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Sunday, Aug. 24, 2003


Keeping abreast of the boob tube's favorite idols

Can we talk about breasts? Specifically, the large kind, which in the United States are affectionately (or not) called "knockers" or "hooters." In Japan, the slang is more clinical : kyonyu (giant breasts), honyu (rich breasts), and even bakunyu (explosive breasts). These words are clinical because nyu means milk, which makes these breasts sound as if they're attached to Holsteins.

Anyone who rides the subway gets a faceful of big breasts every day in the advertisements for magazines and comics. The most common image is of a very young woman in a bikini bending over toward the camera in order to emphasize the pendulous nature of her breasts, a posture that makes the comparison to udders unavoidable.

The ads have been there for years, but the competition for attention using bigger and bigger breasts seems to be increasing, and, in fact, is moving into new realms. Last week's issue of the photo-scandal magazine Flash included a feature on yunyu joshi-ana (ample-breasted female TV announcers), which follows similar features published in other weeklies.

Those photo features and their accompanying ad campaigns offended at least one 32-year-old woman, who wrote to the Asahi Shimbun complaining that the trend is nothing less than "sexual harassment." She has no problem, it seems, with women posing nude or seminude for photo books because those women make a living off their appearance, but she finds it deplorable and regressive that media organizations would exploit their own female employees in such a way. "It would be unthinkable in a regular company," she wrote.

The woman has a point, but fails to plumb her own logic. Female announcers are ostensibly valued for their announcing skills, but they are also hired for their looks and traditionally feminine demeanor.

In any case, the Flash article only contains regular publicity bromides of announcers. If big breasts really are assets that TV stations want to take advantage of, it simply means they're jumping on the bandwagon.

Voluptuousness in women has always been a sexual turn-on for men, but it was Playboy magazine that turned big breasts into consumables. Consequently, women wanted larger chests because they thought it made them more desirable, and now men want larger penises because they think it makes them more desirable.

Japanese men have always seemed to prefer young girls for their sexual turn-ons, and the honyu boom is at least partly fueled by manga, which often depict girls who look not much older than 12 with breasts as big as basketballs. A similarly discomfiting thought is that the Japanese word for breast, oppai, is a baby word, thus giving Japan's nascent big-breast culture an Oedipal cast.

This fixation on young girls means that "honyu idols" are washed up at an early age, the Kano Sisters notwithstanding. In last week's Shukan Bunshun there was an article about the "original" big-breasted idol, Fumie Hosokawa, who at 31 has been let go by her agency to pursue her career on her own. Though Hosokawa is mainly famous for being the ex-paramour of Beat Takeshi (who was on his way to see her when he had his famous scooter accident), she was once in great demand. But work has now dwindled to one TV commercial for bath salts and acting in a play opposite an ex-boxer. Hosokawa has never displayed much talent, but she's still in good shape so the only explanation for her loss of employment during a time when big-breasted women are increasingly in demand is that she's considered over-the-hill, or no longer willing to use her body as her main meal ticket.

Hosokawa's former agency, Yellow Cab, is reaping a windfall from the big-breast boom. The company employs the most popular honyu idols, including superstar tarento Eiko Koike and Megumi. A visit to the agency's Web site reveals that it's open about its proclivity for hiring women who are well-endowed. Potential starlets, most still in school, e-mail the president with questions about the best way to increase one's bustline and how easy is it to tell augmented breasts from natural ones. The term "yellow cab," it should be noted, entered the lexicon more than 10 years ago as a phrase used by Western men to describe Japanese women who are easy to get into bed.

If this sounds like pure exploitation, keep in mind that it works both ways. On TV, comedians who like big-breasted girls are portrayed as slobbering slaves to their libidos for the sake of entertainment. Koike and Megumi appear on variety shows to make the male guests all hot and bothered. Earlier this year on the talk show "Odoru! Sanma Goten!!," host Sanma Akashiya discussed his appearance in the tabloids after being caught with a honyu idol. He turned it into a self-deprecating joke. All he wanted to do, he said, was to sit under the woman and have her bounce her breasts on his head.

Koike and Megumi imply on the air that their bodies are the reason they're in show business, and this candor, combined with a sense-of-humor that takes the sex jokes in stride, is as much a reason for their heavy workload as is their bust size. They believe, perhaps naively, that they will someday be able to move beyond their big-breast image. In that case, they should also take note of Chiriko Sakashita, a tarento-turned-actress who sometimes appears on talk shows where she's the butt of jokes about her small breasts. One thing you have to give to the media: They're equal-opportunity exploiters.

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