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Japanese Police Made a Video About Bike Safety, but What’s With the Girl in Skimpy Clothes? – VICE

In the three-minute video, a blonde, anime-styled character explains bike safety rules in her high-pitched voice. Her chest adorned with a big red bow, she cheerfully goes through proper road etiquette. Standing in her white high socks with a red pleated skirt cut below her bellybutton, the girl says she wants viewers to help make a safer city.
Linca Tojou, the star of the video, is a virtual YouTuber for Matsudo city in Chiba Prefecture. She collaborated with her city’s police department to make the bike safety campaign, with the goal of getting the message across to young people, many of whom are familiar with this new industry of entertainers.
But what appeared harmless to some seemed like gratuitously sexing up a female minor to others.
Public criticism prompted the Chiba police department to delete the video last month, but not before it ignited a national debate over freedom of expression and the depiction of women in Japanese pop culture.
The Alliance of Feminist Representatives, which wrote a formal letter asking the police to remove the video, claimed the Vtuber—Virtual YouTuber—sexualizes young school girls, pointing out how the character’s clothing is to similar to school uniforms and that her “big breasts sway every time she moves.” The alliance said her appearance furthers stereotypical depictions of women in media, and the police were wrong to use such a character. 
But Setsuko Itakura, the president of the character’s agency Art Stone Entertainment, said the alliance’s opinion was “subjective,” and disputed that Tojou was wearing a school uniform. “She’s not a student. She’s in a virtual world, and wants to be a Japanese pop idol. She’s wearing a costume that an idol would wear,” Itakura told VICE World News. 
Itakura called herself a feminist and questioned the Feminist Alliance’s intentions in demanding the video’s removal. “My staff is made up of women. The creators of this Vtuber are women. Are they really feminists if they are actively against women making their way in this industry?” she said.
In recent years, Japanese pop culture has been increasingly condemned for over-sexualizing women, particularly female minors.  
“In the 70s, young Japanese idols would wear skimpy clothing. It was seen as normal and we’d think nothing of it. But now, we’d question who they were wearing that for—more people speak out against women needing to perform in those stereotypical roles," said Junko Saeki, a professor of media and gender studies at Doshisha University.
In the anime community, a popular novel series-turned anime called Sword Art Online has been repeatedly criticized for sexualizing its underaged female characters. Lolita fashion, the Japanese subculture of dressing up in Victorian, doll-like clothing, has also been questioned for idolizing a child’s beauty. Its name is no coincidence: it originates from Vladimir Nabokov’s novel about a little girl kept in sexual captivity. Additionally, although child sexual abuse imagery is illegal in Japan, manga depicting it is not. 
“In Japan, youthful girls and boys are seen as the ideal,” Saeki said. 
“Because they don’t age, they’re seen as purer and more sacred, even godlier in some storylines,” Saeki told VICE World News. 
This value, she said, was seen in the likes of traditional Kabuki theater, as well as Studio Ghibli’s films, whose central characters are often young girls saving the world. 
“But there’s a clear difference between Hayao Miyazaki’s films and other media, which position girls in a sexual stance,” she said.
Japanese women who grew up consuming pop culture note how they came to perceive youth as an integral part of their beauty. 
Rachel Lim, a 24-year-old college student, said she learned that to be a happy woman was to be “pretty, skinny, and young.”
“I don’t know why but it was ingrained in my brain that being young was the most important asset a woman could have, and once you hit 25, everything goes downhill from there,” she told VICE World News. 
Meg Itoh, a 25-year-old graduate student, remembers being concerned that her Japanese partner may have a “Lolita complex.”
“It’s difficult being the ‘ideal’ woman in Japan. You either look like a child or have an unrealistic breast size,” she said. 
Vtuber Tojou’s animated breasts are a point of contention in the debate over the bike safety video. While the Feminist Alliance has protested the way they’re drawn, an official leading a petition against the group’s protest said the criticism was a form of discrimination against people with a large chest.
“There are some who say the way her breasts sway is exaggerated, but if you look at the video, it’s very natural. She doesn’t have extremely large breasts that sway ridiculously side to side,” the official, Minoru Ogino, an assembly member of Ota City in Tokyo, told VICE World News. 
Ogino, a man who plays a female Vtuber himself, started an online petition against the feminist group that has gathered at least 68,000 signatures. He said the power of animation was the ability to depict anyone they wanted. “I chose to be a female because girls are seen as cuter and provide a greater sense of security. I wanted my character to be liked by a larger audience, so I chose to perform as a woman,” he said. 
But for some women watching the debate unfold, choosing to depict a woman because it’s a sure sign of profit or likability is exactly the problem. 
“I thought that being sexualized or fetishized by older men meant that I was finally an adult, and I was considered beautiful.”
Lim, the 24-year-old student, said Tojo can wear anything she wants, and isn’t depicted as sexually as other characters. But the issue was the police knew a girl wearing revealing clothes would sell their bike safety campaign more. 
“This official decision made by powerful people stemmed from the fact that they know this type of look will ‘sell’ and will become popular, just as how young female characters are fetishized because they know that is what will please the audience,” she said. 
Lim laments that many Japanese people are desensitized to this portrayal of young girls in popular culture, something that also influenced her own perception of beauty.
According to Lim, “I thought that being sexualized or fetishized by older men meant that I was finally an adult, and I was considered beautiful.” That, she said, was the “saddest thing.”
Follow Hanako Montgomery on Twitter and Instagram.
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