June 23rd, 2008


Who killed bukkake?

Once upon a time -- in December 1986, if Wikipedia is to be believed -- a new genre was born in Japanese porn: bukkake. The semantics of the word take in the ideas "splashing forcefully", "completely astonished" and "overwhelming win", and there's an allusion to the slurping of noodles too. Most of us now know what bukkake is; in the twenty years since its invention the idea has gone from East to West, from straight to gay, from the margins to the mainstream. For those without access to google, I'll just define it as a kind of secular rite, a liquid ballet in which an individual with a closely-watched face receives the excessive, successive sexual seed of a faceless collectivity.

I became aware of the genre in about 1996, and found myself drawn to its transgressive liquid mechanics, its Mishima-esque theatre of stoicism and sacrifice in the face of excess. I never dreamed, though -- as young Japanese men are said to -- of taking my place in the shirudan, the "juice association", that sweaty-palmed, stiff-pricked, boxer-shorted crowd. I assumed they were faithful yakuza grunts being rewarded for loyalty and discipline. The job certainly wasn't open to foreigners (except for black Americans, who had their own segregated subgenre).

Recently, though, there seems to be an ominous hush settling over those milky bully's paradises, the specialist bukkake sites. BukkakeMania! failed to update between March and June. "I know that many of you hate lactation titles," wrote the webmaster of Japanese Bukkake DVDs back in April. "I do not and will never add them INSTEAD of bukkake if new bukkake is available! The only reason I haven't added any NEW bukkake is that they seemed to have stopped making as many of them in Japan. I wonder why?"

Replacing squirting penises with squirting breasts may not have pleased his customers, but the webmaster asks a good question. Why is bukkake dying in Japan, and who or what is killing it? Today I'd like to offer, in note form, a few speculations.

1. Porn, like everything else, has fashions. Twenty-two years isn't a bad run for a single, repetitive idea.

2. How long can transgression stay transgressive? A Kafka short story describes how leopards broke into the temple and drank the holy wine. They did it again the following year, and before long it became part of the ceremony. Even the most astonishing splash, repeated regularly, becomes routine.

3. Let's speculate, for a moment, that bukkake is a branch of calligraphy. After all, one of the pleasures of the genre is seeing the expressive, gestural shapes sperm can make on a face, the satisfyingly graphic representation of the transition from internal repression to sudden external release. It really is painting with the white ink of life. But maybe the Japanese are neglecting their traditional arts?

4. Let's continue with this theme of the traditional Japaneseness of bukkake. Traditionally, at least, Japan is a tightly-controlled society with high levels of work pressure. Its sex industry is one of the few places where salarymen can let off steam. Bukkake, invented at the peak of Japan's hard-working, high-earning bubble economy, might be the perfect expression of corporate, collective stress relief: sex as a corporate-family sport. But what if Japan today were a more atomised, individualistic place, a place where people work more temp jobs and feel more spontaneous? What if people no longer felt able to identify with that big huddle, the shirudan? Wouldn't that tend to send bukkake out of fashion?

5. Maybe it's more depressing than that. Maybe Japan has got more conformist recently, and its porn industry is now as devoid of fresh, radical, original ideas as its pop industry. Maybe straight fucking is the porn equivalent of an Ayumi Hamasaki power ballad.

6. Maybe feminism plays a part; as women gain more power in the marketplace, they lose their status as sacrificial victims.

7. The oral aspect of bukkake might tie it to an earlier, more naive stage of consumerism which has now passed.

8. The spirit of Bushido -- stoicism in the face of adversity -- may be less of a turn-on these days. Because bukkake is, in many instances, a kind of ordeal that the "victim" must endure with stoicism. That stuff tastes pretty bitter, and stings when it gets in your eyes.

9. One typical bukkake scenario might see a yakuza mob forcing a woman to repay her husband's huge debts sexually. But these days the small loan companies formerly run by the mob are increasingly going overground in Japan, being bought out by official banks. And who wants to see, or even dream about, bukkake by bank clerks?

10. It may be that Japanese men integrated gansha (facial ejaculation) into their normal sexual practice and found that their girlfriends didn't like it. Women on Japanese bulletin boards grumble about this sometimes, saying it makes them want to punch their partners.

11. Over a noodle-slurping lunch, I asked my friend Nathan if he had any theories. He said maybe the genre was invented to give impotent old men hard-ons, and that now Viagra does the trick better. He also thought that, if it was calligraphic in some way, it may be that handwriting is in decline in Japan because everyone uses computers.

12. Nathan launched off into a lecture about tantric sex, which is all about postponing orgasm as long as possible to avoid ending the session: maybe the identification with a collectivity is something to do with trying to prolong sexual duration by other means? In bukkake it's okay to come, because someone else is right behind you, ready to continue the relay. Your end doesn't mean the end of the session.

13. We tried to relate it to Shinto. "Shinto is an agrarian cult religion, all about plants and seasons. And bukkake is about seed -- the Japanese word for sperm is sahmen, the German word for "seed". How can bukkake not be a Shinto rite?"

14. Nathan then called a french friend of his and handed me the phone. This frenchman -- an expert, apparently -- had a very simple answer. "Girls these days just like to fuck, and they like to be very active and dominant, very masculine about it," he said. It would certainly explain why the only liquid splashing forcefully on bukkake sites these days is milk.