Category Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia

The spread of Japanese AVs to Hong Kong and Yuki Maiko

Unlike the case of Taiwan, the social reality that is relevant to the consumption of Japanese AVs in Hong Kong is not related purely to the local sexual order, but depends on a cultural logic that underpins the emergence of Hong Kong identity in the 1980s. Elsewhere (Yau and Wong 2009) we have demonstrated that the Colonial Government of Hong Kong on the one hand transformed the Territory into a free market port by turning to export-oriented industrialisation, and on the other hand implemented a series of social policies aiming to improve the poor living standards of Hong Kong people in the 1970s. All of these social policies paved the way for the emerging middle class in Hong Kong to develop a distinctive identity. Growing up amidst the endless confrontation between the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the new middle class developed a worldview that combined their parents’ Chinese/traditional/old value system with their Western/modern/new one, which came to constitute the cultural logic of the identity of the new middle class, that is, ‘in-betweenness’. We argue that the popularity of Japanese AVs in general and one Japanese AV actress, Yuki Maiko, in particular in Hong Kong in the 1990s should be understood in terms of the ‘in-betweenness’ of the new middle-class identity.

Locally produced Hong Kong soft-pornographic movies in the 1960s and 1970s were commonly referred to as fengyue pin’ or ‘haampin’ (literally, salty movie) (Yeh 1997; Yang 2003). Since the portrayal of genitals was strictly prohibited, pornography actresses at that time were required to act coquettishly, flirtatiously, and aggressively, in order to make up for the fact that genital shots, not to mention depictions of sexual intercourse, were absent. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, most of these haam pin were exhibited in adult theatres or theatres located in some old areas, mainly on the Kowloon peninsula. While they attracted heterosexual, bisexual and per­haps some homosexual male patrons, pornographic movies remained a non-mainstream form of entertainment in Hong Kong.

Pornographic films began to enter the mainstream when Category III films sprang up in the late 1980s. Category III films were products of the Hong Kong government’s introduction of a film rating system in 1988 which classified films into three levels namely Level I, Level II and Level III. Seven years later, the ratings were amended, with Level II further being divided into IIA and IIB. The first three levels are advisory ratings, and thus carry no legal effect. Only Level III forbids minors under the age of 18 from watching the film. As a result of this change, more and more Category III films began to be screened at regular theatres. Since then, ‘Category III film’ has become an umbrella term for pornographic and generally outre films in Hong Kong. While considered graphic according to the mores of local society, these films are at best on par with movies rated ‘R’ or ‘NC17’ in the United States but are not comparable to those marked ‘XXX’.

Yip Yuk-hing was one of the earliest actresses to achieve fame starring in Category III films. Yip was the second runner-up for the 1985 Miss Asia Pageant, whose contestants are usually seen as dignified, educated, and elegant in the eyes of many Hong Kong people. Yip challenged this mainstream perception by starring in adult films. Her debut in the Category III film Take Me (1991) caused a huge sensation in Hong Kong. In the same year she starred in two more Category III films. All three films were huge commercial successes, not only establishing Yip as the Category III film queen in Hong Kong but also giving rise to the trend of mainstream actresses starring in adult films (Wang 1995: 225).

This trend underwent a subtle but vital transformation when Yung Hung debuted in Category III films. As the winner of the 1989 Miss Asia Pageant, her debut in the Category III film Can’t Stop My Crazy Love for You (1993) was a commercial success. However, she earned fame for her special temperament and ‘innocent’ outlook after starring in Chinese Torture Chamber Story (1994), in which she portrayed a ‘fragile, gentle, and pitiful’ woman (Yeh 1997:211). This new female image was even more obvious in the case of Lee Lai-chun. Lee first earned fame by debuting as a young innocent girl or yuk neui (literally jade girl) in Happy Ghost (1984). In 1993, she made a bold decision to take her clothes off and star in the Category III film Spirit of Love (1993), which opened the way for the ‘mei siu neui’ (equivalent to bishojo, meaning ‘beautiful young woman’) trend in Category III films (Yeh 1997: 213). The fact that she had been famed for her girl-next-door image and genteel outlook made this film a phenomenal success, attracting extensive media coverage not only in Hong Kong but also in Taiwan, mainland China, and Japan (Yeh 1997: 213).

Pirated Japanese pornographic VCDs (a precursor to DVDs) became widely available in Hong Kong from around the mid-1990s. At first, pirate retailers tended to sell Japanese pornographic VCDs via street stalls (Wong 1999:1). Gradually, retailers moved their businesses into small shopping centres, which had recently developed into major retail outlets for Japanese popular cultural items such as comics, TV game software, fashion magazines, and so on. This development occurred during a general boom for all kinds of Japanese popular cultural products, which took off in the 1990s. Almost all of these small shopping malls were originally located in the major retail areas of the Kowloon peninsula, which were usually flooded with young shoppers, especially during weekends. The sale of Japanese pirated pornographic VCDs quickly spread to the rest of Hong Kong and mushroomed in roadside stalls and inside the shopping centres in Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and the New Territories in the late 1990s. According to a local magazine, there were 110 retail shops exclusively selling Japanese pornographic VCDs in four major shopping malls on the Kowloon peninsula alone in 1999 (Lee 1999: 16).

Elsewhere (Yau and Wong 2009) we have explored the popularity of Yuki Maiko, a typical bishojo actress, among Hong Kong viewers through analysing her nine pirated pornographic VCDs. We showed that in these pornographic movies she is almost always portrayed as innocent, sweet, childish, virginal, shy, cute, fragile, pitiful and simultaneously sexual. From the interviews with 17 men in Hong Kong in the early 2000s, we found out that most of our male informants were fans of Yuki Maiko and that their identification with her was precisely due to her innocent, sweet and fragile image. We have to add immediately that Yuki Maiko’s popularity is not confined to our 17 male informants, as demonstrated by the Yuki Maiko campaign launched by a local pornographic magazine known as Nightlife. On 12 April 1997, eight thousand Hong Kong Chinese men packed into Mongkok in order to catch a sight of their latest ‘neui san’ (the goddess), Yuki Maiko, who was about to sign autographs in a nearby shopping mall (Law 1997:42). The commotion caused by her public appearance in Mongkok even caught the attention of the Hong Kong Police which sent a team of officers to the site to maintain order (Law 1997:42).

Interestingly, we found that the image embodied by Yuki Maiko is very similar to that of the emerging sex ideal since the mid-1990s mentioned above. Recall that local pornography had been dominated by a female image which we would term as ‘sexual-cum-aggressive’. However, the debut of Yip Yuk-hing alongside other former Miss Asia Pageant contestants as Category III porn actresses in the early 1990s challenged this mainstream image by providing another possibility, that porn actresses could be educated and not necessarily vulgar. The ‘innocent’ images ofYung Hong and Lee Lai-chun served to further consolidate this new female ideal. All of this arguably gave rise to a new female sex ideal which we would term as ‘sexual-cum-innocent’. We argue that the image embodied by Yuki Maiko is an extension of this new sexual ideal.

Our research has shown that the sexual-cum-innocent image embodied by Yuki Maiko is favoured by a particular cohort of men, who are younger, better educated, and work in the service sector rather than the manufacturing sector, which can be verified by our 17 informants. In other words, their taste for this new sexual ideal is class-based and thus historically specific. We argue that their identification with the sexual-cum-innocent female image is closely related to the changing class structure and cultural trend with regard to female models. Growing up in the endless confrontations between Chinese and Western, traditional and modern, and old and new, the new middle class have longed for something in between. Japanese culture, which is neither Western nor Chinese, neither traditional nor modern, and neither new nor old, has become a symbol of their new identity. The immersion in Japanese pop culture of which the shojo (young girl) female model is an indispensable part equipped many young middle class men with the necessary literacy to appreciate and identify with this cute, gentle, and fragile femininity. All of this arguably contributes to the immense success of Yip Yuk-hing and Lee Lai-chun, among others, during the early to mid-1990s. As Yuki Maiko, who is sexually shy and cute but whose movies are immensely sexual, came to Hong Kong during the late 1990s, she immediately became a household name among men in Hong Kong. Just as the new middle class identified with a sense of ‘in-betweenness’ embodied in Japanese culture, they likewise opted for a sense of in-betweenness in their sexual taste, that is, the sexual-cum-innocent style of woman best exemplified by Yuki Maiko.


This chapter started with a brief history of adult videos in Japan and described some of the major characteristics of their production, circulation and consumption in their home country. We then followed Japanese AVs overseas, arriving in Taiwan as the first stop and Hong Kong as the second and final destination. Reflecting on what we have discussed, we can discern one common theme across the whole journey: the historical agency of the local consumers. Recall how Taiwanese men selected their favourite pornography according to the locally constituted sex roles of men and women, and how Taiwanese women found little interest in watching pornography but when asked to choose between Japanese AVs and American pornography, they tended to prefer the latter because doing so helped them resist male domination in sex. That is to say, the consumption of Japanese AVs is mediated by the local sex roles of men and women in Taiwan. The agency of Taiwanese consumers therefore lies in the particularity of the local sexual culture. In short, the Taiwanese people we have interviewed cannot be considered as passive receivers but rather as selective consumers of Japanese AVs.

If Taiwanese informants are selective consumers, Hong Kong informants know how to utilise Japanese AV girls to match the image of the new female sexual ideal in Hong Kong. Recall that the new middle class men preferred the sexual-cum-innocent Yuki Maiko because she appeared as the best example of the new female ideal in the 1990s. This preference has to do with the emerging identity of the new middle class and should be understood in the historical context of the local pornographic movies in which female ideals were formed.

Although both Taiwanese and Hong Kong men tend to prefer Japanese bishojo AVs to American pornography, their reasons, as we have shown, are different. Taiwanese men are interested in Japanese bishojo actresses more than American porn actresses because the former resemble their ideas about women’s ‘real’ sex more than the latter. In contrast, Hong Kong men prefer Japanese bishojo AVs to American pornography because the former match their ‘real’ self-image better than the latter. As a result, Japanese AVs exist as pornographic entertainment in Taiwan but they function more as identity markers than as pornography in Hong Kong. Different local societies clearly give rise to different forms of indigenising the global in pornography as much as in any other product.

Consumption of Japanese AVs in Taiwan

Taiwanese men and women display entirely different patterns in terms of their preference for pornography. Elsewhere, we have explored these differences (Wong and Yau 2012; Wong and Yau 2014), here we simply wish to point out that Taiwanese men tend to prefer Japanese AVs over American pornography. The narrative structure of typical bishojo AVs, according to our research, contains a three-step process: the female character first appears as a cute, cheerful, gentle, and sexually naive woman, she is then introduced to the world of sex by the male character, and sexually stimulated via prolonged foreplay using various means. As a result of her sexual enlightenment, she then metamorphoses into a sexually passionate, active, and adventurous partner who enjoys and desires sex (Wong and Yau 2014). The general narrative structure of American pornographic movies, according to our research (Wong and Yau 2014), also contains three steps. However, in contrast, the female character appears as a sexually autonomous being who is not only experienced in sex and conscious of her sexual body, but also desires sex right from the outset. She and the male character ‘mutually’ stimulate each other through oral sex or other sexual postures and both of them greatly enjoy prolonged sexual intercourse through a wide range of sexual positions

It should be immediately apparent to readers that the narrative structure of bishojo AVs is closer to the abovementioned sexual script of Taiwanese men than it is to the scripts apparent in American pornography. Japanese AVs thus appear more ‘real’ to Taiwanese men than do the American productions. That is why Japanese AVs, especially bishoojo AVs, are more popular with Taiwanese men than American pornography.

The consumption of pornography by Taiwanese women is more complicated. Various research (Lin and Lin 1996; Lo et al. 1999; Lo and Wei 2005) has shown that Taiwanese women have generally had less interest in and exposure to either Japanese AVs or American pornographic movies. Hardy’s ethnographic realism can again help account for women’s lack of interest in pornography in Taiwan. As mentioned above, the female sexual subjectivity we identified among our informants is constructed as human-like and departs tremendously from the images of the female characters portrayed in the narrative structure of both Japanese AVs and American pornography. As a result, Taiwanese women do not identify with the female characters portrayed in either Japanese AVs or American pornography. The same ideas about the female sex also constrain the kind of men to whom Taiwanese women can be attracted: men must also be ‘human’-like. As we can see from the narrative structure of Japanese AVs and American pornography, in both the male characters are ‘animal’-like and therefore do not appear to be ‘real’ to Taiwanese women. In short, the Taiwanese women who participated in our research project could not identify with the male and female characters in either Japanese AVs or American pornography and that is why they tended not to be interested in watching pornography.

Another major reason that Taiwanese women do not find watching pornography interesting is that they cannot enjoy the experience of watching. We observed in our fieldwork in Taiwan that Taiwanese women’s sexual role required them to sexually entertain men; they were supposed to join their men in watching pornography rather than watching it by themselves. As a result, they were not consulted about when and where to watch nor about what they would like to watch. Even if they found some pornographic movies interesting, they were often forced to stop in the midst of viewing because their men wanted to have sex with them. Some of our women informants told us that they had never been able to finish watching a single pornographic movie in their entire lives.

Despite their lack of interest in pornography, the Taiwanese women we interviewed tended to reject Japanese AVs in favour of American pornography. We asked our women informants if they had to choose between Japanese AVs and American pornography, which they would prefer. Our women informants tended to choose American pornography rather than Japanese AVs. We argue that this identification is closely related to the frustrations arising from their simultaneous inability to decline such pornography viewing with men and inability to enjoy pornography — they could not refuse their men’s invitation to join in watching and could not enjoy watching as their viewing might be stopped abruptly. To simplify our argument enormously here, since women detest their male partners forcing pornography upon them, they could not but transpose this sense of hatred onto the Japanese AVs with which their men identified. In this way, Japanese AVs and Taiwanese men were rendered symbolically equivalent to each other. That is to say, Taiwanese women detest Japanese AVs as much as they detest male domination in sex. If these women detest male domination through vehemently rejecting Japanese AVs, perhaps we should not be surprised that they resist male domination through overtly identifying with the actresses in American pornography. This is especially true if we take into account the fact that Taiwanese men dislike American pornography. By recounting to us that they prefer the American pornography which their men disdain, these women are expressing their frustrations as women in male-dominated Taiwanese society. Hence, we can see that the consumption of Japanese AVs in Taiwan is mediated by the local sex roles of men and women discussed above.

Sexual subjectivities of Taiwanese consumers

We have to point out that the popularity of Japanese AVs in Taiwan has much to do with the local sexual culture. In our recent joint paper (Wong and Yau 2011), we demonstrated that so-called sexual subjectivities in Taiwan are discursively constituted and thus cultural, although they appear to be ‘real’ and thus universal to our informants. Our Taiwanese male and female informants tend to talk about the sexual responsiveness of their own and their opposite sex in terms of six binaries, and most crucially in terms of stark gender contrasts. In terms of these binaries, male sexual subjectivity is considered to be biological, physical, ordinary, necessary, uncontrollable, and thus ‘animal’-like, whereas female sexual subjectivity is seen as cultural, spiritual, extraordinary, unnecessary, controllable, and ‘human’-like.

We uncovered the ‘sexual scripts’ (Simon and Gagnon 1986) operative in Taiwan through asking our Taiwanese male and female informants to talk about the ‘proper’ sexual behaviours of their own as well as of the opposite sex (Wong and Yau 2011). We discovered that the sexual script of our male informants is made up of five imperatives: to initiate sex, to lead the woman throughout sex, to use several positions in sex, to perform sex for a period of time, and to bring the woman to orgasm, whereas the script for female informants is to be initiated, led, penetrated, caressed, and brought to orgasm (Wong and Yau 2011). We, however, do not mean that all Taiwanese people mechanically follow the scripts we have identified here. Nor do we argue that all of them follow the scripts to the same extent. We recognise that some follow more closely than others, some others choose to ignore the scripts and some even follow a totally different script. That is to say, the sexual scripts we identified are not the only ones in the sexual culture of Taiwan. We are well aware that there are different scripts that are followed by different social groups such as gay communities, bisexual groups, or transgenders. However, to say that there are different scripts is not the same as saying that there is no script at all, and to say that not all follow the same script is not the same as saying that they follow no script.

More interestingly, the sexual scripts we identified amount to what Evans (1997: 10) has called the ‘active-male/passive-female’ model. Evans, while acknowledging the changing sexual discourses in China after 1949, maintains that ‘little of this suggests any real challenge to the active-male/ passive-female model generally explained through natural biological structures’ (1997: 10). In fact, this model is crossed with what we call ‘sex roles of men and women’ in Taiwan (Yau and Wong 2010). In analysing the Chinese subtitling of a pirated Japanese AV clip in Taiwan, we argued that the way the Chinese subtitles were phrased revealed the sex roles ofTaiwanese men and women where the man is always the sexual subject and the woman a sexual object. For instance, in a scene where the camera focuses on the female character’s face which looks desperate and in pain, as she requests penetration, her words ‘Penetrate [me], penetrate [me]!’, are not given Chinese subtitles. The elision of the active expression of the female character’s sexual desires or desire for penetration indicates that women in Taiwan should never be active in sex.

However, this does not mean that the woman is not ‘allowed’ to express her desires or achieve orgasm, only that her expression of desires and achievement of orgasm have to be enabled by the man involved. Hence Taiwanese pirate merchants provide Chinese subtitles for Japanese AVs according to the local sex roles ofman and woman. That is, they accord to the sexual scripts of Taiwanese men and women. More importantly, the Taiwanese men we interviewed tended to understand their sexual scripts, that is, their ‘proper’ acts during sex, in terms of the male sexual subjectivity we identified. In other words, the male subjectivity has become the ‘independent variable’ that defines the proper acts of Taiwanese men’s sexual lives. The everyday execution of the sexual script of Taiwanese men in turn rehearses the discursively constituted male sexual subjectivity. The male sexual subjectivity and the sexual script of Taiwanese men are mutually defined: the former prescribes the latter in theory, and the latter confirms the former in practice. Consequently, we argue that since the sexual script of Taiwanese men instantiates male sexual subjectivity it has become isomorphic with the latter. Male sexual subjectivity as discourse and male sexual script as practice have become one and the same. Male sexual subjectivity has become just another name for the sexual script, in the course of which the arbitrariness of the construction of the male sexual subjectivity and the sexual script is forgotten. That is to say, they no longer are seen as being culturally and historically constituted. If they are not seen as culturally and historically constructed, they should be treated as natural. The result is that the male sexual subjectivity and the sexual script of Taiwanese men have become essential features of a natural order of things, a given character of masculinity in Taiwan, and finally if they are natural, then they appear to be ‘real’ to Taiwanese men.

However, unlike the case of Taiwanese men, the sexual script for Taiwanese women does not logically follow from assumptions about female sexual subjectivity. To say that female sexual subjectivity is cultural, spiritual and so on does not necessarily imply female sexual passivity. Equally, to say that women should be passive in sex does not necessarily mean that for them, sex has to be cultural or spiritual. There is an epistemological break between female sexual subjectivity and Taiwanese women’s sexual script. This epistemological break, we argue, further leads to an ontological break because if Taiwanese women perceive their sexual subjectivity and their sexual script differently, they tend to believe that they are two different things. Female sexual subjectivity here appears to Taiwanese women as their ‘real’ sexual subjectivity, while the sexual script represents the sexual norms imposed by society; the former is what Taiwanese women’s sexual subjectivity is, while the latter is what their sexual behaviours should be. That is to say, Taiwanese women do not see sexual passivity as an expression of their ‘real’ sexual subjectivity. They instead tend to understand their sexual passivity as something required by men or as their sexual obligation to men. As we shall see shortly, the sex roles of man and woman, as well as the discrepancy between female sexual subjectivity and the female sexual script, influence the manner in which Taiwanese men and women relate to pornography.

The globalisation of Japanese AVs

In what follows, we shall see how these heterogeneous soft-core domestic-oriented Japanese AVs migrated to Taiwan and Hong Kong and interacted with local Taiwanese and Hong Kong consumers respectively.

Japanese AVs come to Taiwan

Taiwan was a Japanese colony between 1898 and 1945. From 1945 to the late 1980s, Taiwan was under the authoritarian Kuomintang (KMT) government which had been driven out of mainland China during the Communist takeover. From 1947, the KMT enforced martial law, and introduced a strict censorship regime. It not only monopolised free-to-air television on the island but also refused to legalise cable TV. Meanwhile, it implemented a series of cultural policies to consolidate its rule in Taiwan and pornography was one of the major targets of state regulation because it was considered subversive, posing a potential threat to the KMT rule. Moreover, under Chinese ethics, pornography was seen as harmful to society’s morals — especially the mental health of children and young people. As a result, pornography was strictly prohibited (Lin 2001: 36).

Although pornography was severely regulated in post-war Taiwan, foreign pornography found its way in through illegal channels. Since the 1950s, pornographic movies from Europe, especially Denmark and Holland, could be sporadically found in local theatres that discretely screened adult movies amid the fear of prosecution (Yeh 1997: 37). Since the early 1970s, American pornography has also begun to make its presence felt in Taiwan. This had much to do with the strong American cultural sway, which resulted from the KMT’s heavy political and economic reliance on the US in the post-war years (Gold 1993: 908). However, US porno­graphy gradually lost its momentum when Japanese AVs, whose actresses and presentations were known to be of high quality, began to appear as ‘programs’ on illegal cable TV stations in the early 1980s. By the late 1980s, Japanese AVs had gained a strong foothold in Taiwan, finding great favour among young people. American pornography, however, still remains as the dominant pornographic ‘Other’ in post-war Taiwan, as we shall see later when we introduce the opinions of our Taiwanese women informants.

Japanese AVs reached their peak in Taiwan in the mid-1990s after cable TV was legalised in 1993. This had much to do with the liberating atmosphere when Lee Teng-hui assumed office in 1988. Lee helped transform Taiwan into a democratic society not only by lifting martial law but also loosening various restrictions on the media. The legalisation of cable TV in turn allowed the legalisation of Japanese AVs by confining them to encrypted channels that required a special subscription. New East Treasure, Rainbow and Star Wing, the three major cable providers of Japanese AVs, were nicknamed the ‘Three Treasures of Taiwan’ in the 1990s (Chang Hsien-shan 1999: 89; Chang Hong-ming 2004: 66). However, as the consumption of pornography on cable TV became more expensive, Japanese AVs began to take the form of pirated video CDs (VCD) and, starting from mid-2000s, internet files. More interestingly, since these pirated Japanese AVs were illegal from the outset, the local pirate merchants did not hesitate to make changes to the Japanese AVs insofar as they believed such changes would help attract more customers and thus maximise their profits. Thanks to the efforts of the local pirate merchants, Japanese AVs have not only gained a firm foothold in the Taiwanese pornography market, but also become firmly incorporated as part of the local sexual culture. The Taiwanese term for AVs ‘A-pian’ has become the general term for pornographic movies.

The origins of Japanese adult videos

As the name implies, Japanese AVs were originally released in the form of videotapes that lasted about 60 minutes. Since VHS tapes were prohibitively expensive in the 1980s, Japanese AVs were originally produced for rental outlets but have also been available for purchase since the mid-1990s. Thanks to recent technological advances, Japanese AVs are now available in many different media forms ranging from DVD, cable programs, to digital files. One important result of this technological shift is that Japanese AVs have been substantially lengthened from 60 minutes up to 4 hours (Yasuda and Amamiya 2006: 121). While they are no longer released only in the form of videotape, Japanese AVs are still called ‘adult videos’ or simply ebui (AV) (Yasuda and Amamiya, 2006: 124).

Japanese AVs are a kind of soft-core pornography that first emerged in Japan in the early 1980s. They are referred to as soft-core not because they lack sexually explicit scenes but because their portrayal of the whole genital region including pubic hair and acts of sexual penetration is airbrushed and hidden behind a so-called ‘mosaic’ (a form of pixilation), since the portrayal of pubic hair in media was legally prohibited in Japan before 1996 (Allison 2000). The Nihon Ethics of Video Association (hereafter NEVA), a self-regulatory body established in 1977, even released operational regulations for AV makers in early 1983, prescribing that the genital areas, including pubic hair, be hidden by mosaic in all Japanese AVs (Nishino et al. 1999:13).

Historically, the origin of Japanese AVs can be traced back through two kinds of pornographic materials: pinku eiga (pink movies) and binibon (‘vinyl book’ pornographic magazines). Pink movies comprised a genre of low-budget soft-core pornographic films popular in the late 1960s and 1970s which displayed naked torsos and buttocks (Alexander 2003: 156—57). The popularity of pink movies reached fever-pitch among Japanese viewers in the 1970s not only because they were of high quality but also because they diversified into different genres including rape, incest, rope bondage, sadomasochism, violence and perversion which were profoundly different from previous genres (Sato 1982: 229—34).

‘Vinyl books’ were a kind of soft-core pornographic magazine in the mid-1970s and 1980s which portrayed female models in transparent panties with their legs wide open (Natsuhara 1995: 167). In contrast to pink movies which dealt with edgy subjects such as death and violence, vinyl books tended to focus on portraying and celebrating cute and sweet female models.

These two traditions in turn gave rise to two major styles of production in the Japanese AV industry: tantai (a single-actress) and kikaku (a plan). Tantai is a style of production which portrays a single actress who usually has a beautiful face and fine figure. Tantai is often linked with the bishejo (beautiful girl), the prototypical genre in the Japanese AV industry where the actress is portrayed as either a courtly lady or an innocent young woman (Yau and Wong 2009: 38). This style of production has its roots in the vinyl book publishers which have long specialised in producing cute and sweet female models. Although tantai AVs had been very popular since the beginning of the industry, their sales dropped across the board in the early 1990s because AVs portraying an innocent young woman alone could no longer satisfy the diversifying tastes of the audiences. As a result, AV makers started to produce kikaku AVs. In contrast to tantai, kikaku emphasise storylines and scenarios and whether the actress portrayed is beautiful is less important. There were roughly twenty themes in kikaku AVs including wives, huge breasts, incest, SM, rape and so on in the 1990s. This style obviously draws from the pinku eiga which used sex as a vehicle to explore ‘the struggle between what one thinks and what one physically demands’ (Sato 1982: 233). However, while kikaku AVs offered new genres or scenarios to audiences, they soon lost popularity in Japan. The major reason for this is that too many kikaku AVs were produced and many ofthem were cheap and nasty. In view ofthis, Soft On Demand (SOD), now the biggest maker in the industry, made a daring decision to produce ‘indie AV’ in 1996 which not only emphasised individuality and creativity but also contravened the NEVA’s regulations in that they showed pubic hair and used semi-transparent mosaic so that genitalia were partially visible. As Japanese AVs produced for rental services were covered with full mosaic, indie movie makers ventured into sales and, for this reason, their videos came to be known as sales (that is, vending) videos, as opposed to rental videos (Inoue 2002:18). Since the second half of the 1990s, Japanese AVs can be obtained via rental shops and retail stores located throughout Japan.

From this brief history, we can see that Japanese AVs are fundamentally a kind of soft-core pornography, as opposed to the hard-core style of Euro-American pornography where genitalia and acts of penetration are clearly shown. While it is true that as a result of the emergence of indie movies in the mid-1990s modern AV movies employ a thinner mosaic, their penetration scenes, including views of genitalia, are covered in the same way as traditional rental AVs. This history also reveals that Japanese AVs are primarily produced as a kind of domestic product without any consideration for international outlets. It must be stressed that Japanese AV makers have hesitated to export their products to overseas markets (Yasuda and Amamiya 2006: 187) including Taiwan and Hong Kong because of the potential risks caused by the different censorship laws implemented by the local governments. As we shall see below, all the Japanese AVs available in Taiwan or Hong Kong are of the so-called ‘pirated’ variety.

Finally, this history speaks volumes to the fact that Japanese AVs are a highly heterogeneous product. As mentioned above, there were twenty different genres in the 1990s. We have, however, observed eighty genres advertised on a Japanese pornographic website known as Bump Online Shop in 2004. One reason for this explosion in the number of genres is that website operators tend to specify the content in a very detailed way. For instance, we can find three different genre types given for the singular example of breasts, namely, ‘Beautiful Breasts,’ ‘Big Breasts,’ and ‘Bombing Breasts.’ The emergence of these ever-new genres is a result of the capitalist mode of production which invents distinctions in order to attract new viewers. We need to realise that the invention of ever-new genres is meant to exploit all possible social differentiation by a motivated differentiation of taste (Sahlins 1976:185). Consequently, more and more genres are invented to cater to the tastes of different viewers over the course of time.

The construction of ‘pornographic reality’

We argue below that the historical agency demonstrated by local consumers of Japanese AVs can be better understood through the concept of ‘pornographic reality’ proposed by Hardy (2009). Hardy argues that pornographic realism is the defining characteristic of pornography production. Put bluntly, the more ‘realistic’ pornography appears to be to the audience, the more it can attract and be appreciated (Hardy 2009: 5—8). However, we must point out immediately that so-called pornographic ‘reality’ can only be symbolically constituted according to a cultural scheme that governs both the consumption and production of pornography. We have explored this in great detail elsewhere (Yau and Wong 2010) so simply summarise our major arguments here. When Japanese AVs spread to Taiwan, they underwent various changes, especially the adding of Chinese subtitles. Interestingly these subtitles are not direct translations of the Japanese but are adapted to reflect the local sex roles considered appropriate for men and women in Taiwan. In other words, products are adapted according to a cultural scheme which gives significance to certain properties of the product and makes them intelligible to a certain category of person. The Taiwanese (re)production of Japanese AVs, we conclude, is therefore not about need-satisfaction but rather concerns the production of culturally constructed sexual use-values.

This conclusion points to the fact that ‘pornographic reality’ is in fact a culturally constituted imaginary, a fantasy or a fiction, because consumers from different societies will be turned on by different ‘pornographic realities’ arising from their own specific cultural schemes. For if ‘porno­graphic reality’ were natural and thus universal, there would be no need for Taiwanese distributors to introduce any changes to Japanese AVs. The necessity for introducing changes must mean that Taiwanese men’s ‘pornographic reality’ is different from that of their Japanese counterparts. But the power of‘pornographic reality’ lies precisely in its capacity to appear to be ‘natural and thus real’ to the audience. In our recent book (Wong and Yau, 2014), we argue that the production ofa pornography genre amounts to naturalising a specific male sexual ideology as ‘real’ among men in Japan. In other words, while any given pornographic genre is merely an ideology promoted by the pornographers for the sake of maximising profit, it will be rendered natural, common, and taken-for-granted at least to some audiences who find it attractive. In this chapter, we show that in Taiwan and Hong Kong respectively, it is the culturally constituted pornographic reality that determines what kinds of Japanese AVs are preferred and why, who are the majority of viewers and why, and the ways in which AVs are used.

Inspired by Sahlins’ insight that ‘the cultural scheme is variously inflected by a dominant site of symbolic process… whence emanates a classificatory grid imposed upon the total culture’ (Sahlins 1976: 211), we argue that the cultural scheme that mediates the consumption ofJapanese AVs in Taiwan has a different ‘dominant site of symbolic process’ from that of the cultural scheme in Hong Kong. Different cultures, according to Sahlins (1976: 210—11), will have different cultural schemes whose formation takes shape in a specific site of the local, which then provides meanings and idioms of all relations and activities. In the Taiwanese case, the ‘dominant site of symbolic process’ (Sahlins 1976: 211) is the local sex roles of women and men, while in Hong Kong the locus is the cultural logic of the identity of the new middle class. We shall show that the so-called Taiwanese ‘real core’ appears to be something that conforms to sex roles of men and women, whereas in Hong Kong it conforms to local Hong Kong men’s middle-class identity. In other words, the mediation of the consumption of Japanese AVs in Taiwan occurs in the sexual culture whereas in Hong Kong it takes place at the site of identity politics. This chapter will thus examine how Japanese AVs are differently indigenised in Hong Kong and Taiwan during the process of consumption.

Hong Kong

Heung Wah Wong and Hoi Yan Yau


Since the late 1990s, Japanese adult videos (AVs) as both media and cultural products have spread to other Asian societies, especially to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and have exerted tremendous influence on the sexual cultures of these societies. The extent of this influence ranges from the local adoption of Japanese sexual terminology to the overwhelming popularity of Japanese AV actresses in the local pornography markets. Taking inspiration from Sahlins (2005:4), this chapter will focus on how local consumers indigenise Japanese AVs by remaking, reinventing and re-appropriating them in a Hong Kong and Taiwanese context. This should not be taken to mean we overlook the impact that Japanese AVs have had on the sex cultures of these two societies. Rather, we emphasise here that attention should also be paid to the manner in which local consumers adapt and indigenise these products in accordance with local sexual concepts.

Cross-cultural transmission of media products throughout Asia, especially to Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China, has been extensively studied over the past decade. One of the most popular topics to date has been the Japanese ‘idol drama’. Iwabuchi Koichi has written extensively on Japanese idol dramas in Taiwan, arguing that their success there is due to the cultural proximity between Japan and Taiwan. Iwabuchi, however, cautions that cultural proximity does not refer to essentialised and ahistorical cultural values conceived of in a totalising way. Rather, the term refers to the sense of sharing and living at the same time, or what he calls ‘coevalness’, which has emerged as the result of Taiwan’s recent economic development and the circulation of commodities and information between these two areas (Iwabuchi 2001:73). Such a coevalness has given rise to the popularity of Japanese idol dramas in Taiwan because they ‘offer their fans a concrete model of what it is to be modern in East Asia, something which American popular cultures can never do’ (Iwabuchi 2001:73). In other words, Iwabuchi argues that since a sense of simultaneity has developed due to the similar material circumstances shared between Taiwan and Japan, Taiwanese TV viewers are attracted to the sense of Japanese modernity embodied in Japanese idol dramas. However, the ‘taste’ of Taiwanese TV viewers for Japanese TV is, in Iwabuchi’s argument, nothing more than a reflex of their material circumstances. The active historical role of people in Taiwan, ‘which must mean the way they shape the material circumstances laid on them according to their own conceptions,’ (Sahlins 2000: 416) is thus overlooked. Hence, Iwabuchi’s cultural proximity thesis not only fails to capture the complexity of the cross-cultural migration of Japanese media products but also denies local consumers any agency. The question we address in this chapter is, how is local agency revealed in relation to the consumption of Japanese pornography?

The 1970s to the present

The number of obscenity cases brought before the courts since the 1970s has been relatively small due to a range of self-regulatory mechanisms in place across all Japanese media industries that advise members on permissible limits. Japanese movies as well as overseas film imports are overseen by Eiga Rinri Kanri Iinkai, a professional body which administers the motion-picture code of ethics. Each television station, too, has its own program review panel made up of company representatives and ‘persons of learning and experience’ who decide on appropriate scheduling. Similar industry-appointed bodies oversee other media such as book publishing, newspapers, magazines, computer entertainment (such as video games) and manga. However, although these committees often include retired police officials as advisers, given their unofficial status, the fact that they have given the go-ahead to a media product does not exempt those involved from potential prosecution should the police later decide that limits have been transgressed.

Since the 1970s, police concern over the deleterious impact of obscene material on the ‘lower’ social orders has been largely replaced in official rhetoric with concern over the ‘healthy development of youth’. In particular, calls for restrictions on sex and violence depicted in manga directed at young people, often led by Parents and Teachers Associations (PTA), have gathered pace since 1968 when Japan’s most popular boys’ manga Shonen janpu (Boys’ jump) began to serialise the story ‘Harenchi gakuen’ (Shameless school). This wildly successful series (later made into several movies and a TV show) made explicit reference to the repressed sexuality of a co-educational school environment and scandalised many parents and educators. The most sustained call for reform of manga content, however, followed from the tragic murder of four infant girls between 1988 and 1989 by serial killer Miyazaki Tsutomu. An investigation of Miyazaki’s background and lifestyle revealed that he was an isolated youth who had been an avid collector of ‘Lolita’-style manga and anime featuring sexualised schoolgirl heroines, as well as adult pornography. In press reports, popular psychologists drew a clear connection between his private fantasy life and real-life actions, generalising beyond Miyazaki to an entire generation of alienated young men (Kinsella 2000: 127). Following on from the Miyazaki scare, a coalition of PTA committees, feminist groups and women’s organisations lobbied local and national politicians for increased surveillance and regulation of violent and sexualised imagery in manga and anime, particularly those marketed to young people.

The Japanese police take it upon themselves to offer ‘guidance’ to the wider society, particularly in relation to juveniles (Leheny 2006: 96—102). The police support a number of crime-prevention associations which lobby for measures to support a healthy environment for young people and make recommendations concerning a range of media including books, movies, games and advertisements deemed unsuitable for children. They have also pressured small bookstores to remove pornography vending machines so as to prevent purchase by under-age readers (Bayley: 1991: 185). As Beer points out ‘warnings may in fact be the principal method of obscenity regulation in Japan’ (1984: 356). Local government ordinances allow the police to instruct outlets selling books, manga and videos to remove adult-oriented materials to less conspicuous areas in the store. Police committees regularly review material targeted at youth and can refer titles with objectionable content to the local legislatures who may designate the title ‘harmful to youth’, requiring it to be marketed with an adults-only warning on the cover or removed from general sale altogether. Although such a designation does not constitute censorship as the title is not technically banned, publishers are wary about having their publications designated ‘adult only’ since this eats into the profits gained from the youth market.

Until the 2000s most of the public debate around manga content was focused on boys’ (shonen) manga. However in 2008, a genre of ‘light novels’ popular with girls and young women dedicated to the theme of ‘boys love’ or BL (that is romantic and sexual relations among beautiful youths), was specifically targeted for removal from the shelves of libraries in Sakai City, part of the Osaka metropolitan district. In August 2008 in response to several complaints from concerned citizens, the Sakai library made the unilateral decisions to remove all BL novels from the shelves and place them in a storage facility, to only lend them out on request to mature-age readers and to refrain from purchasing any further BL titles. After the intervention of a number of women councillors supported by high-profile feminist academic Ueno Chizuko, the titles were eventually returned to the shelves.

It was the lack of transparency over how this decision was made and the lack of explanation as to why only BL titles were targeted that caused most concern among feminist critics of the decision. Indeed, the discussion of homosexual sex per se seems not to have been the problem, as the library’s ‘gay literature’ titles written by gay men were not on the restricted list, nor were titles dealing with heterosexual sex. Feminist commentators were quick to identify the Sakai library incident as part of a more general ‘backlash’ against anti-discrimination measures critiquing traditional gender roles with which BL’s supposed ‘promotion’ of homosexuality seems to have become confused (Atsuta 2012).

The year 2008 also saw the 28th occasion of the Tokyo Youth Affairs Conference, which is convened by the Tokyo governor to review policies relating to youth resident within the Tokyo metropolitan area. The aim ofthis conference was to ‘address the wholesome development of youth in an era where mass media are increasing their spread within society’. The conference made a number of recommendations concerning revision of the regulations for the protection of young people, in particular that the sale and distribution of manga, anime and games depicting ‘non-existent youth’ (that is, fictional characters) in ‘anti-social sexual situations’ be restricted. Unlike in many Western jurisdictions, Japan’s child-pornography laws have not as yet been expanded to include purely fictional depictions of under-age sex. So long as the depictions are not considered ‘obscene’ (thus falling within the purview of paragraph 175), they are legal to publish and distribute (McLelland 2011). However the recommendation of the conference was that these fictional depictions be restricted to an adult audience through the use of zoning regulations restricting where designated titles might be sold.

These recommendations became the basis for Bill 156, introduced to the Tokyo Metropolitan Authority in 2010 by then conservative Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro. The bill was a local ordinance, aimed at extending the powers of the police to identify and require the removal from sale of material deemed ‘harmful to youth’ in the Tokyo area. Referred to derisively in the press as the ‘Non-Existent Youth Bill’ because of its targeting the depiction of purely fictional characters, it was widely denounced by industry representatives, writers, artists and academics for its vague language and the (re)positioning of the police as moral guardians of the nation’s youth (McLelland 2011; Nagaoka 2010). Defeated at the first vote, a revised bill was submitted which targeted any character (irrespective of age) engaged in ‘sexual or pseudo sexual acts that would be illegal in real life’ or ‘sexual or pseudo sexual acts between close relatives whose marriage would be illegal’ if presented in a manner that ‘glorifies or exaggerates’ the acts in question. This revision led feminist academic Fujimoto Yukari to refer to it as the ‘Non-Existent Sex Crimes Bill’.

Despite continued opposition from industry and others, the bill was passed in December 2012. What many Japanese commentators found peculiar was that the bill specifically targeted fictional manga and animation characters (neither photography nor literature were included). Yet, as Allison notes, manga have deliberately developed a visual style ‘intended not to mimic reality but tweak it’ so as to create ‘a space that distances the reader from her or his everyday world’ (2000: 57). Indeed it is precisely the two-dimensionality of these characters, and lack of reference to any physically existing persons that many manga fans find so attractive (see Galbraith, this volume). With this in mind, it is significant that a number of feminist academics and female writers, including Takemiya Keiko, whose 1976 manga Song of the Wind and the Trees was a foundational text for what was later to develop into the BL genre, spoke out in opposition to the bill. Takemiya later published an article (2011) where she expressed fears that her own iconic work would be targeted by police who might deem the exploration of themes such as sexual abuse within the family and homosexual love to be ‘harmful to youth’. She pointed out that it was ironic that Song of the Wind and the Trees, a very popular text which many of today’s mothers had grown up reading, was now in danger of being removed from general circulation because it could be deemed ‘harmful’ to their children.


As can be seen from the above discussion, rather than being an unrestricted ‘pornucopia’, as suggested by some alarmist reports in the English-language press, the Japanese media have always been the site of surveillance and intervention by agents of the Japanese state, most usually the police. Even today, the police are seen as having a role in the moral guidance of the nation and are frequently the first to act in cases of suspected obscenity.

Another continuity that is evident across the history of censorship discussed here is the manner in which the authorities justify their interventions on behalf of specific segments of the community that are seen to be most ‘at risk’ of harm from exposure to sexual material. For much of the last century it was ‘lower’ social orders who were seen to be at risk, but today calls for broader censorship of sexual material are increasingly made on behalf of children and young people. Japan is not alone in this. As Taiwanese academic Josephine Ho (who was herself taken to court over links she included on a sex-education website) has argued ‘“Children’s welfare” has now become an aggressive concept that proactively purifies social space for the sake of children’ (Ho 2007: 134). Both the Sakai library incident and the Tokyo Metropolitan Authority’s ‘Non-Existent Youth Bill’ demonstrate that Japan is increasingly being drawn into global debates over children and young people’s access to sexual representation and information. In Japan, as elsewhere, ‘protection of children’ is likely to remain the main front on which future battles over sexual representation in the media are fought.

The early post-war period (1952-70)

Takahashi Tetsu (1907—70) was the most prominent of a number of popular sex writers who took advantage of the new more open rhetorical climate during the Occupation to discuss previously taboo sexual topics, particularly marital sexuality, in the press. Takahashi was a well- known public intellectual and commentator on sexual issues from the late 1940s right up to his death. Hence, when he was accused by police in 1954 of profiting from the distribution of obscene publications, the case received widespread media interest. Unlike most publishers who were subject to police surveillance, Takahashi was prosecuted not for disseminating erotic fiction, but for publishing the ostensibly true sexual life histories of members of a private study society dedicated to Freudian analysis. The case, which he lost, dragged on for 15 years due to his appeal against the original verdict (Yamamoto 1994: 35—37).

Although he had penned a number of academic articles on the Freudian analysis of sexuality during the wartime period, it was not until censorship restrictions on sexual expression were relaxed during the Occupation that Takahashi was able to fully explore his interest in sexual issues with the founding of the magazine Aka to kuro (Red and black), later renamed Ningen fukko (Human renaissance) in 1946 (Yamamoto 1994: 31). In the magazine, Takahashi argued that the category of obscenity was not an indigenous Japanese idea but had been imported into Japan alongside other ideas lifted from the Prussian constitution at the beginning of the Meiji period. He was criticised, especially by right-wing thinkers, for bringing to light Japan’s own diverse sexual history in his publications. He was an avid collector of Edo-period sex manuals and erotic prints and through a series of articles and even full length dictionaries concerning fuzoku (sexual customs), Takahashi sought to bring back into contemporary discourse a lost vocabulary of love-making from previous generations. Inspired by the pioneering work of Yamamoto Senji and the recent release of the Kinsey report, in the early 1950s Takahashi argued that disseminating knowledge about people’s actual sexual behaviour was more important than moralistic pronouncements about ideal behaviour by state officials.

It was not, however. Takahashi’s popular journalism or his commercially published books and magazines that got him into trouble with the police but rather the members’ only (kaiinsei) magazine Seishin repOto (Life and mind report), which he began in 1953. This was a periodical made up of original research and contributions by members of the Nihon seikatsu shinri gakkai or ‘Study group for the psychology of Japanese lifestyles’ founded by Takahashi in 1950. The early 1950s was an important period which saw a wide range of members’ clubs founded for the ‘study’ of sexuality, particularly non-normative sexualities. Many of these clubs produced their own members-only magazines. These magazines were largely uncensored by their editors, allowing contributors to discuss sexuality in explicit terms that would have been impossible in commercial publications. Takahashi was by no means alone in his attempts to render the full spectrum of sexuality visible, but he was among the most prominent and successful. It was probably his prominence and the fact that he addressed mainstream as well as niche audiences that made him a target for police investigation.

In 1954 an obscenity prosecution was commenced against Takahashi, as publisher and distributor, based on material that appeared in Seishin repoto. The police also investigated a number of club members, requisitioning their personal details as part of the operation. Found guilty and fined at the conclusion of the first court case in 1963, Takahashi ceased publication of the magazine in 1964. He took his appeal to the High Court, which upheld the guilty verdict in 1970, just one year before his death (Yamamoto 1994: 35—37). What is interesting about this prosecution is that the bulk of the magazine was dedicated to an analysis of taiken kiroku. These were ‘records of actual [sexual] experiences’ volunteered or collected by members. Some of these experiences are quite disturbing, such as those detailing the sexual activities of former Japanese soldiers. Indeed in 1992 many of these narratives from Seishin repoto were gathered together by human rights academic Yamamoto Naohide and published as a book entitled Senjo de no heishi no ‘sekushuariti’ (Soldiers’ ‘sexuality’ on the battlefield; Yamamoto 1993). The sex acts described had occurred overseas and remained outside the purview of the Japanese law, but their narration and dissemination through the printed word became a criminal act according to paragraph 175 governing obscene publications.

In his defence Takahashi argued that the membership fee was only to cover the cost of printing and distribution of the magazine and that since it was clearly a research-related venture meant for a small audience, it should not constitute the offence of distributing obscene materials for profit as defined in the legislation. More importantly, however, he contested the obscenity charge on the grounds that the material in question was circulated for ‘scientific’ purposes and thus its production and dissemination could not constitute obscenity. He argued that attempts by the police to interfere with his scientific inquiries were a human rights violation in conflict with the right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by Article 21 of the post-war constitution. Takahashi had some justification for making this claim since membership was vetted and only those applicants who provided their resume, details of family background, reasons for wanting to join the society and proof of age were permitted to join. More controversially, however, applicants also had to supply an account of their own sexual histories — excerpts from which could be published in the magazine and used for purposes of analysis.

The prosecution countered that it was the very raw nature of the sexual histories supplied and reprinted in the magazine that rendered the publication obscene and that the psychoanalytic commentary on these narratives by Takahashi did not change the fact of their basic obscenity. It was also pointed out that membership of the organisation was available to ‘people in general’ and that investigation showed that, as well as educated persons such as ‘school teachers, union officials and museum curators’, there were ‘salary men and even a farmer and a tofu seller’. Hence the long-standing concern over the class of person accessing this material was once again at the forefront of the prosecution’s case.