Plastic surgery has long been big business in Japan: during the boom days of the 1980s, clinics sprang up specialising in operations to enlarge Oriental eyes, and fill out button noses. This year, hot weather and skimpy fashions have conspired to create a new industry: plastic surgery on the navel.
The heavyweight Sankei Shimbun this week devoted a front-page report to an analysis of the phenomenon, which it labelled "the navel-out look". Japan is enjoying the hottest summer on record, and for a month, daily temperatures have exceeded 30C. The humid heat has fostered a fashion for "shorty" T-shirts that expose the midriff. As the Sankei records: "The generous display of navel is becoming de rigueur among young women."
But not everyone is blessed with an attractive umbilicus and private clinics have cashed in on a growing demand for prettier belly buttons. Jujin Hospital in Tokyo has carried out 70 operations in the past three months alone, more than half of them on teenage girls.
"Rather than simply wanting to get rid of a protruding navel, most people these days do it out of a feeling of fashion, the wish for a cute-looking navel," says the hospital's medical director, Fumihiko Umezawa. Unsightly swellings are snipped and tucked, and the circumference of the belly button is reduced. "There is no consensus on the ideal navel shape," says Dr Umezawa, "but if they can't get their navels pulled back in to a depth of 1cm, patients are usually not satisfied."
However, plump patients have found the 100,000 yen (pounds 700) operation completely wasted. "If there is fat in the stomach, a deep, shapely navel can be produced," says the doctor. "But a lot of these fashion-conscious girls are far from thin. When the stomach pressure becomes strong, the navel can pop out again."