Japanese voyeur massage: Theories

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Prolonged sitting in front of the computer is really getting to your neck and shoulders. You need a massage. Guys are so lucky, you think, because they can just walk into any parlor like it’s no big deal. Your husband doesn’t have a clue as to how to give you a rubdown and is bored with you in bed anyway. How long has it been since you two last made love? That Royal Treatment Massage Therapy shop you keep passing by on your way home everydaymaybe it’s finally time to check it out. You hope nothing funny goes on in there, though. All you want is some nice relief and relaxation. It is after all your first paid massage.

The lobby is attractive and decked out in warm colors. Hmm…looks legitimate and safe. The menu lists 60-minute whole body oil massage at 9,000 yen. Ouch. Or acupressure for 6,000 yen. That’ll do. The cheery receptionist asks if you’d prefer a male or female therapist. You ask if there’s any difference. Men have a strength advantage, she says, but otherwise you’ll get the same treatment from both. You go for the male. He appears and leads you to your room. Though fat and unappealing, he immediately puts you at ease with his serious manner and professional bearing in his white smock.

“Put your clothes in this basket. There are also hangers over there. Here’s a robe you can wear. You call me when you’re ready,” he says.

You strip down to your panties, fasten the robe and lay back on the table. Waitdid you just remove your bra? No way, you didn’t. Yes, you did. You’re about to go put it back on but stay glued to the table, frozen in terror and not a little excited at the same time. Well, at least the room is clean and tidy, with meridian maps of the human body on the wall. If it’s for therapy’s sake, it can’t be that bad, can it? “Dekimashita!” you announce through the door. 

He re-enters and begins palpating you over your robe. “Well, what brings you here today?”

You point to where you are sore.

“With acupressure massage we need to do the entire body since all parts are interconnected. I’ll devote today to examining you. To be cured you’ll need to come back for several sessions of more focused work. Now, let’s take a closer look. Can we open this up a bit?”

Reluctantly you let him part the robe, exposing your torso and legs. You shield your breasts with your hands. He lifts them off and places them to the side, telling you to relax and not to worry, as his purpose is strictly therapeutic. After bending your legs and rotating them, testing for resistance, he has you turn over and manipulates your spine, pulling your panties partway down to show you where the spine begins and how the entire back is affected by improper posture. He palpates your tailbone, buttocks and inner thighs, stretching the panties aside to work his fingers close to your crotch. Your hand reaches back to block them but again he replaces your arm.

“Relax. This is the standard procedure. Look, let me show you.”

He grabs a model skeleton of the pelvic region off a shelf and in conjunction with the meridian chart gives you a brief lesson on the local pressure points that need to be worked. Replacing your panties, he sits you up on the table and removes your robe. He then pulls your shoulders back to illustrate proper sitting posture and applies more pressure to your spine and shoulder blades, before reaching around and palpating the upper and lower parts of your breasts.

“Hey, this is getting out of hand,” you protest.

“The mammary glands need to be massaged for the entire body’s health. The meridians running through them extend down to your pelvis and need to be worked at both ends. Relax, don’t worry. I’m not looking at your breasts but merely feeling for the pressure points,” he says as he jiggles them in unison and proceeds to take them entirely in his hands for a more thorough working over. He then positions you back on the table face up. “Now we need to check your health at the other end, the ovary region.”

From under the table he pulls out a pair of sealed latex gloves, a tube of K-Y Jelly and a box of tissue. As you stare in disbelief, he patiently explains with further referencing to the meridian chart the necessity of carrying out the procedure thoroughly and how everything will all fit together in the end to improve your body’s circulation and musculature. Moreover, men’s and women’s bodies are different. Female health requires treatment of both the breasts and the genitals for the proper functioning of the whole body. You marvel at yourself as you let him slip off your panties and ease a lubricated finger into your vagina and snake it around inside.

“I’m now testing the elasticity of your vaginal cavity. How does that feel? If there’s anything that hurts let me know. Now, try to relax your legs and open them up more. There, that’s better.”

Soon your legs are wide open and he’s masturbating you. You’re laughing and writhing on the table before collapsing into orgasm. Maintaining a straight face, he pulls his hand out dripping wet and wipes you off with the tissue. Without skipping a beat, he proceeds to discourse on the therapeutic benefits of proper lovemaking and queries you on how often you make love and how you move your body during sex. He mimics the proper motion with his hands but adds that he really needs to demonstrate it on you himself. He pulls his pants off and rolls on a condom.

Never in a million years could you have imagined yourself in such a deplorable situation, going this far with an unappetizing stranger, as if letting him massage you naked wasn’t enough, but he’s managed to get you more aroused than you’ve been in a long time and you don’t resist when he crawls on the table with his undeniably huge cock popping out from under the folds of his gut, spreads your legs back and enters you….

Realistic and exciting? Or absurd and preposterous? This scenario is repeated endlessly in one niche of the Japanese stealth or reality porn universe known as “hidden cam massage,” “Japanese massage fuck,” and similar variants (type the phrases in any X-rated video search). The videos depict supposedly secretly recorded massage sessions of female patrons, with the masseur sexualizing what begins as a nonsexual procedure and typically culminating in full-blown intercourse.

I do not know how the average enthusiast of Japanese porn responds to this particular genre. The more jaded, those who have seen it all, might find little to pique the interest. The videos strike one, initially upon viewing them at any rate, as fake. Let’s go over the reasons why they seem implausible. In scene after scene the women depicted, after some initial resistance, regularly succumb to orgasmic throes by the end. The predictability of the scenario makes it evident the women are following a script. Perhaps if more vigorous protesting at their rude treatment was evident, the greater realism might encourage enough of a suspension of disbelief to partake in it vicariously. As it is, the farfetched, make-believe nature of the material merely re-animates in “reality” guise the old porn category of the straight-laced female who only needs a little roughing up to release her explosive sexuality.

Unlike American porn, with its rigid stylization, cheeky prowess and gymnastic displays, the peculiar Japanese approach to porn produces an outcome of a different sort, a unique aesthetic of awkwardness and clumsiness. Japanese females are seduced, dominated, humiliated; they weakly protest, cry and whimper. It always seems to be their first time. To concoct an “authentic” scene requires little acting skill because it’s not expertise but the lack of it that is being mimicked.

Thus almost any Japanese woman is a prime candidate for reality porn. Wouldn’t a faked violation be easy enough to pull off, mass-produce and market for Internet consumption? All you need is a simple massage room set, amateur or one-shot actresses paid to pose as patrons, and a couple of overweight masseur dudes with reliable erections (male actors in Japanese porn are routinely cast as ordinary looking so that the average male viewer can identify with them).

Moreover, the fact that some of these patrons appear in more than one video provides pretty strong evidence they are being paid to perform. Among the more popular videos (based on its staying power near the top of the search pages), known as “Japanese Massage 29” or “Japanese Massage Fuck 29,” features an unusually hot woman with a body to match. Things start off with the customer’s typical wariness but eventually slide into sex. Moments after she’s got the masseur lodged inside her, her cellphone goes off. She jumps off the table to answer it and gets dressed, claiming an urgent matter. His hard-on raging, he begs her for just a few more minutes of her time and when it’s clear she’s leaving, invites her profusely to come back again. The aborted conclusion lends just enough verisimilitude to convince us the event might actually be authentic, but it is in fact a clever staging. The woman is a Japanese AV idol who goes by the name of Miharu Izawa. You can see her in another massage video, the lesbian “Fem Touch Massage 8 (Japanese),” along with a host of regular porn videos in which she is featured.

There is doubtless no shortage of potential porn actresses available to perform in stealth massage videos (I haven’t gone through them all to confirm this—how could one ever keep up?). But while we can assume the run of the videos are staged productions, can we definitively conclude that all of them are?

Again, on first consideration, it seems so. What woman in her right mind would allow an ugly impostor to breach client trust and sexually assault her in the name of massage therapy and get away with it? What woman would dare go for a massage if word of mouth repeatedly spoke of horrors and humiliations at the hands of dangerous creeps? Wouldn’t the reputation of the entire legitimate massage industry be irrecoverably harmed if such were allowed to flourish, and wouldn’t they take action against it? What business catering to this activity would risk being such an easy target? Wouldn’t it only be a matter of time before they got sued and taken to court by patrons who discovered themselves naked and compromised on the Internet? Wouldn’t a single such violation see the victim file charges with the police, the offending venue shut down and its perpetrators jailed? Wouldn’t the local media get wind of it as well and devour such juicy material? And wouldn’t that get it quickly outlawed out of existence? It’s virtually inconceivable that such gross violations of human privacy could exist in any country without harsh legal ramifications.

Yet here’s the thing. The stronger the arguments exposing the bogus nature of “reality” porn are, the more they begin to implicate reality. To get at what is at issue here, we need to avoid stubborn either-or generalizations that discount complexity and unforeseen possibilities. Sexual compulsion has its own recalcitrant logic, which may be at odds with commonsense assumptions. Let’s now go over the reasons why stealth massage video may be plausible after all.

Just as reality TV employs amateur actors, the stealth massage business cannot be comfortable in relying on porn actresses, especially those with high visibility, and turns to them only as a last resort. Japanese porn stars, even amateur ones, are idolized and have huge followings. They would be recognized and their cover blown, defeating the whole purpose of stealth porn. So the challenge for this business is not so much increasing the illusion of realism as it is exploiting reality itself.

The challenge for this business is not so much increasing the illusion of realism as it is exploiting reality itself.

Another reason not to pay women to perform in massage videos has a strong financial motive. Like any business, porn production is concerned with squeezing profits. Wouldn’t it be far more cost-effective to try out seduction scenarios on real female patrons to avoid the expense of hiring actresses, indeed to be paid by them for their unwitting performance? After all, some stealth porn is undoubtedly authentic. Stories crop up in the news of arrests made for up-skirt videos shot on subways or escalators, hidden spycams in women’s toilets, surreptitious sex footage taken for extortion purposes, nude celebrities captured by telephoto on private beaches, and so on. Whole porn sites are devoted to voyeur nudity and have tremendous followings. While certain reality porn does rely on fakery and convincing stagings, the ideal, the Holy Grail of the industry, is the authentic event and the inadvertently cooperative performer.

The Japanese reality porn industry is surely the world’s most elaborate and inventive. One of the weirder examples is the “Runaway Public Exposed” niche (later copied in other countries). A man walks up to a skimpily dressed woman on a street or park, yanks her top down off her breasts and sprints away. Little do the startled victims know, not just their nudity but much more tellingly, their responses are caught on a cam panned by a hidden collaborator, which lingers for a long take as they collect themselves—cowering and shaking, pretending nothing happened, laughing it off. There are certain things that cannot be acted, and the sheer variety of reactions on display is convincing and confirms their veracity.

The penchant for violating or humiliating women in public goes back decades in Japan, long before the digital age. There are entrenched markets in manga magazine porn and even fiction (e.g. Akiyuki Nozaka’s novel The Pornographers) glorifying the groping of women on buses and trains, in hot springs, and so forth, peculiar pastimes that this country notoriously has a higher tolerance for than other societies, not to mention the age-old preoccupation in Japanese literature with the related themes of older male seduction of teenage girls (Yasunari Kawabata), intimate mother-son relationships (Junichiro Tanizaki), and the like. It’s not surprising that the breaching of women’s privacy is currently a burgeoning porn genre at a time when advances in digital recording technology make this ever easier to do so.

If stealth massage and other “authentic” reality porn is all staged and everyone knows it, what then accounts for its mass appeal, garnering millions of Internet devotees?

There is a longtime attraction to verisimilitude for its own sake (as the enormous popularity of pro wrestling attests). All reality TV is choreographed, and the skeptic would assume reality porn operates along similar lines. Clearly, many viewers seem to enjoy watching porn they fully suspect is fake. They watch it ironically or employ doublethink to obscure in their mind the pasteboard scaffolding. Inauthenticity is at the very heart of the sex industry and is its modus operandi. The burden of proof falls on you to show me a prostitute who enjoys sex or likes the men she sleeps with or a porn star who willingly exhibits her body gratis. Nothing better exemplifies this obsession with illusion than the de rigueur low-grade boob jobs of Western porn actresses—and the bizarre corollary of men pressuring their wives or girlfriends to get the same.

And yet, again, here’s the thing. Personally, I am not fond of breasts that look like coconuts sewn into the chest, with a similar hardness and adorned with scars. In fact I shiver in repulsion at the sight and touch of artificial breasts, which are modeled after a misplaced ideal of firmness, as opposed to the beautiful hang and jiggle of natural breasts. The reason breast enlargements aren’t made to look natural is that the majority of men apparently prefer the fake look. Porn actresses would not go out of their way for an expensive and painful operation—at some risk to their health—to adopt precisely this fake boob look if they were not certain it’s what men want. But I have to put my own oddness into perspective and acknowledge that most men do want this—Western men at least. If Japanese porn has limited appeal abroad and leaves Western males cold, it’s because you do not see fake tits anywhere. It’s sacrilege.

Japanese men like their women real (at the same time they like them infantilized). This is the starting point for understanding Japanese porn. It’s what tells me there may be something on the other side of the pasteboard prop, why we need to turn things around 180 degrees to get at the right perspective; why we can take Japanese stealth massage at face value and regard the genre as at least partly authentic. Now, I have no insider knowledge, but the more I go over all the problems and possibilities, I don’t think insider knowledge is necessary to figure out what’s really going on. We can use deduction to get at the truth.

There is the prototypical hidden-cam massage scenario, outlined above. The more of these videos one watches, the greater variety of women and their reactions becomes apparent. Most patrons undress in predictably prudish Japanese style, removing their bra from under their shirt or only after donning the provided robe, even when they are alone in the room (or do some suspect their massage will be captured on spycam?). Some don’t undress at all but get on the table fully clothed. This makes more sense if they’re only getting an acupressure treatment, but the stiff business outfit many of these office ladies are wearing is not appropriate for any kind of massage; the impression is one of genuine body shyness. Others meanwhile get right out of their clothes and lay on the table naked. Some are nervous and unsmiling, others are laughing and at ease.

While most put up initial resistance or feign surprise when the massage moves on to sexual territory, here again the responses are varied. Some enthusiastically come unsprung; others are equally animated with a fraught ambivalence, as if succumbing only in order to avoid disappointing the masseur. With the more recalcitrant, a more patient approach—and most of the session—is required to coax some if not all of their clothes off (not all of the videos culminate in nudity or sex). The attractiveness of many of the patrons varies greatly as well. Whereas some are ordinary and plain, others are quite beautiful. Many are tastefully dressed, as is customary among educated Japanese women with good jobs, elegant-looking in their thirties or forties. Others arrive in business uniforms of the bank-teller variety, still others in high school sailor suits.

Of course, variety and spontaneity can be cleverly scripted, as we have seen. But if all of these women are paid to perform in these videos, where are they to be found? Previously I noted the problem for the reality porn industry of employing regular porn actresses who might ultimately blow their cover. The only other women who would conceivably agree to stage their massage for money would be prostitutes. Prostitutes universally cultivate a certain “look,” fake eyelashes, penciled-in eyebrows, tight tacky clothing. Though some of the patrons in the videos wear fake eyelashes (common in daily use among East Asian women), none would otherwise strike you as looking like prostitutes in dress or bearing, and in any case are far too varied in appearance to hail solely from the sex worker camp. Moreover, many (if not most) sex workers in Japan are actually migrants from abroad, primarily China and the Philippines, yet the women in the videos are all native speakers of Japanese. Whether domestic or migrant, the last thing any prostitute would do is to consent to perform sex on a video uploaded to the Internet for the public record. Finally, the fact so many of the patrons are exceptionally attractive better supports the interpretation they are ordinary customers rather than sex workers performing for pay, for the simple reason that women who are that attractive don’t wind up in the sex business, porn stars aside (making it all the more mysterious why “branded” AV idols like Miharu Izawa would be drawn to reality porn).

Only one pool of women is large enough to generate a virtually limitless number of videos: regular women seeking a massage. As I imagine it, the setup is quite plain and self-evident. A real massage room is outfitted with hidden cameras for capturing the body on the table from different angles, placed there by the establishment or a lone-acting masseur. I have been to hundreds of massage parlors in many countries. I cannot discount the possibility I myself, somewhere down the line, have been secretly filmed. I doubt it, not being young and female and your typical spycam material. Yet doubt increasingly eats away at my sense of security in light of the proliferating ubiquity of cheap, high-resolution video cams. The logic of technology makes it likely that countless numbers of people are being digitally immortalized right now on massage tables not just in Japan but in many countries. Not every shop, of course, only a relative minority, but that’s all that is needed to supply unlimited raw material for a whole new porn genre.

Even if only one out of ten sessions is brought to a satisfactory sexual conclusion, the operation is still beautifully cost-effective, being financed by none other than the patrons themselves.

Obviously, many videos are aborted when patrons balk, get angry and leave at any erotic turn of events. Yet even if only one out of ten sessions is brought to a satisfactory sexual conclusion, the operation is still beautifully cost-effective, being financed by none other than the patrons themselves. Out of the pool of more-or-less successful videos, the choicest get selected for Internet production. These would presumably include not only the most attractive patrons but the more ordinary ones too who evinced a robust sexual response. As for the danger of livid patrons who reject the masseur’s advances and rush out early and complain, there is little more they can do apart from never returning, as the receptionist no doubt has a scripted response and perhaps a refund at the ready for them as well (videos that conclude abruptly with little or no sexual progress form a sub-niche in the reality massage industry).

Those who made it as far as sex are unlikely to complain to the police, since their participation would automatically be interpreted as consensual, giving the masseur deniability. What woman would complain when she would only incriminate herself? If you look at scores of these of the videos, you’ll notice that in few of them does outright rape take place. They are all coaxed into intercourse, or at least some degree of consensual sexual touching, by the masseur’s verbal persuasion, by which time they are typically not only enjoying it, in spite of themselves, but seem to experience powerful sexual release. And they are patently enjoying it. The videos lavish much attention on the masturbation portion of the sessions and zoom in to show the massage sheet drenched with the patron’s lubrication or ejaculate.

The question that remains to be answered is why any female patron would allow herself to open up sexually so quickly with a stranger when all she expected was a no-frills massage. I believe the answer is quite simple: most of the women in these videos are seeking sexual relief. The only variable is the extent to which they are consciously after this or unconsciously driven to it by vague or confused impulses. In Beijing, where I currently live, a whole building devoted to massage, the Binduyuan (Massaging the Masseuse in Beijing and Bangkok), is popular with the Japanese female population in the area, who can get massaged for a third of the price they would pay back home. I frequently see these ladies come and go, singly or in pairs or groups, whenever I visit the building. The shops employ an equal number of masseurs and masseuses. While I can’t claim to know what goes on behind closed doors, one masseur confided to me, with some relish, that the biggest perk of his job was the occasional Chinese or Japanese female patron who removes her disposable shorts during an oil massage and invites him to masturbate her.

Women go for handjobs too, not least when they are confident the situation is safe and there is the prospect of being brought to orgasm by a person trained in manipulating the G-spot, and possibly enlightening her on female ejaculation as well, in respect of which other males in her life may fall woefully short. And if no-strings-attached sexual stimulation under controlled circumstances by a skilled masseur is not on the agenda, there is a whole sister niche of stealth lesbian massage.

The claim no woman would ever permit herself to be thus violated is patronizing and underestimates the degree of people’s sexual fantasies—equally intense in women as they are in men. Though most people keep their fantasies under wraps, itching, agonizing need does drive some to act on them. Might not this very danger be impelling men and women alike to the massage therapist, the spicy allure and exoticism of what lies in store as much as the promise of therapy? For some women, notably those not currently in a satisfying sexual relationship, there may no more enticing sexual prospect. Even if all these videos were in fact fake, there would be a market for the real thing.

The distinctly delicious form of sex known as passive sex: the unique sexual pleasure derived from being stimulated by someone you are not necessarily attracted to.

Massage moreover offers something that can’t be got anywhere else, the distinctly delicious form of sex known as passive sex. Passive sex is the unique sexual pleasure derived from being stimulated by someone you are not necessarily attracted to. If you are massaged blindfolded, what difference does it make how attractive, or even what gender, the person massaging you is? Indeed passive sex can be all the more intense the less attracted you are to the person stimulating you, due to the novelty of opening up sexually under the most unlikely or appalling of circumstances. Since passive sex does not require reciprocation on your part, it is guilt-free: it happens to you. While the female patrons in the videos put up initial resistance, when they do finally succumb, they can internally justify it as something they themselves didn’t do but somebody did to them.

The same fascination may equally draw women who are privy to the situation and suspect they are being filmed. Ever perversely creative, the Japanese have come up with an entrancing means of catering to women’s need to act out exhibitionist fantasies in the real world. Some women may become intrigued by massage for the first time after hearing rumors; they may be among the prime audience of these videos and resolve to have a try or regularly haunt the massage parlors for this purpose. I suspect the patrons in these videos who appear the most nervous to be the very ones who are aware of being secretly filmed and fear the potential dangers involved. That is why they are so nervous, and excited, precisely at this possibility, and why their initial resistance gives way to total sexual abandon. It’s a calculated risk for them, one that remains relatively low. The people who watch the videos already understand their appeal and wouldn’t hold it against someone they recognized in one. And if someone did confront her about it, she could readily—and quite truthfully—deny any real knowledge of being filmed.

The blanket assumption that all spycam massage videos are too unbelievable to be true is ultimately unconvincing because it lacks a complex understanding of human psychology. It lacks irony, also important for knowledge of human behavior. Irony reveals how people often act quite contrary to the way others expect them to or they expect themselves to. Spycam massage videos are miniature dramas, fraught and funny at the same time, of anonymous women caught, willingly or not, in the most ironic of situations and thrust on the Internet for all to see. Reality TV pales by comparison.

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