Japanese are often described as polite, hard-working, yet passive or shy. But one area Japanese people are not hazukashii is when it comes to nudity. Feudal peasants wore nothing more than a loin cloth—and it seems not much has changed when we look at the sumo wrestlers’ miniscule uniform. Girls are wearing shorter skirts each year. Tradition and pop culture is telling Japanese people to remove much more than their shoes. More skin, no clothes, and nudity has become normalized and even celebrated throughout society.
As a child grows up in Japan they begin to watch anime and read manga (comic books). As they become older, the subject matter of anime and manga turns more sophisticated and often sexual. Characters explore their sexuality or live out sexual fantasies. And this is what viewers and readers want. They become more normalized to “fan service” scenes of bikini-clad school girls or office worker up skirt cutaways, so they want more to feed their appetite. This explains why the “Rapeman” character was born then stalked and abducted women in the late 80’s and 90’s through a manga series, anime, and several live action films.
Another reason why Japanese are accustomed to being naked is Japan’s love of bathing. It is common for children to bathe with parents in the home. Moreover, everyone gets naked at an onsen or hot spring. Although most etiquette books recommend a small towel to cover the necessities, anyone that has really been to an onsen knows that this rarely happens. Men let it hang out as if it was a competition while older women in their separate adjacent hot spring are giving the younger crowd a clear view of what they have to look forward to when they age. Bathing and walking from bath to bath is done with little shame.
While sexuality is not encouraged in most Western religions, Japan’s native Shinto religion is more open-minded. Shinto religion stresses the importance of kami or deities in nature. Like it or not, we were each born because someone did the nasty. It’s completely natural. This is not considered kimochi warui (gross), but is celebrated at Shinto shrines or festivals with large phallic objects. Furthermore, Shinto and Buddhism, both practiced and often blended in Japanese beliefs, do not consider most forms of sexuality to be sacrilegious.
Then there is the kinky stuff. Some Japanese like to unwind in the red light districts of Japan. Prostitution has been strictly banned since shortly after WWII, but legal restrictions are vague. The result is many sexual services that are not technically sex, but in many ways can still be considered as such. Explicit advertisements decorate the outside of these establishments which are occasionally posted right on the sidewalk where pedestrians, including families, may wander.
We’re born naked and Japan seems to like it that way. Through early beginnings in the bath or in the comic book to the red light districts, Japan is very comfortable with nakedness. It is even celebrated each year in the Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival) in Okayama through half naked men running around as spectators view floats and eat candy in the shape of male child-creators.
Photos by calltheambulance via Flickr Creative Commons