Clandestine sexuality clashes with the exposed in Japan's cities.Flickr: joohander

The United Kingdom is a nation of extremes. On the one hand, we are considered a polite and courteous population, but we are also known as binge drinkers and troublemakers. Every country has its contrasts, but some stand out more than others in this respect, and Japan is a perfect example. It is both overwhelmingly modern and traditional at the same time; this does not just apply to the amalgamation of skyscrapers and ancient Shinto shrines in cities like Kyoto, but also on a more sociological level. The matter of sexuality in Japan is the first thing that comes to mind. 

Walking around the streets of Japan, it appears to be an openly sexual nation with an evident erotic culture. Pornography is visually available throughout Japan – the shopping alleys of Osaka are lined with explicit sex shops open in the daytime neighbouring popular karaoke places and restaurants. While a sexually liberated society is certainly something to be celebrated, there are more problematic issues at hand here.  Many aspects of Japan’s famous erotic world encourage moe, or in other words, a fetish for the hyper-feminine, innocent and even childlike character who is so often seen in manga, and particularly in its pornographic form, so-called hentai. You don't have to look far to see this: the countless convenience stores in Japan have erotic magazines openly on display depicting manga girls in school uniforms. Furthermore, it cannot be forgotten that possession of child pornography was only banned in Japan in 2014, and that pornographic manga depicting minors that are catered towards the pedophilic lolicon and shotacon fetishes is still legal today. While I am in no way suggesting that every part of Japan’s sexual society is disturbing to this extent, it cannot be denied that Japan’s sexual openness is certainly a controversial topic.

And yet, at times it seems that sexuality is more hidden in Japan than it is in Britain. We have become accustomed to sex playing a mundane role in the media – Game of Thrones frequently uses sex as a literal backdrop to the central conversation or action of the scene. While sex scenes are of course present in Japanese television and film, it does not seem to have this same function of being placed into the plot for the sake of it, but usually only if it is relevant to the storyline. Japanese dramas often seem to build romances in such a way that a kiss is as much of a turning point in a character’s relationship as a sex scene would be, and these love stories are more like modern fairytales than anything. Television with real people does not seem to portray the same sexual explicitness or experimentation that is seen in fantasy forms such as manga – women celebrities acting as ‘real’ representatives of the Japanese female population do not appear to have the opportunity to standardise everyday female sexuality.

What represents this paradoxical concept of sexual frankness alongside sexual privacy is Japan’s ongoing chikan (pervert) problem. This usually refers to women being groped on packed public transport – the act has even become a popular feature in Japanese pornography. Signs reading "beware of chikan" are dotted around the cities, and some train lines provide women-only carriages during rush hour. However, in contrast to the catcalling that British women are unfortunately so familiar with, chikan is often a more secretive act and women are advised to directly address their attacker as an effective method to stop them in a ‘shame society’ such as Japan. So why has the issue taken on this particular nature? The reason could absolutely be interpreted as a result of Japanese attitudes towards sexuality. Sexualised females are presented not as mainstream, but as a male fantasy. The openness of sexual harassment in the UK could be seen as a reaction towards the female sexual revolution, as a method for men to regain their power over women through public humiliation; perhaps in Japan, harassment of women is more secretive because female sexuality could also be seen as being repressed in the mainstream.

So what can be done? Females reclaiming their sexual power across the world must be shown and celebrated, not undermined or fantasised. In other words, women should always hold onto their sexuality as something that is theirs and never be ashamed of this possession.