Arigat-Oh! Agnès Giard

Agnès Giard uncovers Japanese sub-cultural erotica
In the area of love hotels in Tokyo, you have just to ferret around a little to find a burusera. Buru is “bloomer” pronounced à la Japanese and “bloomers” is an old-fashioned kind of women’s loose trousers gathered at the knees; sera (“sailor”) is a navy suit. The burusera are shops specialised in the reselling of outfits and pants all dirty. It is a business which concerns a very small minority of Japanese but big enough to support about 30 burusera in Japan. Customers often return to provide themselves with “fresh” products (that is to say, still warm). Under the names of “Ado”, “Love and ready”, or “Lemon club” these specialised sex-shops sell many more things than undies. They sell the fragrance of eternal youth. For in Japan, pants are synonymous with youthfulness and innocence.

In a corner of the shop, dozens of small packets carefully wrapped in plastic, hermetically closed, are lined up on a shelf. Each packet contains a pair of pants, worn before and unwashed, whose prices vary according to several criteria: fragrance, “cooking” time, sedimentation and ideally should be as dirty as possible; the smellier, the better. Prices range between 800 and 8,000 yen. But the customer is not permitted to open the bags for quality control testing. He can choose only according to the picture decorating each packet by way of certificate: the photo of the girl taken in the shop the very day it was purchased by the shopkeeper. Her first name, her age, sometimes even her blood group, all these details come as an extra bonus increasing the added value of the fragrant pants, filled with her shadow presence. If she looks ingenuous she will become a star. The burusera shops keep a “suppliers” file that can hold as many as 1,000 names of young women, some of them with a circle of fans. In order to foster patrons’ loyalty, their portraits are even published in catalogues or on Internet sites. Their wares can be bought online with the near-certainty of getting the right stuff, the right odour.

The burusera managers ensure that they check out the authenticity of the merchandise. “You must have a keen nose”, they say. In burusera shops, those who don’t find worn-out pants sexy enough can buy the uniforms of a secretary, a server at Mister Donuts, an air hostess or a nurse. Customers with a penchant for “relics” of the human body can obtain a young girl’s pubic hair, urine or even saliva in a phial. There’s even a niche group that go so far as asking for faeces - available on special request, 48 hours in advance - which is sold in cellophane- wrapped plates like exquisite pastry, always along with the testifying photo of a teenager, a young girl with an innocent smile. Afaecionados only.

Since June 1, 2004 legislation was passed that stopped customers buying the worn panties of girls under 18. Paradoxically, since the enactment of the law, the burusera have become “clean” businesses. If they are caught in possession of this henceforth illegal “human” material - undies under 18 - offenders have to pay the price: a maximal fine of 500,000 yen is imposed on dealers and 300,000 yen for consumers. The bill is steep! Yet traffic goes on. “The schoolgirls are not punished by the law,” says Gomez Yamada, a writer specialised in teen culture. They now use their mobile phones for negotiation with their customers without any go-between. It suits them better. The black market of banned pants lures a fringe of keen fans, the “addicts of the lolicon” [1], but it also lures sporadic bystanders roused by the novelty of the sight: a girl taking off her pants in front of their very eyes. Discreetly directing men behind the curtains of a print-club [2] or the booth of a karaoke, they hand the underwear straight over to them and earn between 3,000 and 10,000 yen, or five times as much as they got in the burusera.

In order to bypass the law, many girls give their customers just a photo where they appear dressed in their secondary school uniforms. It is the photo we sell, the teenagers explain, the pants are given as a bonus. To minimise the risks still more, some have found another way to make their underwear more profitable: no use selling the pants, they say, it is enough to sell the odour. There are men we call the kagaseya (the sniffers). They pay 10,000 yen for a rendezvous. We go with them into a karaoke booth where, instead of singing, they put their head under our skirt to breathe in their fill. This practice is obsolete. Derived from Taoism, pants sniffing is the modern version of breathing exercises with quasi-magic powers, supposed to prolong life ... indefinitely.

Translated from French by J.P.M

1. lolicon: a Japanese portmanteau of “Lolita complex” showing males’ attraction to underage girls. A reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita where a middle- aged man in love with a 12 year-old nymphette falls under her sway.
2. print-club: a sort of automatic photo booth but larger; up to eight people can get in and have their picture taken together.

 ©Hobo Komiyama - Agnès Giard - Dictionnaire de l'amour et du plaisir au Japon