Tongue-tied: A look inside the weird world of Japanese doorknob licking

Over the past three years or so, I have written a number of articles on various aspects and practices of Japanese sexual culture. These have included Oshouji (i.e., a calligraphy fetish where the decorative writing is done on a person’s – usually naked – body), Hentai (i.e., Japanese hardcore Manga cartoon pornography), Nyotaimori (i.e., eating a variety of foods or a whole meal off somebody’s naked body), Tamakeri (i.e., the masochistic practice of getting sexual pleasure and arousal from being kicked in the testicles), Burusera (i.e., Japanese shops that sell [amongst other things] soiled female undergarments and fetishist school uniforms), Omorashi (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from having a full bladder or a sexual attraction to someone else experiencing the discomfort of a full bladder) and Shokushu Goukan (i.e., tentacle rape).

About 18 months ago, I came across the Art-Sheep website featuring loads of photographs of young Japanese women licking doorknobs. At first I thought it was some kind of spoof website but after a few hours of online research I realised that it was not a joke, and that there were a fair few articles examining the behaviour. For instance, an article on the Cracked website (‘The 6 Most Bizarre Safe For Work Fetishes’) claimed that the explanation for such sites was “straightforward” and that the Japanese pornography censorship laws are so draconian that it forces Japanese to be more creative about what they masturbate to”. The article claimed:

“Anybody with a porn addiction can tell you, in order to keep things fresh, you have to get a bit weird. Japan, always on the cutting edge of innovation, simply took this idea and ran with it all the way to Planet Dick Tentacle, which brings us to these images of girls licking doorknobs…Men (and presumably some women) get turned on by the sight of females licking anything. The curse of being a woman is knowing that you can’t eat an ice cream cone or a banana in public without several nearby males achieving a state of semi-arousal”.

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A number of online articles claim that because of the strict censorship laws in Japan, the country is “infamous for using a wide variety of stand-ins” for penises as there is a “crackdown on the depiction of genitalia” (so swords, fish, vegetables, and – as mentioned briefly above – tentacles, have been used as substitute phallic images). It has also meant that Japanese manga animators and videogame artists have become more innovative in displaying acts of sexuality. The Cracked article also claimed the doorknob licking trend “is a fairly big deal in Japan, even getting featured on national television”. But what is the attraction of seeing women specifically lick doorknobs (beyond the obvious phallic symbolism)? The Cracked article implies that it could be a masochistic act in that the women is typically viewed on her knees seen licking something that arguably has more bacteria on it than most other household items (bar the toilet), and that the act is therefore degrading and humiliating. Of all the images I have seen myself on various websites, all of the Japanese women were fully clothed (although some did appear to pander to clothing and uniform fetishes, such as the young women being dressed in schoolgirl uniforms, or for those with a fetish for spectacles).

A number of articles (such as those in the ‘Further reading’ list below) report that doorknob licking originated from the self-taught Japanese artist Ryuko Azuma renowned for his sexually provocative illustrations (you can check out some of his work here). More bizarrely, the impetus was (according to Azuma) “a drunken tweet…I tweeted that a collection of photos of a girl licking a doorknob [and thought it] would be a big hit”. The tweeted photographs went viral and subsequently featured on a Japanese television show. Azuma collaborated with a young photographer Ai Ehara, and ‘Doorknob Shojo’ (i.e., the ‘Doorknob Girl’) took on a life of its’ own. An article on the Kotaku website noted:

“The settings vary as much as the doorknobs, from nondescript apartments to crumbling Showa-era dwellings. The doors are typically closed, and the rooms are shut. The other side cannot be penetrated by the viewer, making the pictures, even when they are outside, closed. Some models play to the camera, other don’t. These are private moments, though, and the viewer is a fly on the wall – or door. Tropes that commonly appear in anime, manga, and video games populate the pictures. Some of the girls are wearing schoolbags or carrying phallic recorders and school notebooks. Some of the girls are in school uniforms. Others are dressed like female office workers and even have wear worker name badges around their necks. In Japan, where clothes were traditionally used to mark class and status, these are all identifiers and are used to provide enough information for the viewer to finish the story, making them as an essential part of the narrative. All of these items are meaningless alone. It’s the viewer, informed by popular culture like anime, TV, and games as well as real life, that gives them meaning”.

The photos appeared on Tumblr and featured Ehara herself. (You can have a look at the Tumblr photographs here). Following the viral success of the original photographs, Azuma and Ehara hired and photographed a number of models with their mouths on doorknobs and licking them. As the article in Kotaku noted:

The photos depict a variety of young girls (shojo) with their mouths and tongues touching doorknobs. The imagery is sexually charged. Doorknobs are ubiquitous and common, bland and banal. Intrinsically, doorknobs are not sexual objects in the same way that, say, a banana is. Yet, their position on a door, require the girls to kneel and by placing their mouths on the knobs. It’s undeniably submissive. A doorknob is not necessarily a sexual object. Its purpose is to open doors. Licking is not only a sexual act. Its purpose is to taste. The juxtaposition comes across as titillation and provocative, designed to elicit a response. The photos might look submissive, or exploitive, but they confront the viewer, asking the question, ‘What do you see?’ The pictures can dominate and even exploit the viewer’s notions of foreplay. The photos are psychosexual, with the viewer, if he or she so chooses, filling in the blanks and replacing the boring with the sensual. For such a commonplace object, the doorknob is a perfect phallic symbol. Like [penises], doorknobs come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from short and fat to long and thin. And like [penises], doorknobs can transmit diseases”.

It’s hard to assess who accesses and enjoys such photos and I know of no non-Japanese sites that have featured such models. I’ll leave you with a quote from Azuma himself who claims that it is up to the person viewing to interpret his art:

“Basically, we shot whatever doorknobs were at the location. But just in case, I always carried a backup knob with me to switch out. I always think a work is completed by the viewer. So whatever the viewer brings to the work is sufficient…Many people feel like the photos are a metaphor for oral sex, but we’re not especially taking the photos with that in mind. See whatever you want to see”.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Art-Sheep (2015). “Doorknob girl”: Japan and the trend of girls licking doorknobs. August 17. Located at: http://art-sheep.com/doorknob-girl-japan-and-the-trend-of-girls-licking-doorknobs/

Ashcraft, B. (2011). The art of girls licking doorknobs. Kotaku, August 9. Located at: http://kotaku.com/5838276/the-art-of-girls-licking-doorknobs/

The Chive (2015). Leave it to Japan to create the weirdest trend EVER. May 1. Located at: http://thechive.com/2012/01/05/leave-it-to-japan-to-create-the-weirdest-trend-ever-35-photos/

Ntumy, E.K. (2013). The 6 most bizarre safe for work fetishes. Cracked, November 2. Located at: http://www.cracked.com/article_20691_the-6-most-bizarre-safe-work-fetishes.html

Pam (2012). Crazy Japanese trends – Hard to resist? Imperfect Women, March 1. Located at: http://imperfectwomen.com/crazy-japanese-trends-–-hard-to-resist/

Sumitra (2012). Girls licking doorknobs – more madness from Japan. Oddity Central, January 13. Located at: http://www.odditycentral.com/pics/girls-licking-doorknobs-more-madness-from-japan.html

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on March 20, 2017, in Case Studies, Culture Bound Syndromes, Gender differences, Paraphilia, Pornography, Psychology, Sex and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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