Masochism in Contemporary Japanese Women’s Fiction

David Holloway, University of Rochester [About | Email]

Volume 17, Issue 2 (Article 4 in 2017). First published in ejcjs on 27 August 2017.


This paper examines the ‘masochistic aesthetic’ in contemporary Japanese women’s fiction. It follows the work of scholars such as Gretchen Jones who have analysed the complexities and politics of narratives of gendered sexual violence by women writers of the 1960s. The paper seeks to add dimension to our understanding of the ways authors use masochism by looking to the contemporary period, when masochism itself has shifted from taboo to trendy.

Keywords: Japanese literature, gender, sexuality, masochism.


“Whoever allows himself to be whipped deserves to be whipped” (Sacher-Masoch 1991, pp. 271).1 So ends the story of Severin, the protagonist of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs. A controversial novel from the late 19th century, Venus in Furs is committed to exploring the complexities of the “perversion,” masochism. It offers no substantial conclusions regarding the pursuit of pleasure through pain, telling readers that Severin was, in the end, asking for it. Since the text’s publication, scholars and clinicians have been captivated by Severin’s devotion to the cold-hearted and cruel Wanda. As such, the text can be a bridge between “the critical (in the literary sense)” and “the clinical (in the medical sense)” (Deleuze 1991, pp. 14). As scholars have shown, psychoanalysis borrows liberally from fiction, finding taxonomic inspiration for complexes, disorders, and syndromes in the literary canon (Derwin 1993, pp. 472). This is not to say that fiction reflects fact, or that the literary is a mirror for an extra-textual reality. Rather, literature offers a conceptual lens through which we can explore the dynamics of human psychology. Or in Acker’s words, “Writing is one method of dealing with being human;” it is a way to “kill yourself… while remaining alive” (1990, pp. 174). My aim in this essay is to offer ways of thinking about the real world consequences and applications for literary evocations of masochism. I am specifically interested in several Japanese women writers who challenge the dialectical impulses of life and death and pain and pleasure that are central to masochism. Masochism brings a number of seemingly contradictory impulses and desires to the fore. As I demonstrate, it also up-ends them, lending a complex subversion to the politics of the body, its desires, and its contexts.

This essay is inspired by Jones’ Deleuzian study of the “masochistic aesthetic” in the works of author Kōno Taeko (1926-2015), who rose to literary fame in the 1960s (2000, pp. 83). It continues her argument that masochism is a powerful discursive device that allows women writers to critique patriarchal ideology. Kōno’s protagonists, as Jones explains, disavow notions of marriage, pregnancy, and motherhood, choosing instead to submit to the whims and desires of sexually violent men. The implications are striking and unsettle the ryōsai kenbo philosophy that preaches devotion to women’s “domestic destiny” as wives and mothers (Seaman 2004, pp. 124); this philosophy has clung stubbornly to women’s lives since the Meiji period (1868-1912), when it was championed by Japanese politicians as the cornerstone of women’s educational training and national identity (Tachi 1984, pp. 195). My essay looks to expand on the discursive importance of masochism in women’s text, particularly those of the 1990s and 2000s. Today, masochism has been naturalised and woven into the social fabric. Film, fiction, and fashion, for example, regularly deploy the masochistic woman (Allen 2013, pp. 26; Steele 1996, pp. 4). The overwhelming success of Fifty Shades of Grey suggests a certain degree of cultural fascination with, or at least curiosity about, masochism.2 In contrast, when Kōno was writing, readers and critics were not accustomed to the image of the masochistic woman, the term masochism itself only gaining entry in popular (rather than intellectual) vocabulary in the 1950s (Jones 2002, pp. 430). In other words, Kōno’s protagonist was new and her texts were shocking and defiant. Today, that same image has been recycled and reproduced almost to the point of cliché. How, then, do we examine a masochistic aesthetic when masochism itself has gone from taboo to trendy? Iida argues that “the aesthetic domain” affords “protest against the transformative forces… of thought and social order and against their violent inscriptions in the realm of ‘the body’” (2002, pp. 3). Is masochism any less powerful or critical as a vehicle for “protest” when it has been watered down, when it is “everywhere and everything” (Blau 1994, pp. 38)? I address these questions below by analysing how some women writers use masochism politically and in an updated milieu.

I look to works by Sakurai Ami (b. 1972), Ogawa Yōko (b. 1962), and Kanehara Hitomi (b. 1983).3 I do so because these are contemporary and popular authors writing for a contemporary readership. They also offer narratives of female protagonists turning, for ultimately similar reasons, to masochism. An analysis of masochism in their texts affords an opportunity to consider how authors today negotiate a social landscape in which notions of chains and whips more readily draw readers in rather than make them turn away. Sakurai’s Innosento wârudo (1997; Innocent World, 2004), Ogawa’s Hoteru airisu (1998; Hotel Iris, 2010), and Kanehara’s Hebi ni piasu (2003; Snakes and Earrings, 2005) all follow teenage protagonists into the depths and complexities of masochism, each work representing a different dimension of masochism itself: incestuous (I explain incest’s relationship to masochism below), consensual, and nonconsensual. Sakurai’s text is relentless in its portrayal of seventeen-year-old Ami and her sexual relationship with her mentally challenged brother. In Ogawa’s novella, Mari, also seventeen, learns the ropes of sexual play from a man in his sixties. Finally, Kanehara’s text offers detailed descriptions of nineteen-year-old Lui’s sexually violent relationship with a tattoo artist. A number of questions, in addition to those above, come to mind. To what end, if any, do these authors use such images and storylines? What can we learn about the politics of the body today by reading these texts? What extra-textual factors might shape this fiction and how we read it?

Predecessors and precedents

Masochism is not an uncommon motif in Japanese fiction. In the early 20th century, Tanizaki Jun’ichirō (1886-1965) cut his teeth on stories that adhere closely to Sacher-Masoch’s archetype: men yearning for punishment at the hands of beautiful women. His 1911 short story “Shisei” (1910; The Tattooer, 1963), for example, culminates in the destruction of protagonist Sekichi, who orchestrates his own demise. Subsequent works such as Chijin no ai (1924-25; Naomi, 1986), among many others, feature versions of the Tanizaki hero and the woman who destroys him. In fact, Noguchi casts Tanizaki’s masochism, which he traces over the author’s career, as a delicate dance between tormentor and tormented, echoing Deleuze’s argument that masochism is as much about communication and performance as it is about power (1973). Masochism has historically and contentiously been associated with “feminine” impulses in psychoanalysis while simultaneously emerging as a male trait in literature. That is, the desire to submit to the will of another is, to some psychoanalysts, a man’s “guilty” pleasure or secret perversion (Finke 2000, pp. 6; Scordo-Polidori 2003, pp. 195). For Freud, for example, women are inherently subordinate, and thus only men who willfully submit are out of bounds. Deleuze, whose model of masochism informs Jones’ study as well as my own, resists a “feminine” interpretation of masochism, choosing instead the term “passiv[ity]” (1991, pp. 110). Yet he, too, tends to read masochism in gendered terms, focusing on men like Tanizaki’s protagonists.

Deleuze’s study of masochism, which is based on his close reading of Venus in Furs, stands out as one of the most nuanced to date. He argues that, in Jones’ words, “masochism is not merely a sexual urge gone awry, but rather… a stance adopted and maintained for a particular purpose” (2000, pp. 84). In other words, masochism is not just about sex, though it has to be about sex to at least some degree.4 Masochism is, to him, a philosophy—“a new way of thinking and feeling and an entirely new language” (Deleuze 1991, pp. 16). In her study, Jones notes that Deleuze’s interpretation of masochism affords ready application to women’s fiction, because it can be divorced from ideas of “perversion” and used to complicate the ways we think about institutions and ideologies governing the body. In women’s texts, this is especially important because in liberating masochism from a strictly sexual context we can consider how it functions narratologically (Studlar 1994, pp. 14; qtd. in Jones 2000, pp. 86). Studlar considers masochism to be a “strategy” capable of inducing “textual pleasures” (1994, pp. 14; qtd. in Jones 2000, pp. 86). For women writers, masochism can be a textual strategy that extends beyond the clinician’s couch and into the political realm.

Kōno’s works, then, did much to reconceptualize the nature of masochism in women’s texts. Her characters’ deliberate subordination and acceptance of male sexual prowess is a “strategy” that allows Kōno implicitly to critique issues of “gender, power, and modern Japan” (Jones 2000, pp. 83). In “Yōji gari,” translated as Toddler Hunting, one of Kōno’s first published stories, protagonist Akiko requests that her lover Sasaki beat her with a vinyl wash-rope. He obliges to an extreme degree, and thrashes her until she is unconscious. Not unlike Tanizaki, Kōno’s literary career would follow closely the example set in this early work, which baffled and angered some critics while speaking to the feminist aims of others. As Bullock demonstrates, Kōno’s literary career took off just as second wave feminism was gaining speed in the US. Kōno was one of several women writers whose literary ambitions and political foresight corresponded with the work feminists would do to dismantle “conventional models of femininity” in the following decades (Bullock 2010, pp. 124).

Bullock explains that women writers of this era “seemed to share a profound sense of unease regarding what it meant to be a woman in Japanese society” (pp. 2). The 1960s was a time of great change and confusion for Japanese women.

Occupation-era reforms sought to legislate equality between the sexes. And yet prewar models of femininity persisted into the postwar era, as high economic growth from 1955 to 1973 was underwritten by a strictly gendered division of labor that required women to take full responsibility for the domestic sphere so that their husbands could devote themselves to rebuilding the nation’s economy through paid labor. (pp. 2)

On paper women had greater options than ever before. Yet many women’s lives failed to reflect these new promises. “Discursively,” Bullock writes, “women were being corralled into the good wife, wise mother rhetoric that in many ways should have been a relic of the past” (pp. 3). Even as some women were able to take advantage of the new legislation, they found that life at home continued to reflect prewar ideals. Many women felt let down, for postwar rebuilding had given way to the idea of a postwar nation state in which reproduction and domesticity were of the utmost importance. To be good Japanese, women were expected to shoulder the burden of the domestic sphere, running the household as wives and raising future subjects as mothers. Thus the time was one of “discontent and oppression” for those caught between ideas of progress and the reality of stasis (Tanaka 1994, pp. 344). In this environment, authors, along with critics and scholars, raised critical questions regarding female agency in the face of residual structural inequalities. Authors such as Kōno, but also Takahashi Takako (1932-2013) and Tsushima Yûko (b. 1947), among others, used the foil of middle-aged women and maternal figures to “force a new dialogue on sexuality and gender roles” (Bullock 2010, pp. 4).

Much has changed for Japanese women since then, as feminist activism has helped usher in more social, cultural, and economic freedoms. At the same time, however, the contemporary moment is experiencing a resurgence of the good wife, wise mother ideal. The Japanese government’s reaction to the falling birthrate is just one manifestation of renewed conservatism in the political sphere. Some officials have chastised women for delaying motherhood or avoiding marriage altogether. As a result, state legislation intended to cultivate a family-friendly society has unfairly pressured women into returning to the domestic sphere. The political rhetoric is couched in insinuations of obligation and duty. Health Minister Yanagisawa Hakuo’s infamous contention that women are “birth-giving machines” underscores the issue, which reaches into the arenas of contraception, abortion, and sexuality itself. In this environment, women who choose not to marry or have children are portrayed as unwomanly and, even worse, un-Japanese.

Sexual and textual politics in contemporary Japan

Furthermore, women’s private lives are under intense scrutiny. Echoing Berlant’s observations on Reagan-era politics in the United States, political interest in women’s sex lives in Japan displaces public fears onto the private lives of women. “A life,” argues Berlant, “is at the heart of political (that is, public) interest in sex” (2008, pp. 9). This means that any woman’s life that does not follow this particular trajectory or storyline, or culminate in a “life,” is deemed inconsequential and controversial. Women writers in Japan have been using the written word to fight against these kinds of preconceived storylines for generations, as we have seen in Kōno’s works, which regularly challenge the idea that sex must be reproductive. At the heart of narratives of masochism is the disavowal of the reproductive sphere; in fact, “the quintessence of non-reproductive sex” takes centre stage (Weeks 1985, pp. 240). That is, when pleasure is the governing affect in sexual relations, hegemonic notions of sex and its outcomes are up-ended. All the more so when sex is not only pleasurable, but also confusing for the ways in which it courts pain as a prelude to pleasure. In this way, masochism is an appropriate vehicle for disturbing conventional notions of sex and sex roles; beyond the pain/pleasure register, other binaries come under fire, including dominant/submissive, master/slave, and active/passive. Because women have historically been reduced to the latter category in each opposition, masochism is an attractive rhetorical and textual device. In other words, with so much attention on the sex lives of women, some authors draw on masochism’s disruptive potential to upset those who dare intrude.

The texts I discuss below are shockingly graphic at times, encroaching into the obscene. Tanizaki’s masochistic works are classy—and may evoke Sacher-Masoch’s oeuvre which, Deleuze contends, is “commendable for its unusual decency” (1991, pp. 25). Even Kōno left some things unsaid, allowing readers to imagine the unimaginable. In contrast, today’s writers hold nothing back. They exaggerate the extent to which their protagonists are sexual objects through uncomfortable sex acts, humiliation, and violence. They demand to be looked at as both sex objects and sexually desiring subjects, desiring to use men and be used by them, to violate norms by exposing their bodies to violation. In short, what is important is not just the what of masochism but also how authors write it. These authors go to lengths to describe the violated female body. Foster argues, “The violated body is often the evidentiary basis of important witnessings to truth, of necessary testimonials against power” (1996, pp. 123). Violation is central to masochism, of course, fragmenting the body, breaking it down, waking it up. Yet these same bodies also violate in the sense that they have the potential to disrupt power structures and subvert binaries. These authors call for a moral moratorium, agitating the rules governing contemporary Japan, particularly those directed at women’s uses of their own bodies.

Sakurai’s Innocent World and Ogawa’s Hotel Iris were both published in the mid-1990s, amidst a so-called moral panic that captivated the popular and intellectual consciousness. Japanese society was undergoing a number of paradigm shifts and social and economic changes in the 1990s, and “moral panic” became a buzzword that academics and Japan scholars used to capture the troubling aura of the times.5 Iida has thoughtfully traced the events that turned the decade into a “lost” one. She suggests that the effects of the economic downturn, the destruction of the Great Kobe Earthquake in 1995, and the terrorism enacted by the Aum Shinrikyō cult that same year shook the nation in literal and figurative ways (2002, pp. 237-244). The nation’s psyche, Iida points out, seemed suddenly without “a defining frame” (pp. 243), and the youth fell into the void. While the previous generation saw Japan through rebuilding and international respect, those growing up in millennial Japan had nothing to cling to, having lost faith in the institutions (employment, education, family, self-sacrifice) that helped inaugurate “the glorious age of Japanese economic success on the global stage” (Iida 2000, pp. 424). Author Murakami Ryû (b. 1952), whose nihilistic fiction taps into this terrain, labeled them the “lost generation,” a potent symbol for the “lost” 1990s. As Allison points out, it is significant that the reclusive twenty-four-year-old protagonist of Murakami’s Kyōseichû (2000)6 identifies himself as a worm, an empty living thing that exists but does not exist really (2006, pp. 84). Emptiness (numbness, listlessness, etc.) was a defining affect for young people during this time. Fiction from this era, including the works discussed below, shares an investment in exposing the numbness of Japan’s youth. It may not be surprising that a common means to jar literary characters into feeling is through the painful experience of masochism.

Breaking down state institutions in Innocent World

Innocent World begins with an assault on the numbing effects of education. The text opens onto a quiet scene in Shibuya Central Library, where “disinfected-and-vacuum-packed students” are all studying diligently (Sakurai 2004, pp. 1). But the “viscous quiet that coated” the library is interrupted by the sound of protagonist Ami’s pager, which earns her disapproving looks from the students around her (pp. 1). Ami is technically a high school student. But she spends most of her time running Telephux, an escort service, the name of which is a portmanteau of “telephone” and “fucks.” Ami and several of her classmates, including a young man named Kaji who is studying to get into The University of Tokyo, founded Telephux, which has been lucrative for all involved. Ami checks her pager and clicks her tongue, packing up her belongings and storming out. “My plan had been to breeze through [an] article [for class] today—so much for that,” she explains. “My study schedule for all my classes [was] about to get screwed, again” (pp. 1).

The novella’s emphasis on teenage prostitution (sometimes called enjo kōsai, or “compensated dating”) set against a backdrop of education, speaks to a brief cultural trend at the time in which high school girls would offer their “time” to older men in exchange for cash or designer goods. Theoretical interpretations of this phenomenon have ranged from feminist (sexual empowerment) to economic (easy money) to cultural (moral panic). But what stands out, speaking to the “feel” of the generation, is cultural critic Miyadai Shinji’s argument that compensated dating is nothing more than “a technique” for getting by at the end of the century (Iida 2002, pp. 234). In other words, compensated dating could only happen under these conditions. Similarly, Noyes points out that the emergence of masochism as a medical condition occurred in concert with other attempts to regulate sexuality at the end of the nineteenth century (1997, pp. 7). The fin de siècle appears to be of a different time and place, yet its problems of degeneration and decadence, isolation and ennui, are our own problems still. The end of the most recent century in Japan was marked by great unease, and Innocent World—like the other texts discussed in this essay—reflects the concerns of people circulating uncertainly among each other. When Ami is asked at the last minute to see a new client, she is hesitant—although the 80,000 yen she is offered does much to convince her. To her, this client is just another “insensitive, mediocre, and selfish” man whose “warped, filthy desires control… [his] psyche… to the very core” (Sakurai 2004, pp. 20-21). She feels this way toward nearly all men, including her biological father. The only exception to her rule is her mentally handicapped elder half-brother Takuya, with whom she has been having sex since middle school. He is the only man with whom Ami enjoys having sex, and is the only man she does not wish dead.

What drives Ami to prostitution? She is partially drawn to the money, and to the indecency. As she explains, “We wanted some deal that was a little more engaging than flipping burgers at McDonald’s at less than a thousand yen an hour. Something that totally mocked our parents and our school” (pp. 10). She hates prostituting, however, and becomes completely detached from herself, as in the following example:

[The client] leaned towards me, grabbed me by my shoulders, and pushed me flat onto the bed. I avoided his gaze and stared vacantly at the ceiling. This was the moment when the guy became the faceless man of my masturbatory fantasies and I became a drifting sexual entity unmoored from the name ‘Ami.’ I’d float through the locked window and peep in on the obscene goings-on. (pp. 18)

The reader eventually learns that Ami’s clients are substitutes for the father she does not know. Ami notes that she and Takuya have different fathers. Her mother, after giving birth to the “defective” Takuya, blamed her husband’s bad DNA. Vowing not to make the same mistake twice, she sought out an anonymous sperm donor—“Donor 307.” Ami learns this information accidentally, after discovering a weathered hospital document in the back of a drawer. Ami is not surprised, claiming that her “father” (meaning her stepfather) never really liked her and even tried to abandon her at Disney Land when she was five. Ami decides to track down Donor 307, never revealing her identity as his daughter, and succeeds in seducing him. He initially fails to get an erection, however. Ami coaches him and encourages him, and they are finally able to have sex. By this point in the text, Ami is pregnant with Takuya’s child, and after having sex with Donor 307 she compares her womb to a family reunion of sorts, where father, son, and daughter have all gathered. It is a short-lived family reunion, however, for soon after Ami and Donor 307 have sex they part ways. She is certain he knows the truth about his daughter and what has just happened between them. For Ami, all of her clients hereafter become different versions of Donor 307, as though she is constantly trying to recreate the moment she shared with him (pp. 122).

Ami is motivated by the lack of parental authority at home. Ami hates her stepfather, and both she and Takuya despise their mother. Even though Takuya’s mental capacities preclude him from understanding the socially unacceptable relationship he has with his sister, their mother nevertheless blames him, and has him temporarily sent away, exclaiming, “[Y]ou will not turn this house into a den of monsters. This is a home for human beings” (pp. 9).

In addition, Ami’s venture into compensated dating rests on her desire to know her biological father. Since at least the 1990s, the family has come under fire in Japan—another crumbling postwar institution in recessionary Japan (Iida 2002, pp. 228). While some scholars have analysed the loss of “salaryman masculinity,” others have looked to a byproduct of the fractured family—“the wild child” (Arai 2006, pp. 216). In some instances, this child was real—the murderous fourteen-year-old “Shōnen A” in 1997; in others, it was fictitious—the heroine of Miyazaki Hayao’s 1997 Mononoke hime (pp. 216). In either case, delinquent daughters and sons revealed cracks in the façade of the Japanese family, the quiet metaphor for the larger familial nation-state. Indeed, regarding compensated dating in the 1990s, conservatives worried that “the great risk… was not to the participants themselves, but rather to Japan” (Leheny 2006, pp. 75). The young women in question were potential future wives and mothers. In this context, Ami’s desire to give birth to her brother’s child would alarm those with an interest in protecting the state and its ambitions. Although she would fulfill her “duty” to become a mother, she would be the wrong kind of mother to the wrong kind of child.

Innocent World emerged from the anxieties that crested at the end of the 1990s. But it is more than a text about compensated dating, and more than a political commentary on the challenges facing millennial Japan. I have promised that this is a masochistic text. Compared to the overtly masochistic texts discussed below, Sakurai’s masochistic agenda is more nuanced. Incest, the overriding theme, reminds us that the text confronts issues of sexuality, subjectivity, and womanhood. In this sense, incest subverts binaries in a way similar to masochism. In fact, Deleuze argues that masochism and incest share an affinity for pleasure through violation (1991, pp. 120). In both incest and masochism, sexual pleasure is not repressed by any social law or norm but rather encouraged through subversion and insubordination.

Similarly, both expressions of taboo sexuality are based on defeating the image of the father as family lynchpin. Deleuze argues that in masochism, authority is granted to the maternal figure; recall that in Venus in Furs, a woman, Wanda, punishes protagonist Severin. In the psychoanalytic sense, she beats the father out of him, castrating and neutralising him, and thus affording the emergence of a “new sexless man” (pp. 33). What Deleuze and Guattari call “schizo incest” (laterally between siblings rather than the vertically oriented Oedipal incest) functions similarly, “giv[ing] evidence of a nonhuman sexuality” that “forms a line of escape” from the family and its version of heteronormative sexuality (1986, pp. 15, 67). In Innocent World, Ami feels that having sex with Takuya is like creating a “single androgynous being” or “hermaphroditic chimera” (Sakurai 2004, pp. 9, 65).7 While this androgynous and hermaphroditic being might seem anything but “sexless,” it nevertheless represents an alternative model of desire. In fact, Deleuze and Guattari emphasise multiplicity and “becoming” in response to longing or lack. For these philosophers, the Oedipal family reaffirms lack by demanding a singular subjectivity: father, mother, or child. In incest, as in masochism, disjunction and shifting subjectivities allow for different positions within the sexual economy. We see that Ami has a number of roles. She is sister and lover to Takuya, but also protector, vowing to kill anybody who might hurt him, including their mother (pp. 36). In this way, Ami also embodies the protective mother who, in the end, consummates a sexual relationship with the father—Donor 307, who, in the end, is just another creep who seems to know all along that Ami is his daughter.

In the Deleuzian model of male masochism, the desiring man aims to “restore identification and oneness” with the mother (Studlar 1994, pp. 43). As critics have pointed out, Deleuze does not theorise female masochism, perhaps because female fantasies of discipline are not considered to be transgressive (Noble 2000, pp. 75). Even so, as Noble suggests, women are not excluded from the desire for “a totality conceived as ‘mother’” (pp. 75). She writes: “Both male and female forms of masochism are regressive… but female masochism can exploit conventional sexual norms while male masochism repudiates them” (pp. 75). In Innocent World, Ami reinterprets the maternal role, carving out a familial space in an environment where “family” is fraught with contradiction and failure. Thus innocence is something she must protect and nurture through Takuya, something their mother is unable or unwilling to do. Only Takuya, unmarred by the cynicism of adulthood because of his handicap, can exist in a kind of innocent and childlike misunderstanding of the world. Ami, in contrast, has already realised that life is not full of the limitless possibilities of youth. At the end of the narrative, Ami writes a letter to her friend, explaining that Takuya has moved in with her. She also laments that she no longer feels like a seventeen-year-old (Sakurai 2004, pp. 124). The title of the text may be a eulogistic nod to an easier way of living, or to an attempt to forestay what follows innocence. Incest—as an expression of masochism—allows Ami to keep at bay a little longer the world and its disappointments.

Ties that bind and constrain in Hotel Iris

Childhood and innocence hang over Hotel Iris as well. The title of this work, too, is slightly sentimental, belying the nature of the story within. The hotel in question has been in protagonist Mari’s family for generations, having passed from her grandfather to her mother. It is one of many hotels in a resort town that sits nearly dormant nine months out of the year (Ogawa 2010, pp. 8). At the urging of her mother, Mari dropped out of school to help run the Iris, which, as the only hotel in the area that is not near the beach, has nothing going for it, sending Mari into a state of boredom. Yet the arrival of a man—“on the verge of being old” (pp. 3-4)—with strange sexual tastes stirs Mari’s curiosity. After he causes a commotion, he is kicked out of the hotel. Mari seeks him out and enjoys submitting to his demands, including allowing him to tie her up and taking his clothes off with her teeth. Telling her mother that has made friends with a wealthy elderly woman, Mari spends her time dashing off to see the man, who is a widowed freelance translator of Russian by trade. One evening she stays away too long, and her mother calls the police. The translator dies the next day when he attempts to evade capture.

Why does he run? What is the man guilty of? The locals, misunderstanding the relationship between the translator and Mari, imagine the worst. He is in his sixties, after all, and she is a teenager. For a little while the couple is able to frequent public spaces under the guise of grandfather and granddaughter, enjoying restaurants, carnivals, and the like. But by the time the police show up to apprehend the translator, suspicions have climaxed. The narrator does not explicitly say, but “abduction” or “corruption” is presumably on the lips of the town. To make matters worse, there are whispers that he killed his wife. The translator is introverted and isolates himself by living on a sparsely inhabited island. He is therefore an easy target of persecution, a reclusive deviant. In addition, his reputation precedes him. He is thrown out of Hotel Iris because a prostitute he hired causes a scene in the lobby. She accuses him of being a “pervert… not fit for a cat in heat” (pp. 1). “Shut up, whore,” he responds (pp. 3). The prostitute is disheveled, but the translator is calm and collected. Mari’s mother is apologetic to the other guests, but Mari is immediately fascinated. She finds his voice alluring, and envisions being reprimanded by the same voice that reprimands the prostitute (pp. 4). Therefore, she seeks him out intending to subject herself to his desires. Until this point, Mari has never had a boyfriend or intimate contact with a man. For inexplicable reasons, she is drawn to the translator and the “command” in his voice (pp. 9).

In public the translator is demure, even passive. He rarely speaks and has an awkward presence. Mari comments that he seems old and weathered. But in the comfort of his home, the translator is different. His home is orderly. But he is ravenous. Amidst his alphabetised books and research materials, he subjects Mari to intense domination and humiliation, slapping her and calling her names. Mari apologises for her inexperience, noting that she apologises to her mother the same way when she does something wrong (pp. 55). When the translator has finished with her, Mari reflects: "In this room where everything was arranged in perfect order… I was an affront to order. My dress and underwear were strewn about, my ugly body was draped over the couch. Reflected in the glass, I looked like a dying insect, like a chicken trussed up in the butcher's storeroom" (pp. 55). The translator, in contrast, still has his cufflinks on and his suit—which he wears everyday—remains wrinkle free.

The familial, incestuous dynamic is self-evident. While the age difference between Mari and the translator is vast, and nobody would mistake him for her father, his role as “educator” and disciplinarian has fatherly undertones. Furthermore, given that Mari’s own father died when she was young, the translator seems all the more a proxy or surrogate for the paternal figure she never had. In seeking him out and seducing him (reminding us of Ami in Innocent World), Mari orchestrates the psychoanalytic scenario in which father beats daughter. Mari even turns his brutality inward, becoming increasingly concerned with her own “ugly” body (pp. 51, 148). This relationship Mari cultivates with the translator is in direct opposition to her mother’s wishes. Mari neglects her hotel duties to go see the translator, crafting an elaborate lie to do so. The translator urges her to do this, even offering details to pad Mari’s lie. In addition, the translator’s need to drag Mari around by her hair disrupts the coiffure her mother painstakingly sets each day, a mother-daughter ritual since Mari was a child (pp. 15-16). Most importantly, near the end of the novella, the translator is extra abusive toward Mari, punishing her for seeing his nephew behind his back. The translator drags her to the bathroom and cuts off her hair (pp. 155). Not long after this incident, the translator dies, and Mari’s mother never fusses with her hair again—as though the incident with the translator initiates her into adulthood and sexual maturity and distances her from her mother’s doting hand.

Male masochism has long been thought of as a disruption of the nuclear family, a way to “abolish… the father” and “disavow” the mother (Deleuze 1991, pp. 134). In contrast, female masochism is theorised as the consequence of a daughter’s love for her father as well as the internalization of cultural expectations of passivity (see Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and the Problem of Domination). Scholars have demonstrated that masochism is more complicated than that, as it challenges expectations and binaries. But the family as the locus for the enactment of masochistic desire is striking in either case. The family betrays tensions and sexualised dynamics and is the site of political and ideological strife. This makes the family unit an easy target for dissent and criticism. We have seen how the challenges facing Japan in the 1990s brought a number of inconsistencies and contradictions to the fore, including those related to the family unit. While Innocent World’s emphasis on compensated dating is a particular manifestation of millennial Japan, Hotel Iris does not seem invested in the cultural moment of its production. In this way, the text is a reminder of the trials women continue to face regarding subjectivity, agency, and sexuality. Mari feels powerless under the rule of her mother, who makes her drop out of school to work long, boring hours at the hotel. Mari also feels that her mother purposefully hurts her when doing her hair, yanking and pulling every hair in place: “She sits me down… and takes hold of my pony tale, forcing me to keep very still. When she starts in with the brush, I can barely stand it, but if I move my head even the least bit, she tightens her grip” (Ogawa 2010, pp. 16). Through her relationship with the translator, Mari is able to gain a sense of control, even if that means giving it away. She is also able to confront her mother’s dominance by shirking her duties and freely submitting to a different kind of pain.

In this context, the translator’s age is worth considering. Because there is nothing particularly contemporary about the text, it is slightly misleading to put too much emphasis on the politics potentially surrounding its production. But the age difference between Mari and the translator is suggestive of a gap or generational distance. In the historical moment of the text’s production, and maybe for those reading it in 1998, he would be (representative) of the generation who experienced postwar rebuilding and affluence. He would be of the generation who participated in the rise of postwar education and the ideological and nationalistic discourse surrounding the nuclear family. Mari, in contrast, would be of the generation disillusioned by both institutions: she has neither education nor family. She would be similar to Innocent World’s Ami and, demonstrated below, Lui from Snakes and Earrings. When the translator cuts off her hair, exposing her lie, complicating her relationship with her mother; when he dies, leaving Mari heartbroken and a little bit scarred on the inside; something else dies with him: a time now past, a time that has betrayed subsequent generations. Indeed, the translator’s is not a graceful death. When the police confront him after Mari has stayed with him over night due to a terrible storm, the translator runs from them, appearing guilty of some crime. He dives into the ocean and dies, without so much as a “farewell or… smile” in Mari’s direction (pp. 161). His body—bloated and waterlogged—washes up later. The police search his home. Mari tells them that she wants a book he had been translating from Russian, the protagonist of which is a woman with Mari’s name; he had told her this numerous times during their courtship, constantly comparing Mari to her fictional counterpart. The police find nothing but a number of photographs of Mari in compromised positions. The translator, in the end, is shrouded in doubt and suspicion, as though he duped and betrayed Mari. In symbolic terms, the implications are hard to ignore. Have prior generations mislead and corrupted the youth of today? This sentiment runs through the other works discussed in this paper. Only Hotel Iris appears unengaged with its political climate. Thinking deeper, however, this text, too, may subtly critique the precarious position in which Japan’s young people find themselves.

By the end of the novella, the reader might feel slightly let down. In contrast to Innocent World, the reader is not left with a sense of closure. In that text, Ami’s attraction to her brother is otherworldly. She sees him as a lifeline, a way to survive the world around her. In contrast, Mari’s connection to the translator seems rooted in a different sensorial experience, and she is only able to comprehend it not by escaping this world but by returning to it. Consider the following:

He produced a piece of cord from somewhere and began to tie me up. It was thicker and stronger and more flexible than the plastic twine they use at the post office, and it had a slightly medicinal smell, like the science labs at school. Or perhaps it smelled like my grandfather before he died, like the tube that had drained the yellow fluid from his stomach. (pp. 51)

There is nothing liberating here; it is all very mundane, in fact. Part of the explanation for these images may lie in the fact that Mari does not know why she is drawn to the translator. He explains to her that he ties women up and beats them to “escape [a] fear” of inadequacy and invisibility (pp. 66). “The desires of the flesh confirm my existence,” he explains (pp. 66). Mari, on the other hand, is almost hypnotised by the translator’s presence, and she feels jealousy toward the translator’s other “victim[s]” (pp. 60). Furthermore, while Ami and Takuya seem to be mutually invested in their relationship—both equally oppressed by their home life and sharing a special bond as siblings—Mari sees the translator not as an equal or partner, but as a father figure. Thus when he cuts off her hair and leaves nothing but naked photos of Mari behind, we get the sense that the translator may have been manipulating her all along.

These narrative developments make the text somewhat hard to read. After his death, the translator loses all credibility and the locals treat Mari as though she has been victimised. At one point early on, Mari asks him about the death of his wife. The translator explains that she died in a train accident when her scarf was caught in the train door. He even shows Mari the scarf. But now the reader is left wondering if this is a lie, if maybe he strangled his wife with the scarf. Ogawa’s disavowal of the translator reveals a subtle literary technique that keeps masochism fresh in a cultural moment saturated with submissive women paired with dominant men: in the end, the masochism seems to serve no purpose for Mari. In Innocent World, sexual taboo and transgression offers female protagonists an egress for change for the better. Mari is indeed changed in the end, but not in the sense we may expect. Similarly, popular expressions of masochism, and fetishes in general, depend on fascination and titillation—bodies coming together, untethered. They offer escape and fantasy for the reader, the viewer, and the critic. Masochism is meant to be a form of theatre, performed under contract (Deleuze 1991, pp. 75-78). Hotel Iris conforms to this model initially. Mari and the translator are only intimate with each other in his house, which is the stage where they enact the masochistic performance. In cutting her hair off, however, the translator breaches the contract. After he is exposed not as a Svengali but as a potential deviant, the readers is left wondering if this is a story of masochism at all.

The lure of domesticity in Snakes and Earrings

Of the texts discussed in this paper, Snakes and Earrings stands out for its timely use of masochism as both sexual and pop cultural expression. Protagonist Lui is interested in body modification, deciding to pierce her tongue and have an elaborate tattoo engraved on her back. At the same time, she begins a sexually violent relationship with her tattoo artist/piercer, Shiba. The text keys in on a contemporary social discourse that aligns body modification with masochistic sexual desire: both practices have been historically linked to unconventional subcultures; both have become popular vehicles of self-expression while remaining somewhat fringe practices for the majority of people; both bring issues of gender to the fore; and both are contractual. As noted above, Deleuzian masochism requires communication and agreement. Body modification, too, depends on a monetary contract between artist and patron as well as another contract that expires when the tattoo/piercing is complete. The notion of contract is central to the masochistic narrative in Snakes and Earrings.

Lui is drawn to tongue piercing when she meets a man named Ama who forked his own tongue after having it pierced first.8 Then, enamored by his canvas-like skin, Lui takes an interest in tattoos, eventually deciding to have a dragon and kirin (a mythical combination of a number of animals) engraved on her back. Taking Ama’s lead, she asks Shiba to perform both her piercing and tattoos. Shiba did Ama’s many tattoos, and Lui is impressed by Shiba’s skill. Lui and Shiba are drawn to each other immediately, and, at his urging, they orchestrate a sexual relationship behind Ama’s back. After piercing her tongue free of charge, he asks only for sex in exchange for otherwise expensive tattoo work. Lui eagerly obliges and finds herself on the receiving end of Shiba’s sadistic blows. She does not mind at first, claiming to be a “masochist” to complement Shiba, a self-described “sadist” (Kanehara 2005, pp. 13). She says, too, echoing Mari’s words regarding the translator, “I couldn’t suppress my desire to let him do with me whatever he wanted” (pp. 13). While their relationship is purely physical in the beginning, Shiba decides to claim Lui as his own and rapes and murders Ama, with whom Lui is living by this time. Lui destroys any evidence linking Shiba to the crime. Soon after, she begins a new life with Shiba, who talks openly with her about marriage—yet another contractual relationship in its own right. The text ends ambiguously, as Lui secretly mourns Ama’s death while looking optimistically toward a future with Shiba.

Driscoll suggests this novella lacks substance, that it is no more than a snapshot of life for a high school drop out and teenage vagabond (2007, pp. 182). He astutely points out that the novella’s emphasis on recreational sex and body modification has pointed political implications. Matsuura, too, observes that as a narrator Lui is “indifferent” to the text’s potentially upsetting subject matter and themes (2007, pp. 19). In the original Japanese, Lui’s narrative voice is steady and “detached” throughout and her lexicon is exclusive, reflecting the demographic of the teenage characters, the author (Kanehara’s was twenty when she wrote the novella), and perhaps the target audience (pp. 19). In this way, Lui is representative of Japan’s “lost generation,” coming of age amidst the recession and the pervasive decline of postwar values and institutions.

Her world is similar to that of Ami in Innocent World. Ami’s family is in complete disarray; Lui makes an oblique reference to her family in the last pages of the novella and has the air of someone who has cut her family ties; while Ami is in school, technically, and makes money through her escort business, Lui has turned her back on school completely and makes very little money. Lui explains to her readers that she is a freeter, or a temp worker with no stable source of income or valuable set of skills. She occasionally earns a sparse income as a “companion” at business parties. Otherwise she lives off of Ama’s meagre income and spends her days drinking and sneaking off to see Shiba. Driscoll’s comment above on the superficiality of the novella is understandable because none of the characters do much of anything. Driscoll argues that Lui just wants “new modes of sensation that will lift her out of a generalised post-bubble anomie” (2007, pp. 118). In connecting Lui’s interest in “new modes of sensation” to the economic fallout, Driscoll reminds us of the struggles facing Japan’s youth. Lui says, “There was nothing for me to believe and nothing for me to feel. In fact, the only feeling with the power to kick me back to life was acute pain” (Kanehara 2005, pp. 91-92). Lui’s courtship of pain is not just a sensation, however, but a new affective idiom for managing life that begins with her tongue stud and tattoo and spreads to her sexual relationship with Shiba. Pain is important for Lui because it reinvigorates corporeality at a historical moment when Japan’s youth feel invisible and numb. Lui actively seeks out pain, and from the moment she meets Shiba she is drawn to his sadistic side. As a tattoo artist/body piercer and sadist, he is in a position to hurt her repeatedly and in a variety of ways. Driscoll is right, then, in arguing that Lui covets sensation; but she seems only interested in one particular sensation: pain.

One might argue that there is pleasure where there is pain. This is the masochist’s motto. The pleasure may be within pain itself, or, more abstractly, within the moments before the whip cracks. Recall that when they first meet, Shiba promises Lui that he is a “sadist” (pp. 13). He may simply be flirting, but Lui soon finds herself in over her head. The first time they have sex, Shiba chokes her mercilessly: “[Shiba’s] fingers traced my veins and his grip tightened until his fingertips began to dig into my flesh.… The veins on his right arm bulged to the surface. My body was screaming out for air, and I began twitching. My face tightened and my throat felt like it would crack” (pp. 35-36). Nevertheless, Lui finds moment of pleasure and climaxes before he does. Not unlike the translator, however, Shiba in unconcerned with Lui’s pleasure and stops only after he, too, is satisfied (pp. 40). (Kanehara captures this moment in vivid detail while Ogawa does not.) Subsequent sexual encounters between the two become progressively more violent to the point that Lui wonders whether Shiba will kill her (pp. 73). Through Shiba’s increasingly violent behaviour, the text gradually strips away its masochistic elements. Indeed, as the lines on Lui’s back take their final shape, which would bring an end to the sexual contract, he kills Ama in brutal fashion, torturing and raping him before finally doing him in:

A weblike pattern was carved into his chest…, and he had cigarette burns all over his body. All his nails had been pulled off, and something that looked like an incense stick was sticking out of the tip of his penis. His short hair had been torn out in places, and his scalp was all ripped and bloody. (pp. 104)

Here, Shiba’s true sadistic side emerges. According to Deleuze, sadism and masochism should not be considered inversions or extensions of each other. Rather, they occupy different conceptual and affective realms. For him, sadists simply desire to hurt others, thriving off of apathy. Shiba first finds pleasure in torturing Ama; then he finds pleasure in claiming Lui as his own; finally, he is presumably aware of the excruciating emotional anguish Lui feels, yet a third expression of his sadistic and apathetic pleasure. In concert with Deleuze’s argument, Shiba takes power over his “victims,” causing physical and emotional harm to the other characters. Regarding the heartache she feels after seeing Ama’s disfigured body, Lui exclaims: “I’d never experienced so much pain and despair as I did at that moment right then” (pp. 104).

The text takes a curious if disappointing turn at this point. Locating the source of her desire for body modification in Ama, she decides her tongue stud and tattoos are now meaningless because “there wasn’t anyone to praise me for [my art]” (pp.111). This is disappointing because Lui suggests that her impetus to go under the needle was masculine validation. In theoretical circles, body modification and masochism are praised as (sub)cultural expressions of agency and self-validation, particularly for women. As Pitts articulates, “The body is extremely important in feminist theory and activism. Feminists have described how women regularly find that they are not in control of their own sexuality, health, and bodily safety” (2003, pp. 10). Some feminists conceive of unconventional bodily practices as a means of “empowerment” or as a way to “reclaim” the body from patriarchal control and hegemonic body regimes. While the notion of body reclamation is complex (pp. 78-81; MacCormack 2006, pp. 58-59), the political edge of masochism and body modification is dynamic and thought provoking.

Yet, there is more disappointment and contradiction in the text. Lui recognises the brand of incense sticking out of Ama’s penis as a rare import available only at Shiba’s tattoo shop, where she is spending more time as his attendant. Rather than alerting the authorities, she rushes out to buy a different brand for his shop. Lui also tells Shiba that she “like[s] long hair on guys,” and convinces him to grow his hair out, which will cover a distinct tattoo on his head and help him evade capture (pp. 116). That night, Lui says:

I… got into bed with him and lay next to him until he fell asleep, all the time replaying

sickening scenes of him strangling Ama as he raped him. … If Shiba-san was really the murderer, he must have choked Ama so much harder than he ever choked me (pp. 117).

As DiNitto points out, in the original text, Kanehara uses the verb okasu [rape] to describe the ways that Shiba sexually violates both Ama and Lui (2011, pp. 464; see also Kanehara 2004, pp. 122). Here, Lui sees Ama’s death as the logical conclusion of Shiba’s sadism—perhaps glimpsing into her own future. Nevertheless, moments later Lui shakes these thoughts from her mind, concluding that Shiba “wouldn’t be able to carry on violating me like he had” (Kanehara 2005, pp. 118). The source of her confidence is elusive. But Lui notes optimistically that “even if Shiba… had raped and killed Ama,” he “would take care of me” (pp. 118). In Deleuze’s mind, the masochist gives authority to his or her “torturer,” knowing that because the relationship is contractual the torture will end. Lui gives Shiba authority, in a way, because her desire to protect him from the police reads like a desire to remain under his control.

Moreover, Lui’s comment has domestic implications. DiNitto observes that the text offers Lui the chance for maturity. Early on, Lui abhors “societal institutions” such as motherhood and marriage, choosing instead a subcultural lifestyle (DiNitto 2011, pp. 463). By the end, however, Lui “entertains [Shiba’s] offer of marriage” after he gives her a handmade ring (pp. 464). Shiba speaks of marriage after they have sex for the first time. Initially, Lui doubts she would even survive marriage with him. Her outlook is drastically different, however, once Ama is dead. It is as though Lui is convinced Shiba has expended all of his sadistic energy on Ama. If this is indeed the case, the timing is perfect. Lui claims that Ama’s death liberates her from her need for physical pain, as though her heartache (emotional pain she has no control over) jars her back to life. In this scenario, Lui and Shiba would no longer be the victim and victimiser they initially claimed to be, having found a sort of twisted equilibrium through Ama’s death.

Is this implicit domestic union—this “marriage”—what saves the characters, deterring them from killing themselves and each other? The text is somewhat contrary here, returning to the kind of state ideologies from which Lui sought refuge. At the same time, however, Lui’s sense of fragmentation is all the more acute because of her own lack of place. Iida suggests that “the formation of individual identity became for many in the 1990s manifestly more difficult [than in the preceding decades]” (2002, pp. 8). To be sure, for all of the characters, “identity” is never more than skin deep: tattoos, body piercings, and sexual preferences. Iida further posits that “the troubled cultural context of the 1990s” gave rise to an ironic need for national identity among many Japanese who found society too vacuous and superficial (pp. 8-9). For Lui, who loses interest in her body modification projects and her sexual relationship with Shiba, domesticity is alluring as the source of a new identity and sense of self.

For readers, this conclusion may be dissatisfying. For the majority of the novella, Lui represents someone anathema to state institutions and expectations. As the protagonist of a best-selling novella, she seems poised to offer readers a new articulation of Japanese youth who do not, or cannot, fit the middle-class model of national and personal identity. In the end, however, Lui’s acceptance of domestic life seems to contradict her earlier approach to life. In “growing up” (if that is what domesticity means), Lui turns her back on those things that defined her only pages earlier: body modification and masochism. She uses them until she needs them no longer. In other words, Lui is neither body modification enthusiast nor “masochist” and lacks an authentic interest in pain (pp. 13). Snakes and Earrings, then, does not “teas[e] the established norms of domesticity and sexual exchange” in the ways we initially think or hope (Nadeau 1995, pp. 215). It reaffirms them. While Kanehara does demonstrate that, at least for Lui, masochism is not just kink, her goals are greater and even normal—a word that we do not often associate with masochism. As a rhetorical device, then, masochism is useful for Kanehara initially, but the reader is left waiting for something more, not unlike the masochist’s anticipation of the next blow.


While this study cannot be exhaustive in scope, I have hopefully brought to light some of the ways some Japanese women writers use masochism discursively. My emphasis has been on how the above novellas by Sakurai, Ogawa, and Kanehara reflect the cultural moments of their production. My aim has not been to “over read” these works or over invest myself in the political context that, as I have argued, informs the novellas themselves. This is particularly the case for Hotel Iris, which is void of any explicit mention of time or place. Nevertheless, the works examined here share a commitment to bringing to light the precarious position in which many young Japanese find themselves: lacking friends, family, and a clear vision of the future.

In this sense, these novellas are not anomalous: the failure of the Japanese family has been thematised in literary works consistently since the 1960s, when the “traditional family system” began to crumble amidst the postwar changes in Japanese thoughts, values, and ideals that ushered in the nuclear family (Iida 2002, pp. 134). Accordingly, the “family novels” of the 1960s focused on “the territories of conflict, distrust, confusion[,] and despair” that haunted male protagonists who were forced to adapt to the shifting gender roles at the heart of the mutating family unit (pp. 134). Male subjectivity and stability, often bound to the figure of the “traditional” mother and wife, was threatened by women who found autonomy in previously forbidden expressions of romance, desire, and sexuality. In the literature of the 1990s, reflecting Ueno’s observations on the disintegration of the modern (nuclear) family during this same period (2009, pp. xxi), the family was in ruins, and its parts (father, mother, child) nearly free floating.

The young female protagonists studied here are free floating indeed, and the threatening nature of their sexuality—evident in male authored literature of the 1960s—is similarly unbounded. If these protagonists are not already in command of their sexual positionalities (Ami and Lui), then their sexual desire is awakened (Mari). To be sure, Mari’ sexual awakening precipitates the translator’s death, so destructive and fearful, perhaps, is her desire. My analyses focused on the ways in which female sexual desire offer these characters a sense of stability and empowerment in otherwise unstable and powerless social positions that reflect the contemporary state of Japanese youth. Where Ami and Lui find new versions of the family they seemed intent to disavow, Mari approaches something like sexual and personal maturity.

Deleuzian masochism was my analytic lens here, and I argued that Kanehara and her contemporaries continue the work of earlier generations of women writers such as Kōno Taeko, who initially used masochism in political ways. The authors discussed here add a new chapter to literary evocations of uncomfortable sex and use the masochistic aesthetic in creative ways. Rather than focusing on the sexual positionalities of older women, as Kōno does, however, Sakurai et. al. evoke the trope of the desiring teenage girl. There is titillation here, of course. Teenagers behaving in sexually suspect ways offers nothing new or noteworthy; chains, whips, and incest may make us roll our eyes in exhaustion rather than encourage us to tilt our heads in contemplation. Beyond the shock value, however, we find whispers of political insight in a cultural moment that tends to treat masochism as an element of popular culture. Presumably aware of masochism’s draw, the above authors lure the reader in before taking their narratives in unexpected and upsetting directions. Perhaps this says more about the reader than it does about the authors. In the end, the reader, bated by the promise of masochism, is not unlike Severin from Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs—asking to be punished.


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[1] My most sincere thanks to my anonymous readers. Their comments, as well as those of the editor, have been most instructive and supportive in the revision process for this article, and their insights will inform my future scholarship on the subject of masochism in the Japanese context.

[2]Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James, was published in 2012 and translated into Japanese in 2012. Reaching 800 pages in the length, the Japanese translation has been a best seller in a competitive market already saturated with similarly themed erotica. The 2015 film adaptation, however, underperformed. Film insiders attribute its failure to an R-15 rating (similar to NC-17 in the US), censoring of sex scenes, and lack of paperback (tankobon) editions of the novel that are cheaper and easier to carry than hardcover. An uncensored version was released with an R-18 rating in select theaters. See Gavin J. Blair, “Why ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Failed to Hit the Mark in Japan,” The Hollywood Reporter, February 26, 2015, [accessed September 16, 2015]

[3] The texts analysed in this article are all available in translation. My citations, unless otherwise indicated, are drawn from the English language versions of the works for the ease of readers unfamiliar with Japanese.

[4] Physiologist Harold Blum contends that without sex, masochism is nothing more than “passive aggression, punishment, self-abasement, and self-defeat” (qtd. in Studlar 1994, pp. 493).

[5] According to Thompson, the term “moral panic” was introduced into scholarly discourse by Stanley Cohen in his 1972 study Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. In subsequent editions of his monograph, Cohen finds that “moral panic” emerged from the tumult of the late 1960s and found a home among burgeoning scholarship on social deviance and youth subcultures. The term fell out of circulation during the 1970s and 80s due to the supposed bias toward deviancy by those who studied it. But, Thompson explains, “moral panic” has had a resurgence in recent years in light of scholars’ attempts to tie it into other avenues of study to shed light on a particular cultural moment. Given its latent “‘symptomatic’ character,” moral panic surfaces at particular historical moments and “alert us to possible underlying social trends that may be a cause of individual anxiety and social pathology” (2011, pp. viii).

[6] The title of the book is a play on the term kiseichû, meaning parasite. The characters Murakami uses—共生虫 rather than 寄生虫—are meant to highlight a degree of symbiosis (共) in an otherwise parasitic relationship.

[7] Here, the text calls to mind Kurahashi Yumiko’s “Uchûjin (1964; The Extra Terrestrial, 1998), in which siblings discover a hermaphroditic alien in their beds and eventually escape into its “womb.” In this story, the male narrator K wakes one morning to find an egg beside his bed. He and his sister L eventually break the egg open to discover a hermaphroditic alien whose genitalia appear almost in answer to their own sexual interests. The siblings initially take turns having sex with it, after which they have sex with the alien at the same time. The subtext to the story is K’s secret desire to have sex with his sister, who is engaged to a man named S, and K’s use of the alien’s body as a substitute for that of his sister. One night K confesses his secret to L, who suggests that they escape into the alien’s womb where they have the freedom to consummate their incestuous desires free from social persecution.

[8] In the original text, the term Kanehara uses is supuritto tan. Beyond the scope of this article is Kanehara’s use of body modification terminology as well as her “hip” lexicon. As Yamada points out, the language of the novel is exclusive and limiting (2005, pp. 286). The previously mentioned supuritto tan forbids entry into Lui’s world for all but the most up to date readers, as it is derived from the English “split tongue,” which circulates within body modification circles in the West. In addition, Yamada observes that this is one of several terms/words of foreign origin (gairaigo, and written in katakana, the syllabary for loan words). Supuritto tan is flanked by other terms like panku (punk), gyaru (girl/gal, translated as Barbie-girl), and kyacchi (catch, a word meaning roughly “to be hit on”), all of which are used primarily by young people (Yamada 2005, pp. 286-287).

About the Author

David Holloway, Visiting Assistant Professor of Japanese at the University of Rochester, teaches courses on Japanese literature, popular culture, and the body. Having completed graduate degrees at the University of Colourado at Boulder and Washington University in St. Louis, his specialisation is contemporary Japanese fiction with emphasis on gender and sexuality. His academic interests include youth- and subcultures, transgression, and Japan's “lost decade.”

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