Malia Kuo

Big eyes, bigger tits. Now that we have your attention, let’s talk about the fetishization of Japanese women. 

“You’re so cute!” 

“I love your features!” 

“Do you watch anime? I’m obsessed with anime.”

“I’ve only dated Asians.”

“I’ve never dated a Japanese girl before.”

“I’m looking for a waifu.” Barf.

As women of Japanese descent, we hear these unprompted, uncalled-for phrases on the regular. We have watched many a relationship or talking stage crash and burn because yet another guy only wants our bodies for his weeboo fantasies. Realizing that the boy you’re starting to fall for is weirdly turned on by your “exotic aura” and couldn’t give a damn about you beyond your race is a special flavor of disgusting. In public and the pursuit of love, not only does being Japanese become a personality trait, it often becomes the only one that actually matters to other people. 

In our time as best friends and talented Japanese women extraordinaires, we have often talked about our endless frustrations with being regularly fetishized and objectified. Why did he beg me to speak Japanese? He really thought I would be his “personal geisha”? What does that even mean? Will we have to spend the rest of our lives having to screen every guy we meet for yellow fever or an anime girl fetish?

But the main question we asked ourselves was “Why is this happening?” After all, Japan was the dominant force of terrifying imperialism and brutal subjugation less than a century ago. Simply put, Japan was the closest thing Asia had to white people… As in, they colonized everything. China. The Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam. You name it, Japan has made moves on it. If there was ever an Asian country the European nations have considered their equal in enforcing cultural and racial hierarchy, Japan would be it. So, why aren’t Westerners fetishizing Japanese women for their massive traps and unbridled cruelty?

Japan has always been a nation that has captured the attention of the West. Complete with a 250-year isolation period, Japan is the definition of playing hard to get, cultivating the image of a mysterious, almost mythical land of refined society and epic tales of warfare. The debilitating defeat of the Japanese Empire in World War II did not destroy this fascination with Japan; instead, it created the perfect blank canvas for one of the most successful rebranding campaigns in human history. Japan could become whatever it wanted to, so it became what would sell.

Japan’s buzzword for their rebranding was “utopia.” Become more streamlined, more sleek, more advanced — create the facade of a futuristic society, when in reality, the innovation was just a temporary means to an economic end.

It started with Japan’s so-called “economic miracle.” 

Following the war, Japan’s entire industrial bases were completely destroyed. The subsequent creation of newer, more efficient machines outcompeted foreign industrial complexes. This, coupled with the creation of a consumer economy and more streamlined work efficiency, thrusted Japan into direct competition with some of the world’s greatest economies. Westerners were shocked by this revolution — Japan was pumping out innovation faster than ever, constantly, because of the crippling internal competition in the Japanese market. Mitsubishi, Toyota, Lexus and Honda took the automobile industry by storm. Electronics were exported worldwide. Japan seemed like the future.

And maybe thanks to Japan’s technological reputation, the main export of Japan became culture. And this is where the fetishization of its women comes in.

It all comes down to the mega-success of exporting kawaii culture and anime. Kawaii (“cute” in Japanese) is the cultural force that brought the world everything from Hello Kitty to the Lolita fashion trend to the sexy schoolgirl trope. And of course, anime.

From “HunterxHunter” to “Ouran High School Host Club,” anime has become a global obsession, reaching some 87.2 percent of the world’s population according to the Association of Japanese Animations. It’s an incredible medium, blending heartfelt and engaging storylines with captivating animation. It epitomizes the image that Japan is projecting — exciting, creative and very consumable. And yet, through anime and kawaii culture, Japan has also found a way to rebrand its misogyny. Contrary to common belief, Japanese culture is every bit as fueled by sexism and male dominance as our own. With those values in mind, Japan has created the perfect commodity: the innocent, submissive Japanese woman who is blissfully unaware of her made-for-men body.

Yes, who hasn’t seen the anime waifu running with toast in her mouth because she’s late for class, the bounce catapulting her gargantuan breasts to nearly cover her face? Her schoolgirl skirt is just small enough to show the bottom of her ass, but she blushes shyly when the main character even looks at her. Through animations like these, it’s clear how anime is catered toward the “male gaze.” Japan knows what sells, after all, and what sells is this sexualized, near pedophilic puppet of the Japanese woman. 

And of course, with global consumption of Japanese social culture, this male fantasy is what most Westerners imagine when it comes to Japanese women. And then Westerners started fetishizing us. Great. Looks like our dating lives and sanity have been sacrificed for Japan’s reputation.

Of course, no country wants to be known as THAT imperialist oppressor. The U.K. will take Harry Styles, hating on Prince Charles and chav checks every day of the week over remembering the millions of deaths at the hands of the British Empire. The French will settle for their berets and baguettes if they get to forget the damage they wrecked in Africa. And don’t even get us started on America.

But no country has been as revolutionary in their rebranding as Japan in the 20th century, and hell, props to the motherland for fooling white people at their own game with such finesse. That being said, if you have any interest in Japanese culture whatsoever, you are welcome. You can now see through the marshmallowy clouds of marketing that have hidden your view of the real, raw and imperfect Japan, and for the sake of Japanese women everywhere, please do think twice about why you would like to return to your kawaii cleavage Camelot.  

And if you are a weeb, omedeto gozaimasu, you’ve been manipulated!

Malia Kuo | malia.kuo@yale.edu

Hanaé Yoshida | hanae.yoshida@yale.edu