TOKYO — As a trade journalist based in Tokyo during the most critical years of Japan’s climb up from the destruction of World War II, I found that the majority of the American and European importers who began trooping to Japan from 1948 on and thereafter made multiple annual trips did not do so because they had so many problems with their suppliers — which were routinely formidable, to say the least — or to place additional orders.
No! The reason they made so many trips a year was because they were able to consort with large numbers of beautiful young Japanese women in the mizu shobai (me-zoo show-by), or “water business”— the traditional Japanese euphemism for the night-time entertainment trades.
The scale of this “side” industry can be imagined from the fact that during their heyday some of the larger cabarets like the Mikado in Tokyo and the Universe in Osaka had close to a thousand hostesses on their staffs. In addition to cavorting with hostesses in the mizu shobai, many of the foreign buyers set up mistresses (sometimes provided by their suppliers) in such well-known places as Central Apartments in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, which was a short walk from my office.
My editorial duties took me to Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines on a regular basis, where I “took note” of the charms of the young women in each of these countries, and eventually wrote a book called Women of the Orient — Intimate Profiles of the World’s Most Feminine Women. In this book I listed and discussed the primary physical and intangible attractions of Asian women, devoting the first one-quarter of the book to Japanese girls because there were far more of them in an economic and social position to meet and get involved with foreign men. Another factor that is of special interest was that Japanese women had historically been intrigued by and attracted to foreign men, and it was therefore much easier to develop a relationship with them.
Among the attributes of Japanese girls that foreign men generally find attractive is their petite size. (Why most men like women who are smaller than them is apparently a world-wide male thing — maybe based on nature’s plan that males could overpower females in order to propagate the species.) This size factor alone expands the ego and libido of the average foreign male as if by some dark magic. (Like little boys, foreign men like to show off this size difference by comparing their hands with the hands of their Japanese girl friends.)
The olive-like (not yellow!) complexion of most Japanese girls and their black hair is another turn-on for foreign men. Dark is more sexually potent that white, and when Japanese girls wear their glossy black hair long — as many do — it acts as a powerful aphrodisiac on most men. A girl who has scented her long black hair with a hint of jasmine or some other exotic aroma is even harder to resist.
Some Japanese girls, especially those who come from the northern Tohoku district of Honshu Island (Japan’s main island), have creamy white complexions. When this is combined with long, straight black hair, petite size, and an attractive face, their effect on most men is a foregone conclusion.
While the eyes of most Japanese girls have the epicanthic fold that gives them a squinty look if the fold is extreme, the eyes of many of them are almond-shaped, and this, according to face-reading theory, is the most sensual of all eye-shapes.
Many girls from Tohoku are also especially distinguished by their eyes as a result of racial mixing between the Japanese and the Ainu inhabitants of northern Japan (who lived there long before the Japanese arrived). One of the racial characteristics of the Ainu, who are Caucasoid instead of Mongoloid, is extraordinarily large, deep, expressive eyes. When the eyes of Japanese-Ainu girls get just the right combination of genes, they are so entrancing that they virtually hypnotize people.
Many of the girls in this category come to Tokyo to become models and movie stars; others join the mizu shobai where they are treated like stars by foreign patrons.
Most foreign men, especially Americans, like women with big bosoms (the movie and television industries having virtually made a fetish out of big breasts). Obviously, most Japanese girls are not genetically programmed to have big breasts (although they are getting bigger as the diet changes and the girls get bigger).
So why do the girls still rate high on the sex appeal chart of most foreign men? Because the breasts the girls do have are usually in proportion to their overall body size. More importantly, however, is that the overall feminine image and behavior of Japanese girls makes the size of their breasts a secondary matter.
Many Japanese girls have short legs in proportion to the length of their body trunks (although this, too, is changing rapidly among the young), giving them low-slung butts. This may not sound like a sexual turn-on to someone who has no experience with Japanese girls. And girls in this category are certainly not going to win any beauty pageants. But history shows that short legs and a low butt can be very sexy when packaged in just the right proportions, and especially when the girls are wearing the casual yukata robe or more formal kimono.
While the sex appeal of good-looking Japanese girls may be physical first, it is their behavior that puts the icing on their sexual image. Despite dramatic changes in Japanese culture since the 1960s, Japanese females are still conditioned, consciously and subconsciously, by their culture to think and behave in very feminine ways.
These ways include physical grace, an air of mystery, coquettishness, softness, vulnerability, an air of innocence, expertise in overt as well as covert flirting, and skill in making men feel masculine and masterful.
Historically, the air of utter innocence and vulnerability that Japanese girls were conditioned to exhibit was one of their most powerful assets in attracting men. Even women who had worked for years as geisha or prostitutes continued to play the role of innocents who were paragons of virtue. Still today most Japanese girls have absorbed enough of the traditional culture that they are able to project this virgin-like image at will.
Also traditionally, Japanese girls and young women who were on the vamp did not always stop with acting like innocent virgins. They often went even further and acted infantile, knowing that this sort of behavior as well was sexually stimulating to many men, especially those who were unsure of their virility. This ploy, too, remains a part of the sensual arsenal of young Japanese women.
Said a very experienced woman of the mizu shobai world: “Nothing turns some men on faster and harder than a young girl who combines acting like a baby with performing like a professional.”
Another reason why Japanese girls have long been popular among foreign men is that the girls were conditioned by their society to consort with older men. Throughout most of Japan’s history, in fact, it was only older, more successful men who had the means to enjoy themselves with younger women. This also has changed dramatically since the 1960s, but still today middle-aged and older men of means have access to large numbers of willing high school and college-age girls.
I credit a friend who is a social psychologist (and an experienced playboy in Japan) with neatly summing up the reason why Western men find Japanese girls so interesting and exciting. He quoted his friend as saying: “After having lived in Japan for some time, I became aware of a rather strange phenomenon. Everywhere I looked I saw large numbers of girls who were the epitome of feminine cuteness and youth. Their behavior was marked by extraordinary gaiety and playfulness.
“The undeniable attractiveness of this type of girl for the Western man comes not from some sort of direct sexiness, but rather from a kind of subtle, inviting innocence. At the same time, one also sees (in Japan) the more ‘motherly’ type of young woman who exudes gentleness and depth of demeanor. Though still young, women in this category display a capacity for patience and suffering. And until recently in Japan, there was little or nothing in between — girls seemed to pass directly from innocent girlishness to settled wife-mother status.
“Japanese men are no doubt responsible for this phenomenon. A mature single woman, in full possession of her own femininity and womanly instincts, is an implicit and explicit challenge to the Japanese male’s traditional position of superiority. Of course, many Western men also fear this kind of women, and it is common knowledge that many Western women hide this side of their nature in order to maintain relationships with men.
“But for centuries in Japan the male fear of sexually potent women was carried to an extreme, and several customs developed to force women to suppress their visible femininity and strengthen their roles as mothers. These customs included wrapping tight bands around the breasts of women to press them flat, blackening the front teeth of women to make them look old and less appealing, and wearing clothing that left only their hands, face and neck visible.
“In this environment, Japanese girls were brought up to react instinctively to men with an air of innocence and admiration. They were conditioned to be extremely careful never to put a man’s masculinity in doubt. To most Western men — and especially to the type who is unsure of his sexual prowess — this trusting innocence, this inviting naiveté on the part of Japanese girls has all of the direct and excitatory effects of an aphrodisiac.”
And sex is what if finally comes down to. Over and above the sex appeal of Japanese girls, foreign men have been especially attracted to Japan because attractive young girls were readily available to them and were able and willing to satisfy their male egos and sexual fantasies.
This availability stemmed from the fact that in Japan premarital and extra-marital sex has never been regarded as a sin or as immoral in the Western sense of these terms, and there were few restraints on what could be done, or inhibitions about doing them. Most foreign men in Japan took to this environment like frogs to water.
Young Japanese girls today are far more individualistic and assertive than they were just a few decades ago, and they are often more aggressive than young men in expressing their sensual natures. A significant percentage of them continue to have a special interest in foreign men because there is nothing special about the appearance of Japanese men — they all look very much alike — most have not yet given up all of the old chauvinistic ways, and the girls simply want to have both a social and sexual experience with a foreign man.
These girls, unless they are members of the mizu shobai and it’s just business, are discriminating, however. They will not consort with just any foreigner. Foreign men who connect today must themselves be physically attractive, and have interests and manners that the girls approve of .... not to mention the kind of money it takes to court a girl in today’s Japan.
Editor's note: Boyé Lafayette De Mente (1928-2017) first came to Japan in 1949 as a member of the occupation forces. He held a degree in economics and Japanese from Tokyo's Sophia University, and a BFT from the American Graduate School of International Management in Glendale, Arizona.
He was best known as the author of a highly successful series of books on social and business customs in Japan, China, Korea and Mexico. As a journalist with the Japan Times, and later on as editor of 'The Importer Magazine,' he witnessed at close hand the rapid growth of Asia's 'tiger' economies. His guidelines to westerners wishing to do business in the new post-war Japan were widely recognized as ground-breaking.
I am indebted to Mr. De Mente for sending the above article to republish here in Japan Perspectives.