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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

Write back: A brief look at Oshouji and sexual calligraphy

Anyone that has followed my blogs will know that I have more than a passing interest in Japanese sexual culture. For instance, in previous blogs I have briefly examined various Japanese sexual practices and sex-related topics including Tamakeri (i.e., the masochistic practice of getting sexual pleasure and arousal from being kicked in the testicles), Hentai (i.e., Japanese hardcore Manga cartoon pornography), Shokushu Goukan (i.e., tentacle rape), Nyotaimori (i.e., eating a variety of foods or a whole meal off somebody’s naked body), 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 Burusera (i.e., Japanese shops that sell [amongst other things] soiled female undergarments and fetishist school uniforms). There are also some sexually paraphilic behaviours that have their own names within the Japanese sexual culture (such as frotteurism being known as chikan)

While reading an online article on ‘[Ten] sex fetishes you won’t believe exist’ I spotted one on the list that I had not written about before – Oshouji – the other nine being: dendrophilia (sexual arousal from trees), exophilia (sexual attraction for aliens and non-human life forms), objectum sexuality (sexual attraction to inanimate objects), eproctophilia (sexual arousal from flatulence), hybristophilia (sexual arousal from criminals), menophilia (sexual arousal from menstruation), acrotomophilia (sexual arousal from amputees), dacryphilia (sexual arousal from crying), and lactophilia (sexual arousal from breast feeding). In fact, not only had I not written about oshouji in a previous blog but I had never even heard of it before.

Oshouji is a calligraphy fetish (calligraphy being the art of producing decorative handwriting or lettering with a pen or brush). Oshouji specifically involves calligraphy where the decorative writing is done on a person’s (usually naked) body. According to many online websites (that all basically use the same defintion), oshouji is “an ancient tradition and refers to the writing of degrading words in calligraphy on your partner [and is] one of the more artistic fetishes Japan has to offer”. As sex blog writer Coco La More notes: “I am intrigued. Such rich beauty and absolute pleasure. The artistic passion the calligrapher must be feeling. I can just imagine the intense emotion felt by both. I will be adding this one to my list”

According to the Exapamicron website, oshouji dates back to the Edo period of feudal Japan (the Edo period – sometimes referred to as the Tokugawa period – being the period between 1603 and 1868 in the history of Japan). Like other Edo forms of eroticism (such as Shunga, a Japanese term for erotic art) oshouji is considered traditional, rich and decadent. The website also claims that oshouji is “not a fetish in the sense that the painted person becomes aroused by the paint, it’s more about the thrill of degrading someone”.

As far as I am aware there is no academic writing or research on the topic (although there are academics with the surname ‘Oshouji’ which was annoying having to wade through paper after paper to see if there was anything written on the practice). Like me, someone else (Zichao) was researching into this topic and was finding the same things as me online. His research questioned whether the word ‘oshouji’ even existed (although he did admit that the act of sexual calligraphy existed):

“I’m writing a catalogue/book for an exhibition on modern Chinese calligraphy, including references to work by Zhang Qiang…This got me interested in trying to work out the history of writing on girls in Chinese, Japanese [and] Korean culture. On various non-Japanese language sites it’s referred to as ‘oshouji’ and described as something that goes back to Edo times, but these all seem to be cribbing the information from the [Tokyo Damage Report] Hentai Dictionary…Making the idea look even more dubious is the fact that typing おしょうじ, オショウジ or even (last-ditch attempt) お書字 into Japanese Google brings up nothing helpful as far as I can see. This makes me suspect that if there’s a name for the practice it’s something else…Obviously it’s something that people do – not just Zhang Qiang, but also the characters in rape and S&M manga (though in magic marker) and there’s even a film about it [The Pillow Book]. It doesn’t help that I know very little about classical Chinese [and] Japanese porn/erotica. Does the writing-on-girls-fetish have a name and a history, or is it just something that crops up spontaneously now and then?”

Another online Hentai dictionary (the Yuribou Hentai Dictionary) noted that the

“Oshouji ‘calligraphy character’ fetish [is] fairly commonly seen in Domination-submissive play in which the Dominant writes characters on the submissive’s body in order to inflict shame and embarrassment to heighten the submissive role. Commonly seen is the writing of “niku” (“meat”) on the forehead”.

As noted in the extract from Zichao above, the most high profile example of oshouji body calligraphy is the 1996 film The Pillow Book film (directed by Peter Greenaway) in which a Japanese model (Nagiko) “goes in search of pleasure and new cultural experience from various lovers. The film is a rich and artistic melding of dark modern drama with idealised Chinese and Japanese cultural themes and settings, and centres on body painting (Wikipedia entry on The Pillow Book)

Sexual calligraphy has also crept into the world of modern art via the work of Pokras Lampas. Lampras has a background in graffiti and street art. As an online Wide Walls profile piece on him notes:

“Lampas works in various spaces and using different mediums, from canvas and walls to the naked body. To a certain extent, the artist is involved in the art of tattoo, providing council and creating sketches when it comes to calligraphy work. However, the aspect of the artist’s practice which is most interesting, resonates the new possibilities of calligraphy within the world of digital urban art. This notion is part of one of his biggest projects…Recently, the artist became involved in a project called Calligraphy on Girls, which aims to show his calligraphy skills to a wider audience through sessions of body painting and photography. The project is an exploration of the female human form, executed with a particular aesthetics and a unique visual language of the artist”.

Whether Lampas’ work can be called an example of oshouji is debatable because it doesn’t appear to involve the use of degrading words (in fact there are few words at all as far as I can see). Oshouji (if it really exists) appears to be a much less prevalent activity than some of the other Japanese sexual practices I have written about although in the absence of any research papers on most forms of Japanese sexual subculture no-one can be really sure how widespread any of these activities are.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Tokyo Damage Report (2009). Hentai dictionary. February 27. Located at: http://www.hellodamage.com/top/2009/02/27/hentai-dictionary/

Wide Walls (2014). Calligraphy on girls, February 1. Located at: http://www.widewalls.ch/body-and-language-calligraphy-on-girls-provoke-article-2014/2-biology-or-culture/

Wikipedia (2015). Shunga. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shunga

Yuribou Hentai Dictionary (2008). Welcome to the Yuribou Hentai Dictionary! July 11. Located at: http://fezeve868.blogspot.co.uk/2008/07/welcome-to-yuribou-hentai-dictionary.html

Soil flush: A peek into the world of the Japanese burusera

“A posting on China’s leading auction site Taobao for the sale of Beijing Olympics cheerleaders’ uniforms, including their unwashed bras and panties, has whipped up a minor storm on China’s Internet. An agent claiming to represent one of the many international teams of Olympics cheerleaders put up the intimate innerwear items for auction and ‘guaranteed their authenticity’ and their ‘unwashed’ status. In language intended to appeal to panty fetishists, the agent wrote, ‘They are sure to excite you. When you hold them up to your nose and sniff, you’ll smell the youthful fragrance of the young girls’…the auction listing has been flamed by incensed Chinese netizens as a ‘vulgar, shameless insult to the Olympics spirit’…From all accounts, the ‘panty donors’ may have been cheerleaders from Japan, where there exists a thriving market for used innerwear that are used in auto-erotic practices. In fact, so-called ‘burusera’ shops in Japanese cities and towns cater to the kinky needs of hormonally driven men to this day” (Story in DNA India, 2008).

According to the Wikipedia entry, ‘burusera’ is a word of Japanese origin and is a hybrid of the word ‘buruma’ meaning ‘bloomers’ (i.e., the bottoms of a gym suit), and ‘sera-fuku’ meaning ‘sailor suit (i.e., the traditional school uniform for Japanese schoolgirls). In Japan, burusera shops sell second-hand clothes and undergarments as well as items (including sanitary towels and tampons) that are soiled with bodily fluids from the owner of the original items (e.g., urine, fecal matter, menstrual blood, etc.). Typically, the sold merchandise is accompanied with a photograph of the girl wearing or holding the item, and acts as a ‘certificate of authenticity’. The buyers of such items typically smell the items as a source of sexual stimulation and gratification. In Japan, there was even a film released (Burusera: Shop of Horrors, a 1996 film directed by Takeshi Miyasaka) about three high school girls from Tokyo that to make extra pocket-money sell their underwear to a burusera shop for pocket money (but don’t actually realise that they are facilitating the latest Japanses fetish craze). According to the Wikipedia entry:

“[Japanese] schoolgirls once openly participated in the sale of their used garments, either through burusera shops or using mobile phone sites to sell directly to clients. When laws banning the purchase of used underwear from minors were introduced in Tokyo in 2004, it was reported that some underage girls were instead allowing their clients (called kagaseya or sniffers) to sniff their underwear from directly between their legs. In August 1994, a burusera shop manager who made a schoolgirl sell her used underwear was arrested by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department on suspicion of violation of article 34 of the Child Welfare Act and article 175 of the Criminal Code. The Police alleged violations of the Secondhand Articles Dealer Act which bans the purchase of secondhand goods without authorization. Child pornography laws imposed legal control over the burusera industry in 1999. However, burusera goods in themselves are not child pornography, and selling burusera goods are an easy way for schoolgirls to gain extra income. This has been viewed with suspicion as child sexual abuse.Prefectures in Japan began enforcing regulations in 2004 that restricted purchases and sales of used underwear, saliva, urine, and feces of people under 18. Existing burusera shops stock goods from women at least 18 years old”.

A short article by ‘Morana’ about burusera at the Heaven 666 website provides pictures of Japanese vending machines that were once used to sell pre-packed and ‘ready-to-sniff’ used panties. The same article also makes reference to ‘namasera’, a variation of burusera that means ‘fresh’. Apparently, the namasera concept is the same as burusera, but in this case “the goods are still being worn by the girl who then removes them and hands them over directly at the point of sale”. A more in-depth article by journalist Agnes Gaird reported that:

“[The burusera shop business] concerns a very small minority of Japanese but big enough to support about 30 burusera in Japan. Customers often return to provide themselves with ‘fresh’ products (that is to say, still warm). Under the names of ‘Ado’, ‘Love and ready’, or ‘Lemon club’ these specialised sex-shops sell many more things than undies. They sell the fragrance of eternal youth. For in Japan, pants are synonymous with youthfulness and innocence. In a corner of the shop, dozens of small packets carefully wrapped in plastic, hermetically closed, are lined up on a shelf. Each packet contains a pair of pants, worn before and unwashed, whose prices vary according to several criteria: fragrance, ‘cooking’ time, sedimentation and ideally should be as dirty as possible; the smellier, the better. Prices range between 800 and 8,000 yen. But the customer is not permitted to open the bags for quality control testing. He can choose only according to the picture decorating each packet by way of certificate: the photo of the girl taken in the shop the very day it was purchased by the shopkeeper. Her first name, her age, sometimes even her blood group, all these details come as an extra bonus increasing the added value of the fragrant pants, filled with her shadow presence”.

An interview with a self-identified ‘burusera girl’ (‘Marina A’) at the Pantydeal.com website, provided some personal insight into the burusera phenomenon.

“When I was little, many middle school and high school girls used
 to make frequent trips to burusera shops for quick cash. Freshly taken off
 underwear were sold [for higher prices] than dried up panties…I have been [selling burusera items] for about 6 months now…I have done some transactions in Japan, but now I do 
most business here in the US. I don’t think there is [a typical burusera client]…I have had sales 
from older guys or someone really young…I have had guys who are single, also guys who are married 
because they just like the taste of women and their ladies in their lives do 
not let them…[Menstrual] period items are popular, but I have an ability to hold 
blood inside my body. So I have requests for pure blood. I sold it in a test
 tube…The fun part of [burusera is] the notion of guys enjoying my scent discreetly”.

Another first-hand account of the burusera business was described by an anonymous Japanese woman who began selling her used panties at the age of 14 years. She worked in a burusera shop in the Shibuya area in Tokyo that sold used girls’ undies, bras, socks, gym suits, as well as school uniforms”. She claimed:

“At the shop, the girls wearing the school uniform could sell almost everything they wear and ‘produce’. Some of them sell even used sanitary napkins, tampons, saliva, urine, s**t and others if there are ‘demands’…The burusera shop is the great place for the girls who want avoid spending time with their family. It allowed them to work from 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week and earn $100-1000 per an item. Usually girls could set the price of their items. If the item is sold, a half of the fixed price goes to the girl, and another half goes to the shop’s revenue. For instance, I set the price of my undies as $200…I sold my bra for $300, socks for $200, shoes for $400, shirts for $400, saliva for $350, and urine for $400. I never sold my s**t, but there were girls who sold their s**t for $300-$500”.

The number of academic writings on the topic of burusera appears to be minimal. I did unearth a 2004 discussion paper by Dr. Iria Matsuda (Kobe University, Japan) that examined the cultural discourse surrounding Japanese school uniforms but it only had two paragraphs on burusera with little relating to the sexualized aspect. There was also one paragraph about burusera in a 2011 paper by Amelia Groom in the journal New Voices but only mentioned the existence of the phenomenon. Another 2000 paper by Dr. Yumiko Iida on Japanese identity and the crisis of modernity in the 1990s also mentioned burusera but again it was only mentioned in passing. Unfortunately, the most relevant paper I found was by Dr. S. Kreitz-Sandberg that examined the sexual revolution in Japan during the 1990s and new forms of commercialized sexuality (and most specifically burusera). However, it is written in German and I was unable to work out what was in it.

Given the obvious overlaps with various sexual paraphilias such as urophilia, coprophilia, salirophilia, menophilia, and mysophilia, it’s debatable as to whether burusera can be seen as a sub-genre within these more established sexual behaviours or whether research can be carried out in a standalone manner.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Giard, A. (undated). Arigat-oh! Agnès Giard uncovers Japanese sub-cultural erotica. ISBN Magazine. Located at: http://www.isbn-magazine.com/publications/rene_gruau/agnes-giard/index.html

Groom, A. (2011). Power play and performance in Harajuku. New Voices, 4(1), 188-210.

Iida, Y. (2000). Between the technique of living an endless routine and the madness of absolute degree zero: Japanese identity and the crisis of modernity in the 1990s. Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, 8, 423-464.

Kreitz-Sandberg, S. (1998). Sexuelle Revolution im Japan der 90er Jahre? Neue Formen der kommerzialisierten Sexualität von burusera bis enjo kØsai. Minikomi. Informationen des Akademischen Arbeitskreis Japan, 4.

Matsuda, I. (2004). Deliberately regulated consumption? Discourse on school uniforms. Discussion paper (Center for Legal Dynamics of Advanced Market Societies, Kobe University

Morana (2008). Burusera. Heaven 666, February 19. Located at: http://www.heaven666.org/burusera-24070.php

Ryang, S. (2006). Love in Modern Japan: Its Estrangement from Self, Sex and Society. London: Routledge.

Suzuki, N. (2007). Love in modern Japan: Its estrangement from self, sex and society. Social Science Japan Journal, 10(1), 143-146.

Vembu, V. (2008).   On sale: Beijing cheergirls dirty lingerie. DNA India, September 13. Located at: http://www.dnaindia.com/world/1189777/report-on-sale-beijing-cheergirls-dirty-lingerie

Wikipedia (2013). Burusera. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burusera