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Into the World of Japan’s School Girl Culture

Photo credit: Danny Choo

Japan has an obsession in turning commodities into actual material things that can be sold and bought. That’s why they have animal cafes, maid cafes, breast mouse pads, cuddle pillows and the list goes on. While it might because of a country whose culture is embedded in one that holds social control at such a high degree, we can also point our fingers with the way people live. It’s an academic-oriented society as much as it is a work-oriented one. In fact, the country’s falling birth rate is attributed to the people’s decreasing sex drive partly due to men and women having to socially live separately, women choosing to be more independent (because of the huge inequality between in the two sexes in the country embedded in their high distance practice) and men relaying more on pornography for its overstimulating effects.

Because of this, the joshi kosei (meaning high school female student, basically young girls in school uniform) business is booming in Japan even steering huge controversies. In fact, in hentai (eroctic Japanese novel/comic) alone, a genre called lollicon (or shota-con, kind of like the lolita culture) is still being exploited. There is a fascination when it comes to over sexualizing young girls. The JK business is just the tip of the iceberg though. All these are just symptoms of the bigger issue as it acts as a cover-up for the alleged continued underage prostitution and human trafficking. If you roam the streets of Akihabara at night, it’s a given that you would see someone dressed in a seifuku (uniform) giving out leaflets inviting you to cafes or such. Of course, they claim to only do social activities such as sing karaoke, have dinner or do “fortune-telling” but it’s also undeniable that sexual activity is included, at least there is a chance it could happen. You don’t just buy the products that make use of these girls, you can also buy the girls themselves.

There are all girl groups composed of young girls who are able to sell out concerts. It’s no wonder that the business thrives. It seems pretty innocent when teenagers are able to have a meet-and-greet with their fellow teenage idols but it’s undeniably weird when almost 99% of the fans are middle-aged men flagging at girls more than half their senior. But just seeing them isn’t enough. The deal includes physical contact in order to fulfill the whole fantasy package. In short, these young girls are the main characters of men’s fantasies, they’re objectified which isn’t surprising since it puts the whole dominant-submissive trope into play. Young girls are seen as submissive while these men are dominant, the one with power and control. It reflects back to the whole high distance practice of Japan and dates back to geisha, being seen as submissive.

Photo credit: Telegraph

But the JK culture didn’t really start off that badly, it was benign, often just seen as a social activity and a source of “comfort” by paying young girls to spend time with them and in a country with high suicide rates, loneliness isn’t scare. It was really just a form of compensated dating but it toppled down into such a business particularly because the demand for it increases and those who desire it continue to seek it. The worst part is, the girls themselves are blamed for this lucrative practice more so than the men. In an academic-oriented society, selling your time (or worst, yourself) is seen as easy money. Opportunities for women are generally so little. It’s a patriarchal society where women are seen as unequal to that of men and that says a lot on what women think of themselves: something that can be purchased. This also reflects an interesting issue on how women are to blame for their actions, their choices or need permission from men to be “acceptable.”

Perhaps its acceptance extends to the fact that one of Japan’s most famous groups AKB48 which has been a group for a long time and has more than 80 members is also said to have been part of this frenzy. It’s difficult to track down the exact figures of how many young girls are really in the JK business, if they are really young girls or just someone taking the kawaii to the extreme to look young but one thing’s for sure. It’s a business that’s out in the open. It’s there and it exists. After all Japan excluded anime and manga (which still over sexualize young girls – that’s why lollicon exists) when it passed a bill on banning child pornography. Others see the move as economic reasons because anime and manga profit contributes a lot. The National Policy Agency said that Japan is facing a new child abuse problem and child pornography is also increasing particularly in digital form and Japan is an epicenter.

But others can argue the same reasons of legalizing prostitution. Though, the thing is, maybe Japan doesn’t see the JK business as a form of prostitution nor a pressing issue. Because it’s just so out there, it’s even deemed “acceptable” that why it still happens in broad daylight. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a problem. The fact that one would think there’s nothing wrong with not only objectifying young girls but also exploiting them and treating them like commodities is disturbing. If one chooses to blame these girls because they have a “choice” in the matter, then we should all be asking why they choose to be there in the first place. One does not address a problem by blaming, instead you look at the reasons.

Even if some of these young girls aren’t really underage (as others claim them to look older than they should be), it doesn’t change the fact that being in a school girl uniform, or just looking young sells. It distorts the very representation of what a school uniform is and reduce it to some kind of sexual fantasy fulfillment that strips and feeds on the innocence of its victims.

It is in fact a problem and it will continue to snowball and women be it young girls or not, will still continue to be exploited and objectified. It might be a challenge to change the situation since it is so heavily embedded not only in the society but also economic concerns is a factor. The bill is in a tricky area because it will need to step on so many land mines before it could satisfy. Just like pornography (which is presents a whole issue), people still relay on it because it is craved. But what ultimately matters is that the issue is being dissented into wider audiences and hopefully, as we all wish, the situation will improve in the future.

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Jianne is a Hong Kong-born Filipino, a journalism graduate and youth advocate based in Japan. She has a thing for Asian literature and cinema, geek for anime and manga, loves to travel and take photos.


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