No Ordinary Pedophile: Japan’s Idolization of Children

Ten years ago, on Thanksgiving day 2006, a Japanese auto executive was quietly taken into custody on charges of molestation and possession of child pornography. Under a mountain of evidence discovered in a false ceiling within a closet and captured on a USB his daughter plucked from a hidden camera in her bathroom, “Mr. Right” pled guilty, mysteriously vanishing from the automotive scene. Pedophiles exist everywhere, but this was no ordinary perve.

I met my future first husband when I was just sixteen. I had spent the summer of 1980 in Tokyo on a youth exchange when I encountered “Right Man” in Narita airport. The 22-year old Japanese college student was on his way to study in the US when he all but inserted himself into my world. Two years later I was his teen bride; the wife an only son– heir to a 500 year-old estate on the remote island of Sado.

Over the next few years, both in Michigan and in Japan I was trained to become the perfect Japanese wife. During my “bonsai years,” as I call them, I was pruned and shaped by shame and fits of violence– my speech, dress, and mannerisms effectively regressing to reflect a more child-like essence. It wasn’t until I was several years into my marriage that I found evidence that I was dealing with more than a controlling husband.

In 1986 while living on Sado, I discovered my husband was some sort of Japanese version of Peter Pan. Carefully tucked under his futon mattress were three paperbacks containing fanciful photos of very young nude girls– innocent erotica. When confronted my husband advised that they were ‘fantasy, art, and nothing more,” adding that the materials were legally obtained; purchased at the local newsstand. I thought at the time, “What have I gotten myself into? After nearly six years in the culture how could I have missed this?”  Back then, information wasn’t what it is today and I was too enamoured.

What I hadn’t overlooked was that all around little girl cuteness was idolized and mimicked as the preferred style for young women.  Wanting to fit in and please I had naturally followed suit. By my husband’s training I had become soft-spoken and demure. Essentially regressing in mind and body– my nearly six-foot frame fitting into the perfect Japanese size “M.” 

Japan’s idolization of young girls, a trend that began in the 1980’s and has expanded throughout the world, is most often symbolized by the cute schoolgirl uniform-look popularized by the anime (animation) “Sailor Moon.”

Reminiscing about my days in Japan, I recall that Electric Town, Tokyo’s Akihabara district, was once a place where we shopped for boom boxes and the latest Sony Walkman, but today it is filled with anime, manga (Japanese comics) and cosplay (costumes for teens and young adults).  It’s all fantasy…most of it innocent, but some of it crosses a line foreigners may recognize but often dismiss on cultural grounds.

Although I left the culture long ago, I worry that modern Japanophiles do not truly grasp the cultural underpinnings of what they are buying and watching today.  Mr. Right wasn’t your average pedophile. Child pornography was legal to manufacture in Japan until 2011 and to possess until 2014. Sexually graphic anime and manga involving youthful characters in school uniforms is protected as freedom of expression both in Japan and the US.

While I readily admit there are plenty of wonderful animation and comics coming out of Japan, parents and fans alike should be aware of the cultural context surrounding the materials they are watching and buying. When the sexually graphic or even titillating content featuring children is readily available, it normalizes what would otherwise be considered taboo.   In Japan teenage girls desperate for money and attention sell their time for walks or conversation…putting themselves in precarious situations that can easily lead to sexual acts. Add to this the fact that Japan is a country where molestation is rarely reported and victim services are sorely lacking and opportunity abounds

It seems no one can say for sure whether or not molestation is more common in Japan than elsewhere as data is sorely lacking, but it would not be surprising that victims would come out of the woodwork if public disclosure were more common.  I am painfully aware that the reporting of such incidents is often discouraged by Japanese family members to avoid bringing shame.  My ex mother-in-law, still living in Japan, is an example of this old-school mentality. It is apparent to me from several conversations that she is blaming the victim for allowing the abuse to occur and angry that her son was reported vs. allowing the matter to be handled internally.

More and more I think the tide will turn for Japan.  In 2009 when I first began to put the pieces of our story together I Googled “pedophillia in Japan” and was shocked to find child porn was still legal. At the time I reached out to several scholars on the culture and could not find one researching the negative effects of child erotica normalization, but laws regarding child porn have changed and now I’m starting to see a few articles and research papers on virtual characters as well. It’s a good sign.

It has been more than a decade since Mr. Right was taken from his suburban home to the county jail and he remains incarcerated to this day.  And, even though I long ago returned to my American roots, I am still somewhat bound by my 21-year infatuation with Japan…those bonsai days when I was essentially forced to be a child. To put all that occurred into perspective I’ve written my account in a memoir called “The Six-Foot Bonsai.”  I’m hoping my personal account of living in a culture of child idolization opens a few eyes.

For those that love what is often termed the “cutie” culture of Japan it is important to understand that there is a dark side.  They need to understand that the popularity of such imagery can cause girls and young women to hide their own character and personal strengths.  Further, when a young woman becomes a mother, a man whose fantasies involve much young girls may in fact treat his wife more harshly and consider her “too old” and unappealing. This is precisely what happened to me as became “too old” in my late twenties.  For the love of Japan, girls need a real voice– their own style…not some idealized, comic-like version.

You can find my redemptive story “The Six-Foot Bonsai: A Soul Lost in the Land of the Rising Sun” on Amazon.

*** Thank you for reading!  Please support efforts to “Stop the Silence” by donating through Global Giving (link).

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25 thoughts on “No Ordinary Pedophile: Japan’s Idolization of Children

  1. This should be read by everyone who is about to travel to Japan. I was there in June and felt uncomfortable with some of the things I saw, but I wasn’t really aware of how bad things were. Now that you have explained this, I can also understand the Japanese Red Light area in Bangkok where the bars are staffed by young Thai girls dressed as little nurses, schoolgirls, and any other profession which they can represent in short-skirts.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Once you know Mari it really kind of ruins things in a way. You can escape it to a degree by going to the countryside, but I heard from someone living in a rural part of Japan that some towns have junior idols for their tourist campaigns.

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      • And having watched a recent U-Tube expose of the “cute” trade in Tokyo of hiring schoolgirls for walking with, it’s even more disturbing. It belittles both the men and the women. I hope Japan eventually gets a good feminist movement going.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The problem with the society that we live in today is that everything is intensified multiple fold with commercialization. It is a culture that worships money over moral values. In Cambodia and Thailand, teenage girls are sold into prostitution to support families financially because it is more lucrative than standard jobs. Plus no formal education required when girls go into prostitution. Not many families are willing to invest in girls. In Japan, many teenagers gave into peer pressure because they think having branded items are synonymous with prestige and success. They fail to understand that satisfying material needs can never fill the void of emptiness within. In fact it drove them deeper into debt. It is a vicious cycle. Also, it is not that Japanese girls don’t have a voice. Do society want to listen to them? Society cannot expect Japanese women to be as eloquent, as expressive or meet the standards of their Western counterparts. Since young, equality is close to non-existent at home. At school, encouraged to choose courses that show promising career prospects. In the job market, women are not given equal salary but worked twice harder than men. After having a baby, employers are hesitant to hire Japanese mothers because they don’t believe in simultaneously building a career and raising a balanced family. The pressure of getting married before 25 are also imposed by Asian society in general. The odds are very much against women. The whole “cute” industry is again fuel by commercialization. Cuteness sells. Sex sells. It’s a fact everywhere. Even in Russia, it is unusual for a woman not to have a child by the time she reaches 25. If still unmarried by 25, they are known as old maids or spinsters.

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    • All of what you wrote Mari is true. You have an excellent understanding of the situation. Many want to say that Japan is just like any other country when it comes to pedophilia but it is not true. The normalization is the issue and women’s voices are not in concert against it.

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    • Hello Wheat Wonderings! In the hubbub of Christmas I missed replying to your excellent comment. Yes Japanese women do have a voice I agree with you, but by the popularity of cuteness the voices of teenage girls and young women are demure and small. And once they graduate from college almost always they are on a certain path to become wives and mothers as you have noted. I would like to see a large collective voice demanding more.

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      • The challenge with change is that Japanese women don’t see it as a problem. Actually, Shintoism which is the official religion of Japan doesn’t view sexual perversions such as pornography, pedophilia and incest as a crime.

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  3. The idolization of youth is a cultural sickness, maybe more evident in Japan but certainly entrenched in the US, too. Just look at Hollywood. Incest is way more common here than is supposed, possibly because of the same reasons. The perpetrators and their families know it is wrong, and the child is afraid of angering or alienating complicit adults, is blamed or ignored.

    It seems this reflects an immature society that is afraid of the responsibilities of adulthood. It results in a child-like culture that delegates responsibility to outside agents, like religion or government, to control people who are not willing to control themselves. While people claim to want freedom, they behave as though they need outside controls, someone to blame when things don’t go their way.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I personally have no data about incest here or in Japan. Statistics are sorely lacking everywhere for so many reasons. As for Hollywood, I do not see the emphasis on underage starlets as sex symbols; and when it does occur (Miley Cirus, Britany Spears…) many mature Americans are critical…almost thinking that what they are viewing is a joke. We are far less tolerant and our laws on crimes involving children are stiff– with pedophiles being branded for life. I can look up pedophiles in my town and pinpoint where they live.

      I agree that it is an immature society that participates in Peter Pan behavior…wishing to be forever young instead of accepting responsibility. Although I see some of that here in the US, I do not see adult men in the late 20’s and beyond trying to access teenagers unless there is something really wrong with them. If we knew of such a person in our circles, we would label them as pedophiles. In Japan, it is more frequently dismissed as the normal quirk of a man who does not want to face his adult responsibilities. Thank you Katherineotto for you comments! I greatly appreciate your views.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t mean to imply that Americans are as bad as Japanese regarding pedophilia, but you admit your ex was particularly reprehensible along these lines, or he wouldn’t still be in jail.

        I know so little about the Japanese culture. Your writings are truly enlightening. I have heard Japan is also big on ancestor worship, or elder worship. If that’s true, it would add another level of complexity to the pedophilia issue, would it not? A kind of extremism at both ends of the scale?

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      • Hi Katharineotto! My ex is in Jail because of his actions and the fact that after a many years his victim gathered the courage to reach out and tell someone. She had been so intimidated and controlled, but because she had enough American in her and generally knew that society and the legal system would work in her favor with evidence, she gathered courage finally. If she were in Japan, I think she would have just told someone in the extended family and matters would have been handled behind closed doors with many fights and some sort of family protection vs. bringing in any authority. Very few cases are reported. Only a few are prosecuted.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I didn’t realize she was outside Japan when she spilled the beans. I guess this is in the book. Apologies for not having read your book, but my hypertensive crisis in early October made reading extremely difficult. Eyes are getting better now but still not up to snuff.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Pedophilia is rampant in the USA and Canada, just as it is in Japan and many other Asian countries, including Vietnam, Thailand, and the Philippines. American “sex tourists” flock to those places for illicit sex with underage girls (and boys, whether they dress up as girls or not). What is illegal in America, isn’t “over there” – and has been going on for decades. I’m very much aware of it.

    My question is, what are local, national, and international groups doing about it – if anything? Additionally, the internet has made it much easier for people to prey on children of many nationalities, and kids, especially girls, are groomed even in the “safety” of their own homes, due to ignorant and clueless parents who use television and computers as “baby-sitters.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • It is definitely everywhere. And Westerners are customers. There’s a market for children and some countries are willing to supply. The normalization is twist– and by a first world nation that values honor. The “overthere-ness” is problematic. Your points add to this conversation and I greatly appreciate your input!

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    • While pedophilia is rampant everywhere, in the US there are stiff penalties and social stigma. My ex would be tagged for life should he ever be allowed to return to society. We have websights to track where such people live. In Japan, Mr. Right would have likely never been reported in the first place. He would have been just like any “dirty-minded old man.”

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    • It “has been going on for decades.” Try millenia. Selling children into slavery, prostitution, or as drug traffickers is quite common in countries where life is cheap and children likely to starve along with parents if parents don’t give them up or sell them.

      Listen to Vietnam vets talk about what Vietnamese parents did with their babies to maim and kill American soldiers. Grenades in the cribs under screaming babies, deposited at the doors of barracks. American apple pie values were tossed back in in our Baptist-bred Bible-belt farmland faces.

      Vietnam turned combat vets’ innocent American ideals into their cynical opposites, for some of them, and made peace-loving isolationists among others. America hasn’t looked within to find plenty of work caring for families of the soldiers already killed and providing relevant support to maimed veterans, as well as the families who have to pick up where the VA bureaucratic nightmare ends. In my experience, Vietnam vets are the most peace-loving people around, survivalists, competent, and exhausted by the conflicts. They want to support the troops, but they think the wars are wrong.

      Meanwhile, Agent Orange, a Monsanto product, like Roundup (glycophosphate), poisoned everyone equally in Vietnam, but the Americans got out. What are the residual effects of widespread use of Agent Orange? I read in the New York Times the other day that Syngenta, another seed/chemical company comparable to Monsanto, is allowed to produce paraquat in the UK, but only for export. Paraquat is banned in the Eurozone, but not in the good ole US of A. Paraquat–an herbicide which made headlines in the 1970s for the government’s dumping on marijuana fields–was believed to cause serious lung damage in those who inhaled or smoked it. The NYT noted this week that as weeds have become more resistant to glycophosphate, paraquat use has risen four-fold as an alternative. East meets West. Who wins under this scenario?

      Sorry to side-rail your blog for this rant, but I believe good nutrition is a key antidote for endemic sub-clinical malnutrition among our children and population at large. Nutrition is near the top of my 2017 blog themes: “Ten Years Ago This Month,” from my 2007 journal.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It first struck me as weird — very weird, to hear the staff and almost all (if not all) women talk in their high pitched 5-year old voices. No wonder.

    I saw a few of the popular animations in Japan, and asked my husband if kids watch the indecent yet seemingly innocent actions of the characters, and he said “yes!” OMG. To say in the least, I wasn’t impressed with this side of their culture. 😑

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is always good to hear from someone else who saw these things and recognized them for what they were. It is so easy to be blinded by culture and say, “They just do things different here…but there’s no problem with it.” In the case of Japan, they are first-world, so cool, polite and clever, that it is hard to imagine any ill comes of this child idolization (and sexualization) content. But it does. Lines are blurred and minds are warped. Anime fans (otaku) are particularly unwilling to think that anything could happen to really children and young women as a result of their all to common themes. Thank you for the comment.

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      • Thank you Wayfarer for recognizing the voice and for reading this article. It is not a far leap to say that such behavior gives men what they want and that what they want is a girl who is not indpendently grown but dependent upon him and forever “cute.” But of course that never lasts as a woman becomes a mother and for that must grown up. Then the man is left thinking of the girl that is not his to have…one much younger and even underage naturally. When this notion is sexualized fantasy, then we have pedophilia. This is something I’m writing about regularly as I lived it in Bonsai.

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