Working as a journalist for over 10 years, exploring previously uncharted areas of society, Su Zume earned the trust of some of the most underground of clubs, enabling her to show us the ins and outs of Japan’s secret sex cultures. Her new book Pink Kinky: Japan’s Sex Underground, is a visual masterpiece, divulging the little-known secrets of what really goes on in what is apparently the world’s least sexually active country… Su Zume tells i-D about fashion, fetish and blowing up balloons in hotel toilets.
How important is privacy in Japanese sex lives and how does this affect the underground culture?
I would say it is of paramount importance, as these subcultures exist, but only underground. These communities can only exist because there is a basic respect for other people and what they do in their “real lives.” Without this, the spaces wouldn’t, and couldn’t exist.
How is Japan’s sex scene seen by the rest of the world?
Western press tend to make sweeping generalisations based on extreme cases. This book is not about the average Japanese person. It isn’t a statement on Japanese mainstream sexuality, it is a book about the more niche subcultures that exist in Japan’s sex underground. I truly am dreading any comments about “all Japanese are XYZ,” as these subcultures are not at all easy to find and have nothing to do with “all Japanese.”
What’s the best thing about Japan’s underground sex culture?
People are generally really polite. If you have a certain fetish, you will probably find an accepting community in Japan and of course, the attention to visual detail; fetishes are made into an art form in Japan.
And the most challenging?
There seems to be a hierarchy of acceptability. I actually think it is more acceptable to be into mild SM, or a transsexual than to be gay in Japan. Fashion latex is seen as cool, whereas cultures like otaku or zentai, which are essentially pretty harmless, are seen as creepy and gross for no reason except superficial judgment.
Do you think censoring genitals in Japanese porn affects the industry?
There is this attitude that because the genitals are pixelated, it is OK – even if the content is really shocking. I remember going to a porn modelling agency and the manager said, “…the censorship is like the last bastion of decency, and a lot of the girls are OK with doing scenes because of it.”
Do you think the fashion industry has influenced the sex scene in Japan or vice-versa?
The crossover between alternative fashion and the fetish worlds is huge. At large fetish clubs, many people go for the fashion, equally lots of people enter the fetish world via fashion. Teen to early twenties subcultures like gothic Lolita, often wear elements of fetish-wear like corsets and PVC.
What’s the most bizarre situation you found yourself in researching Pink Kinky?
Probably blowing up balloons in the toilet of a hotel before a balloon porn shoot… What shocked me was how trusting these people were. They gave me their business cards!
Photography Nathalie Daoust. Courtesy Pink Kinky: Japan’s Sex Underground