"Erotic-Cool" Culture in Japan

By Diana Lee

August 8, 2007

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Koda Kumi

The latest wave of cultural trend has finally reached the shores of Japan after it has swept the West for years -- the "sex appeal" image. Although the Japanese don't want to abandon completely their innovative cute culture, they have adopted the word 'ero-kakkoii'  (erotic-cool) for the western concept of "sexiness". In the Japanese society, when the indecent connotation of 'ero' combined with the concept of 'kakkoii', the word conveys a more positive nuance of "sexiness" that Japanese women find favorable, even adorable.


Koda Kumi, the popular Japanese-pop singer personifies the word 'ero-kakkoii' as the latest idol that exudes sensuality from head to foot. Like her Western counterpart, Madonna, she seems to be in complete control of her sexual composure. In her own right, she is an established singer and dancer winning some top music awards last year. However, she is better known as a trendsetter with her erotic fashion, artistically painted fingernails, and smug confidence.


Like her trend-setting predecessors, Amuro Namie and Ayu Hamazaki, Koda Kumi has fired up the young generation with her unique style of flaunting her body. Appearing everywhere from billboards to TV commercials, Koda is the "hottest property" sought after by Japanese marketers. Unlike her previous predecessors who have contributed enormously in epitomizing the cute culture, Koda has essentially transformed the cute image of "Lolita" (the childlike adult) into "Venus" (the sexual goddess). One could even say that she single-handedly pushed Lolita to grow up - emerging from a "sweet, innocent nymph" to a "mature seductive beauty". Despite the Japanese perception of Koda as the 'erotic-cool' of the cute culture, her sexy attire is no different from any Western celebrities or models in skimpy-clad fashion appearing on the screen or magazine covers.


Worshipped as a role model by young women, Koda's fashion style -- to expose more skin -- is fast becoming mainstream in Japan. Young women are wearing highly revealing clothes -- from bareback dresses and tube tops to low-rise hot pants and super-mini skirts. For some to stay on the cutting edge of fashion, they seek out the transparent look with the mise bura ("revealing bras") and mise pan ("revealing panties") in exclusive boutiques. The bright colored bras are worn with plunging necklines and the G-string panties are designed to show from underneath hip-hugging jeans. Even some young men are now wearing deep-cut tank tops as a fashion statement.


Breaking away from the traditional modest upbringing, a growing number of female celebrities -- young and old -- have strutted in low-cut necklines showing off their cleavages in public. These female stars and models have no qualms in talking about their bosomy breast implants. It seems that the latest cultural message in fashion is that "to look sexy is being hip and to cover one's body is being prudish."


Undoubtedly, the Japanese have been gaining more confidence and pride in their physical appearances largely due to easily accessible plastic surgery or noninvasive cosmetic surgery and a plethora of beauty products in the market for both men and women. The current trend of fashion has spread beyond clothes and accessories to include the skin and body as well. The conscientious young like to play with their external appearances by tanning, tattooing, manicuring, wearing accessories, or dyeing their hair.


It's not surprising that in a fast-paced trend society, the Japanese constantly need to search for novelty from which inspiration is drawn and creative expansion is nurtured. The latest 'sexy' trend could be attributed to a combination of several factors: 


In a male-oriented nation, Japan is a society where the undertone of sexuality has always been highly visible in its culture -- graphic sexual drawings in manga, pornographic snapshots of women filled the pages of newspapers and magazines, red-light districts crammed with bars featuring dancers and massage parlors, not to mention the discreet sex tours catered to businessmen abroad. Some young women seem to be flattered by the image of being desirable sex objects as they willingly play out their fantasy roles in maid cafes and hostess roles in bars. Thus, for the mainstream young generation to embrace eagerly the expression of sexual freedom is not at all shocking.


Considering "sex appeal" is the reigning global trend, Koda Kumi has exploited her sex appeal as she successfully embarks Japan on a path away from traditional values. Predictabily, the "sex appeal" cultural trend in Japan will be as big as a tsunami.



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