From serious fan to fetish, some sexual fantasies go too far
By Carly Smith
Japan, the home of everything from giant robots to maid cafes, only occasionally shocks people outside its borders these days. Many people believe Japan is simply the home of wacky things.
But sometimes a facet of Japanese culture becomes just too weird.
A handful, of the predominately adult Japanese men, claim to be in relationships with body pillows, known as dakimakura, meaning “to embrace” and “pillow.” The large pillows are covered in pillowcases with drawings of young girls from Japanese anime, often in revealing clothing. Only a miniscule portion of the Japanese admit to having this private hobby, and even fewer display it in public.
Lisa Katayama, blogger of Japanese pop culture, wrote an article for the New York Times documenting the feelings of a few people engaged in the hobby. The first, a man who calls himself Nisan, or “big brother” in Japanese, is one of the very few who carries his pillow with him. Others keep their hobby a secret, often turning to their pillow girlfriends for emotional support.
These people are a subset of otaku culture. The word “otaku,” originally being the honorific word for “home,” has a deeply negative connotation in Japan. When most people think of the Japanese fan of anime or video games, they often think of the stereotypical otaku, a single adult man living in his personal shrine of collector’s figurines, posters of young girls and the socially unacceptable body pillow. However, the stereotype cannot possibly define all fans nor can it be applied to the rest of Japan. The Japanese strictly view otaku as obsessive fans who spend all of their time with a specific hobby. This is mostly applied to infatuated anime fans.
Momo, a vendor at a Japanese convention who spoke with Katayama, sells pillowcases for the dakimakura and pictures of anime characters in erotic poses.
The eroticism of inanimate objects is not unique to Japan. BBC America made a documentary called Love Me, Love My Doll, which follows a group of men and their RealDolls. The dolls are life-sized and made of silicone, steel and PVC for comfort and posing. Most of the models cost at least $6,500. RealDoll creator Matt McMullen said he did not initially create them for sexual purposes.
“I am very flattered that my dolls have such an emotional place in certain people’s lives,” he said in the documentary. “Those are the ones that I feel the best about, you know, that I’ve actually changed their life for the better.”
Katayama’s article briefly discusses the sexualization of the pillows. Love Me, Love My Doll does illustrate how some people who have the realistic dolls use them as a source of companionship, though a portion of the documentary follows one man who focuses on the appearance of his eight dolls and admits to using them only for sex.
Those who have RealDolls and also those who have dakimakura have not all given up on real relationships. Many use them as a source of comfort when they are lonely. Feeling as though they are not attractive enough for a woman or cannot maturely handle a relationship, they turn to inanimate objects. In this way, America and Japan are not so different.
What sets Japan apart from the rest is its emphasis on young girls. Douglas Tucker, a forensic psychiatrist at University of California, San Francisco, spoke with Salon writer Meghan Laslocky in her article “Just Like a Woman” on the use of RealDolls. Tucker did not find anything unhealthy with arousal caused by the dolls, but he did caution against pedophiles using a young-looking doll because it would reinforce his fantasies. But unlike a RealDoll, the body pillows stress child love.
The closet otaku may seem strange and over the line, but rather than using the strange things from Japan for shock value and for proof of their “backwardness,” people should realize the love of inanimate objects is evident in every country.
Carly Smith is a sophomore journalism major who drools on her pillow, not over her pillow. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.