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The great variety of men’s magazines in Japan bind together a post-modern, fragmented, multicultural society through one certain universal: the love of enormous breasts. From the elementary-school manga Shuukan Shonen Magajin to the rabid right-wing sex-and-violence of Weekly Playboy, editors lead all other stories and features with pictures of young, large-chested women. Headlines blare kanji neologisms like kyonyū (巨乳, “giant breasts”), deka-nyū (デカ乳, “huge breasts”), and even bakunyū (爆乳、”explosive breasts”), and that’s just the personal computing magazines.

Such breast-fetishization seems particularly odd for Japan — a country that has historically lacked both curvy female physiques and widespread use of enhancement surgery. There appears to be a lack of “talent” in Japan to fill the great demand, and magazines promising “G-cup” breasts usually deliver the goods at the expense of the models’ other attributes. In other words, the American “girls of Playboy” are well-rounded fantasy women made of plastic, whereas the Japanese labor pool is filled with generally mediocre-looking plump women who happen to have that one special virtue.

The Japanese breast market, however, is relatively new — both for producers and consumers. According to Laura Miller’s 2003 journal article “Mammary Mania in Japan” (positions 11:2), Japanese men were not sexually attracted to the chest area until after the Pacific War. Compared to 260 old Japanese slang terms for a women’s nether region, there were only six for breasts. The kimono strictly suppresses a woman’s curves, and this style of dress moved attention towards the nape of a woman’s neck.

But as Japan adopted the Western mode of modernization, public breast exposure became taboo and children started to be weaned earlier. These both made the once commonplace breasts into a new hidden sexual object. Globalization further spread the American big-boob gospel across the archipelago, and now, even Japanese women themselves believe that a busty bust is a must for a sexy physique. The Japanese demand for breast surgery is still meager compared to America’s millions of silicon recipients, but breast enhancing chewing-gums and ring-tones are all the rage.

The latest chest to fall under the male gaze belongs to eleven year-old Irie Saaya. Her F-cup breasts are the talk-of-the-town and supposedly easing international tensions. Japan has an alarmingly-enormous market for elementary school-girl “gravure” (photography of girls in bikinis) since it fills two contemporary trends: a greater need for more infantile, less threatening females and an obsession with top-heaviness. Whether Saaya’s parents are negligent moral-vacuums or just awful human beings, they are no doubt moving into a bigger apartment as we speak.

The magazine cover above for this month’s Super Jump perfectly illustrates the mismatch between traditional Japanese culture and its newly-acquired love of fantastical bosoms — the explosive chest does not quite fit into the kimono. This is an apt metaphor for Japan’s current economic and social crises: The new globalized tastes and directions can no longer be forced to fit into the old “Japanese” structure. While there is something titillating and sexy about this specific moment captured by the artist, the scene cannot be maintained over the long run. There are only two equilibrium positions: either the breasts fall out or the kimono is closed back up to flatten out the chest. With 80 million Japanese consumers solidly obsessed with women’s mammary organs, I very much doubt that the traditional order is coming back.

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

32 Responses

  1. iriomote Says:

    Can you send me some pictures of Irie Saaya? ;)

  2. marxy Says:

    You’ll have to do your own dirty work.

  3. iriomote Says:

    How “F”-ing confusing! My Australian ex-girlfriend is an Australian F-cup – quite a rarity and painfully so for her. She could find only one tailor in Sydney to make her bras. Without exaggeration it is at least 10 times bigger than a Japanese F-cup. Obviously, all alphabets are created equal but some are more equal.

  4. Momus Says:

    post-modern, fragmented, multicultural society

    Japan may be postmodern, but it’s hardly “fragmented” or “multicultural”. The CIA factbook’s Japan page notes a net migration rate (defined here) of 0/1000, under “ethnic groups” it notes “Japanese 99%”, and under religion “observe both Shinto and Buddhist 84%”. In what way is this society “fragmented and multicultural”? And what’s your agenda when you remake Japan in the image of America?

  5. marxy Says:

    Well, the Japanese people certainly share a linguistic and racial unity, but there are a variety of experiences. The media tries to whitewash class differences and ignore urban/surburban/rural lifestyles, but I would say that Japan is “multi-cultural” without being “mutli-ethnic.” In the 1960s, you could make a better case for Japan being monocultural, but there are an authentic amount of real subcultures and various lifestyles that do not hold the same values or living patterns. For example, the white-collar salarymen are only 10% of the workforce and yet they are the “stereotypical” lifestyle portrayed in the media.

    I understand your point, but how strict must we be that “culture” means “ethnic culture”?

  6. Momus Says:

    I’d like to ask you some simple questions, if I may.

    1. Is diversity, for you, a good or a bad thing? Is it something we “make the best of”, ie celebrate only because it’s there, or is it something we try to engineer in a culture?

    2. Would you like to see Japan become more internally diverse than it is right now?

    3. (A less simple question) Diversity at a micro level and at a macro level are (unless we invent some clever paradox) at odds: for instance, if Japan gets more diverse internally, it’ll be harder to recognise internationally what it means to “be Japanese”, or even recognise a Japanese person at all. So, given a choice between internal diversity (the freedom to be whatever you want in Japan) and international diversity (the freedom to be Japanese in the world, and for that to mean something), which do you choose?

  7. marxy Says:

    1) Diversity can be a good thing, but I feel that some sort of universal means of communication is necessary. America gained a lot from its various waves of immigration, but they traditionally all worked to homogenize their own behavior and “become American.”

    I think America certainly has tried to promote diversity, or at least recognize it. In Japan, they have always attempted to suppress diversity (not ethnic, but class-based and lifestyle-based). They pay lip-service to the Ainu, but don’t want to even talk about the Burakumin and Koreans.

    2) I think Japan is internally diverse – with socioeconomic classes and regional differences – but I fear that a lot of what we like about Japan consumer society is based on the idea that everyone has the same right and ability to purchase the same products.

    3) I think the idea that there is one “Japanese” lifestyle has always been a myth to start with, and our understanding of that has essentially been acceptance of that myth. If you were to describe an “average” Japanese male lifestyle, you would probably start talking about the salaryman – and they are a very small minority!

    So, given a choice between internal diversity (the freedom to be whatever you want in Japan) and international diversity (the freedom to be Japanese in the world, and for that to mean something), which do you choose?

    I don’t think we have to accept these cultural attributes in chunky blocks. Can’t I pick and choose? Can I not combine Western ideas of creative freedom with Japanese ideas of over-detailed perfectionism without falling prey to the drawbacks of either? Don’t you keep alive biodiversity in order to use it towards the creation of an ideal system?

  8. marxy Says:

    To reign this back in, my point about “multicultural” Japanese society is that almost all of the different male subcultures in Japan generally hold the same feelings about women. There isn’t a Maxim philosophy battling a soft indie-boy philosophy, like in America. The soft indie-boys in Japan also want their women to be weaker and non-threatening.

    However, you may be right all along if cultures are only “buying patterns” and fundamental values are all unified. What do you think?

  9. Chris_B Says:

    momus quoting the CIA? wow! I’m happy you admire our inteligence services enough to quote them.!

    marxy:
    1) culture != class. You should know this.
    2) plus points for coming to a well written conclusion with the kimono analogy. minus points for getting it wrong. The kimono off the shoulder is a very “textbook” eros pose from ukiyoe/shunga. The fact that her breasts are partially exposed is also textbook. The largeness is indeed new. Too bad the author gave her unbalanced breasts though. Poor girl would never be able to buy off the rack bras.

    Anyways the whole big boobs thing here is indeed weird. I’ve heard plenty of japanese women talking amongst themselves about how they would like bigger breasts but how “american breasts” are just too big/yarase/hidoi/etc.

  10. Momus Says:

    Don’t you keep alive biodiversity in order to use it towards the creation of an ideal system?

    Actually I think biodiversity (and, by analogy, cultural diversity) is an end in itself. There’s no “five cent synthesis”. I think behind this “end in itself” lurks the intuition that every system is fallible, even—especially—the infallible ones. Success is the biggest problem for humans at this point, not failure. If we fail, we don’t disturb the world too much. If we succeed we’re everywhere, breeding, polluting, spreading our toxic “success memes”, chopping down forests, devouring resources… We become one big and very profitable monopoly species, and our “synergies” kill everything in sight.

  11. marxy Says:

    Actually I think biodiversity (and, by analogy, cultural diversity) is an end in itself.

    I think that may be true, but it’s hard to convince people on those grounds. The line on “saving the rainforest” has always been that one plant may lead to the cure for cancer. Or with languages, somehow preserving a lost Tungusic language will teach us about the history of Altaic migrations.

    But hasn’t all “civlization” always been built on the destruction of weaker cultures? Past empires were sure crueler, but small hidden tribes were saved because of the dominant forces’ technological limits.

  12. Sameer Says:

    A few things.

    Marxy wants to “combine Western ideas of creative freedom with Japanese ideas of over-detailed perfectionism without falling prey to the drawbacks of either.” Sure, you can do that because you’re Mr. Sophisticated Educated Marxy. But most non-nihonjin don’t have the time or interest to develop such a nuanced, Kerry-esque grasp of Japaneseness. Inevitably, the image of Japan presented outside the country will be some specific, contingently determined slice of the broad spectrum of Japanese cultures.

    For example, most “Indian” restaurants in the West (by which I mean UK/US/Canada; I don’t know what it’s like in the rest of Europe) serve Punjabi food with plenty of meat, and wheat-based breadstuffs. Think about tandoori chicken and naan. That’s really a regional (northern) dish, but in the West it has become the face of India. In Gujarat, you get mostly vegetarian food; in southern India, you get lots of spice and rice-based breadstuffs… etc.

    Finally, I have a hard time accepting a categorical statement like “Japanese men were not sexually attracted to the chest area.” If you talk to the sociobiologists, breast attraction can be explained thusly: evolutionary pressures led to men reacting to breasts as a signal of fertility, and less directly, as an image of symmetry which indicates genetic integrity. There’s nothing culturally specific about this model. Personally, I certainly like looking at bosoms; I have a hard time imagining that this taste developed solely by my being immersed in American pop culture.

  13. marxy Says:

    If you talk to the sociobiologists, breast attraction can be explained thusly: evolutionary pressures led to men reacting to breasts as a signal of fertility, and less directly, as an image of symmetry which indicates genetic integrity.

    As much as there are some biological instincts towards fertility, breast obsessions seem to be primarily socially conditioned. It was not an American phenomenon until the ’40s, and I don’t think there’s any archeological or historical evidence that Japan’s been interested in breasts until now. It can be explained by sociobiologists, but they can’t explain why bosoms were so out for so long.

    You like breasts because you are a child of the late 20th century. It’s difficult to tell whether that would be true had you grown up without years and years of succombing to the values of modern Western media.

  14. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_of_Willendorf

    and see also:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/reith2003/images/lecture3_parvati.jpg

  15. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    As Chris_B pointed out this soft of thing is not completely absent from traditional visual culture:

    http://uweb.txstate.edu/~rw04/intro/foraging/images/breast-feed-japan-draw.jpg

  16. marxy Says:

    Venus of Willendorf: The standard line on this work is that breasts represent fertillity, and therefore sexiness is biological, right? That doesn’t satisfy me much, seeing that what is sexy changes with social structure. If sexual attraction was all biological, wouldn’t men of every age be pro-breasts?

    As for that picture, it seems to be linking breasts with motherhood. And while Tanizaki’s “Bridge of Dreams” also links Oedipal urges with the breasts, I’m not sure that’s the same beast as contemporary breast fetishization. How much of those “open kimono” pictures are about the chest? Aren’t they more about showing the nape of the neck?

  17. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Well perhaps sex is more than just biology.

    However, wouldn’t you agree that “You like breasts because you are a child of the late 20th century.” is the more implausible statement?

  18. Chris_B Says:

    marxy: juding from the range of shunga I’ve seen, breasts were considered sexy

  19. marxy Says:

    I’m sure men didn’t hate breasts but not they were not the selling point.

    For example, many men like women’s calves, but they don’t sell mainstream magazines with pictures of women with ideal calves.

  20. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    I’m sure men didn’t hate breasts but not they were not the selling point.

    More entertainment! On what do you base the certainty, or that priceless piece of bombast: You like breasts because you are a child of the late 20th century.

  21. marxy Says:

    Look, there’s no historical evidence for a continual love of big breasts in Japan or in America. There have been previous times when breasts indicated fertility and motherhood, but maybe not “sexiness.”

    The social conditions of the mid-late 20th century have been very kind to mammophilia (is this a word?). I’m not saying that men choose to like breasts (or be gay, etc.), but that our specific modernist/postmodernist society encourages the association of breasts with sexuality. This was not true for the 1920s or probably before. There may be a base biological factor, but social factors have overriden these urges many, many times throughout world history.

  22. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    You still haven’t answered the question, though, on what do you base this nonsense?

  23. marxy Says:

    Loaded question!

    Can you be more specific on what you want out of me, seeing that I’ve already explained this two or three times?

    Do you not believe that social conditions result in sexual predilections? If so, what is your evidence that men were obsessed with breasts in the 19th century? Or 1920s?

  24. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Can you be more specific on what you want out of me, seeing that I’ve already explained this two or three times?

    Basically what I’m looking for is some plausible justification of the statement: You like breasts because you are a child of the late 20th century.

    I’m hoping for some reliable scholarly sources, appeals to common sense, or reference to human biology.

  25. marxy Says:

    The article I referenced by Laura Miller builds a pretty solid case for the fact that breasts traditionally did not enter the male gaze in Japan until after the War. They were of course still part of the female body and most likely given a certain amount of admiration. However, this current international wave of boobs-only type sexuality has its roots in America in the 40s. Books by Anne Hollander (Seeing through Clothes) and Marilyn Yalom (A History of the Breast) apparently prove that case, but I don’t have these on hand.

    My friend Sameer was trying to say, hey, I like breasts and it has nothing to do with society. In a “primitive” society, where breasts are nonchalantly exposed, I very much doubt that men are sexually attracted to breasts. They need to be hidden, which is a product of both American-style modernization and the puritanism built into it.

    Instead of just calling me unfounded, why don’t you look up some counterevidence besides the disputed “Venus” of Willendorf? Is there proof that men everywhere at every age were obsessed with breasts or is the current love of breasts tied to late 20th century society? Probably not. There is, however, much proof that sexual attraction rides long waves of fashion.

  26. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Marxy,

    before you continue to make a fool of yourself be blathering on with naive statements like In a “primitive” society, where breasts are nonchalantly exposed, I very much doubt that men are sexually attracted to breasts.

    why don’t you check what anthropologists, evolutionary biologists, human reproductive biologists, or perceptual psychologists have to say about the matter.

    Then get back to me with a more informed statement.

    And keep the polemics to a minimum, please, it doesn’t suit you.

  27. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    BTW I don’t say that the American or Japanese obsession with big boobs is “natural”, I’m merely letting you know that your extreme statements such as You like breasts because you are a child of the late 20th century are ridiculously naive and unsupportable.

  28. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Oh, one other thing: I speculate that the inclination of some American sociologists to deny a sexual role for breasts relates to their tendency to deny intrinsic differences between men and women.

  29. marxy Says:

    Whoa. I touched a nerve with Sparligbeatnic. But I appreciate the concern: we wouldn’t want poor, little Marxy making a fool of himself!

    Fine I take back my statement, but I don’t agree with the idea that breast obsession is 100% biologically determined. What else can I say so that you don’t fret endlessly anymore about how naive I am?

  30. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    No, just having a little idle entertainment seeing the sort of rhetoric you will resort to before you admit that you are wrong.

    This case was interesting because the original statement was so patently absurd. It’s a little harder to prove you wrong when we’re discussing more nebulous things like Japanese culture or the economy.

    I tend to be further in the direction of “nurture” in the nature/nuture debate than many. However there three little words from high school biology which you should know: secondary sexual characteristic.

    And how about your common sense? Have you noticed what tactile stimulation of a woman’s breasts will do to her? Is this socially constructed?

    As for big boobs, I tend to be more of a waist-to-hip-ratio man myself.

    Cheers,

  31. marxy Says:

    I was trying to boost my comment count, so we both win.

  32. sparkligbeatnic Says:

    Good sport!