No Ordinary Pedophile: Japan’s Tendency Toward Cuteness
By now most everyone in the world knows about Japanese anime– their wonderfully imaginative cartoons. If you are unfamiliar or only vaguely aware, the Japanese manufacture tons of comics, animation and related products.
While most of it is uniquely creative and entertaining, a certain portion should cause consumers to double take and question what it is exactly they are watching, as even the most innocent production can contain elements of titillation– that is, scenes featuring characters in sexual contexts that appear to be under age. Related to this, there exists a flourishing idol industry made up of teenage girls who, like real-life anime characters, are paid to play coy, dress innocently as schoolgirls or maids (but with their skirts adequately hiked) and solicit. Their customers are for the most part Japanese men, “gentlemen” with fantasies who pay for a closer look and perhaps a bit of conversation time. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out that in some instances this activity leads a girl down dark alleys to one of Tokyo’s nearby “love hotels” that offers rooms by the hour. There, she can have a consensual interaction with a man just met…and rendezvous of the nefarious kind.
As a long time observer and cultural enthusiast with strong ties to Japan, I have watched the Japan devolve and it saddens me. I remember watching “Doraemon” and even “Dr. Slump”– two popular Japanese cartoons that helped me greatly in my language learning. They were not much different from our cartoons in the West; one featuring a blue cat with magical abilities, and the other about the life of a robot girl, who for all her strength, got herself into predicaments by her lack of human understanding. These, by now are considered old-school…not fantastical enough, as somewhere along the line creators recognized they had an adult audience in Japan that wanted more.
By the mid-nineties with information flowing much faster, bits of Japanese adult-oriented content with titillating scenes began to appear in the U.S. and elsewhere. For many non-Japanese young people, this type of media may have been their very first exposure to the exotic culture. Parents may have been oblivious at the time, but I distinctly remember in 2002 going into a small town book shop in Michigan to buy my then 11-year old nephew Japanese comics and having to go though dozens in order to find something without sexual content mixed in somewhere. I was keenly aware; but only by my past. Without me around, his parents would have likely bought him the comics without censor. It was kids his age and slightly older, that began to crave all things Japanese. They knew not what they were supporting. As described in the opening paragraph, the cute culture is, at its core, developed as a fantasy outlet for adult Japanese males. This should concern many.
“Cute” is actually one of the reasons I fell in love with Japan. They are masters and making adorable. I have read elsewhere that the type of cute mania we see now actually began just before I went to Japan…in the mid-seventies with Hello Kitty and a puffy-style of writing that became wildly popular with teen girls. What was once something viewed as a passing fad however, has over the last couple of decades exploded becoming one of its biggest exports. It seems a bit twisted no?
And while there has been some criticism over the past several years (most recently in the BBC documentary “Young Sex for Sale in Japan), fans of anime and Japan in general have been calling foul, saying essentially, that outsiders simply don’t understand the culture and that what appears harmful isn’t. I disagree. The fact is that most fans don’t understand the culture or they excuse questionable content on cultural grounds. As I see it, the biggest mistake of foreign critics is to claim that adult comics featuring child-like characters in sexual scenes causes pedophilia.
Although one could extrapolate and make the claim that such content could arouse and cause susceptible viewers to become actual pedophiles nothing has been proven on that front. And in fact, I believe it is the other way around. Innocent erotica consumers came first, and though their collective buying power young girls became a commodity and the cute culture was born. The market has existed well before anime was a thing and it allowed the real child porn industry (that featuring live children) to flourish to the extent that nude preteen photo collections were sold openly on newsstands in Japan until 2014 when it was finally banned under UN scrutiny and pressure.
Let me be clear: Anime and the cute culture doesn’t transform Japanese men into pedophiles. Those who have such preferences were nearly predestined by their anthropological make up and groomed by their psychological tendencies which are unique to the islands (read “Made in Japan: An Anthropological and Psychoanalytical Perspective” by two Chubu university scholars). For this set of the individuals, erotic virtual images and the cute culture are newer outlets. Some even say it’s a way for men to live out their fantasies safely without harming actual children.
Whether such content prevents real sexual abuse by the pedophile population or causes it to occur in some cases, who knows, but the whole idea is beyond creepy. Sure people with murderous tendencies might get off watching the Halloween series that many normal people enjoy, but it feels a bit different. Perhaps its the prevalence of child sexual abuse and those who enjoy such content vs. murders and the murderous population. But for me, and most people in their right minds, anything containing sexualized images of real or virtual children is not material we would want to buy, watch or support in any way. Now if someone finds “fan service” content (upskirting shots of panties and the like) to be useful for treatment, like methadone for heroin addicts, then please by all means will someone open a treatment facility and monitor the effectiveness?
Seriously. What we have here is essentially a culture where a significant portion of the male population, enough to support a huge industry, is unable to accept adulthood. And, being immature, these men desire children in a sad kinky way. The same individuals who used to buy actual child porn from the supermarket a few years back, now pacify themselves using the idol industry and virtual substitutes which are readily available. This is the truth of the matter no matter how you slice it. On top of this, the culture is amenable to all of this…tolerant beyond tolerant.
Either way, real of fake, under age characters are the subject matter. The big difference would be in the production process and of course no real children were harmed in that (another common pro argument.) On the consumption side, however, its somewhat the same for the perv Japanese men who get their jollies by touching real children or viewing virtual children are not just innocently transporting themselves back to a time when they were young and liked their little neighbor. They are sick individuals hiding behind an exotic and infinitely complex culture that has normalized such desires for decades. And, in my opinion, because the Japanese have been so reluctant to ban anything related to child porn, it is up to the rest of us to call them out their bad behavior, but few will. The handful of news orgs and reporters who featured this topic have been slammed by fans afraid someone one will censor their beloved. I find it shocking, just how many liberal young people around the world, those who jump to join all kinds of feminist causes, are staunchly protective of virtual child rape in the context of the art forms as “no real children are hurt.”
I’m not looking for censorship per say, but I would like there to be greater awareness among the fans regarding the underpinnings of what they are watching. Like I said, the cute culture and all of its extracurricular trappings is big business. If fans worldwide would take a position against certain types of anime scenes and content, making it clear to Japanese society at large that portraying child-like images in any sexual way is unacceptable, there might eventually be a new industry standard. Yes it’s a long shot, but simply continuing to consume and casually dismiss is unacceptable. While titillating content involving children may be culturally acceptable in Japan, it generally is not elsewhere nor should it be. Intolerance is the appropriate response so as to stem normalization and keep the potential molesters from getting too comfortable in their own skin.
Truth be told, I was married to a Japanese man who told me in 1987 that child porn was “fantasy, art, and nothing more.” I’ll never forget those words said to me after finding magazines featuring nude children in our home. And how could I argue? He purchased the materials at a normal bookstore in our small town. It was everywhere. Although actual photos are now illegal, virtual and the idol culture carrries on the tradition.
But I get it. Like today’s fans, I was once fooled into thinking the Japanese know what they are doing and wouldn’t dare take any of this over the line and harm a child. I was so wrong. And don’t quote statistics from Japan saying that the Japanese have fewer instances of child sexual abuse and abuse in general. I won’t buy if for several reasons. For one, there are few social services geared toward child sexual abuse. Secondly, the age of consent thing doesn’t help. But most of all, molestation worldwide occurs most often at the hands of someone known by the victim. This fact, combined with the fact that Japan is known to be a shame culture where berating and demeaning is a way to control. Add these two factors together and what you get is silence and hidden secrets. Child sexual abuse by nature is generally hidden. Don’t forget that.
About the author of this article:
Stacy Gleiss has lived a life immersed in Japanese culture—a culture vastly different from that of her home state of Michigan. In her experience as the teen bride of a traditional Japanese man, Gleiss found inspiration for her memoir, The Six-Foot Bonsai, the only true story of an American woman who in the course of her assimilation to the culture would discover she was in fact married to a “lolicon,” a Japanese man with a taste for little girls. Her book is available through Amazon and other online retailers. To learn more visit http://www.thesixfootbonsai.com.