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Japanese pornography has unique features which separate it from pornography in other countries. It is frequently translated and exported to other cultures because of its large spectrum of themes and media. Including drawn and virtual pornography, Japan is currently the largest pornographic producer in the world, producing more pornography even than the United States.[citation needed]



Before the 20th century

The concept of "pornography" may have emerged in the Edo period when every form of popular culture flourished, including pornography, with the sole exception of pornographic figures and statues. This does not mean there were no earlier works of erotica; these early works were by highly literate nobles and were often considered works of art. Japanese mythology, later formulated into the system known as Shinto, makes multiple references to sexuality, and almost always in a positive manner.[1]

In the Edo period, pornography flourished due to the unique characteristic of the city of Edo.[citation needed] In this period, men (who were the only consumers of pornographic material at that time) made up well over 60% of the population.[citation needed] These men came from all over Japan to work, and remained there for years before returning to their hometown to have a wife arranged for them, having learned valuable skills like reading, writing, and crafts[citation needed]. With a disproportionate amount of the population being male, state-controlled prostitution districts like Yoshiwara and pornography were needed[citation needed].

There were many pornographic materials. Shunga or pornographic wood-block pictures were printed with all imaginable situations. These often took the form of a book with sentences to describe verbal utterances of the partners, 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, not to mention acts with animals, demons (both male and female), and deities. The actual uses of shunga in the period are still debated, but probably resembled modern uses of pornographic materials, including masturbation and shared viewing with a lover. According to some accounts, called into doubt by recent scholarship, shunga were even packed by the parents of a wife for use in her marriage. Shunga could also be borrowed from a rental book shop. In 1808, there were 656 such shops in Edo, 300 shops in Osaka. This means that there was about one shop for every 1500 people in Edo. Non-pornographic materials were also available from these shops. These included woodblock pictures of celebrities like kabuki actors and geisha, clothed in kimono.

After the Meiji restoration in the second half of the 19th century, the publication of pornographic materials declined under government pressure, specifically the fear that such an openly sexual culture would be seen as a sign of backwardness by European countries. Yet even as Shunga production slowed, shunga were being exported and peddled as "erotic arts" to foreign markets. Pornographic novels were still produced underground, though the language barrier prevented them from becoming widely known abroad. Pornographic arts (now including photography) were still produced by popular demand, but these came to be viewed as low arts.

In the 20th century

In the late Taishō period and early Shōwa period, an artistic movement called Eroguronansensu, literally "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 photographs and films. 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 out 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 American. Instead, it spawned a fetish and a genre known as Yomono, literally "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 films," to be exclusively viewed in adults-only movie theaters. 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.

Starting in 1971, homosexually-oriented magazines began to appear. The first of these, Barazoku, began publication in 1971 and continued publishing until 2004. Homosexual 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 1980s

The proliferation of pornographic videos in the 1980s commonly called AV, short for adult video, eventually greatly diminished 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.[2] 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. But Nintendo wanted these machines to be family-oriented, however, and it succeeded in getting pornographic games locked out of the market.[citation needed] 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 Bishōjo games.

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

In the 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.

The 1990s

According to John Carr, a United Kingdom government adviser on Internet safety policy for children, two-thirds of all pedophilic images on the Internet in the late 1990s may have originated in Japan. He further commented: "We think that child pornography, in any form, promotes values and sends the message that it is OK to sexually abuse children. It helps pedophiles to justify their ideas or behavior and it desensitizes society as a whole." Since the law against child pornography in 1999, the proportion is now believed to be less than 2%. ECPAT believes that many child pornography producers have simply turned to producing anime or films featuring adults dressed as children.[3]

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[citation needed]. 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 public baths). Japan has only had one or two nudist beaches, and these were private.

In Japan, under Article 175 of the Criminal Code of Japan people who sell or distribute obscene materials can be punished by fines or imprisonment. Article 175 was included in the original document in 1907 and remains relatively unchanged.[4]. Finding a workable definition for obscene has sparked much controversy over the last century. 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 the 1990s, the entire pubic region, including hair, was deemed obscene and unpublishable. The publication of Waterfruit and Santa Fe by Kishin Shinoyama marked the first widely distributed publications to feature pubic hair. Many video production companies belong to ethical associations which provide guidance on what is acceptable and what is not. NEVA and CERO are examples of two such organizations. In 2007, the police have started to prosecute webmasters who allow uncensored pictures on their sites. Recent controversies have frowned upon both pubic hair and even genitalia itself being displayed in works of art and in educational settings.[5]

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 have 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. On November 1, 1999, Japan introduced laws to outlaw child pornography in an attempt to converge with the U.S. and other western countries.[6] Since then, "child" pornography has been limited to lolicon.[7]

Religion and pornography

Religion is not a factor in the regulation of pornography in Japan[citation needed]. It is instead defined by consensus, due to the fact that the separation of religion and state was complete before the proliferation of pornography. In the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate limited religion to organizing ceremonies such as funerals and marriages, because during the Sengoku period, religions like Buddhism and Christianity served as ideological backbones to acts of rebellion. The shogunate prevented the participation of religious leaders in policy making.

Child pornography

Distribution, production, importing, exporting, and possessing for distribution of child pornography is banned with criminal punishment in Japan since 1999.

Possessing without distribution has been a disputed point since the establishment of the law.[8]

In the Diet, the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito Party proposed to prohibit the possessing without distribution, the Democratic Party of Japan presented a counterproposal to prohibit the taking over from anyone.[9] Since the House of Representatives of Japan was dissolved on July 21, 2009, the amendments to the law against child prostitution and child pornography on the table were withdrawn.


The demand for prostitutes has increased on a year-to-year basis. The sex industry now accounts for 1% of the GNP, and equals the Japanese defense budget.[10]

The Japanese sex industry is a multibillion-dollar business that caters to every preference and is easily accessible.[11] One "sex zone" in Tokyo, only 34 hectares in size, has 3,500 sex facilities, including strip theaters, peep shows, "soaplands," "lover's banks," porno shops, telephone clubs, karaoke bars, clubs, and the like.[10] One third of all reported cases of prostitution are teenagers.[12] Enjo kosai, or "supportive relationship," is the euphemism used in Japan for the prostitution of teenage girls.[13]

The Trafficking in Persons Report, released yearly by the U.S. State Department, has ranked Japan as Tier II on par with Cambodia and Ethiopia among others.[14] This rank has remained relatively stable for the past decade.


Japanese pornographic culture is more widely accepted as part of mainstream media in comparison to the west. 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.)

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 penis in the 1980s, and it became famous for its depiction in the anime, Legend of the Overfiend.

Sub-genres of Japanese porn

The pornographic culture of Japan is enormous. Encompassing dozens of different genres only found in Japan, it has become an important part of life for many Japanese.[citation needed] To satisfy the demand for more arousal, many genres have popped up over the decades. Among those subgenres common in Japan, but rare or unknown elsewhere, are:

赤ちゃんプレイ(Aka-Chan Pure): ("Baby play"): This genre involves going back to the "baby days" where they had no responsibility and could depend on their mothers to take care of everything.

バーチャルデート Baacharu Deito: ("Virtual dating"): Shot from the point of view of the boyfriend, the porn actress takes him on a "date" which ends in a sexual scene.

Broken Dolls: This is a subgenre based on the popular medical fetish and involves young girls in hospital beds, covered in casts, splints, gauze, and fake bruises. It usually involves rape and forced bondage.

ブルセラBurusera ("Bloomers"): Fans of this genre collect panties, urine, socks and uniforms of actual schoolgirls.

痴漢プレイChikan Pure ("Play Molester"): It involves usually schoolgirls sitting in a stage constructed to look like a train car and act submissive while being groped by anonymous male.

援助交際 Enjo kōsai ("Compensated dating"): Although available on video, this genre mainly applies to the market for girls 13–18 years of age. Girls are told they are going on a date, which, due to Japan's age of consent of 13, is not illegal.

強姦プレイGoukan Pure ("Rape play"): This genre involves simulated rape.

ロリコンLolicon (short for "Lolita complex"): This genre involves prepubescent and adolescent girls.

人形 Ningyou ("Dolls"): Some fans of animation like to play with dolls of their favorite characters.

Dōjin and parodies

Dōjinshi, or literally "fan works," are widely known as often being 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. For instance, the number of dōjinshi published is representative of the number of consumers who would spend liberally on the title, and increase and decrease shows rise of interest and its decline.


Animated erotica (known in the West as hentai, but in Japan as "adult anime") is a popular 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, manga, or a novel.


Adult-oriented games are a popular genre for computer games in Japan, comprising some 85% of all software titles published annually.[citation needed] 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 as "bishōjo games" or "pretty girl games" (alternately spelled "bishojo" or "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 translating dating sims and visual novels into English for the fledgling market outside of Japan. For adult video games in Japan, the rating of "Z" was coined by the CERO, and has been so used since.[citation needed]


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. Dōjinshi 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 dōjinshi 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.

Japanese Adult Video proliferation

With the growing connectivity of the World Wide Web, JAV has received exponential growth in exposure to the West.[citation needed] With the growth of porn tube sites, many tube sites focus on the JAV niche, the most prominent in North America[citation needed] being sites like Youporn, and fast growing new JAV-only tube sites such as YouJAV.


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[citation needed].


Manga with a pornographic content target both male and female audiences and both male and female mangaka (manga authors) 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. The general attitude to pornography 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 outside of Japan.

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 or sometimes "Japanese adult video" or "JAV" outside of it) covers wide themes and its only limit is censorship laws.

Many videos have a title that may suggest that they use 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, break 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 legally act in a pornographic video. The homonymic neologism Joshikosei (女子校生?), which can mean a "girl 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) by non-Japanese. Schoolgirl or uniform themed AV dovetails with the aforementioned "non-consensual" genre—rape (レイプ reipu?)—are common. SM, rope bondage, bestiality, virgins, internal male climax or cream-pies (中出し nakadashi?), lesbians (レズ rezu?), along with more eccentric fetishes (soap, office ladies, game shows) are all covered.

Impacts on other cultures

Copyright infringement has created a problem in places where legal copies are purchased such as Asia, the U.S. and Europe. To avoid spending money on hiring translators for conversations that often precede an act of sex, it has become normal to cut and piece together a video filled with various scenes of sex and nothing else. Further, to avoid the need for explaining a scene, especially on infringing copies in countries where violence in pornography is heavily censored, videos with simulated rape scenes became a niche of Japanese pornography.

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)


  • France shoin
  • Futabasha
  • Futami Shobou
  • Issuisya
  • John Howard Xtreme Publishing
  • Kaimeikan
  • Kasakura Publishing
  • Kindai Eigasha
  • Kousaisyobo
  • Myway Publishing
  • Oakla Publishing
  • Odysseus Publishing
  • oks-online
  • Saibunkan Shuppan
  • Sakuramomo Syobo
  • Sanwa Erotica
  • Shinchosha
  • Shinkosha Publishing
  • Shobunkan
  • Softmagic
  • Studio Pot
  • Taiyō Publishing
  • Take Shobou
  • Terra Publications
  • Tokyo Sanseisha
  • Tsukasa Shobou
  • Wailea Publishing
  • Wani Books
  • Wanimagazine
  • Yaziyo


  • Soft On Demand - former indie studio turned major, I Energy is one of their associated companies
  • Take Shobou
  • Total Media Agency
  • Uchu Kikaku - major studio associated with Eichi Shuppan publishers
  • V&R Planning - includes V&R Products & V&R International
  • Wanz Factory
  • Yellow Box


See also Category:Japanese pornographic film actors


See also


  1. ^ Synopsis: Shinto, Sex, Shunga and Ecocrisis by dhushara's "Japan Blog", October 2007
  2. ^ Rowley, Ian (22 January 2007). "Next-Gen DVD's Porn Struggle". Businessweek. Retrieved 2008-01-21. "One oft-recalled explanation for the failure of Sony's (SNE) Betamax videocassette format in the 1980s was the Japanese company's ambivalence towards producers of pornographic videos. By contrast, proponents of VHS, Betamax's rival, welcomed adult content with open arms and, the legend goes, caused Betamax's demise." 
  3. ^ Tony McNicol (27 April 2004). "Does comic relief hurt kids?". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  4. ^ The Penal Code, translated into English by the Cabinet Secretariat
  5. ^ The New York Times (20 February 2008). "Supreme Court in Japan Upholds Mapplethorpe". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  6. ^ Tim Richardson (18 May 1999). "Child porn banned in Japan". The Register. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  7. ^ Tony McNicol (4 October 2007). "NSFW Gallery: Blu-Ray Porn, Mechanized Masturbation and Upskirts at Japan's First Sex Show". Wired. Retrieved 2008-01-18. 
  8. ^ e.g., Setsuko Tsuboi, "Child Rights: Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (子どもの人権: 子ども買春・子どもポルノ禁止法)", Hougaku Seminar (法学セミナー) (ISSN:0439-3295) Vol. 44, No. 9, pp. 54-57, Sep. 1999. (in Japanese)
  9. ^ Democrat's proposal
  10. ^ a b CATW - Asia Pacific, Trafficking in Women and Prostitution in the Asia Pacific
  11. ^ "Pornography Easy To Find in Japan," Joseph Coleman, Associated Press, October 1997.
  12. ^ 1996 National Police Agency survey, "Tokyo cracks down on teenage prostitution ‘clubs,’" Reuters, 13 August 1997
  13. ^ "Japanese law would ban sex under 17," Agence France Presse, 24 August 1997
  14. ^ Trafficking in Persons Report 2008, by U.S. Department of State on June 4, 2008

Further reading

  • Constantine, Peter (1993). Japan's Sex Trade: A Journey Through Japan's Erotic Subcultures. Tokyo: Yen Books. ISBN 4-900737-00-3. 
  • Weisser, Thomas, and Yuko Mihara Weisser. Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films. Miami: Vital Books, 1998. ISBN 1889288527.

External links

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