Bebe Taian: Book Review: The Japanese Art of Sex, by Jina Bacarr

October 19, 2013

Book Review: The Japanese Art of Sex, by Jina Bacarr

Courtesan Writing a Letter - Kitagawa Utamaro
"The Japanese Art of Sex", by Jina Bacarr, is a book I bought long, long ago. (You can search for a cheap copy using the Amazon box on my sidebar, if you like.) As implied, it is of an 'adult' nature, but I was curious.

Really, it wasn't exactly what I expected. I was hoping for historical accounts of protocol, techniques, recipes for various items, and attitudes regarding sex 100-500 years ago, with a focus on courtesans and their upbringing. After all, licensed courtesans often had training to become the best at their jobs, and men paid dearly for them. So what made them so fantastic?

Instead, it really is a sex tip/seduction manual, with some bits and pieces of historical facts thrown in. It isn't a bad book; a little cheesy ("how to seduce the samurai in your bedroom"? really?), but overall, not a bad book if you're just looking to become more sensual overall.

Many of the listed sources are Japanese, by Japanese authors, so I'll try to reserve commentaries about Orientalism and how Asian women are seen in the media for another time. I would have liked to see mostly or only Japanese sources, however. Western media sources can easily get cultural topics wrong.

The Prologue details highlights of Heian-era and prehistoric dress and mannerisms, especially the usual bit about karaginu mo (juunihitoe) and flowing black hair. Sei Shonagon and Murasaki Shikibu are mentioned, along with their works, before going into some short details regarding courtesans and their history as saburuko (literally, servant girls). I did like that some Japanese works were directly referenced, such as Hatakeyama Kizan's Shikido Okagami (The Great Mirror of the Way of Love), when it came to how some men chose who to court. Geisha and soaplands girls (the post-Taisho yuujo) are also briefly talked about for a few pages. Bacarr, luckily, does not say that geisha are or ever were prostitutes; rather, that they had to be sexy as part of the job.

Chapter 1 is about the 9 Points of Beauty, which it seems has been taken from Saikaku's "Life of an Amorous Woman". Eyes, mouth, skin, head, hair, hands, feet, posture, voice, and seductive air are listed, along with modern and old tips on how to beautify each. The chapter is interspersed with recipes and a few quotes from Western women regarding Japanese women. I'd much rather have heard from Japanese women on themselves, honestly.

The next four chapters are on how to make life more sensual for yourself and for others, and about
self-exploration. Perfumes, bathing, meditation, and learning better communication are amongst the topics. I am not sure she explores iki as well as one could, but it's difficult since it's a difficult feeling to translate into Western sensibilities. But she does try to explain it, breaking it down into other Japanese concepts and giving the word a place in it's own history, 1700s Asakusa.

Torii Kiyonaga - Bath House Women
One of my complaints about that section is the use of kanji as tattoo suggestions. Tattoos were the mark of a criminal in Japanese society (different from the Ainu and Okinawan peoples), and even today are not really acceptable. Plus, these are words that actually mean something, not just pretty 'exotic' symbols. So it isn't really appropriate to have a symbol of some sort tattooed to yourself in effort to "be more Japanese".

The sixth chapter is "The Art of Play", regarding flirting, bedroom games, aphrodisiacs, etc.

I'm really not a fan of the 'dance' section, since it alludes far too much to geisha-style dancing for some (probably white) girl to clumsily imitate. I have visions of one of the worst porns I've ever seen, the kind of train wreck where some pale woman comes into a badly-lit room in a cheongsam and "geesha girl makeup", feeding some lame douchebag rice with cheater chopsticks, with another pair of eating utensils stuck in her hair. Please. Just no. Just say no to that whole idea.

The sections on what tayuu once used as aphrodisiacs is probably the only section that saves it. Sandalwood oil, aojiru, powdered ivory, and many other interesting items were thought to stimulate arousal, some of them less safe than others.

Chapters 7 to 8 are on sex itself: positions, tips, historical courtesan information, various games and fetish information. Each mini-section is quite short, sometimes less than a page, with plenty of line illustrations. Even modern inventions like sex dolls and 'love hotels' are covered in brief towards the end.

Aside from the historic bits, there isn't really anything special about these chapters that cannot be found in some Cosmo magazine or any number of similar women's publications. Some things contained within are things which I don't even find accurate, such as Bacarr's advice to only use water-based lube, since water-based can dry quickly on some people. Silicone-based lubricants are just as safe when used with appropriate toys and condoms, and may help even more so because it doesn't dry nearly as quickly, nor should it get tacky or sticky like some water-based lubes will. Take this section with a grain of salt, and do your own research on what is safe or unsafe for you to do.

The author herself has a history of writing about Japan, and being a news correspondent in Japan... but she also seems to profit off of the Orientalization and exotification of Japanese women. I am not at all impressed by "The Blonde Geisha". I think it ranks right up there with "50 Shades of Grey". This is a book I may keep only until I can copy the referenced works for future purchase. There was so much promise in the subject, but it fell so short on actual humanization of women and how sex plays/ed a role in Japanese women's lives.

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