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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

Ball control: A beginner’s guide to Tamakeri

“My boyfriend keeps asking me to kick him in his balls as hard as I can, and he says he’s ‘into it’. I love my boyfriend and I will do anything that makes him happy. He would do the same for me too, but is this normal?”

I came across this opening quote will doing some research on sexual masochism for a previous blog. I thought nothing of it at the time (except thinking it was a fairly painful way to get your sexual kicks – no pun untended). However, I have since come across a few online articles all noting that this specific type of masochistic practice is known as Tamakeri in Japanese culture. The first time I came across it was in a 2010 online article called Ten Fetishes and Paraphilias (all of which – bar one – I have examined in previous blogs). The (unnamed) author of the article wrote that:

“The name [Tamakeri] translates from the Japanese as ‘Ball kicking’, and that tells you all you need to know, really. It’s a paraphilia, and also a genre of pornography involving women abusing men by their testicles, marketed to masochistic men excited by the prospect”.

A number of online sites confirm that Tamakeri is the practice of men receiving kicks in the testicles for sexual pleasure (such as the Kicked In The Groin website), and also appears in Japanese films (such as the horror film Horny House of Horror). The practice os also referred to in two more books I have. Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices described Tamakeri as “arousal when a female kicks a man in the testicles; a variant of masochism, prevalent in Japan”. In the 2007 book on The Miscellany of Sex, Francesca Twinn  also describes Tamakeri as “another Japanese contribution to sexual culture: the desire to watch a woman kick a man in the testicles, which has a healthy porn industry to cater to it”.

However, some of the information surrounding the practice is of dubious provenance. A number of different sites (such as the Uncyclopedia entry on Tamakeri) claim that the practice is best defined by “Prof. Erika Nagai” in her book “Pleasures of Castration (ISBN-666-13-1337-455-0)”. However, I have failed to locate the book on any database and the only academic writing I have found with that title was a book chapter (‘The Pleasures of Castration: the Postoperative Status of Hijras, Jankhas, and Academics’) by Professor Lawrence Cohen published in the 1995 book Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture (edited by Paul Abramson and Steven Pinkerton). There is indeed a woman called Erika Nagai who does appear to have engaged in the practice of Tamakeri but as a performer (such as her videos at the Female Dom website) rather than author (unless she has written in her capacity as an ‘adult film actress’). One online encyclopedia reported that:

“[Erika Nagai] is very known for her works under the japanese AV company SOD (Soft on Demand); where most of them feature her as an aggressive karate martial artist performer, catfighting versus fellow colleagues Ayukawa and Miyama Chiharu or using her abilities and brute force against male performers”

The following (crude and non-academic) passage on the practice of Tamakeri allegedly comes from Nagai’s book but may well be pure fiction given I have no proof that the book exists:

“Tamakeri comes from [Japan]…and is considered a rare treat by much of Japanese society. The fun pastime usually involves one clothed female and one nude male, with the female trying to inflict painful pleasure on her male counterpart by squashing his testicles. This can be simply done by kicking his bare nutsack (as forcefully as possible) while giggling (loudly, if possible). She must be sure to strike both of his babymakers, so that his balls are mashed equally flat…Some couples try to employ objects like a hammer, baseball bat or an anvil and – after some real experience – even a 16th century style piano. Beginners are advised to stick to their feet, knees and fists until the male target has his nuts thoroughly toughened up. It is preferable that the testicles be clean shaven, so that the impact against them can be seen more clearly, as well as the degree of swelling after they have been mashed a few times in succession”.

There is also a more interesting article on Tamakeri at the Japan For The Uninvited website. This confirms that the practice exists and that it is “a peculiarly Japanese form of BDSM” involving women kicking naked men in the testicles. The article claims that Tamakeri has come to the fore in Japanese pornography in recent years. It also notes that:

“Apparently, a clean, hearty ‘Slap!’ of impact is very important. Astonishingly, most of the ball kicking sessions are followed by sex, which means Tamakeri actors need the superhuman ability to stay hard while their member takes a bruising. It would be refreshing to think that Japanese women were driving demand for Tamakeri videos, revelling in the idea of dominating and humiliating their men. Sadly, the main customers for this kind of thing seem to be masochistic young men. Indeed, it has been much easier for pornographers to find willing kickees than kickers. The films are certainly masochistic from the man’s point-of-view, but not really submissive. The focus is still control over women, in this case ordering a girl to hurt them precisely where they choose. In this way, Tamakeri videos give men an unusual sense of power”.

The Wikipedia entry on Tamakeri claims that it is the sexual fetish of testicular abuse but also claims that it can involve more than just kicking men in their testicles for sexual pleasure. Other ways that give rise to male sexual pleasure include testicles being punched, twisted, grabbed and kneed. The article also makes a number of claims that do not seem to have any empirical support (just a single reference to a September 2002 newspaper article in the Mainichi Daily News entitled ‘New adult videos deal a blow to manhood’). For instance:

“Though the genre appeals primarily to men, it does have some female following in Japan and elsewhere. Female performers generally are young, out-of-work models or actresses who appear in these videos only occasionally. Male performers are often masochists who apply to work in the videos. A manga series in Shonen Jump depicted a story about a Japanese karate girl who has gift in fighting. One tamakeri scene shows her challenge a male Muay Thai champion to fight in a street fight. The girl beats the Thai fighter easily and humiliates him by removing his boxing shorts to squeeze his private parts until he passes out”.

As you guess from this (very) brief overview, I didn’t manage to locate a single academic paper on the topic of Tamakeri (not even a passing reference) so I can only conclude that although the practice exists, it would appear to be relatively rare.

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.

A-Proper-Blog (2010). Ten fetishes and paraphilias. November 19. Located at: http://a-proper-blog.blogspot.co.uk/2010/11/ten-fetishes-and-paraphilias.html

Twinn, F. (2007). The Miscellany of Sex: Tantalizing Travels Through Love, Lust and Libido. London: Arcturus.

Uncyclopedia (2012). Tamakeri. Located at: http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Tamakeri

Urban Dictionary (2012). Tamakeri. Located at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Tamakeri

Wikipedia (2012). Tamakeri. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tamakeri