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CanCam: Moteko vs. Busuko


In the December issue of OL fashion monthly CanCam, the editors provide a useful guide called「モテ子の習慣 vs. ブス子の習慣」to delineate the lifestyle differences between girls who attract boys — the so-called “moteko” — and those who do not — “busuko.” The article has sparked a bit of backlash on the internet with CanCam readers who were shocked to find out that they weren’t in the proper athletic club in high school nor drink the right alcohol on a date. (Hint: never start the night with a beer.) Apparently based on “survey results,” some of the findings are pretty on-message and obvious — “hot girls look like Ebi-chan!” — but some of the critiques may speak painful truths to readers — “bejeweling your iPod is probably not appealing to boys.”

Here is a translation of the guide to that thin blue border between being an attractive moteko and a completely worthless busuko.

(Bonus: pictures of the actual pages here.)


• Otsuka Ai “Sakuranbo”
• aiko “Kabutomushi”
• Ayaka “I believe”
• Dreams Come True “Love Love Love”
• mihimaruGT “Koi suru kimochi”
• Do As Infinity “Ever…”
• HY “Nao”
• Otsuka Ai “Planetarium”
• Kōda Kumi “Taisetsu na Kimi e”
• Matsutoya Yumi “Yasashisa ni tsutsumareta nara”

• Akikawa Masafumi “Sen no kaze ni natte”
• The Toraburyuu “Road”
• Ishikawa Sayuri “Amagigoe”
• DJ Ozma “Age Age Every Kishi”
• Kahala Tomomi “I’m Proud”
• MISIA “everything”
• Morning Musume “Love Machine”
• Shiina Ringo “Kabukicho no joō”
• Cocco “Tsuyoku hakanai monotachi”
• Britney Spears “Baby One More Time”


• Tennis
• Badminton
• Volleyball
• Swimming
• Basketball
• Orchestra

• Judo
• Going Home
• Table tennis
• Track and field
• Hiking (ワンダーフォーゲル部)
• Softball


• Reading a book you’re into
• Dozing
• Talking to friends
• Looking at the advertisements
• Looking out the window
• Writing mails on phone
• Listening to music on iPod
• Reading documents for work
• Staring off into space
• Holding the strap and doing small diet exercises

• Putting on lipstick or makeup
• Staring at people
• Playing mahjong on phone
• Making out with boyfriend
• Eating sweets
• Cleaning out your bag
• Reading a manga magazine
• Passed out asleep!!
• Looking at your own face in the window reflection
• Sitting with your legs crossed


• Ebi-chan: Ebihara Yuri
• Itō Misaki
• Kanno Miho
• Shibasaki Kō
• Sawajiri Erika
• Henmi Emiri
• Leah Dizon
• Takashima Aya (announcer)
• Takeuchi Yūko
• Andō Miki
• Chihuahua

• Ebi-chan: Ebisu Yoshikazu
• Matsui Naomi
• Tamura (Tani) Ryōko
• Members of Morning Musume who quit early on
• Pug (dog)
• Oda Mudō
• Devi Fujin
• Takanohana Oyakata


• Spices for cooking
• Antique accessories
• Analog records
• Sunglasses
• Swarovski crystal
• DVDs

• Baseball cards
• Rocks
• Dragonballs
• Antique dolls
• Video games
Cosuplay (costume play) outfits


• Studying to be a “color coordinator”
• Surfing
• Making pizza from scratch
• Doing yoga for at least 10 minutes a day
• ’60s European films
• Doing nail art yourself

• Henro Pilgrimage to Shikoku shrines
• Tarot cards
• Blogging your own poems
• Obscure rules in martial arts
• Gambling, pachinko or horse racing
• Still being into “Yon-sama


• Sweet cocktails
• Wine
• Champagne
• Imported “o-share” beer
• Sours

• Whiskey, bourbon
• Ordering a beer for a starter
• Anything related to the idea of “regional sake” (地酒)


• Small dogs like chihuahuas
• Foreign cats like the Bengal
• Hamster
• Tropical fish
• Strange pets like mini pigs

• Lizards
• Goldfish bought at a shrine festival
• Strong dogs like a Doberman
• Chickens
• Crayfish

W. David MARX
November 13, 2007

W. David Marx (Marxy) — Tokyo-based writer and musician — is the founder and chief editor of Néojaponisme.

41 Responses

  1. W. David MARX Says:

    (1) If there are a few general themes forming the aesthetics of the “busuko,” they would be:

    • Masculinity (Dobermans, whiskey, gambling, mahjong)
    • Otaku (Dragonballs, cosuplay, video games)
    • Japanese/Asian (sake, awamori, goldfish, “Yon-sama,” martial arts, Shikoku, Judo)

    Good “moteko” are feminine and slightly Eurocentric in their tastes, except when it comes to music and celebrity comparisons.

    (2) I find the inclusion of “After-School Clubs” the most offensive, because it posits that your later success with men is predetermined by your placement in the high school social hierarchy. Is there no room for a Moteko Horatio Alger who moves up through determination and blink luck from the Hiking Club to be the hottest girl at the ball?

  2. rachael Says:

    the choices for karaoke are odd, if not confirming that you should choose girly songs (mihimaruGT, otsuka ai). while the thought of anybody, male or female, singing ‘sen no kaze ni notte’ is scary, the one time i sang DCT’s ‘love love love’ i bored everyone shitless.

    other than that, the busu side comes across as mostly a joke. and do i really want to look like a chihuahua? :p

  3. erisdiscordia Says:

    “Mini pigs” sound like a videogame powerup.

  4. Jrim Says:

    I love the way that today’s moteko can find equal space in her heart for nail art and 60s European cinema. (Incidentally, do you reckon being “obsessed” with the latter involves much more than having an “A Bout de Souffle” poster up in your bedroom?)

    Whither Akiko Wada in the busuko celebrity lookalikes list, though? Or is that too below-the-belt?

  5. W. David MARX Says:

    I think there is a lot of humor in the Busuko section. Collecting “dragonballs” is kinda funny.

  6. Joseph K Says:

    Hah! That was pretty amusing.

    I thought the bold was yours until I looked at the scans. “Henro Pilgrimage to Shikoku shrines” being the big bold under busu obsessions seems a bit out of left field for a girls’ lifestyle magazine — from which I would expect much more in line with the bolding of “Making out with boyfriend”.
    But then that kind of thing just made it more amusing.

  7. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    “Masculine”, into Japanese culture, hiker, and otaku? Man, I’m sooo hot for busuko.

  8. nate Says:

    between this post and the well linked RSJ list, I wonder if you haven’t missed your calling, Marxy.

    Maybe something more along the lines of a data entry career?

    About this entry…
    Moteko is just into popular things, and busuko a foil for her. There’s one thing that has clearly been left off the busuko list, even in implication: weight.
    This is about not upsetting the audience, right? I’m not missing some subtext of cancam that its ok to be 1kg overweight, am I?

  9. W. David MARX Says:

    Well, you can’t just say:



    But obviously those things play into the formula.

    By the way, I have always been incredibly gifted at data entry ever since my temp days. I reached perfection during my master’s thesis research. I should show you the Excel files sometimes.

  10. calligraphykid Says:

    Has absorbed well the lessons of Cancam.
    Next step: keep reading the magazine to stay on message.

    Has not been properly initiated into the way of Cancam. Most likely a first-time buyer attracted by vague promise of self-discovery.
    Next step: keep reading the magazine and you too can be a moteko.

    It’s a magazine sales drive and forms about as solid a basis for understanding the nation as a vending machine skirt. You wouldn’t take a lowbrow English men’s magazine with a cover promise of “100 Things That Turn Her On – Or Off” home with you for analysis, would you?

    Besides, there’s nothing new here. Moteko is just Audrey Hepburn with DVDs. Presumably her own.

  11. Matt Says:

    One cannot help but note that their names are given as “Moteyama Moteko” and “Busugawa Busuko”, evoking mountain/river themes in traditional Japanese poetry. Even back then, the mountain kami gave the Emperor flowers and autumn leaves, while the river kami gave him cormorants and fish, I recall. I think we all know which sort of gift CanCam would deem mote and which busu. (Not sure whether the Emperor in this scenario is men in general or simply CanCam itself.)

  12. W. David MARX Says:

    Next step: keep reading the magazine to stay on message.

    If you read Page 4 of the story, this is really clearly spelled out. I.e., Good girls read manual magazines to learn about proper lifestyles. (Actually a bit meta.)

    It’s a magazine sales drive and forms about as solid a basis for understanding the nation as a vending machine skirt.

    I am not sure my point was that this was a summary of all Japanese tastes. With this being in the country’s most popular fashion magazine, however, I think a chart like this gets us a bit closer to understanding (media-advocated) mainstream norms towards beauty/attractiveness. It’s clearly a totally biased source, but a source. This post is actually more about CanCam‘s editorial message than its readers.

    You wouldn’t take a lowbrow English men’s magazine with a cover promise of “100 Things That Turn Her On – Or Off” home with you for analysis, would you?

    Yes, I would. If I wrote a blog about English pop culture for an audience interested in learning about specific taste cultures and their media.

    Besides, there’s nothing new here.

    I never quite understand why people are dismissive of materials that may not reveal anything 100% new. Again, half of the story is continuity, not change – especially in Japan.

  13. neogeisha Says:

    late capitalism demands that girls accept at face value the notion that hotness is defined by consumer choices. the most subversive beauty advice would be the horrible truth that men prefer the beautiful girls over the homely ones, no matter their consumption patterns. in a way, these magazines are a cozy buffer against even harsher reality.

  14. calligraphykid Says:

    Is it possible to use html/rich text in comments? This will help to make it clear when things are meant jokingly – i.e. my “nothing new here” Audrey Hepburn continuum comment.

    And I don’t dismiss this at all! It’s good to know what editorial staff in a Tokyo high-rise can come up with when their boss writes “Who are our readers?” on a whiteboard.

    As you said, we do need to beware, though, of people jumping to conclusions like: “The whole of Japan thinks keeping goldfish makes you unattractive.”

    One more thing: does all this mean there’s going to be an article about mini pigs in the New York Times next year?

  15. W. David MARX Says:

    Comments are HTML-enabled.

    late capitalism demands that girls accept at face value the notion that hotness is defined by consumer choices.

    Even if the entirety of late capitalism does not demand this, the strategy obviously works on a micro level for these media companies. I think the ugly truth though is that Japanese guys do tend to like “naturally” attractive girls more than CanCam-upped average girls. To be honest, though, the Moteko list is pretty “normal” for anybody 22 right now. They are just saying, “Don’t be too interesting and stick to the script.”

    The other interesting thing to note is that 2-ch otaku found this article and are being critical. I love when wires cross.

  16. Mulboyne Says:

    They also caught it a couple of days beforehand if you can be bothered to trawl through even more comments:

  17. W. David MARX Says:

    The other thing to point out about this list and CanCam in general is that the fundamental principle is: You must align all parts of your lifestyle in order to meet a suitable boyfriend. Other fashion magazines may be overconsumerist or authoritarian, but at least the underlying motive is something closer to “self-expression or self-actualization through buying a lot of stuff.” CanCam pretty much is saying, if you like X personally/individually, be prepared to give it up since it does not match with what men want out of you.

    We’ve discussed in the past why this message is suddenly so popular (income disparity, economic pessimism, increased competition for wealthy men), but it’s not just a message of external appearance bagging the prince. It’s make or break from your drink choice to your singing songs.

    Obviously, other media in other lands may have a similar message, but readers need a certain psychological outlook on their place in society to happily take such a message every month.

  18. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    I spotted some ascii art (well, euc-jp art) in those 2ch threads. Here’s hope that musuko/busuko make it into new meme characters.

  19. Nebularus Says:

    I find it hard to believe that a Moteko would even know what an analog record is let alone collect them!

  20. W. David MARX Says:

    Yes, that seemed to be slightly off-model.

  21. neogeisha Says:

    i think analog records, in this case, are offered in metonymic relation to chic european sensibilities, which require outlays of cash in specialized shops.

  22. j.jones Says:

    you missed something:)

    rich (or at leasr trying to look it)

    poor (or looking it)

    but i think that the girls who aspire to the moteko style aren’t just aspiring for boyfriends, its an aspiration towards upperclassness and an effort to display those markers (and a certain kind of boyfriend is in itself a status marker, my boyfriend 正社員 your boyfriend バイト) and its classed that way from tennis, through what you do on the train (reading work papers on the train, moteko=OL, busuko=retail) to your accesories (the giveaway isnt the kittychan goods, its the nintendo DS – thats the class signifier that says self improvement)

    its also obviously not just a pretty/ugly thing cause its not ugly girls who make out with their boyfriends in public – its classless girls (and notice even they have boyfriends, but the problem isnt getting boys, its getting the right kind of boys)

  23. W. David MARX Says:

    Yes, although I think CanCam girls are not necessarily all Upper Middle Class in background to start with. The idea is to be “classy” to attract a UMC guy, but I think UMC women – doctor’s daughters etc. – are often too busy being the Press director for a fashion label or being a real-life 正社員 employee to ever read CanCam and associate with the OL zone. So “class” is important as a set of lifestyle choices you can adopt to actually move up the hierarchy, but it’s not a prerequisite to moving up. This is perversely meritocratic.

  24. W. David MARX Says:

    Response to Abiola Lapite at Foreign Dispatches:

    Marxy and the gang have gone to town in the comments section with remarks about the supposed eurocentricity of these lists, but personally I have to disagree. To the extent that there is any kind of skew which goes beyond the intended list of “things the popular and unpopular girls do”, I’d think it’s age-centric rather than anti-Japanese: things like drinking sake, being into “Yon-sama” or making shrine pilgrimages, which are associated with the graying “ojiisan” and “obatarian” demographic, are naturally going to be unpopular with the young

    True, but there is little on the list to suggest an alternative stream of “Asian” or “local” traditional culture for young people. Not a single Japanese alcohol is okay. Yon-sama was okay, but now has passed to the downslope on the coolness curve. Basically, CanCam girls cannot be shibui (渋い), but that’s not true for all young people.

    one good thing I’d like to say in earnest about “Can-Cam”: whatever criticisms one may wish to make about the publication, its insistence on using actual Japanese women to show off the clothes hawked within it marks it as a breath of fresh air by comparison with the likes of “Vogue Nippon”, the utter absence of non-white faces within which positively reeks of self-hatred

    Vogue Nippon is basically a localized version of the American magazine, so you can’t really use it as an example of “self-hate.” Spur and Ginza are the Japanese equivalents, but yes, they don’t use Japanese women either. I wrote about this here if interesting. Race is the most powerful fashion signifier in Japan.

  25. Abiola Lapite Says:

    Actually, Vogue Nippon has much more original content than the insipid, celebrity-worshiping American version edited by Anna Wintour – that it is the second most interesting in terms of carrying edgy, avant-garde editorials, after the Italian edition, is a fact any fashion photographer will know. Vogue China and Vogue India have much less original content than their Japanese equivalent, so the fact that they still manage to put local faces on both their covers and within their editorials says something very clearly. Besides, it’s well known by Western models starting their careers that if you can’t find work with Ford, Wilhelmina, Elite or any of the other top-class modeling agencies in the US or Europe, all you have to do is fly to Japan and you’ll get all the work you can handle as long as you look properly Aryan – that’s how notorious the Japanese preference for white faces in luxury and high fashion is.

    What it boils down to is that Japan, with 40% of the entire global luxury market, is the single most important advertising ground for Western fashion retailers, so if Japanese consumers were in the least inclined to prefer Asian faces selling them these luxury goods, they’d get them. Instead, what I’ve heard and read is that for all the complaints in the West about racism on the runway, it is actually “certain Asian markets” (read “Japan”) which are most resistant to seeing non-white faces being given any sort of role.

  26. neogeisha Says:

    “Besides, it’s well known by Western models starting their careers that if you can’t find work with Ford, Wilhelmina, Elite or any of the other top-class modeling agencies in the US or Europe, all you have to do is fly to Japan and you’ll get all the work you can handle as long as you look properly Aryan – that’s how notorious the Japanese preference for white faces in luxury and high fashion is.”

    the above is an outdated commonplace that has persisted since the bubble years, when it was basically true. (even then, the trope was exaggerated by blondes who had gone to tokyo, mizu shobai’d, and were reluctant to admit it.)

  27. M-Bone Says:

    “even then, the trope was exaggerated by blondes who had gone to tokyo, mizu shobai’d, and were reluctant to admit it.”

    Great stuff.

    How does everyone square the Asia boom in advertising (ie. Asiesence (?) shampoo, Chinese actresses for Shiseido, etc.) with the continued preference for white faces in “high fashion” magazines?

  28. W. David MARX Says:

    How does everyone square the Asia boom in advertising

    Is this still happening? I feel like this was very “three years ago.”

  29. M-Bone Says:

    It was certainly still trucking earlier this year. In any case, it is a historical phenomenon that coexisted with white fetishism but arguably got more mainstream play (on TV, not something like Vogue that reaches a smaller audience). Also, can’t overlook continued booms in Asian エステ , images related to which are circulated widely. I also (shopping with my wife) can’t help but have noticed how many cosmetic displays have gone over to Japanese / Asian models. Asian beauty trips and the like are widely advertised, etc. Are these Asian things a type of 庶民 consumption that pops up in cycles while white models are an eternal niche? Is it an attempt to tap the increasingly important 40-60 ババ market?

  30. W. David MARX Says:

    The エステ thing strikes as orientalizing: “ancient Chinese secrets” of relaxation. Hanryu is limited to clueless old women. Asian culture as youth culture had a brighter moment a few years ago. Not to say that white fetishism is stronger than before (thanks to CanCam, it’s not), but being “white” still says something more fashionable than being “Asian.” Just who still cares about being fashionable? Fewer.

  31. M-Bone Says:

    “Just who still cares about being fashionable? Fewer.”

    This is a very good point. In not caring about being “fashionable by formula” I think that many young Japanese may be adopting a more eclectic, creative mish-mash of styles where “white” and “Asian” images / imaginings can exist in the same look.

    The エステ thing has an element of orientalizing in the way that you describe, but the “secrets” are often accompanied by images of “beautiful Asians” which suggests that they are being placed in the attractive pigeon hole in the public space.

  32. j.jones Says:

    “fashionable by formula” etc etc etc

    i think you miss the point. its more that here the distinction is that high fashion->white people. which may be self-loathing or may be just fine, as no matter how fashionable people are they by nature cannot all look like models (of any race) i think part of the allure of high fashion is its its drive towards the aesthetic and art, its very alien unatainability. this is only more pronounced with a racial divide.

    Of course untainability goes against the entire nature of the CanCam enterprise, which is aspiration and attainability (it even says can in the title!)

    in fact i would say the defining line between a fashion magazine and a catalog with articles ala CanCam, is that the catalog displays articles of clothing that people can/will actually wear.

  33. Mukku Says:

    So that’s why I can’t get any guys in Tokyo. Where’s that copy of Dignity of Women I was using as a coaster for my 焼酎?

  34. j.jones Says:

    I’d also like to point out the majority of Americans are old, have fat bellies, and have acne scarring, but the models in american fashion are young, have strong cheekbones, unblemished skin, and well defined abs- they are in effect much more a different race than most americans no matter what color their skin is. While i dont want to downplay the skin color element of this (it is very a valid point), i dont hear you calling americans self loathing for being in the fattest people in the world but still having skinny models.

    maybe self loathing is the universal aspect of fashion, its just the manner in which it is expressed that reflects the local and the particuluar :)

  35. M-Bone Says:

    “drive towards the aesthetic and art, its very alien unatainability.”

    Not always. How do you explain white looking mannequins at JUSCO?

    I’m not talking anywhere about self loathing. I really think that it is more about a commercial exploitation of whiteness (“othering”) that takes place in both high fashion and low fashion spheres.

  36. cancam? Says:

    always interesting, but as you’re a foreign male I don’t get why you care about this topic that much to write thousands of words on your various blogs. maybe some kind of preface about that would make it more relevant? i’m off to buy a copy of cancam at 7-11 and brush up!

  37. W. David MARX Says:

    I pay attention to CanCam because it’s the most important fashion magazine in terms of mass support in the last five years. If a million people are going to write about niche fashions like cosuplay, gothloli, and ganguro, at least one blogger should probably look at what the other 800,000 Japanese women are doing. Just because houndstooth check dresses and trenchcoats and pearls are not “cool,” doesn’t mean they aren’t saying something about recent Japanese society.

  38. cancam? Says:

    i’m sorry, my query wasn’t clear. what i meant was why women’s fashion? why not the marketing of recruitment agencies or cell phone campaigns or even men’s mags (you’ve done a little of that). again, it’s interesrting no matter what but foreign white male and glossy mags for young japanese women. what’s the link?

  39. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    There’s lots of foreign males interested in modern, popular Japanese culture. I for one find this post, and similar analysis on this blog, interesting as hell.

  40. M-Bone Says:

    “at least one blogger should probably look at what the other 800,000 Japanese women are doing.”

    Do you see yourself as mainly writing to fill a niche, rather than for a more personal reason? Or is filling the niche the personal reason?

  41. kevin Says:

    CanCam is so popular now, its shown on regular TV (Asahi)