By Jones, Susanna
New Statesman (1996) , Vol. 132, No. 4623
While paedophilia causes growing hysteria in the west, the Japanese, even in public, read comic books featuring schoolgirls in pornographic poses. Does it make any difference that it's just ink and paper?
A visitor to Japan might be surprised to see a grown man sitting on the train flicking through a comic hook the size of a telephone directory. The visitor might be more surprised still to glance across and see violent pornographic scenes depicting young girls. Scenarios include rape, incest and murder. The girl is usually submissive, innocent and weak, and the man a bully. If the female character isn't actually wearing school uniform, she will look young: tiny nose, big wide eyes, long eyelashes -- features designed to show her innocence. This is Loli-con (Lolita complex) porn and is a small but significant section of Japan's manga (comic book) output.
There is a type of manga for every demographic group in Japan. In most, stories tell of adventure and romance. They can have emotional depth and a strong moral message, often to do with the importance of individual responsibility. The schoolgirl is a major archetype of manga stories, and part of its tradition. In comics written for young girls, she is an aspirational figure, perhaps fulfilling her dream of becoming a ballerina, perhaps discovering that she has secret powers to save the world. To some extent, the pornographic manga takes characters that already exist and makes them into fantasies for men. Perhaps the surprising thing, to the westerner, isn't that this stuff exists -- the school uniform is a turn-on the world over, after all -- but that the guy reading it doesn't seem remotely embarrassed to be doing so in public. There are protesters, but generally the fetishisation of the schoolgirl seems to be acknowledged and tolerated, or at least put up with, in Japan.
A man in Tokyo can go to a sex parlour and live out schoolgirl/teacher fantasies in a room made to look like a classroom or a gym. He can chat to young girls in telephone clubs. Men can even purchase the unwashed underwear of teenage girls (though the prevalence of this tends to be exaggerated in the western media). Perhaps, in a society where women are gradually gaining more power and freedom, men are running scared -- turning to images of younger and less threatening girls.
Yet it is not always fantasy, and it is not all new. In real schools, it is not uncommon for male teachers to enter into sexual relationships with girls, and this has been so for a long time. In the past, it wasn't unusual for a male teacher to marry his favourite pupil when she became old enough. Men will openly admit to fancying young girls in uniform and have no fear that their friends will call them perverts. The boundaries are not clear. Despite the formality of many aspects of Japanese schools, they can be very touchy-feely places. When I taught in Japanese high schools, I was occasionally surprised to see a girl of 12 or 13 giving a male teacher a neck rub in the staff room. It may have been completely innocent, but to western eyes it seemed inappropriate.
In Japan, people are generally quite relaxed about nudity and children. Communal bathing is a part of Japanese culture and people are unselfconscious in front of one another (though at a mixed nude bathing spot you'd be unlikely to see many young women). Western viewers of Hayao Miyazaki's magical anime My Neighbour Totoro are often surprised and uncomfortable when watching the scene where the father takes a bath with his two daughters, aged 11 and four. We can't watch such a scene without an awareness of all the connotations of paedophilia. In Japan, sharing a bath with one's children is natural.
Culturally, much visual humour in Japan derives from nudity and bodily functions. One of Japan's most popular TV anime programmes, Crayon Shin-chan, started out as a manga. …