Dennis the Menace, Casper, Richie Rich, Calvin and Hobbes - comics are forever associated in the Western mind with the innocence of childhood. The same is true in Japan, but in more complicated way. While comics here cater as elsewhere to the undeveloped imaginations of children, there is also a vast market in ero–manga, the Japanese term for erotic comics much of which treats the innocence of children as a subject for sexual titillation.
Beyond its modern facade and imitation American skylines, Japan is a radically different culture from the West. The country's most famous artist, Hokusai, when he wasn't producing his famous views of Mt Fuji or portraits of Kabuki actors, was producing shunga, erotic prints, including one that shows an octopus performing cunnilingus on a woman. Indeed to understand this culture and its collective subconscious, it is best to ignore the thick, dusty academic tomes, and turn instead to the well–thumbed pages of manga. It is here that the Japanese are at their most natural and unguarded.
It is also, apparently a very good way to learn the language according to Japanese Eroticism: A language Guide to Current Comics, translated and edited by Jack Seward. If you ever wanted an excuse to read kiddie porn, then there's probably no better cover story. However, it would be a bad idea to look up every word you encounter as many of them are gi–seigo (onomatopeia) and can't be found in any dictionary. Seriously, however, ero–manga are a good way of delving deep into the heart of the Japanese psyche, a place that some people don't really care to go, and who can blame them?
The stories featured in Japanese Eroticism include tales of gang banging, sexual slavery and incest. Tenshitachi wa Tomaranai or Angels Can't Stop features what appears to be two elementary or junior high school girls. Kana–chan, who can't stop playing with her exceptionally large clitoris, and her friend Non–chan, who helps her in all kinds of ways.
Masturbation - manzuri (10,000 rubs) for women and senzuri (1,000 rubs) for men - as a kind of pre–sexuality, is of course a convenient way to introduce children into this kind of material. Jack Seward, who has received the Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Japanese monarch for his efforts to deepen understanding and friendship between Japan and America tries to explain the Japanese predilection for depictions of underage sexuality: "Perhaps the girls are seen as easier to dominate in male fantasies. And perhaps because they are virginal but sexually curious, they incite in the male reader an urge to introduce them to the joys of sex with him exclusively."
Dorei Shitei, literally Brother and Sister Slaves, also features very young–looking protagonists, a boy and his big sister who are forced to perform acts of incest to entertain a young mistress. The action takes place at a large, ersatz European stately home. In a country where family members live in cramped proximity, incest and incestuous desires are, of course, a great unspoken issue.
Another story, this one with the English title All Is Vanity, also features an ersatz European setting and seems to play off The Sound of Music with a young nun basically being gang–banged and humiliated by a group of Nazi soldiers and learning to love it. This clearly plays up to the sexist male fantasy that many women want to be raped and enjoy it. However, it should not be imagined that ero–manga are solely for men. Its origins are traced to the makura–e, or pillow books that doting parents used to place under their daughters’ pillows before their wedding.
Considering that ero–manga basically started off as how–to–guides for prospective brides, it really shouldn’t be a surprise that there is today a vast market in erotic manga designed for women. These are usually called Ladies Comics. Kaoru Yoshida at Ai, one of the leading publications in this field explained the main difference between female ero–manga and the male variety.
"In mangas for women there is always a happy–end for the lady. Stories are written from the woman's point of view, which usually translates into more action by women and less passivity."
The fact that they are written from the woman's point of view doesn't mean that they are only written by women.
"Our writers are very diverse, men and women, married and single, young and old. Generally they are professionals who also do other kinds of mangas. The interesting point, however, is the fact that male writers use female names."
Unlike the old makura–e, however, 'ladies comics' are more of a post–nuptial than pre–nuptial aide. Most of our readers are females between the ages of 20 and 40, and mainly housewives. While hubby works late at the office, the neglected spouse is giving herself 'ten thousand' rubs often fantasizing about having sex with foreigners if some of the pages of Ai are anything to go by.
The latest edition features a Black dude with a long schlong and a cute cover shot of a blonde couple canoodling. So are Japanese ladies wild for foreign men?
"Not really. Like in commercials, we're creating a dream world, different from reality." No surprise - were just being used again!
With ero–manga Japan's vague and logically inconsistent censorship rules are even more unclear. Different from photo magazines, there are no concrete rules for porno mangas. It varies from prefecture to prefecture how mangas like this are judged and the censorship is handled.
"While something is OK in Tokyo, people in Asahikawa might think that it's bad for the little ones, so there it will be banned."
One final difference between men and women's ero–manga is the way the protagonists are depicted. Men's ero–manga will often feature old, ugly, or fat men fucking beautiful young girls. In ladies' ero–manga the men of course are handsome and very attentive, but the women themselves are almost always depicted with beautiful bodies, especially with large breasts, more as the readers would like to be than they really are.