Hentai, one of many Japanese words for pervert, also is a western reference to a genre of comic and erotic work coming out of Japan or influenced by it. The Inuit may have hundreds of words for snow, but leave it to the Japanese to come up with words expressing gradations and subtlety of perversity! There are loads of different hentai styles and tentacle is just one of them. I totally dig weird Hentai stuff… I guess you can take hentai out of Japan, but you just can’t take the hentai out of a Japanese.
Images of tentacles as the appendage of choice for pornography aren’t a new thing in Japan. In 1820 Hokusai created the legendary image “dearm of a fisherman’s wife” where she’s getting it on with a couple of huge octopi. Many Westerners are often surprised at the graphic lustiness of this legendary Ukiyo-e artist. It’s probably the best known image of that genre, consequently inspiring many other fine artists, such as Masami Teraoka’s “Sarah and Octopus/ Seventh Heaven” (2001) and Michael Manning’s creatures.
Japan has always had a playful and symbolic sense of sexual images. It helps that the cultural attitudes around sex doesn’t revolve around guilt. Censorship of porn in modern Japan, such as the strict limitations on display of genitalia during sex, is not a result of Japanese modesty, but rather the unfortunate influences of American morality shoved into the legal system by the post WWII occupying forces. So you can’t see anatomically correct hard-core stuff because of weird lines or pixilations? Don’t blame the pornographers; blame the American government and its foreign policy.
The Japanese are notorious for visual puns including sexual innuendos. There’s an Ukiyoe image of courtesans fishing and grasping a fish. At first glance it’s just a fish. Then you realize that the fish has a gill ridge that makes its head look like a cock head. Yup, it’s a dirty picture of a pretty lady giving head hidden in public view. It’s not hidden for sin or shame. It’s hidden to show the cleverness and artistic skill of a sex-minded artist to a sex-minded viewer. Cheeky symbolic representations happen all the time in Japanese imagery. A wisp of undone hair is all that’s needed to symbolize ravishment and lust, and the rest is left up to our imagination.
So, how do we explain the violent tentacle fucking? That’s hardly subtle, is it? Though violent, it’s still representational. Think of the tentacles, whether those of an alien, a hell beast or cephalopod, as representation of primal desire unbridled by social expectations — the Id. While Japanese sexuality may not be suppressed by guilt, as Westerners know it, it’s highly regulated by social pressures. Underneath all the chrome and steel of modern Japan, is a culture that’s still feudal and beehive like in its organization. To act upon one’s own urges could potentially disrupt the harmony of the whole.
Human urges don’t do so well bottled up, so as many other older cultures, Japan has its outlets — pressure valves for their Id. Japanese mythology and folk tales are full of wild creatures acting upon their desires; much in the way that Greek mythology is full of critters fornicating with people. This menagerie contains the archetypes of human desires. While the octopus in Western imagery is the dark monster of the ocean bringing down ships, in Japan the octopus is the undersea comic and clever little prankster. The ocean depth for the Japanese is not a dark, watery hell, but rather a wondrous world of glittering castles and partying immortals.
Then there are the pearl divers. These are real women, dressed in loose outfits made of white gauze, diving down to retrieve the jewels of the undersea kingdom. The sights of young women, emerging from the water with wet gauze clinging to their toned flesh inspired a lot of erotic awe and serious wood. They put wet t-shirt contests to shame. If you were a horny guy, wouldn’t it make sense to fantasize yourself as a cleaver octopus of many phallic limbs, getting it on with these swimming beauties?
Maybe you’re wondering why a guy in a male dominant culture would need to obliquely project his sexual desires. It’s simple-minded to describe Japan as a male dominated culture. More accurately, all genders are pressed by expectations of a very old society. Men need to behave according to a pretty limited and specific code of ‘male’ behavior. Women are also oppressed by the social rules, such that expressing direct eagerness for erotic fulfillment is considered to be too ‘animal’ like. Images of ‘innocent’ women first resisting, and then going wild in sexual abandon plays with these expectations and taboo of women’s sexual self expression.
In the past, individuals felt a greater sense of belonging, due to the agrarian social structure of the village. The modern industrial Japan managed to decimate that, creating a sense of isolation, loneliness and disconnection for many Japanese.
Mix together this sense of disenfranchisement and social oppression, suppressed sensuality and ancient animistic representation of human libido. Then toss in the weird censorship laws that ban graphic depiction of human-to-human genital contact, and what do you get? Alien tentacle monsters with octopus like appendages having their way with gals who’ve ‘unleashed’ their wild sexual awakenings.
Incidentally, tentacle sex isn’t just the territory of hentai schoolgirl anime and those nutty Japanese perverts. If you prefer kinky nun sex, there’s a fantastic western representation of suppressed sexuality boiling over among ‘chaste’ women in the graphic novel “The Convent of Hell” by Noe and Barreiro. For a humorous take on the genre, try Ghastly’s on-line comic about Alien Tentacle Monsters and the Women Who Love Them.