver the address of one of the bars we found online. It took around 15 minutes to get there. I felt a little uncomfortable as we were reaching the destination, since the driver started to get so perplexed about where we wanted to go in the midst of love hotels.
We walked to the door of the club. There were security cameras and the door was securely shut. Not a sound came out of the door. If I didn’t know it, I would never have guessed that there would be any action going on inside. There was an inter-phone by the door. I rang it. A male voice answered, ‘Are you a member?’
I said no. He then asked if we had IDs, and as soon as we confirmed that we did, the door opened into a small reception area where we were then asked to fill in our information with a proven photo ID. The male receptionist first checked that both of us can speak Japanese as the club does not allow any foreigner in who do not understand the language. We paid the registration fee and entrance fee in cash (as it was cash only). As a couple, a man pays 7,000 yen and a woman pays 2,000 yen registration fee. The entrance fee for both of us together was 8,000 yen. After some explanation of rules such as members are forbidden from asking for contact information of other members and couple members are not allowed to leave with anyone else or interact with single females in the club, he then gave us green wristbands. Green represents couple members, blue represents single males, and pink represents single females. Once all this was done, the other door opened.
A girl in a short blond wig greeted us. She was wearing some kimono-like robe and had distinctive orange eyelashes. She wasn’t a kind of girl I had imagined would be working as a happening bar’s staff. She had a kind face and seemed like a very helpful person. I could imagine her working as a barista in a quiet cafe even with her blond wig and orange lashes. She asked us to take our shoes off and put them in lockers. We were then asked to put away our stuff in another locker including all our phones and valuables. In the same floor, there were rest areas for people to just take a break, drink some water, or call work or home. I started seeing a few men in female’s night gowns, some with their penises hanging out. I looked at my partner and smiled as I knew that this would probably not be anywhere near my imagination.
The staff took us to the next floor. This floor was very dark with some fluorescent lights they use in clubs so we could see our wristbands glowing and my white dress shining in the dark. There was a small reception table where a pantless male staff in a single blue shirt and red tie asked us to show our wristbands to a flashlight machine. The first thing I heard was some sounds of something similar to…cats in heat. Then, as I turned to the left and saw at least four pair of male and females sitting together in a corner, I realized that that was where the sound came from — not the 4am kittens on the roof, but it was the moaning of females in pleasure and some males getting blowjobs. Most people were in costumes such as high school girls with their breasts showing, or as what seemed to be a common attire in this place, men were mostly in tight onesies.
Then, there was a caged corner, a kinbaku (緊縛）or shibari （縛り）corner — which supposedly is the Japanese art of rope tying, originally practiced in order to prevent prisoners from escaping, but now part of BDSM fetish sex. Nowadays, artists create art forms of rope tying, making it look either erotic or beautiful with complex geometrical patterns. This is also the world I was introduced to a year ago from witnessing my partner’s shibari artist friend tying a model up for a very interesting eye-opening photoshoot. There were many patterns already tied on several mannequins with instructions and many whips and chains hanging in the same caged area. At this moment, the staff stressed another important rule of “no drinking and roping’” even if you do know how to properly tie people up, since you can seriously injure someone if you’re not focussed. Sex friends don’t let sex friends tie up friends drunk. There was also a single board on the wall, where you could tie one person to it, by handcuffing their wrists and ankles. The area was as kinky as I wanted it to be.
As I turned to the other corner, I saw the ‘play rooms’. According to the staff, there are some couple only rooms where one or more couples could enter and have sex.
Couples are also allowed to watch or touch other couples but only with permission. Some are mixed rooms for either couples or single males or females members. But we were warned that as a couple, we are to stick together at all times except when we go to the bathroom and we are not allowed to communicate with other single females. “That’s great,” I thought. I am very devoted and supportive as a partner but also can be a jealous, possessive and an unforgiving one. I have always been and I doubt I’ll change much. The staff continued to explain that the closed curtain meant there is ‘a happening’ but we were allowed to peak as much as we’d like without being afraid we’d sustain a serious case of eye stye.
Then, we were led to the last floor. This one was a bar full of people. The staff asked what we wanted for drinks as it was an ‘all you can drink’ system. My partner ordered Malibu coke. I asked for the same thing saying ‘同じでお願いします’ (onaji de onegaishimasu) but apparently she misheard ‘onaji’ for ‘orenji’ (オレンジ = orange). So I got a glass of orange juice—orange juice just as orange as her eyelashes which was…just the right drink for a sex club. As soon as we sat down, the staff left us alone.
There room was full of people dressing in night gowns, a lot of men, again, in female lingerie with some of their brownish avocado like private parts showing. A few guys raised their glasses to me when they thought my partner wasn’t looking. A few winked but stopped after seeing my green wristband. A few simply stared, probably wondering who I was as I was the only one in an office appropriate white dress with a very foreign looking partner next to me. I closed my eyes for a moment and imagined whether I would ever come alone and consider having sex with one of the guys there. My thoughts, even if I died twice and was holding on to my last dearest life, it would probably still be a no.
A few minutes after, the master of the place, a tough but sharp and reliable looking guy in his mid 50s came in. Beside him was a beautifully pregnant staff member in her underwear with see-through lingerie covering her body. They announced a Bingo game. Everyone started to gather around from every floor. We were probably the only foreigners I could see that night. I sat next to a bare chested guy in leopard printed satin robe who kept leaning on me. The Bingo game started. They called the numbers out one by one and I punched in a lot of numbers on my bingo board. I had only one more to punch to win or in Japanese, ’リーチ’ (ree-chi) twice. A few had already won and were called to the front stage to draw a lottery containing their prize. They were asked about their names, their favorite sexual position, and one lady was asked to flash her boobs after about 10 seconds of ‘oppai oppai…’ (breast) roar. Apparently, she happily did so, but only to find out that she didn’t actually win after all. I felt the urge to escape the bingo area as I do not want to go up on stage and being asked questions at or having to come up with a good fake name on the spot. So I nudged my partner and we went straight for the playrooms.
We were the only ones in that floor besides the pant-less counter staff. We asked to use one of the couple only rooms and he gave us condoms–as using condoms is also one of the important rules of this club. The room we went in was very big, decorated by white sofa-liked materials all over the place. It was very clean with many boxes of tissue paper lying around. The staff closed the curtain and left us alone. Everyone was still at the Bingo game but we were ready to Bingo Bongo. Apparently, he was already as hard as freshly cooled lava rock and I was as wet as we could have asked for. We started having intense sex, trying a few different positions. As I was on the floor being penetrated from behind, I heard some noises from people who were probably peaking into the room or opening the curtain. That was certainly a huge arousal there. Soon, I turned and licked his balls and butthole while he was standing and we finished the whole ‘happening’ session in a beautiful manner. We were in a state of absolute bliss, our hormones pumping, an orgasmic glow on our faces. That was the highlight of the night and we were ready to go.
Now, I know what you probably are thinking. No weird orgy, no threesome, no chains, whips or blindfolds? In happening bars, all the aforementioned do not necessarily happen. Nobody is forced to do anything they do not want to do accept abiding by the club’s rules. We were curious, we explored, and we had fun in our own way. And in my not very humble eyes, I am proud to announce that we were the hottest couple in the entire club that night. We were sexy and we knew it (LOL). This night’s experience, for us, was the fun of not knowing what something is about and trying something new together, even in a fetish-y atmosphere–that was the appeal.
I checked the clock and it was 11:40pm. We got dressed, got our stuff from the locker room ,and rang the door bell from the inside. The same reception guy opened the automatic door and waved us goodbye as we were walking out the door.
So would I ever come back? The club has different events each night and I’d like to try a few more things in there, so…yes. But one thing for sure, next time, I would have to be a lot more drunk than a girl who just had a glass of orange juice in a sex club. My curiosity is partially satiated but I’m still thirsty for knowledge. Knowledge is power—or at least a powerful orgasm.