I’m no stranger to the naked female body. I appreciate it just as much as the next guy. After visiting and living in Europe, I became accustomed to their different standards of what’s acceptable to show off in public compared to the United States. It wasn’t uncommon to see advertising posters with bare breasts. It felt strange at first, but you quickly get used to such things in much the same way you get used to all the soda cups at McDonald’s being one size smaller, the cars all looking the same as their American counterparts but having wildly different names, or the peanut butter never being quite the right consistency. I maintain that only in America can you get real peanut butter.
A tasteful nude poster in a public venue is fairly easy to process mentally. Everyone else is seeing it. Nobody really knows if you’re looking at it or thinking about it. In the most public of areas your thoughts are the most private.
Now fast forward five years and I’m living in Japan. Japan is an interesting place when it comes to nudity standards. You won’t see bare breasts out in public on advertisements. Instead, like in America, you have to turn to the movies and the seedy magazines. Everything from waist up is perfectly acceptable, and everything from the upper thigh down is fine as well. They’ll let you show off your entire backside, from head to toe. But there’s one small spot, whether you’re a man or a woman, that you’re just not allowed to see. In movies it will be censored with little floating, fuzzy blocks covering up the naughty bits. Native-produced magazines and photographs are all artfully posed to prevent any untoward slips or have little black dots to protect the innocent. Foreign-imported magazines, as I discovered on the bottom floor of the large Kinokuniya bookstore in Shinjuku, have the naughty bits scratched out by a pen knife.
Think about that for a second. Someone spends their days going through American and European porno magazines, scratching out the naughty bits between the legs. I wonder who is protecting those workers from such obscenity. Is there some secret underground eunuch scene in Japan, slaving away over stacks of smut day in, day out? How do you apply for such a job? I could probably find the answer on the internet in about fifteen seconds, but I like the air of mystery.
So it’s haircut time in Japan. I slip into a hair salon on the second floor of an office building in a suburb of Osaka, and am greeted by a nice young girl who is in bad need of a haircut herself. She invites me over to one of the chairs, and I sit down. She wanders off and returns momentarily with a stack of magazines. She thrusts a few at me and urges me to have a look. I’m not one for conversing while having my hair cut–I prefer to get in, get out, and not pour my life out to a hairstylist. Much less in a foreign language where I’m going to have to invest way too much thought. So I eagerly take the magazines and begin rifling through them. They were typical magazines about cars or boats, the economy, and a few editions of Newsweek.
She asks me how I want my hair cut, and I just reply with “short”, which is my answer no matter what country I’m getting a haircut in. The scissors start their grueling work. She says that if I find anything in any of the magazines I like, to let her know. I assume she’s talking about hairstyles, and she probably was, but a small part of me will always wonder. I just nod, knowing that I won’t find anything. I’ve never been a fan of specific hairstyles. Short is good enough for me.
I flip through a couple of magazines, practicing my reading skills but ultimately finding most of the material too hard. I hadn’t studied much written Japanese, so I decide to just look at the pictures. You can tell a lot about what’s going on just using pictures. Of course you can end up drawing completely wrong conclusions as well.
I don’t remember the specific magazine I was rifling through when I found her, but it was a completely tame one and not the kind you’d find behind the counter at a gas station, wrapped in a plastic bag and shielded with black plastic from the eyes of children. It was something reasonable like a Japanese version of Time magazine. But there she was all the same. Some girl, spread wide open, not a shred of fabric on her, gazing seductively out of the page. Of course her Asian crotch was well protected from my unworthy eyes by a black dot. There’s no drawing of wrong conclusions from that picture. I slam the magazine shut so fast I break the sound barrier.
I look up in the mirror but the hairstylist doesn’t seem bothered. She keeps on cutting as if I hadn’t just flashed a completely naked lady up in her face. I open the magazine up again, and sure enough, the naked lady is still there. The hairstylist looks down, makes no discernible judgment about what I’m looking at, and continues her work. I flip through the rest of the magazine, but there are no more spread-eagled ladies looking back at me. Just that one, stuck in there at random. I check the table of contents and there’s no mention of her. I flip back to her and check the pages on either side, thinking maybe it was inserted as a joke. Nope, both are perfectly in line with the rest of the magazine.
I dig through a few more magazines, but none have any similar centerfolds.
When she finishes my hair she asks if I like how it turned out, and I say it looks great. She asks if I found anything that interested me in the magazines she’d handed me and I feel the heat as my face flushes red with embarrassment.
In the end, I lie. I tell her that I didn’t find anything interesting at all.