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.