Sexpot Aya Sugimoto dishes it out on sex, tango and cowardly Japanese men

Sexpot Aya Sugimoto dishes it out on sex, tango and cowardly Japanese men

TOKYO —

Aya Sugimoto’s name is synonymous with all things sensual. Since her ground-shaking 2003 divorce, in which she famously (and very publicly) left a “sexless” marriage, Sugimoto has become a flag-bearer for women’s rights — particularly when those rights involve sex and relationships. Her sensational views are backed up by edgy performances in film and on stage, and she lends support to causes ranging from animal rights to female independence. Sugimoto’s new project promises more of the same: an adaptation, using the sensual Argentinean dance form tango, of the true story of Sada Abe, the notorious Meiji-era prostitute who asphyxiated and castrated her lover.

Finding a connection between dance and the carnal passions of a failed geisha may seem a stretch, but in an interview at her office in Setagaya, Sugimoto displays the confidence that has become her trademark. “The passion of tango can be easily linked with the passions of Sada,” the 40-year-old says from her perch on a sofa. “But it is the passion of a Japanese woman that can’t be expressed by an Argentinean dancer. So I realized it could only be performed by me.”

Such a provocative statement is typical of the woman who almost singlehandedly brought the issue of sexual dissatisfaction into the national consciousness, and who has continued to challenge audiences through forms as diverse as film, dance and literature. “I’ve been frustrated for a long time that Japanese society is so feudalistic and conservative to art and eroticism,” she says, “so I’ve always wanted to devote myself to overcoming that.”

By all accounts, she has come a long way to achieving that goal. After enduring what she terms a “strict” upbringing in Kyoto, Sugimoto began modeling kimonos at age 15, and her career took off in earnest when she took up singing at the urging of her management company. A string of No. 1 singles followed; their titles, like “Boys” (1988) and “Gorgeous” (1990), hinted at the erotic cast her career would take.

In a pattern that she would repeat again and again, Sugimoto soon sought out new challenges. “When I began writing my own songs, the lyrics were quite erotic,” she says. “I realized I wanted to dig into eroticism more deeply, so I started writing sensual novels.” As an author, her published works include “The Rules of Supreme Pleasure,” “Immoral” and the book-length 2004 essay, “Orgasm Life.”

‘Sexless divorce’ became catchphrase

By the mid-2000s, Sugimoto set her sights on becoming a film actress, but before getting the chance, her marriage of 10 years to musician Toshinori Numata fell apart. The ensuing media storm — the term “sexless divorce” which she used to describe the situation, became a catchphrase — won her equal parts notoriety and respect.

“I thought that saying the word ‘sexless’ openly would help Japanese women start living freely and making choices for themselves,” she says. “They are still so conservative and feel guilty expressing their real feelings. Even if a woman wants to end her marriage because it is sexless, she has to fear being misunderstood or accused of not being patient enough.”

With the trauma of her divorce behind her, Sugimoto then took the biggest risk her career, accepting the lead role in a remake of Masaru Konuma’s 1974 film “Hana to Hebi” (“Flower and Snake”). In the 2004 version, she plays a businessman’s wife who is sold into sexual slavery at the behest of a yakuza boss. The film required Sugimoto to spend 70% of her screen time unclothed and indulging in masochistic acts.

“At first glance, you would think the main character was treated with indignity because she’s tied up,” she says. “But you can turn it around and see that many men were working hard for her, almost as if they are worshipping her. I don’t believe that masochists are ruled by sadists.”

By now, Sugimoto has become that rarest of sex symbols, one who is esteemed by men and women alike. She dispenses advice on sexual health and relationships on the TV Tokyo talk show “Yearnings of a Goddess” and, more playfully, has served as a spokeswoman for Bust Up Drops, a dietary supplement said to increase a woman’s breast size. In 2006, Sugimoto was selected as the fourth sexiest woman in Asia by Playboy magazine — which is ironic, as the voters were the same Japanese men she terms “cowards” for not doing enough to satisfy their women.

Further wanting to test her limits, Sugimoto came closest to crossing the line from erotic art to straight-up pornography in the TV show “Shimokita Glory Days,” a manga-inspired comedy-drama that aired in 2006. She appeared opposite several AV stars, including the most famous proponent of the adult film genre, Sola Aoi. Not that she was ashamed of the work. “Society can’t consist only of ‘high-quality’ elements, and that’s also true for visual eroticism as well,” she says.

Happy to see young women expressing themselves

Although Sugimoto’s public persona may be intimidating in a culture that prefers anonymity to candor, it’s interesting to learn that she shares many of the same views as other Japanese women. The difference is that she’s more prone to speak her mind—and is rarely without an opinion. Discussing the recent craze for ero-kawaii (“erotic-cute”) fashion, she says she’s happy that young women are expressing themselves.

“It would be difficult to wear clothes like that if it were not accompanied by a new kind of spirit,” she explains. “When I wore the same types of sexy clothes in the ’80s and ’90s, it caused a stir.”

Thanks in part to this new spirit of erotic openness that she herself helped to create, Sugimoto isn’t surprised at the eager reception of the American TV show and movie “Sex and the City.” Yet her own feelings about its impact are ambivalent. Though she attended the Japan premiere, where she mingled with such stars as Jason Lewis, she’s dismayed that so much attention is focused on inanities like the stars’ fashion.

“I’ve noticed that the most popular character in Japan was Samantha,” she says, referring to the show’s sex-obsessed vixen. “I feel Japanese women want to live strongly, freely and powerfully like her. But when you seek freedom, you also need to be ready to assume responsibility. That might still take some time.”

It’s precisely this immaturity, Sugimoto believes, that causes Japanese women to score low in international rankings of sexual satisfaction, most famously the annual Durex Global Sexual Wellbeing Survey. But she’s adamant that blame lies on both sides of the bed. “There are some men who say, ‘I don’t bring sex into the home, I just do it with other women away from home.’ We shouldn’t allow them to say something like that! Japanese women allow men too much — we need to show more effort and energy.”

Sugimoto herself is waging a one-woman crusade to urge men to change their mentality, which she playfully dubs the “Latinize Japan Project.” “Japanese men have been put under a spell by society, and they are cowards. It would be wonderful if they were able to adopt the charms foreign men have,” she says.

As she enters an age where many “idols” tone down their activities, Sugimoto remains as busy as ever. The upcoming performance of “Tango Nostalgia” is an outgrowth of her appearances on “Uri Nari Geinojin Shako Dansu-bu,” a kind of Japanese version of “Dancing with the Stars” in which she and her partner, comedian Kiyotaka Nanbara, consistently ranked highly. As she enters her fifth decade, Sugimoto also takes inspiration from 69-year-old Italian singer Milva (“She’s still sexy and cute”) and 50-year-old Madonna.

“I’ve become stronger with age — strength that comes from peace of mind and emotional stability,” she says. “I feel my senses have been refined. What being ‘sexy’ or ‘erotic’ comes down to is having a profound ability to be attuned and sensitized to life and your surroundings.”

Even when speaking informally, Sugimoto’s words carry a weight of experience, and no topic is too taboo. Discussing her onscreen lesbian and bondage scenes, she extols the virtues of sexual experimentation. “As I become more mature, I think the most important thing is to know what you really want. If you like it, you don’t need to hide it. The only way you’ll never get satisfaction is if you don’t know what you really want.”

Whether she herself will ever again find satisfaction with a life partner remains to be seen. Sugimoto admits to a fear of marriage as an institution, and has recently said that she’d never marry again. “It is more important to know if we really need to be with each other than believe in the system itself and take the relationship for granted. We can’t build a good relationship if we don’t appreciate our daily life,” she says.

As Sugimoto graciously leads us out of Office Aya, walking tall, elegant and proud, her courteousness hints at the compassionate woman behind the tenacious, spirited persona. A Latin spirit always needs real love to fuel the fire.

Aya Sugimoto stars in “Tango Nostalgia” Nov 21-24 at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

 

  • 0

    LIBERTAS

    Country's heading south and we get this?

  • 0

    medievaltimes

    Wonderful article. I wish more Japanese women held her beliefs.

  • 0

    Everton2

    I love Tango, started learning a year ago and now I can pretty much hold my own out there. There is nothing quite as empowering for a man than to be able to Tango. It is the last stronghold of male assertiveness in that the man is expected to lead under all circumstances. The woman in essence remains at your call responding to your dance instructions wherever they may lead. It is not an easy dance and is requiring a lot of desire to learn.

    I suppose the pay off for me is to be able to go to a dance especially in Tokyo, where you will naturally find a lot more woman that men in attendance. The ratio is going to be 10 to 1 where you will virtually have woman taking a ticket and getting in line just to dance with you. The women who come to Tango are invariable passionate and are often good dancers. If you can hold your own in a basic way and lead with some confidence then you are going to have a great night.

  • 0

    Betting

    This is pretty funny article from a woman who once said on tv that she couldn't get it on with guy without first getting tanked up on alcohol first.

  • 0

    reddragonguy

    It would be wonderful if they were able to adopt the charms foreign men have...

    Why didnt she goto hook a US saior or marine? In Okinawa she will find what exactly she wants

  • 0

    reddragonguy

    It’s precisely this immaturity, Sugimoto believes, that causes Japanese women to score low in international rankings of sexual satisfaction,

    She should be invited to join Aso san's cabinet of child's policy...japan needs younger populations and she can help the problem with her visions.

  • 0

    Muki_Muki

    I find it interesting that her so called break out movie, Hana to Hebi, is what she claims expresses her sexual freedom. Te character she plays is in a sexless marriage and is happy with it. What's wrong with this picture?

  • 0

    USNinJapan2

    Aya Sugimoto’s name is synonymous with all things sensual.

    ...and tasteless.

  • 0

    Muki_Muki

    I'd also like to know why she says Japanese men are cowardly. I was just there in July, and all the guys I met were really cool and savey.

    I think she must be mistaking the nutcases and fruit cakes employed by Agencies and studios to manage the models time and keep them from oridnary people as the typical Japanese male. I think the modeling Agencies are so worried that these country girls will find a cool guy at the 7-11 and fly of to Vegas for a quicky marriage, that they try to isolate them with their entourage. They don't want to lose their meal ticket, evenif the girl would be happier.

  • 0

    presto345

    I'd also like to know why she says Japanese men are cowardly

    She should know, having sampled scores of them. I haven't, but I know there are lots of men who can't relate to women in a healthy way. However there are indeed also lots of cool, nice guys. Perhaps she hasn't discovered those, or this is all part of her game (mission).

  • 0

    seesaw

    what a bitch...! i feel sorry for the decent J women..

  • 0

    HaroldSteptoe

    "Sexpot", oh my days ! i haven't heard that expression since the seventies. Blimey, who is writing these articles?

  • 0

    slappayuki

    She's obviously very beautiful and talented.

  • 0

    Everton2

    Good on this woman, she has my understanding and support

  • 0

    badmigraine

    It takes two to make a "sexless marriage". And the guy is a professional musician. Were these people celibate, or was it just the marriage?

  • 0

    ReikiZen

    I find this very interesting. Although I find miss Sugimoto surprise about "Sex and The City" and being dismayed that so much attention is focused on inanities like the stars’ fashion a bit comical although understandable. A lot of what goes on in Hollywood I can't make much since of. As well as people's obsession with the starts which include fashion and everything else about their lives. Although if I were to try to pick away some of the reasons for this. It might make a bit more since. While Japanese women might not be good at expressing their true feelings. It would be interesting to see how they feel about themselves however muted that may be. From my experience many women feel frustrated at men's lack of understanding of them. Western women put to much of their feelings out their which sometimes is a bit difficult to unscramble. Men have a hard time understanding what she is getting at or why it is such a big deal and are labeled as insensitive etc. Lost in translation is really more between the sexes then anything else.

    This strong since of independence has created a void between partners. Both sides look at each other more as enemy's then as equals. Women feel empowered but are not as willing to compromise. Men on the other hand might expect to much and should be more attune to a women's feelings and sensitivities. Although I do agree that something needs to change in Japan. Women deserve to be represented and treated with equal respect and acknowledgment. I encourage independence but don't follow our model as it hasn't really worked for us that well either. Hollywood puts such importance in image and how you look which translates well to many women. They may have a lot of insecurities themselves in how they look or present themselves. Hollywood is seen as the perfect example of when everything comes together, however misguided that view may be. I wish I had her hair or look at that dress or her figure is amazing. Men's obsession while significantly less them women's is more likely out of jealously or envy. If it works for Brad Pitt then maybe it will for me lol. So in a since we are not all that different from the Japanese.

  • 0

    soothsayer

    Bet she was voted "most likely to pick up an STD" in her senior year. If only more women were like her. Doctors would make as absolute killing!

  • 0

    thepro

    I wish J-girls were more like this broad, instead of the shy, want to get married and have kids robots that most are.

  • 0

    slappayuki

    I wish J-girls were more like this broad, instead of the shy, want to get married and have kids robots that most are.

    Well, 1 out of 100 being a robot is ok, then I can spend my time with the other 99.

  • 0

    dennis0bauer

    really cool and savey.

    While their wives were at home taking care of their kids

  • 0

    stanoue

    I think 'cool' should be banned from English conversations as an adjective for people. Everyone sounds about 9 years old and/or Japanese using that word.

    I don't approve/agree of half the stuff Sugimoto says, but boy I wouldn't mind having those legs at 40.

  • 0

    NuckinFutz

    My dear Japanese women aren't all that special! Instead of bashing men how about telling women HOW to keep them happy in the sack! If you had a sexless marriage maybe your lack of enthusiasm played a large part?

  • 0

    Youdontknow

    Lol...couldn't agree more with you Nuckin! It actually helps if they don't just lie there as if they were dead! Been there, had that, got the T-shirt, never again thanks!

  • 0

    Youdontknow

    “But it is the passion of a Japanese woman that can’t be expressed by an Argentinean dancer. So I realized it could only be performed by me.”

    ROTFLMFAO! Japanese woman?...Hahahaa....Passion?....Hahahahaha...no, please, stop it! hahahahaha

  • 0

    ALHQQ

    Japanese women need to show more enthusiasm in the sack and maybe once becomgin a mom try to look a little sexy once in a while instead of adopting the obachan clothing line and attitude. At the same time Men need ot groom themselves wear a little cologne, hold the door for their woman and learn a little about chivalry. Women can learn a little something from Sugimoto, maybe not mimmick her to her last detail but try and be alittle bold and sexy...express your "sexual" selves with your man...

    10 years nd no sex, what was her part in the problem?

  • 0

    Blue_Tiger

    Havign taught at a junior college that had a majority of female students, am glad to safely say that not all Japanese women are like this woman, nor are they the uberkonservativerin that she says they are. Most of the students I have taught wanted ot make careers for their lives, get established in a job, then get married, have children, and "settle down", though many of them wanted to keep on working even after having children.

    Sugiyama's view of Japanese women and men is pretty narrow. I'm glad that not all Japanese women (very few that I have ever met and known) are like her.

  • 0

    Blue_Tiger

    ALHQQ - I don't know where you're living, but the Japanese Moms that I've seen in my time herei n Japan have looked anything but not sexy...and again, your definition of sexy may be diferent than mine (I saw a J-mom weith two little ones who was HAWT wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a zip-up hooded sweatshirt, and she was sexy enough), but saying that J-mons aren't sexy is pretty inaccurate...at least here in Chiba, in Hokkaido, and in Tokyo. Yes, there are some who dress like old women, but they are -- by and large -- the exception, not the rule...

  • 0

    bushlover

    It takes 2 to Tango as we know. And the cure for sex is marriage. If she were smart she'd accept a sexless marriage and seek that part elsewhere. There are plenty of gaijin around that will help her out in her curiosities while she can stay attached to that safety belt of a japanese bread winner she had.

  • 0

    realist

    I admire this woman - she speaks her mind, especially about japanese male wimps and their various konpurekkusu. Three cheers for her.

  • 0

    Kimigano2

    Why do the marketers keep trying to push her on us. Get the message: We're not interested!

  • 0

    Ditpirks

    Why do the marketers keep trying to push her on us. Get the message: We're not interested!

    Speak for yourself. Just because YOU don't understand what she advocates, doesn't mean her efforts should be ignored.

  • 0

    MagnusGarstin

    "Passionate" and "Japanese" - surely these two words form an oxymoron? (Rather like "Japanese comedy")

    When a Western man first comes to Japan he probably feels that he is in some kind of sexual heaven - surrounded by slim, often-stunning women who willingly show off their figures in amazingly provocative clothes. However, this delusion is usually very short lived. In reality, these sensual butterflies are about as passionate as a ward full of coma victims and their libido generally manifests itself during intercourse as a series of hamster-like "ee-ee-ee" noises and facial expressions which seem to plead "don't hurt me, oh lord and master" - both traits that have, presumably, been drummed into them by their rather pathetic male equivalents.

    This last observation seems bourne out by the story of one of my friends, an Englishman married to a Japanese woman. On the first night they actually got "intimate" with each other the girl started squealing "No,no - you're hurting me!" so the Englishman immediately stopped whatever he was doing and, totally ashamed, apologised profusely - to which the girl replied "Not really, but men like that kind of thing!". Yeah right, - maybe rape-fantasy obsessed Japanese men perhaps.

    As to Aya Sugimoto, I think that she's a stunning woman - but passionate...? Even in her most explicit movies such as "Flower and Snake" she plays an unwilling victim forced to submit to the myrial weird desires of freaky Japanese men and so she simply reinforces the submissive stereotype of all Japanese women. I actually know someone who goes to the same beauty salon as Ms Sugimoto and, despite all her bravado about "tango-fuelled sexual liberation", she's apparently a timid mouse in real life - just like all the other "desperate to find a husband and breed before 30" Japanese women she criticises.

  • 0

    MagnusGarstin

    Sorry, reading back I obviously meant to type "myriad" rather than "myrial".

  • 0

    Harold222

    Wow. Most of you sound like the cowards Sugimoto-san is referring to. None of you should be stooping so low with your comments to blame the women.

  • 0

    elcurandero69

    SERIOUSLY!!!!! Do the lott of you actually believe that the reason your in a sexless marriage is because of your wives. That is pretty sad. What about you? Don't you think you might have done or are doing something to drive away. Attacking your wives and, just likely for some, husbands will not resolve the issue.

    I get what Sugimoto-san is trying to say, but I also understand that whatever she expresses are her opinions from her experiences and her points-of-view from her observations. Also her advisemay not be for every one but it is worth a listening to if you are someone in a sexless marriage. One attacking the other will not do anybody any good. There are vaious reasons why the sexdrive in some could near non existant, and in women, it could possibly be realated to biology since they are the ones who bear the children and hormonal fluctuations are more prevalent. But ultimstely it is this. One or both, in any realtionship, should not be ashamed, embarrased, self-loathing, nor self-denying if they wish to have or have a sexual appetite. Also if you are in a relationship and one or both start seeing the sexual desire deminishing down to nothing, you shouldn't be ashamed nor embarrased in atking steps or seeking help improve the sexual part in your relationship. Also communicate with one another, let one another know where you stand on sex in the relationship, that way the other person can break it up before it get more serious or you guys can fix the problem. A marriage is unbearable if you are unhappy.

    In any relationship there are two, and if one starts neglecting the needs of the other, problems will start occuring. Becareful and don't be surprised if you discover a problem worsening when keep ignoring the problem.

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