Lessons from Japanese Love Dolls
Hi, I’m interested in your collection.
*Delete Delete Delete*
Hello, I would like to come and see your dolls.
*Delete Delete Delete*
Maybe I should write this in Japanese. Wait, who the fuck is this email even going to. Ok, ok, let’s just Google translate a few ideas.
English to Japanese has me feeling optimistic.
Reversed it for good measure; not as poetic as I’d like, but still getting the point across.
I don’t know how I got here but this is where I stopped.
It seems all my attempts at prude politeness are edited out by Google translate.
I try to butter him up without cracking onto the man in his late 40’s who lives amongst a vast collection of rubber naked ladies. Although, I can’t seem to shake the feeling he wouldn’t be so inclined to my beating heart and fleshy organs anyway.
Ball’s in your court Hyodo.
Three hours later, a response.
Whilst searching art galleries to visit around Tokyo, I found the Yashio Love Doll Museum. An ex-photographer and Love Doll enthusiast, Yoshitaka Hyodo opens his home to the public a handful of times a year. Just shoot him an email, lock in a time, and you’ll get the address.
His head pops out from behind a big white tarp. He nods and beckons me in. He’s so beautifully casual about the whole thing. Of course he is. I feel stupid for being anxious about the interaction; this is Hyodo’s norm. He walks me through the front room.
It’s like Amsterdam’s red light district, Shibuya’s neon signs, and the fantasy of every 15-year-old boy had a baby. It’s Yoshitaka Hyodo’s baby.
It wasn’t hard to see the passion in Hyodo’s arrangement, and no, it wasn’t the rubber vulva staring at me from across the room. I could feel how special this was to Hyodo. He was carefully adjusting belts and straightening buttons as we spoke.
He laughed when I asked “How many?” and shook his head. “Too many, too many.”
“Who is your favourite?” I ask. He thinks for a second and gestures towards a doll. She’s got the breasts I dreamed of when I was 13, but I’ve got far better legs.
Hyodo encourages me to take photos. He lights up and laughs at me.
“Yeah do you use it?”
He shakes his head and laughs at me again. Here I am, a 22-year-old Australian white girl with her Ricoh point and shoot.
**CLICK** **FLASH** **BUZZ**
“I like this one!” I say cheerfully as her half-cyborg insides flash neon green. I’m trying hard not to make this awkward.
“This one… I made this.”
I wonder if Hyodo feels any different about the dolls he makes himself. Is the illusion ruined? Maybe he’s not the sex-crazed, delusional man I half expected him to be. My Japanese is not up to scratch, so I just nod.
He gestures to a bride in a glass case: “My first.” She’s in a pure white wedding gown and next to her, a doll is chained to the roof in a leather mini skirt. There’s another doll sitting in a chair; her eyes are closed. I lower my voice when I ask Hyodo how much she cost. I don’t dare wake her. Even in 20 minutes, it’s hard not to feel a sense of reality in these dolls.
Back home in Melbourne, I pay around $15 for an Uber less than 2kms home every night. I pay to minimise my interactions with strange men. Yet here I am paying ¥1,000 to spend an hour in a confined, dark space, with a man doubling me in both age and command over the Japanese language, alongside his army of realistic rubber Love Dolls. The only thing was, this time my keys weren’t in my fist. Should they have been?
When I pay for that sense of security back home I’m still vigilant. Every Uber driver who asks if I’m heading to my own place or my boyfriends, or whether I’ve had much to drink, makes my knees shift a little closer to the window.
Everything my mother taught me about strange older men was out the window. It’s hard to shake the benefit of the doubt. Yet it seems increasingly harder, as a woman, to trust.
I’ve always been taught it’s the ones you’d least expect. I’ve also been taught that my awareness is like a jacket. My mother always nagging me not to leave the house without it, and me bearing the punishment as my own fault if I do. Yet here I am, staring down the barrel of my own anatomy and somehow, safety is the last thing on my mind.
Hindsight is a bitch; it’s hard for me to tell if that sense of comfort was genuine or just naivety. There were no inappropriate comments, no looking me up and down, and he maintained a steady three feet the whole time.
I want to ask Hyodo what it’s like living with 100 pairs of eyes on you, if interacting with dolls ever makes him go a little crazy. I want to ask if many other 22-year-old girls come to the museum. I want to ask if these dolls are making men treat women any differently or just forget about us altogether. I want to ask why he thinks women are dying every week in Australia, mostly at the hands of the men who are meant to love us the most.
As I stand there, my impending obsolescence feels bigger than half the breasts in the room.
On the train home, I nod in and out of sleep. I dream of an old man who’s lost his wife, he might not have that much time left, enter a doll he can love without having to find love all over again.
I dream of a man out at a bar, three rejections deep, he goes home to a doll, rather than following that last rejection home and showing her how angry she made him.
I dream of someone with demons that they can confront and hopefully expel with a doll. After all, you can’t ask a heroin addict to quit cold turkey.
I dream of humans who don’t take things too far, who don’t get caught up in fantasy and impulse.
I dream of less contradiction: don’t let little boys play with dolls but give them to men to do more than just play. My head slams on the train window and those dreams end there.
When I get home, I email Hyodo thanking him for his reception and asking if he could answer some interview questions for me. He replies and says his English is not so great, but he will do his best as it “is for such a beautiful woman”. Everything comes crashing down.
I don’t want the time of day because I’m beautiful (in your eyes). I don’t want you to feel the only way you can compliment a woman is physically. I don’t want you to feel like any interaction is going to end in a ball of fire, and I don’t want you to think I can’t take a compliment.
I want you to think about context, think about ways you will never have to feel because of your gender. I want you to understand me. I don’t want you to feel like a doll is the only woman you can have a safe and easy relationship with. I don’t want you to think you own a woman in any sense.
But perhaps it would be better if you killed a doll instead.
Photos by the author