Out of Japan: On a matter of pubic concern

TOKYO - When they were banned in Japan, everyone wanted to see them. Now that the ban has effectively been lifted, they are already becoming passe. In the space of just over two years, heya nudo - nude pictures showing pubic hair - have traversed the horizons of morality and marketability, from the forbidden fruit that was the hottest publishing material in 1991, to today's stale 'body shots' that resort to ever-more outlandish gimmicks to earn space on bookshop shelves.

The latest attempt to tickle the public's fancy is by a fashion photographer, Akira Gomi, who published Yellows Privacy '94 last week. It contains nude shots of 25 young women, accompanied by photographs of the interiors of their flats, their wardrobes, even the contents of their refrigerators and bathroom cabinets. 'I wanted to record their privacy,' Mr Gomi told a magazine.

The ground-breaking 'hair nude' photo-book, which portrayed an 18-year-old Japanese-Dutch actress, came out in 1991. It sold out within days and was followed quickly by one featuring another young actress. The police, who are responsible for controlling pornography, did not attempt to stop the circulation of either book, so the nation's publishers took the cue, and suddenly pubic hair was springing up everywhere.

But the industry quickly discovered how fickle salacious public interest can be. Last year Linda Yamamoto, a 42 year-old singer, thought she would make some extra cash by posing unadorned for a photo book. Soon after it appeared, a radio show in Osaka received complaints from listeners - not about the nudity per se, but about its lack of appeal. The ageing starlet was outraged, and is suing the radio station for 100m yen (pounds 670,000) for defamation, and for damaging the sales of her book.

For decades Japan's obscenity laws contained bizarre contradictions. No publication could show pubic hair or genitals. But rape, under-age sex, graphic depictions of blood and guts: all were tolerated. A minor industry was spawned by the pubic-hair ban: importers of foreign pornographic magazines had to employ teams of people to use wire brushes to scrub out any strand of the forbidden fleece from each page of each magazine.

The police still deny that they have given up the ban on showing pubic hair. According to a spokesman for the National Police Agency, there is still a line of obscenity which they will not allow publishers to cross, although he was vague on where this line is drawn. 'It depends on how the hair nude is depicted, and whether it is artistic or not,' he said.

In theory, the standard for judging whether published material is obscene is a 1957 decision by the Supreme Court on D H Lawrence's novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. The court ruled that the novel offended the Criminal Code by purposefully stimulating sexual desire, inhibiting the normal sense of sexual shame, and being contrary to a healthy moral sense. The work is still subject to censorship.

But in the wider world of pornography, the idea of a game warden coyly entwining forget-me-nots in the maidenhair of his lover has been far outstripped by snakes, wigs and other stage props.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us