Pornography in Japan

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Japanese pornography has some unique features which separate it from pornography in other cultures, especially Western pornography. It is quite common and frequently translated and exported to Western cultures because of its large spectrum of themes and media. Japanese erotica has a reputation in the West as being sado-masochistic and youth-centered due to cultural differences and various taboos.


The concept of "pornography" may have emerged in the Edo period when every form of popular culture flourished. All forms of pornography flourished with the sole exception of figures and statues. This does not mean there were no works of erotica; these early works were by highly literate nobles and were often considered works of art. Both Japanese mythology and Shinto have few teachings about sexuality. An act of sex was and is an act of happiness without guilt or sin.

In the Edo period, pornography flourished due to the unique characteristic of the city of Edo. In this period, men (who were the only consumers of pornographic material at that time) made up well over 60% of the population. These men came from all over Japan to work, and remained there for years before returning to their hometown to marry (or to their wives), having learned valuable skills like reading, writing, and crafts. The disproportionate population balance and excess of young males demanded means to fulfil their sexual needs. State controlled prostitutions like Yoshiwara were an answer, and pornography was another.

There were many pornographic materials. Shunga or pornographic wood-block pictures were printed with all imaginable situations. These were often made into a book with sentences to describe their situations as well as to offer brief descriptions of a scene. Near the end of the Edo period when foreigners became widely known and seen, even interracial sex acts with foreign males were drawn and sold. The actual use of shunga was not simple. Less explicit books with kimono covering most of the body were used for sex education, while some were probably used for masturbation and others were even viewed with a lover. In many places, these shunga were packed by parents of the wife for use in her marriage. In 1788, a shunga book Haikai Yobukodori had a single picture on each page with lengthy descriptions attached. These shunga were rented from a rental book shop. In 1808, there were 656 shops in Edo, 300 shops in Osaka. This means that there were about one shop for every 1500 people in Edo. Much softer materials were also available. There were wood-block pictures of celebrities like kabuki actors and geisha both completely clothed in kimono.

After the Meiji restoration in the second half of the 19th century, the publication of pornographic materials declined under governmental pressure. It was still the early 20th century and the government feared that such an openly sexual culture could be seen as a sign of backwardness by European countries. The shunga production stopped and they were exported as "erotic arts" at a bargain price to any buyer from abroad. Pornographic novels were still produced underground as the language barrier would prevent them from becoming widely known abroad. Pornographic arts were still produced but by a general consensus rather than an enforcement and these came to be viewed as low arts.

In the late Taisho period and early Showa period, an artistic movement called Eroguronansensu, lit. erotic-grotesque-nonsense, occurred influenced by decadence works of Europe. These words were used because they had an air of a new and modern feeling. Until the 1950s, pornography were still very limited in production. Open sexual expressions were permitted in novels and manga but a strict control was applied on pictures and movies. During World War II, pornographic materials were banned altogether.

Influenced by magazines like Playboy, pornographic magazines were printed soon after World War II. These magazines quickly branched to cover all genres and featured pornographic novels as well as pictures. Playboy itself, however, did not succeed in Japan. Its articles were about the American lifestyle; women were mostly non-Asian, interviews were with people largely unknown in Japan, and fashion and sport were about American ones. Instead, it spawned a fetish and a genre known as Yomono, lit. Western things. Playboy revamped its articles and style in the early 2000s in Japan by having Japanese writers write exclusively about Japan and dropping most of the original content.

In the early 1960s, several movie studios began producing "pink movies" to be exclusively viewed in an adult-only movie theater. With censorship laws prohibiting genitals from being seen but otherwise free to express anything, these movies quickly diversified to fill all genres, including rape and bondage. Throughout the 1960s, the "pink films" were mainly produced by low-budget, independent filmmakers such as Koji Wakamatsu. In 1971, the major studio Nikkatsu entered the pink film genre with its higher production values through its Roman porno (lit. romantic porno) series. From the 1960s to the late 1980s, ambiguous censorship laws resulted in hundreds of cases regarding erotica and pornography. At midnight, television stations mostly aired soft-core pornographic movies until their ratings dropped due to the pornographic movies.

Gay oriented magazines began to appear, starting with Barazoku in 1971, which continued publishing until 2004. Gay magazines tend to be tailored to particular segments of the population, such as Badi which features younger adult males, Samson, devoted to chubby men, and G-men, featuring muscular men. The websites of these magazines also feature videos produced featuring these respective body types.

The proliferation of pornographic videos in the 1980s commonly called AV, short for adult video, eventually crashed the market for pornographic movie theaters. Rental video stores offered pornography at a price far below that of movie theaters. Because most Japanese families now had at least two television sets and VCRs, more videos were sold. It is rumored, but not supported, that VHS became popular over Betamax format because large numbers of AV were released in VHS format. Few AVs were sold in laserdisc format, but VCDs and later DVDs were used to distribute AV.

In 1983, the Nintendo Family Computer was released and a few pornographic games quickly followed. However, Nintendo wanted these machines to be family oriented and pornographic games were locked out of the market. Computer games with no limitation on content except for censorship laws became a popular way to distribute pornographic games. Early VCDs and DVDs were viewed on personal computers. Because so few Japanese people saw any reason to play games on these platforms, as opposed to video game consoles, playing computer games was sometimes viewed as being synonymous with playing Bishojo games.

In the late 1980s, the Dojinshi market expanded. It is estimated that about half of this market consists of pornography. Copyright problems plague the market, yet the dojinshi market was a common place for one to start before making a debut in a professional magazine. Yaoi began in the dojinshi market. From the mid 1990s, the dojinshi market also began making and selling pornographic games.

In 1980s, magazines oriented towards a mature male audience began to offer more explicit content. This was not immediately a major social issue because magazines oriented towards a mature female audience already existed and their content was in some ways more explicit.

Laws and movements

Japanese pornography has diversified to fill a vast number of categories and needs, with some themes being so obscure that the appeals and differences are too subtle for anyone but the most devoted to recognize. These diversities occurred because of three major reasons: to entertain by developing new methods of expression, to fill niche markets, and to work around censorship laws. Neither religious conservatism nor feminism had been a powerful factor in pornography in Japan.

Censorship Laws

The religious and social taboo against nudity has historically been weaker in Japan than in the West: "pillow books" detailing sexual acts were widely sold in the Edo era, and women and men routinely worked in the nude and bathed in public up to, and even after, the Meiji Restoration. While in Western society nudity has typically been a taboo, that idea entered Japan only after Meiji-era and how deep that idea is rooted is argued. Extreme public nudity, such as showing the genital area, would nevertheless be prosecuted in Japan (except in gender-divided public baths, and even then discretion is required). The Japanese attitude toward nudity in the media is more liberal than that of the United States, although it is still conservative in contrast to western Europe. Oddly enough, Japan does not have nudist beaches although this may simply be due to land congestion problems.

In Japan, it is illegal for any commercial work to display the human vulva and phallus in an explicit manner. This law dates back to the Meiji period and has never been amended. Any publications depicting the penis or vulva must be shrink-wrapped and barred from sale to minors. However, it is not uncommon for pictorial magazines to depict nude women with their genitalia airbrushed over in black, and video pornography routinely depicts explicit sex scenes with the participants' genitalia obscured by mosaics. Until 1991, the entire pubic region, including hair, was deemed obscene and unpublishable. Recently there has been a diversification in the censoring market with there now being several companies which offer it. The government's sexual watchdog group is still considered to be the more harsh though this in many cases depends upon personal taste as most of the companies practices vary, with some opting for the more controversial (as opposed to the mosaic) big black bar. As of now it looks as if the censorship laws will be lessened due to the Internet's pervasiveness and the underground pornography movement which began in the late 1980's. However, it still has a large number of followers in the society as a whole and regardless of opinion it has become somewhat of a "cultural practice". An example would be that even though pubic hair is no longer illegal to depict, many adult movies still frequently censor it and hentai art and films do not usually even have it drawn. This has led some, predominantly westerners, to view Japanese pornography as being somewhat pedophiliac and seeing many of the females as being younger than they really are intended to be.

It is also illegal to bring pornographic material into Japan, and customs agents are known for checking videotapes in international mail and hand baggage. Extreme cases, like multiple offenders or attempts at commercial importation, could be punished by fines but most merely had their contraband confiscated. Applications of this law did not change in recent years, but more offenders are caught in recent years as checks became tighter to prevent the drug trade and terrorism.


There is also a thriving genre of underground pornography in Japan (called urabon) that ignores these censorship laws: it has become especially prevalent on the Internet, as there are no mechanisms in place to prevent its transmission from Japanese nationals to the outside world. Japan recently has begun a crackdown on child pornography especially photographs and videos involving an act of sex between a minor and an adult, largely due to U.S. pressure in attempts to gain a control over Internet trafficking.

Religion and Pornography

Religions are not a factor in regulations of pornography nor defining of immorality in Japan. It is instead defined by a consensus. This is due to the fact that the separation of religion and state was complete before the proliferation of pornography. In the Edo period, Tokugawa shogunate limited religions' activities to organizing ceremonies such as funerals and marriages. This is because during the Sengoku period, religions like Buddhism and Christianity served as ideological backbones to rebellions. The shogunate recognized the danger of religious fanaticism and stopped a participation of religious leaders in policy making.


There is a pornographic culture just as there is a culture for foods or sports. Not all cultural aspects are equally represented, some are simply illegal or taboo in other countries. An expression of sexuality is more widely accepted in the mainstream media. Thus in many cases, scenes acceptable to Japanese audiences are unacceptable in other countries. Ribaldry is quite common even in child oriented materials and expressions that in most other cultures would not be acceptable for general audiences are shown without a warning. For example, in an early chapter of Dragon Ball, to find an invisible opponent, Muten-Rôshi is shown Bulma's bared breast; eliciting a fountaining nose bleed that drenches the invisible man.

Japanese erotica has many of the same themes as its western counterpart such as heterosexual and homosexual intercourse, group sex, and sexual bondage. Similarly to western erotica the Japanese version may also portray various sexual fetishes such as foot fetishism, or a focus on a certain type of clothing such as uniforms or costumes as anime, manga or video game characters. (See cosplay for more details, note that the term cosplay itself does not relate to pornography)

The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife by Hokusai.Many genres of Japanese erotica evolved because of censorship laws. Tentacle rape, an animated portrayal of rape fantasies involving a human female and a science fiction-like creature originated in the Edo era. The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife, a wood print of a woman in a sexual act with a giant octopus is one example of tentacle rape. It emerged as an alternative to depicting the male penis in the 1980s, and it became famous for its depiction in the anime, Legend of the Overfiend.

Doujin and parodies

Doujinshi, "fan works", are widely known as pornographic imitations of popular anime, games and manga. They are technically a violation of copyright law and can be prosecuted if the owner of copyrighted material chooses to have them prosecuted. But in many cases, owners officially ignore their existence. This attitude is at odds with the concept of copyright. However, this practice is common as it is a good way to measure how large the core of consumers are, the number of dojinshi published is representative of the number of consumers who would spend liberally on the title, increase and decrease shows rise of interest and its decline.

It is increasingly common for original doujinshi to portray underage characters; in the United States, this is known as lolicon, a contracted form of "lolita complex."


Main article: H anime Animated erotica (known in the West as hentai, but in Japan as 'adult anime') is a popular but a minor genre in Japan and generally maintains the same style of animation seen in other popular forms of Japanese animation (anime). Many of these anime are originally a game, a manga, or a novel.


Adult oriented games are a popular genre for computer games in Japan, comprising some 25% of all software titles published annually. The genre is somewhat unknown outside Japan because of several problems, cultural and translational, but their artworks are well known on internet websites often illegally copied and shown as "adult anime pictures". Known "bishojo games" or "pretty girl games" (alternately spelled "bishoujo") in Japanese, the games are known under several names used by English fans, including PC dating-sim game, hentai game/H game, and so on. Companies such as Peach Princess, JAST USA and G-Collections are porting dating-sim games to English for the fledgling market outside of Japan. Adult video games in Japan are rated "Z" by the CERO, from now on.


Pornographic material has existed from the earliest day of computer networking and the internet has helped to connect those interested in specific genres. In those early days, the presence of pornographic materials often resulted in heated arguments between those who did not want any such material available for anonymous access and those who believed that individuals can choose for themselves. The matter was eventually resolved by having either warnings or a password before most pornographic materials.

Fanfictions, commonly found in websites, are not limited to fictitious characters and often use real live people as well, though these works would make little sense to those who do not see Japanese TV programs. Dojinshi writers typically use the internet to market their products by offering previews of new works, a secret address where buyers can find additional works, and a sample of their games. They also recruit new writers and artists online. Several exclusively adult oriented search engines exist to let someone find a site they are looking for, without having to search through commercial websites that list all keywords. Many works of dojinshi are featured in websites that collect the art and let people look for free.

Many websites feature seasonal greeting pictures, often pornographic, from linked sites and friends who frequent their sites. A typical Christmas greeting picture on such sites features a santa-girl in various stages of undressing. The twelve zodiac animals of Chinese astrology offer challenging and entertaining examples of Catgirl.


Magazines are, along with videos, popular media for pornographic materials. Unless a magazine contains pornographic manga or pictures, there is a no age requirement for its purchase. Many non-pornographic magazines have some glamour photography and as long as women are in something more than a swimsuit, it is considered a non-pornographic photograph. Several non-pornographic magazines have some nude photographs of women as a part of their articles but as long as they have an artistic quality and do not show men, it is not considered pornographic. Furthermore, a female and male doll may be partially clothed or even nude as long as it is a work of art and is not in an act of sex.

Confessional writings by both genders are a popular topic in men's and pornographic magazines. Quite often, these writings are fictional stories written by professional authors. Other popular topics in men's and pornographic magazines are erotic manga and novels, reviews of pornographic videos, and reports of sex services.

Women's magazines also have most of the writings of men's and pornographic magazines. Except for a few glamour photographs of men (who are usually clothed), they lack graphic pornographic contents. Few, if any, of magazines targeted for women are considered pornographic or have an age requirement as they lack any graphic content.


Manga with a pornographic content target both male and female audiences and both male and female mangaka write pornographic works.

The dividing line for manga on what is pornography and what is not, can be summed up by a simple rule: that which requires age verification to purchase is pornography, and that which does not require an age verification are not pornography. Pornographic manga are often sealed, so that one cannot take a peek and most of such manga are sold in an adult oriented store. This is how the subject is treated in Japan. The general attitude is closer to that of literature, if a sex scene has relevance in the progression of the storyline and not simply an attempt to offer sex for sex's sake, it is not considered pornography. However, this would be unacceptable in most cultures and it breaks many of censorship codes and laws.

A manga that does not target mature audiences may also have a page or two of what looks similar to glamour photography. These nude or semi-nude scenes with objects or hands covering breast and genital area are called a "service scene". These scenes are often a part of comical sequence.


Pornographic video (called "adult video" or "AV" in Japan; sometimes "Japanese adult video" or "JAV" outside of it) covers wide themes and the only limit is censorship laws. It is predominantly male oriented. This has led to several widely believed myths that many females who appear in AV are forced by yakuza for an outstanding debt or that Japanese women appear in these videos because they are masochistic.

Many videos have a title that may or may not suggest that they might be using minors or the actual recording of a crime, but no titles that are circulated with the approval of Eirin, a self-censor organization of productions, breaks any laws. A common ploy is to have a part of a title replaced with a character, or to use a phonetically similar neologism. For example, a video about "19 years old girls Sex Party" may be sold with a title like "1X years old Girls Sex Party!". The word Joshikosei (女子高生), lit. high school girl, cannot be used, as it would suggest a girl of 17 years or younger, who cannot act in a pornographic video. A neologism, Joseikosei (女生校生) which can mean a female student is used in many titles to promote the product without breaking censorship laws. This fact may be seen in popular places of Japan such as Akihabara or Den Den Town at Tokyo and Osaka respectively.

Japanese AV also caters to many more fetishes than might be imagined (or thought legal). Schoolgirl or uniform themed AV dovetails with the aforementioned 'non-consensual' genre (rape,レイプ). SM, rope bondage, bestiality, virgins (or at least ones with the girl bleeding from her vagina), internal male climax, aka cream-pies (nakadashi, 中出し), lesbians (レズ), along with more eccentric fetishes (soap, office ladies, game shows) are all covered. Instead of calling them 'high school girls' the generic label 'schoolgirl' is used (although Attacker's Shark label has a long-running schoolgirl rape series titled Hi-School Girl Confinement and Rape in Turn, at least in the earlier entries of the series).

Impacts on other cultures

The West

Animated "hentai" pornography, especially of the more extreme sorts, is often regarded as one of Japan's major cultural exports by North Americans and Europeans. Hardcore pornography is the most popular, and Japanese pornography is widely regarded as being violent and extreme. On the other hand, softcore pornography and idol artbooks have a small and separate following. The market for Japanese pornography is still growing in the West.

Types of publications


Actress (Riidosha) Action Camera Stinger (Wani Shuppan) Bejean (Eichi Shuppan) - big seller Beppin School (Eichi Shuppan) Best Video (Sanwa Shuppan) Don't (Sun shuppan) Dr. Piccaso (Eichi Shuppan) Gokuh (Eichi Shuppan) Cream (Wailea Shuppan) Nessha Booi (Tokyo Sanseisha) Nyan Nyan Club (Core Magazine) Shuukan Playboy (Shuueisha) - big seller Uoo! (Sun Shuppan) Urecco (Mirion Shuppan) The Best Magazine (KK Best Sellers)


Akaneshinsha Asukii Bauhaus Bunkasha Core Magazine C's Publishing Eichi Publishing France shoin Futabasha Futami Shobou Issuisya John Howard Xtreme Publishing Kaimeikan Kasakura Publishing Kindai Eigasha Kousaisyobo myway Publishing Oakla Publishing oks-online Odysseus Publishing Saibunkan Shuppan Sakuramomo Syobo Shinchosha Shinkosha Publishing Shobunkan Softmagic Studio Pot Taiyō Publishing Take Shobou Terra Publications Tokyo Sanseisha Tsukasa Shobou Wailea Publishing Wani Bukkusu Wanimagazine


Arisu Japan Atlas 21 Bauhaus Big Morkal Garomage - nude photography videos Giga h.m.p. - publishes Tiffany label Indies Media Japan Home Video Kasakura Shuppansha Kuki - major studio Kurisutaru Eizou Lahaina Tokai Moodyz Next 11 Reddo Totsugekitai S1 No.1 Style Shai Kikaku Soft on Demand - former indie studio turned major, I Energy is one of their labels Take Shobou Total Media Agency Uchu Kikaku - major studio associated with Eichi Shuppan publishers Yellow Box


Ai Iijima Anna Ohura Azumi Kawashima Bunko Kanazawa Chocoball Mukai Keiko Nakazawa Sakura Sena See also Category:Japanese porn stars


Bukkake Futanari Gokkun Group sex Gang bang Hamedori Japanese bondage Lotion play Sexual fetishism Foot fetishism Roshutsu Tamakeri Zenra

See also

Chronology of adult videos in Japan Eirin Hadaka Apron List of Japanese sex terms Pornography in the United States European pornography Sex industry in Japan

Further reading

Constantine, Peter. Japan's Sex Trade: A Journey Through Japan's Erotic Subcultures. Tokyo: Yenbooks, 1993. ISBN 4900737003. Weisser, Thomas, and Yuko Mihara Weisser. Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films. Miami: Vital Books, 1998. ISBN 1889288527.

External links

"The Emergence of Japanese Pornography into the United States", by Christina Kinney. Paper, 14 December 1999. Japan: From xyclopedia - "the history of pornography and sexual expression" in Japanese film. "Pornography, Rape and Sex Crimes in Japan", by Milton Diamond, Ayako Uchiyama. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 22(1): 1–22. 1999. "Why is Japanese Porn Censored?" A Japan Probe article (January 31, 2006 2:51 am). "A Star is Porn", by Kjell Fornander. Tokyo Journal, July 1992. An overview of the Japanese pornographic film and video industry. "Obscenity and Article 175 of the Japanese Penal Code: A Short Introduction to Japanese Censorship", by Joaquín da Silva. Retrieved from "" Categories: Articles lacking sources from June 2006 | All articles lacking sources | Articles with unsourced statements since February 2007 | All articles with unsourced statements | Pornography by region | Sexuality in Japan


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