I realized at this stage in my research I needed to start digging a little deeper because I have only really scratched the surface of a topic that has many offshoots. I came up with some blog ideas to investigate over the next few weeks that should help me achieve two primary goals: a) learn more about the active hentai community through reading a wide range of forum threads and b) uncover the historical and cultural roots that have made hentai what it is today. As Ellis et al. says, “when researchers write ethnographies, they produce a “thick description” of a culture”. I feel that comparing and contrasting literature on the subject with my own interpretation of how this is reflected in participants’ interactions online will facilitate my role as autoethnographer in discerning patterns of cultural experience and synthesizing them to produce a meaningful and engaging text on the subject.
My initial reaction to trawling the forums was how difficult it is for an outsider to familiarize themselves with the hentai vernacular, which is littered with translated, abbreviated and appropriated Japanese phrases describing a variety of hentai phenomenon. I have talked about Ecchi in a previous discussion, but Ecchi is only the beginning. This Wiki page shows some of the other hentai subgenres, but I don’t think it’s a comprehensive list. More comprehensive is this page – a glossary of hentai terms (the sheer volume of terms is slightly overwhelming to me as newcomer). I was pretty surprised when I stumbled upon one forum thread titled ‘What do you most like in hentai?’ and one user answered ‘shimapan’. Of course Google gave me some answers: shimapan is an abbreviation of shima-pantsu, meaning striped panties, most commonly blue and white. And yes, before you ask there ARE a plenty of blogs already dedicated to appeasing the shimapan fans. Funnily enough there is also a Japanese term to describe people in anime/manga fandoms with obsessive interests: Otaku.
While Otaku is the word used in this specific context, I would relate this phenomenon more broadly to fetishes, which emerge from all cultures globally. From a psychoanalytical perspective, a fetish is an “object providing sexual gratification… among the objects frequently sought as fetishistic are shoes, bras and panties, etc.” (Lowenstein 2002: 135-136). The idea that some hentai fans have a preference for shimapan fits neatly into this definition. After contemplating it more deeply and reflecting on this further research, I feel more empathetic towards those discussing their fetishes in forums in such a forthright manner. I certainly don’t believe it’s anything to be ashamed of (unless of course your fetish is liable to cause harm to another person), and it’s great that the Internet has produced a platform for people to discuss what might otherwise be considered ‘oddities’, save for the fact that they now form part of a community with similar interests.
As I touched on before, a lot of what constitutes this community is underscored by the language used. Scholars attests to the relationship between language and (sub)cultural identity (Jaspal 2009: 17), and it seems to me that knowledge and usage of all these terms by Japanese and non-Japanese speaking participants is the marker that binds together an otherwise potentially diverse group and expresses the unique character of the hentai community. Of course for me contributing to the forums at this stage will draw attention to the fact that I’m from the outgroup as I still don’t possess the proper lexicon that would show me to be a bon-fide member, nor am I familiar with any of the hentai series under discussion. I’ve always been interested in language and etymology but the research led me to start thinking more about the language of identity and the way language becomes a kind of currency within a subculture. You use it to communicate with others, but you also use it to gain access, acceptance and credibility within a specific community. If you can’t talk the talk, you definitely can’t walk the walk.
Ellis, C., Adams, T. E. and Bochner, A. P. 2011, ‘Autoethnography: an overview’, Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, vol. 12, no. 1, viewed online at http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095
Jaspal, R. 2009, ‘Language and social identity: A psychosocial approach’, Psych-Talk
Lowenstein, L. F. 2002, ‘Fetishes and their associated behaviour’, Sexuality and Disability, vol. 20, no. 2