Sexuality in anime

Interesting contrasts and comparisons can be made between social and moral values in Japanese society and how these are portrayed in anime. Japanese anime are products of the modern Japanese popular cultural environment, thus they offer clues for understanding Japanese culture as it is experienced by its people. There are two ways in which they can be read as texts. Firstly they may reinforce or be perceived to reinforce the dominant cultural values held by society at large, alternatively they may offer a criticism of society or suggest change. However, they are first and foremost anime, so ‘entertainment value’ is an essential component in their production, thus we cannot make broad generalisations about their reference to Japanese society.

Anime offers an alternative site for exploring what is typically conceived of as sex and sexuality. It can through into question prevailing views about the proper uses and places for sex, but also demonstrate different ways in which sexual fantasy are imagined (Shigematsu p.129). Through our examination of various anime we will attempt to examine what are socially acceptable expressions of sexuality in Japan as depicted in Japanese anime. Interestingly, it has been found that, aside from hentai obviously, while sexual content in anime is of interest to viewers, it is not the primary reason for watching (Newitz 1995). It thus suggests that sexuality in anime is not purely physical representation, but is in most cases designed to have greater significance.

An interesting consideration is who created the anime, as personal views and perspectives shape the representation of sexuality; of particular interest is whether they are male or female. Additionally to whom the anime is directed; male, female and of what age group, is of note. When you consider these factors some significant conclusions or insights can be made.

Japanese Sexuality

Firstly, we must be aware that there is no unified Japanese sexuality that broadly applies to all of Japanese society and can be said to represent what sex means in Japanese society. Thus we are largely confined to addressing the attitudes towards sex and sexuality of the dominant majority, and will attempt to avoid drawing far-reaching conclusions. The individual creator’s and studio’s views play a key role in how issues such as sexuality are depicted.

In general, Japan is what might be considered a conservative society. However, sexual frankness was historically not a feature of Japanese society and many Asian societies in general (Bornoff 1991). The virtue of ‘primness’ and sexual repression were impressed upon them both by Confucianism and 19th century European morality (Bornoff 1991). Nevertheless, in contemporary Japan as long as an individual’s sexual practices do not interfere with or challenge the legitimacy of the institutions of marriage and the household, Japanese society accommodates – and particularly in the case of males, even indulges – a variety of sexual behaviours (McLelland 2000). In modern Japanese society there is a gradually evolving new atmosphere of sexual freedom which has led to an escalation of sexual content in media, with societal backing and particularly a result of a generation change and more liberal attitudes among youth. Japan is in the midst of a ‘sexual revolution’ generally, with pick-up bars and “phone clubs” offering young students, bored housewives, and frustrated businessmen the opportunity for easy and anonymous sex (Anonymous 2003). Despite this there remains an element of social morality in that sex should not be openly discussed, and in general should be kept to the private sphere.

Objectifying of Women

There is a strong social tendency for male to be idealized as being chauvinistic and who see females as submissive and inferior. Although there are females, like novelist Lady Murasaki, who had achieved great things and make significant contribution to the Japanese society, females are still seen as second class citizen especially after Japan became war-oriented and feudal. This might have been the cause for men to see themselves as a more superior being and take to objectifying woman as sexual objects.

For example, in anime Boy Be, several high school boys are seen observing and discussing 2 female students. They relate the physical characteristics of the girls to what they would like in a woman in reality and one even took note of the girl’s birth dates and other details. Even though there is mention about the girl being outstanding in several school competitions, they are out shadowed by the attention paid to her physical attributes. A simple talk about Kawase Mizusu turns into a sexually driven discussion about what they would want in a girl – which ranges from their sweet scent to the different types of stockings.

Most anime depict males as the lookers while the females being the ones looked at. However, some anime do shows female idolizing a certain male lead but more often than not, females do not ogle at every cute man that passes. In addition, when it became the female’s turn to be the lookers, they do not attach any sexual implication upon the men they discussed. It is usually more of a sweet longing rather than one infused with sexual connotations. For example, in Fruits Basket, a group of girls idolizes Yuki, one of the many male leads in the anime. However, they neither elaborate their admiration into what they would want in a man nor cast the same admiration or attention onto other male leads.

Public Expression of Nudity/Sex

Although Japanese have always been stereotyped as being polite and conservative, nudity and sex is somewhat surprisingly depicted in a rather casual way in anime. A lot of mainstream titles such as Aoi Yori, Evangelion and GTO carry mild sexual and nudity content in them, despite having audiences of all ages.

Although nudity is common is anime, the act of a male seeing a female naked is still not acceptable, in and out of the setting of a bath, unless the male and female are in a coy relationship. However, it is acceptable for females to see each other naked in the bath. This can be accepted as Japanese are used to being in a same space naked with the same sex due to existence of public bath in Japan. Hence, although it is not common, it is acceptable to see women interacting with each other naked in anime. This can be seen in the example of Love Hina, where Otohime went into the shower stand where Narusegawa is having her shower and telling her that Urashima likes her.

Anime rarely goes any farther than just the exposure of breasts, except occasionally, when a boy might manage to actually lay hands on a girl’s breasts. But usually in this case, the boy will be furiously attacked by the female or a friend of the female. One good example is in Ai Yori Aoshi, where the female lead Aoi Sakuraba volunteered to wash the back of Kaoru Hanabishi. Due to his nervousness and wanting to stop her before she comes in, he trips on a bar of soap and falls onto female lead, with his hands magically landing on her breasts. In this case, it is the friend of the female lead Miyabi Kagurazaki that chanced about the scene and gave Kaoru a beating.

In Antonia Levi’s Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Anime, religion could be an explanation for why Japanese are more open about their sexuality in comparison to other communities. In Japan, Shinto is the most influential religion, but Shinto is a “disorganized religion. It has no official theology, no set scriptures, and no moral code beyond cleanliness” (Levi 34). Therefore, it is very possible that something considered acceptable in Shinto might very well be taboo according to Judeo-Christian values, one of which is being openly sexual.

Male nudity is usually shown through a non sexual setting and it is often accompanied by the female shrieking and being embarrassed. One good example is that of Fruit Baskets. Whenever the male leads morphed back into human form, they are naked and Tohru, the female lead, would be drawn having exaggerated expression of being embarrassed. This is in tune with the Japan social tradition that girls are still supposed to be seen as virginal and non-sexual and hence, should display signs of being uncomfortable seeing male naked.

Virgin Power

Virgins in anime are usually portrayed as maidens with great power – usually spiritual or supernatural powers – inherited from their parents and are considered sacred figures of holy representation. Since there is great emphasis on purity, cleansing of mind and soul in the Shinto religion, the virgins’ powers are eased once they lose their virginity or have sexual fantasy on men.

This opinion on the purity of virginity is pretty widespread in Japan, as men try to idealise women or girls in the representation of shojo. They see females as being a sexually pure child, who becomes a virgin while approaching adulthood and then transforming into the perfect middle-class woman prior to marriage. Traditionally, females would wear white kimonos during marriage to suggest the purity and virginity of the brides. In addition, the white kimono donned symbolizes the compensation of the sins committed by the bridegroom.

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The importance of the purity of being a virgin can also be shown through traditional festivals held in Japan. During Harvest Festivals, naked virgins symbolising fertility will be going round the fields or towns in. Apart from this, virgins command high positions and status in shrines and religion institutions where they will perform sacred ceremonies or rituals. There is also the concept “beauty feasts” in Japan catering mainly to men, whereby foods are being served on naked virgins. These ‘human serving palate’ become disqualified once they are no longer deemed as a virgin. Hence, being a virgin in the Japanese society does translate into having a higher social status.

When depicted in anime, virgins usually appear ignorant and infantile with regards to sexuality and are reserve in advocating sexual initiative. They are also very sensitive to any male sexual advancement. Hence, they blush or fluster easily when people try touching their soft spots like the ears, necks, thighs or even advancing to kiss them. Despite being sexually shy, they are usually depicted as strong women who work for a cause and who have fallen in love along the way and become more feminine as their love deepens.

Some examples below will help to support my points mentioned earlier.

In the anime Clamp X, the female sorcerer Arashi Kiashi possesses a magical sword that can ward off evil. However, she loses that ability after falling in love and having sexual relationship with Yuzuriha Nekei.

In the anime Hellsing, Sir Wingate Integra is being addressed as a maiden and represents the Protestant knights of London. She inherited the task of killing monsters and vampires from her dad, of which she accomplishes together with Alucard. Her sacred position as a virgin is reinforces by the frequent rape scenes by her enemies to undermine her position. This is a sharp contrast to the female vampires featured in the same anime, who flaunt their sexuality and use it to get what they want. Similarly, the sorcerer in Fushigi Yuugi has to be a virgin to retain her power to fight against the dark forces. Like what happened to Sir Wingate Integra, her opponents tried to rape her and destroy her virginity to remove her of her power.

In the anime Samurai 7, in the hope to save her village from bandits, the female lead Kirara started recruiting Samurai. It was later mentioned in episode 21 that Kirara wanted to use her body to purify the sins of her lover, Kanbei, the leader of the 7 samurai.

Aggressive Sexuality

In the past, sexuality was deployed as a means of perpetuating one’s position of power.

Homosexual and heterosexual manga can feature more explicit aggressive sexuality than their anime counterparts as they pass through fewer red tapes and censorships. However, both medium still have their equal share of implicit sexuality. An example of aggressive sexuality can be found in the forms of rape scenes. Bandages, wounds and whips tend to suggest bloodshed, with animal items like fur and skin suggesting genitalia.

In the realms of aggressive sexuality in anime, the women’s role is usually that of sexual objects with the purpose of satisfying the males’ sexual fantasy. In line with the idea that women are inferior to man, women are represented as prostitutes, as seen in Dictators’ Lovers and sluttish vampires in Hellsing. This is keeping with the bourgeois males’ belief that female physiology was more than what women could handle, hence the natural role of men is to take charge of women and helping them fulfill their sexual desires.

Women displaying great sexual aggressiveness are usually referred to as being are labeled as cheap bitches and are usually marginalised, criticised or being punished by men. Even when they hold highly respected professions, some scenes will still portrayed them being despised upon and having a guilty conscience of being vulgar and impure. In addition, they can also be shown as being overly stubborn, self-centered and easily manipulated.

In the Dictators’ Lovers, the prostitute, being obsessed with her love for the male lead, tried to use sex as an instrument to get the attention of other men. Once those men are under her control, she uses them to get back at her rivals. She died an unfortunate death at the hands of her lover. In Hellsing, sluttish vampires are portrayed as brainless tools manipulated by others to attack the Hellsing organisation. As such, we can see that characters associated with aggressive sexuality are usually being seen in a bad light with bad attributes.
In Clamp X, the active gay lead Seishirou deploy killing as a mean of displaying his diehard affection. Hence, if he truly loves the passive gay Subaru, he would allow himself to be killed by him. His intention is only known to his lover upon his death, which he arranged such that he was killed by only him. Expression of love and sexuality in this aggressive manner is uncommon, in fact even non-existent, in reality and hence, it showed a refraction of anime in regards to reality.

In the anime Kannaduki No Mike, aggressive sexuality is shown when Kurusugawa Himeko is being raped by another female lead, Himekawa Chikane. Souma-kun, the male lead is then seen trying to rescue Kurusugawa. An interesting point to note is how the director, Tetsuya Yanagisawa, favors scenes whereby the male is seen being the hero rescuing the female in trouble. This is a classic example of hero going to fair maiden’s aid, except that the aggressor is that of a woman. This satisfies the typical Japanese male fantasy of being a strong powerful hero capable of rescuing a female he adores. His other anime works that include such indication includes Vision of Escaflowne.

From the listed examples, together with the other supporting sources, we explored how aggressive sexuality is conveyed through anime. We can see that in anime and manga, the presentation of explicit aggressive sexuality is more accepted by society, even though it is generally not discussed in the Japanese society. The fact that there is a distinction between what happens in real life and what happens in anime allows for anime writers to explore areas of aggressive sexuality deemed as taboo in society.


In Japan, there is no legislation relating to sex between men or sex between women. The prominent Shinto religion in Japan also does not condemn homosexuality as much as other religions like Buddhism and Christianity. But with the opening of Japan to the outer world, influxes from cultures and religions from other nations cause changes in the mindset of the local Japanese and they start to develop distaste and negative opinions towards homosexuality. Furthermore as more Japanese embrace religions like Buddhism and Christianity, they also begin to view homosexuality as something which is immoral as imparted to them in the teachings of the above-mentioned religions.

There is a negative interpretation of homosexuality in Japan. More often or not, homosexuals are being exploited in pornography especially lesbians who are constantly being shown in pornography as ‘women who have sex with other women’, ‘women who always want to have sex with women’ and ‘women who rape women’. These forms of negative portrayal basically degrade the homosexuals as mere objects of impure sexual manifestations. It is not surprising that Japanese are hesitant to believe that homosexuals can be “normal” Japanese people that share the same society as themselves. Because of these negative pressures from society, being homosexual is a matter that is considered very private. Any disclosure of the true nature of the homosexuals might lead to them being disgraced and shunned by their family, relatives, friends and co-workers.

In amine, there are both reflections of society’s view of homosexuals as well as portrayals of the homosexuals’ desired society. Often these two opposing views are seen in animes as opposing views of two homosexuals in love. For example, in Gravitation, the two homosexual protagonists, Yuki and Suiichi’s responses to the reporters differ when their homosexual relationship has been discovered. Yuki openly admits to their homosexual relationship and tells the reporters that homosexuality is nothing new and that in society today is something that all people have come to understand and accept. However Suiichi stares in disbelief at Yuki’s openness of their relationship and is seen as showing distress over the fact that their homosexual nature has been revealed. This contrasting reactions is a clear indication of the actual versus the fictional.


Japan is one of the most endogenous societies in the world. Incestuous marriages have been approved of in court circles since the feudal period of Japan. Preferred sibling, cousin, uncle-niece and aunt-nephew marriages are the most extensive. In a 1959 study conducted by Kubo, fathers married their daughters when the mother had died or was incapacitated, “in accordance with feudal family traditions” in some rural areas of Japan. This showed that incest was considered “praiseworthy conduct” in many traditional rural families. In another 36 incest cases Kubo studied in Hiroshima, he found that even though there was often community moral disapproval of the families who lived in open incestuous marriages, the participants did not think of it as immoral. In fact, when the father was unavailable to head the family, his son often took over his role and had sex with his sister in order “to end confusion in the order of the home.” Other members of the family accepted this incestuous relationship as normal.

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A recent study of Japanese childhood by Kitahara provides a number of new details about Japanese incest, including the acceptance of sibling incest in early historic times, the wide extent even today of co-sleeping and co-bathing, and the degree to which incest depends on co-sleeping patterns.

The average Japanese today sleeps with his or her children until the children are ten to fifteen years old. A recent Japanese study found daughters still sleeping with their fathers over 20 percent of the time even after age sixteen. Since so many families still practice what is termed “dakine co-sleeping” – with the parent or grandparent sleeping while physically embracing the child, a practice said to be beneficial to the health of the adult and the upbringing of the children.

Though there have been studies indicating that this form of co-sleeping is a good form of psychological release and relief that parents can provide to their children and to render parental love to their children through sleeping together. Children that experience co-sleeping tend to share a deeper bond with their parents and also between siblings. But we would like to argue that co-sleeping is a double-edged sword in that it may also lead to incestuous developments between parent and children as well as siblings when a party takes advantage of the co-sleeping situation and impose upon the other party. As such, most Japanese parents still regularly have sexual intercourse while the child is in bed with them. In the heat of events, it is hard to say that the children are unaffected during the parents’ activities.

Japan being a conservative society, male and female individuals tend not to engage in close relationships. But within siblings who are already close, may end up developing incestuous feelings for each other due to excessive intimacy via co-sleeping. As shown in the anime Boku wa Imouto ni Koi o Suru, the male protagonist, Yori who is the elder brother of the female protagonist, Iku, also developed strong sexual feelings for her. Both of them share the same room, even though they do not sleep on the same bed, they can still be considered to be sleeping together, causing them to behave intimately towards each other. This as mentioned before is a benefit of co-sleeping. However the over intimacy between them causes Yori to fall in love with his sister and at the end of the show, Iku recipocates Yori’s love and also falls in love with him. But this anime reflects Japanese society’s view of incestuous relationships today where Yori admits that the relationship between himself and Iku is forbidden and that he is unable to give Iku happiness. Another good indication of this is the stormy weather during the siblings first intiminate encounter which is a symbolism for the disapproval by morality in society.

The High School Girl in Anime

We can find a lot of high school girls in school uniform in Japanese anime. So how a high school girl, called Joshi Kosei in Japanese is accepted in Japanese society?

Firstly what is Joshi Kosei? Each perspective gives each definition. But here definition of Joshi Kosei depends on the prevalent view in Japanese society. People have the image of Joshi Kosei being that they are innocent and harmless (even if not in actuality) in Japan. In such an image, the school uniform has special importance for image of high school girls. Most of high schools in Japan have rules obliging their students to wear school uniform. There are various forms of school uniform, of these, the sailor- style uniform holds great significance (because it was common in days before for blazer style dominating in Japan). School uniform is regarded as symbol of Joshi Kosei and their innocence. The second main characteristic of Joshi Kosei is their ambiguity – they are neither shojo nor adult, but of an indeterminate age. They are in a stage of psychologically and physically sexual development.

Japanese men, who sexually objectify Joshi Kosei, seek out antinomy desires in Joshi Kosei such as the Joshi Kosei’s virginity and mature bodies. They believe that almost all Joshi Kosei are virgins. Or more likely, Joshi Kosei is a manifestation of their deep-rooted sexual desires. They satisfy their physically and psychologically sexual desire on Joshi Kosei. Therefore Joshi Kosei is an eligible sexual object which fulfils their every desire. Japanese religion regarded as mere unseemliness that could easily be purged by ablutions. As a result the Japanese culture developed much distorted vehement but view of sexual matters. The men who go to house in the pleasure quarters may feel shame but have little sense of sin. As a result, there are a lot of sex businesses capitalizing Joshi Kosei in Japan. Examples of popular businesses include burusera, imekura and enjokosai.

Burusera is a shop that sells used girl underwear. Buru means bloomer and Sera means sailor uniforms that (worn by Japanese girl) they also sell other types of clothes, such as school uniforms, blazer school uniform, school swim suit uniform, etc. The clothes often accomplished by genuine photos of the girls wearing them. The clients smell the underwear for sexual stimulation. The panties fetish is not unique to Japan, but only in Japan, it was institutionalized to such degree. Recently this business has turned Net-based. Because it protects girl’s anonymity, it further flourished.

Imekura is a kind of adult entertainment shop in Japan. Ime means Imageand and Kura means club. There male customers have sexual intercourse with young women cosplaying, And they do sexual roleplaying. It is the sexual behavior of playing some kind of character. Many of the most common sexual role-plays include themes such a doctor/nurse, master slave, teacher/student. Most popular imekura is high school uniform cosplay club.

Enjio–kosai is a practice in Japan where high school-aged girls are paid by older men to accompany them on dates and/or to render sexual services. In English usually it is called compensated dating, The social network surrounding Enjo- kosai is complex. It is linked with the consumerism *Kogal subculture. It appeared the end of the 80’s economic boom in Japan. So it serves as a way for young girls to preserve the lifestyle of that era. Consumerism and materialism brought about supplier and consumer relationship of enjo-kosai. Originally, most initial contacts were made through telephone club, in Japanese called Terekura. There male clients paid a fee to sit in telephone booth and receive calls from participating .If they wish. She sets up a date.As in the case Burusera, recently on internet dating web site accelerates enjo-kosai.

*Kogal: They are a subculture of girls and young women in urban Japan, one of several types of so-called gals.

Advertising industry also exploits joshi-kosei for commercial purpose to improve products. Purity of them enhances a marketability of products. In last what is the difference between enjo-kosai and Lolita complex in Japanese called lolicon? It is socially prevalent idea that lolicon is perversion. Japanese people call it hentai. But men buying joshi-kosei are not regarded as hentai in Japanese society. Lolicon is one-sided sexual relationship under male domination while enjo-kosai is trade under an agreement between older man and joshi-kosei. It’s meeting of supply and demand. So it’s regarded as not sexual taboo but illegal.

Non-human sexuality

The concept of ‘Aesthetic Distance’ can be applied in this instance to help us understand the appearance of sexuality in a non-human form in anime (Levi 1996). Typically there has been a Japanese preference for the unreal and fantastical, which is felt can capture the essence of reality better than reality itself because it is “universal rather than individual” (Hamilton 1997). This is not to suggest that artificiality is preferred in Japan, rather the use of symbolism is common. The fictional nature of the experience may allow the audience to think more fully about what they are actually seeing and allows for deeper exploration of the body and identity. In the example of Chobits, the character Chi is a robot, which seems to embody the very innocence that is appealing to Japanese. This is something perhaps not possible in reality where there are numerous ways to sexually corrupt a person’s mind. Despite the fact that she is a robot, she is also regarded in a sexual manner.

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Sexuality in Japan does not need to be expressed as a human being, as the sensual value of simulated beings is appreciated. There can be no flaw in a synthetic girl such as the robot in Chobits (Hamilton 1997). In fact, the distance that these images have from perceived reality is central to creating an atmosphere within which sexuality may be explored. The artificial nature of them becomes part of the charm and much of the reason that these images are appealing to their audience (Hamilton 1997). The extreme separation from reality obstructs any normal social function or material reference that these images may have. Thus certain actions or behaviour exhibited by a non-human character may be more socially acceptable, and they allow the creator to challenge public moral values. In the anime Cutie Honey, the female lead is an android. She is very sensual and scantily-clad publicly, something that is acceptable as she is not human. Such public nudity or explicit sexuality in females would not be socially acceptable in Japan.


After exploring the various forms of sexual expression in anime, we feel that anime is a reflection as well as a refraction of Japanese society. It serves both as mirror of how society sees the various forms of sexual expressions that we discussed earlier as well as a avenue for people’s imagination and fantasy of an ideal society to fulfilled. Because anime is fictional, there are no physical bounds on the content that the writers and directors of the anime wish to convey through their anime. However, anime is also made to provide entertainment for the general public and hence have to cater for the viewers’ taste and level of acceptance of the anime contents. Hence the way different forms of sexuality are expressed in anime is a good indication of their degree of acceptance in Japanese society.



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ヘルシング Hellsing
Kouta Hirano
Geneon Entertainment, Gonzo Digimation 2001

Samurai 7
Akira Kurosawa
Gonzo Digimation 2004

ラブひな Love Hina
Sudo Takashi, Sugitani Koichi, Ueda Shigeru
XEBEC, Bandai Entertainment (USA) 2000

マリア様がみてる Maria-sama ga Miteru/ Lady Mary is Watching Over Us
Matsushita Yukihiro
Studio Deen 2004

ふしぎ遊戯 Fushigi Yuugi
Kamegaki Hajime, Shigeno Akira, Shimazaki Nanako
Studio Pierrot Geneon Entertainment 1995

フルーツバスケット Fruits Basket
Natsuki Takaya/HAKUSENSHA
Studio Deen, FUNimation 2001

最終兵器彼女 Another love song/ She the Ultimate Weapon
Saishu Heiki Kanojo Another Love Song
Takahashi Shin
Studio Fantasia, Viz Communications, Inc. 2005

藍より青し Ai Yori Aoshi
Geneon Entertainment, 2002

Boys Be
Hal Film Maker, 2002

ちょびっツ Chobits, CLAMP
CLAMP, Madhouse Production 2002

Re:キューティーハニー RE:Cutie Honey, Anno Hideaki

撲殺天使ドクロちゃん Bokusatsu Tenshi Dokuro-chan, Mizushima Tsutomu
Hal Film Maker 2005

新世紀エヴァンゲリオン劇場版 DEATH(TRUE)/Air/まごころを、君にEvangelion: End of Evangelion

グラビテーション Gravitation (TV)
Studio Deen 2000

GTO Great Teacher Onizuka, Abe Noriyuki, Ishido Hiroyuki
Sony, Studio Pierrot 2000

君が望む永遠 Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien, Watanabe Tetsuya
Age soft, Media Factory, Studio Fantasia 2003

僕は妹に恋をする シークレット・スウィートハート この恋はひみつ
I’m In Love With My Little Sister, Mayumi Nishimoto
Shogakukan Productions Co., Ltd., Vega Entertainment, ZOOM Enterprise 2005

神無月の巫女 Priestesses of the Godless Month, Tetsuya Yanagisawa
Rondo Robe, TNK 2004


Ai Yazawa

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About the author

Nadia Petrova

I'm running this blog because I love Japanese culture, especially the art of geisha. When I was a little girl, I used to dream of becoming a geisha myself. In my spare time, I enjoy watching good anime and reading some manga.

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