As a woman who has had almost equal exposure to Asian and Western cultures, I have always had a fascination with how women, beauty and sex appeal have been interpreted, developed and depicted in various cultures.
Now with the prevalence and accessibility of internet pornography, there has been plenty research done of late of some men preferring the company of a digitized women online to maintaining a relationship with a real life woman. Unlike the women depicted in the video scenarios, a real life woman might have her own ideas about how she is portrayed or treated. Unfortunately, (in my opinion), you see rising numbers of women (I do live in Los Angeles) desperate to increase their desirability factor by cutting their bodies and augmenting their breasts and hips in the hopes of competing with those online images. Plastic surgery in California is a booming business.
Up until now, I thought that was as bizarre and extreme as it got for women trying to transform their looks to attain that ever elusive image of perfection and beauty.
Then I went to Japan.
So earlier this month, I returned to Japan after a gap of about 17 years and I noticed a bizarre trend amongst teens and young Japanese women. Having grown up in Tokyo, I can tell you that anime is a big deal in Japan. It is very pervasive part of the entertainment and culture. Grown men and on occasionally women voraciously read comic books or mangas or watch the cartoons on TV or in the movie theaters. Now that mangas have gone global, most people already know, the female characters depicted in these comics often have unnaturally curvaceous figures, delicate noses and mouths with extremely large sparkly eyes.
A month or so before my trip to japan, I watched a segment on NHK a Japanese TV station on the popularity on this video game by Nintendo DS called "Love Plus." Love Plus which was released in September last year only in Japan, is a simulated dating game that you would play on a hand held video console. Since its release apparently, this 'game' has gained extreme popularity. The player (ie the man) selects their anime girlfriend from a handful of cartoon college students. Then simulating the trajectory of any relationship, the 'girlfriend' may start off being a little shy and reserved but over the course of a series of dates and trips taken together, she becomes more open and connected. The specific segment that I watched on NHK was about how the seaside town of Atami, taking advantage of the popularity of this game partnered with Konami Digital Entertainment, the creators of the game, to offer a special tour for men and their Love Plus girlfriends. Huge tour buses packed with men and their hand held video console were brought to specific tourist sites, where the men would scan a specific bar code attached to the site and the anime girlfriend would simultaneously 'see' and comment on the experience of the same sites. These men could then take pictures together with their anime girlfriend either in the form of the hand held console or a computer generated life size image (see below). At the end of the day, the men checked into the prescribed hotel with their anime girlfriend. Scanning another barcode at the hotel, the video game would then show the anime girlfriend in the exact hotel room surroundings.
When I was perusing a few guide books in preparation for my trip back to Japan, I read about the growth of an even more pervasive obsession with anime. So based on a few write-ups, I decided to visit the Akihabara district of Tokyo. Akihabara is the electronics/technology area of Tokyo. I used to go, to check out new gadgets and when I wanted to buy some new electronics . There aren't many places in the world that can rival Japan in electronics and technology. However recently, Akihabara has also become a sort of anime district for the geeky techie. There are coffee shops and restaurants with anime themes and women dressed in specific anime costumes - like the Maid Cafe - where cute young women, dress up as anime milk maids. Interspersed amongst these coffee shops are stores that sell a huge variety of anime clothing, gadgets and other paraphernalia. Anime has leapt off the television screen and has crossed over into reality. Neighborhoods with anime coffee shops and stores and tourism packages for men and their Love Plus girlfriends are blurring the line between fantasy and reality.
And now anime has now also crossed another boundary and is influencing how young Japanese women perceive their own beauty and fashion. After all, how do you get a guy's attention when he is in love with a cartoon?
Another day, I wandered through Shibuya's 109 department store, the mecca for cutting edge fashion for young Japanese women. It was Saturday and the place was packed with girls and young women, many of them with their luscious blond locks and big bright sparkly eyes, purchasing just the right attire to add to their very stylized look. It was then it hit me. Thinking back to the NHK segment I watched on the popularity of Love Plus, and the anime coffee shops I saw in Akihabara, I concluded that perhaps young Japanese women are trying to look like anime characters to increase their sex appeal. Have Japanese men become so obsessed with anime that Japanese women feel they need to look like a cartoon character to be attract attention?