Hello Dolly

Imagine a hard-working but shy Japanese guy, having trouble meeting women. He finally sits down to compose a lonely hearts ad. After telling the ladies about himself – "handsome, sexy, romantic, etc." – he starts describing the sort of girl he's looking for: "150cm, slim, beautiful, with large breasts, smooth skin, and gentle eyes…" But – hang on! – he's hard working, but he's not exactly well paid, and he's shy for a reason. In other words, he's not exactly God's gift to women, so how is he ever going to meet his dream? Luckily technology has already found the answer – Candy Girl – the silicon solution to the dreams of lonely men.

Candy Girl is a series of life-sized, life-like dolls made by Orient Industry, a company with a showroom in Tokyo's Okachimachi (near Akihabara, the centre of Japan's 'otaku' geek culture). The company has a 27-year history of catering to male tastes, and, during that time, has constantly pushed the envelope on 'female substitute' design and manufacture, with a factory in Katsushika, in Tokyo's downtown area.

Nobuyuki Kodama, a spokesman for the company, seems positively proud as he shows me around the showroom, where there are approximately 20 dolls on display, from the big breasted "Candy Girl Tomoko" (94-59-81 cm), a representative of the 'Jewel Light F-series,' to the relatively flat-chested and diminutive Ai-Chan (68-51-76), an innocent little cherub of the 'Petit Soft' type, dressed, on this occasion, in a school uniform and looking all of 12 years old. There is even a blue-eyed doll called Olivia who is supposed to be a White girl, but looks more like a Japanese girl with color contact lens.

Before this silent silicon audience I put it to Kodama that these dolls are strictly for otakus, sexual deviants, and other unnatural creeps and weirdos.
"I don't think it has that image anymore," he answers unabashed at my rampant Western Puritanism. "Usually our customers are very normal individuals. Sometimes we get a couple of guys coming in and buying 5 or 6 dolls at a go, probably for rental purposes. Sometimes a couple comes in. Because the dolls are not so cheap, the people are usually middle aged. But Sometimes mothers buy them for teenage boys, especially if they are handicapped."

Silicon Valley

Although there are many different designs, varying in size, hairstyle, and even face type, in terms of manufacture and materials there are two main types – silicon with an internal skeleton made from aluminum, costing over 600,000 yen (£3,000) and soft vinyl, which has visible arm and leg joints at the trunk, for between 200,000 yen (£1,000) and 400,000 yen (£2,000).
"One advantage of the silicon type is that you can heat her up in the bath," Kodama points out, suggesting that an electric blanket should be used to get the soft vinyl models to the desired temperature.
One aspect that has to be emphasized is that the dolls have working vaginas, which, for the purpose of hygiene, can be removed, emptied, and cleaned after use. Rather like a car ashtray! On their own these cost 12,000 yen (£60) and are optional. There are also a wide range of accessories, including lubricating lotion, wig shampoo, and different clothes. Some of the popular costumes, like the now ubiquitous French maid uniform, reflect otaku sensibilities, while others, like the school uniform, represent a more widespread fetish.

Don't such accessories, along with dolls designed to look like children but with working sexual parts, encourage paedophilic fantasies and behavior?
"Some of our customers just like children in an innocent way," Kodama says blandly. "In fact a lot of people buy for display purposes. Half of those who order will cover the hole. But in the case of paedophiles, I think it's better to introduce these people to the dolls so that they leave children alone."
Whether or not the dolls play any role in reducing the number of paedophilic attacks on children has yet to be scientifically ascertained.
"The good point of our dolls in relation to some of our competitors is that there is only one place you can use sexually," Kodama states, referring to the fact that the dolls are not designed to perform oral sex. "Our dolls are more focused on being cute and adorable, not only for sexual functional purpose. We have a policy that it's not just an adult toy."

Gender Cleavage

Kodama is quick to distance his clientele from the phenomenon of the otaku that has been prominent in Japanese culture and society in the last few years, but the growing acceptance of businesses, like Orient Industry, that sell or rent artificial substitutes for women is intimately connected to Japan's 'geek' phenomenon. While otakus are still figures of widespread derision and revulsion, there is no denying their growing effect on the cultural climate.

Whether it is 'moe' girls dressed in French maids' uniforms, guys playing 'gal-ge' love simulation games with anime characters, or collecting erotic figurines, the media loves to focus on otaku culture. While the usual tone adopted is to sneer and mock, inevitably the attention lavished on these strange hobbies and fetishes gradually acclimatizes the general public to them and eventually makes them normal.

We have already seen other aspects of otaku culture, like 'cosplay,' role-playing computer games, and various manga and anime characters, accepted into the mainstream culture. Now something similar is beginning to happen with these life-sized love replacements. What was once decried as a perversion is increasingly being regarded as a consumer choice and a right.

With the boom in internet pornography, the continuing development and diversification of the sex industry, and technological breakthroughs that make love simulation games more realistic than ever before, Japanese society is reaching the point where many men can psychologically, as well as physiologically, live their lives without actual women. These love dolls are just the most obvious and dramatic aspect of this trend towards a virtual sex world.

Just as radical feminists once dreamed of making men superfluous, Japanese society's potent ability to consumerize has now made mature, healthy relationships with women superfluous to a growing number of men, with potentially disastrous effects on future Japanese demographics.

Evolving Desire

In previous generations, male desire was always anchored to feminine reality. Now, for the first time in history, we in Japan are witnessing the loosening of these bonds on a massive scale, as male fantasy increasingly develops on its own terms, separate from female actualities. The progress of this growing cleft between the genders can be read in the faces of these dolls and the extent to which they differ or surpass the more homely beauties of real women.

In addition to body shape and smoothness, the face is key. One interesting aspect of Orient Industry's dolls is that the eyes are designed not to look directly at you, giving the doll a softer, gentler, more passive atmosphere. There is even a doll that is designed with its eyes closed.
"Some people don't want to be gazed at because they are shy," Kodama comments
So, what qualities makes a successful doll?
"The face should be relaxed and not hard looking," Kodama offers. "Lots of girls in the public eye at the moment have that quality. Also they should have moe."
This word, which has become synonymous with otaku culture, is hard to define as it is still developing in meaning, but it has been translated as 'budding,' or evoking a sudden protective urge in men, or something fetishistic. While most of the dolls sold by Orient Industry try to approximate to the cutest, sweetest, and freshest examples of real women, they also have started developing dolls that are clearly based on anime characters, with extremely large eyes and other unrealistic attributes.

Over time it's quite possible that these creatures will continue to evolve on their own trajectory, and have a growing influence on male sexual aesthetics. Women will either try to follow and imitate the dolls, or possibly rebel and start spending their money on their own fantasy male doll figures, marking a final disastrous divorce between the genders.

Despite the chaos that virtual sexuality is introducing into the traditionally fraught and difficult relations between the genders, Kodama believes the dolls his company provides complement rather than compete with women, merely helping those men who can't get a girlfriend.

So, what happens when the lonely customer with his silicon lover finally meets the perfect woman, who not only knows how to satisfy him in bed but can also get up afterwards to cook and clean? What then happens to 'Candy Girl Tomoko' or sweet little Ai-chan?
"Some people throw away the doll," Kodama reveals. "Sometimes they return it to this company for disposal. But dolls have special meaning in Japan. We think that they have spirits. When a doll is returned it is not recycled. It is chopped up. When that happens we commemorate the dolls by praying at some local shrines."

Tokyo Journal
June, 2006
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