Sunday, 1 January 2023

Cuties, Asian pop culture and the sexualisation of young girls [TRIGGER ALERT!]

I'm not going to mince my words - if you are prone to lustful thinking then you may want to skip reading this entry. Some of the stuff I'm going to describe may trigger you. Ok, due warning has been given, so here goes...

A couple of years ago, there was an uproar over the release of the movie Cuties on Netflix. Petitions galore were written and #cancelNetflix went viral. The film was accused of doing the very thing it was trying to denounce - sexualising young girls. As a result, Netflix lost a lot of customers.

There were those who opined that the scenes of pre-teen girls performing dance moves imitative of sex acts and the camera angles focusing on their crotches (albeit clothed) qualify as paedophilic porn, hence making the film unlawful. Yet the movie remained on Netflix. 

The online furore died down not long after, but I'm going to jump into the fray and take a slightly different angle to the issue. I'd like to address the problem from our own backyard. 

Human depravity is universal. The phenomenon of men lusting after young girls is not unique to the West. It is in fact a long-standing affair in our neighbourhood. Take for instance, girls as young as 6 performing for adult men in Tokyo nightspots. A former child idol (who's already retired at 24!) claims that, “Men idolising young girls is relatively accepted in Japan,” and supports it by quoting ancient Japanese literature about a nobleman's romance with a young girl.

You may suppose that this is limited to a few sleazy bars. But it is actually a huge industry! There's the popular girl band AKB48, whose youngest members debut at 13, where the girls pose and prance around in bikinis and lingerie on music videos and official merchandise (including a manga comic book series, a monthly newspaper and a collection of video games). At other times, they are featured wearing tight and short school uniforms, perpetuating the schoolgirl fetish among grown men. The music video of one of AKB48's songs My uniform is getting in the way even seems to celebrate the joshi kosei (high school culture/girl) business where high school girls in uniform offer sexual favours for a fee

The fascination for girls in any kind of uniform has contributed to the boom in maid cafés, where young girls in maid uniforms serve and chat with patrons. Those who pay extra get to have photos taken with the girls or enjoy other services. Unfortunately, some of these establishments are actually cover-ups for teenage prostitution.

Sailor Moon has been popular for decades among young children who gradually become desensitised to the highly-sexualised images and themes. Since then, objectification of women through fanservice,  including that of young girls in lolicon and moe characters (e.g. 11-year-old Shiro from No Game No Life and high-schooler Mikuru Asahina from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya respectively), has become commonplace, while hentai and yaoi, and even themes like incest have been normalised. The enthusiasm of the high school girls who work in a maid cafe in Maid Sama! belie the fact that teenage girls are easily drawn into the joshi kosei industry in real life. This is represented in Colorful where a teenage female character goes to a ‘love hotel’ with her patron regularly.

I've been told that printed manga is the modern Asian equivalent of Playboy magazines in Japan. Many of them contain pornographic images and are found in nearly every convenience store, often displayed prominently at children's eye level on magazine racks.

Children and youth worldwide are consuming such highly sexualised materials like anime and manga through the internet. In addition, many of the characters found in the computer games they're playing are often drawn in the same style as anime and manga, and feature scantily dressed women. Cosplaying teenagers even copy the attire and suggestive postures and gestures of anime, manga and game characters.

Whether it's printed and easily available round the corner, or already in the home (and in our children's hands) through TV and online media, sexualisation of children and its normalisation has been taking place right here in Asia. I've only highlighted a few examples but the problem is not unique to Japan. For instance, in the k-pop world young girls are being groomed to dress and dance provocatively. Although steps have been taken to regulate the industry, there seems to be little improvement.

In an article on sexuality education in Singapore schools, a parent was quoted as saying, “We are bombarded by social media, entertainment with images depicting half nudity, heavy makeup, sexual content, swear words and foul language. I cannot wrap my children up and pretend none of these exists. Better for us to acknowledge these, and place things in context.” Unfortunately, parents are not only burying their heads in the sand, many don't even realise there's a problem at all because we have been desensitised by the deluge of sexualised content even in mainstream media.

We need to teach our own children from young as the age of first exposure has been lowered as much as technology has advanced and media has become more easily accessible. With age-appropriate resources and strategies, it is possible to equip them to discern, filter and evaluate the media that they consume, and even be able to influence and help their peers. Here's an article I wrote with tips for parents looking to teach their own children about sexuality. If you'd like to find out more, email me at and let's have a chat!

[Part of this post is extracted from the chapter, "Digital Media and Urban Youth Culture: Engaging Missionally with New Approaches to Storytelling" in the book I co-edited, Arts Across Cultures: Reimagining the Christian Faith in Asia.]

Look out for an upcoming entry where I'll talk about how we can impact culture even in the midst of the massive sexualisation that's taking place...

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Mizuhiki Wedding Flowers - Love Bears All

These camellias are made with three strands each, expressing one of the most-quoted verses at weddings: Ecclesiastes 4:12.

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The two flowers are different but are intertwined and have become one, just as bride and groom are joined together through the marriage union: Mark 10:7-9.

'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.

Camellias symbolise both "love" and "a noble death" in Japan, where the art of mizuhiki (knot tying) originates. Therefore they remind husband and wife to love each with the same sacrificial love that Christ has for us: John 15:13.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Finally, the hanging grapes on the envelope tell the married couple to, "Be fruitful and multiply!" (Genesis 1:28).

Other mizuhiki creations explained:

Monday, 15 August 2022

More Mizuhiki - You Are Precious!

This is a basic 3-cord abalone knot with some beads added. The 2 outer red cords represent how you (the middle cord) are wrapped in God's love. The red colour also reminds us of how Jesus' blood has washed us white as snow and that is symbolised by the ring of white beads (purity) which surrounds you - the purple bead with the colour purple illustrating your royal status as a prince/princess of God.  

If you look closely at the envelope, you will find a couple of sparrows in the picture. That made me think of Matthew 10:29-31:

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Indeed, you are greatly loved and very precious to God. You are much more valuable than many sparrows. He has redeemed you and you are His prince/princess!

Other mizuhiki creations explained:

Monday, 20 June 2022

Mizuhiki Butterfly and Thai Line Art

I've been learning to make Japanese mizuhiki knots recently and I thought the butterfly would be easy to draw using Thai line art style, plus it has symmetry too!

The traditional mizuhiki butterfly (pic taken off Pinterest) actually has a squarish shape in the centre (a bit like a hashtag or swastika?) But I found that on the back, it's in fact a cross shape in the centre so I decided to feature mine 'back to front' instead (pic below of my own mizuhiki knot.)

The butterfly symbolises rebirth (or reincarnation) in Buddhism, the predominant religion in both Japan and Thailand. But with the Cross in the centre and with three strings representing the Trinity, it now points to our new birth in Christ as explained in John 3:5-7,

~ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly I tell you, no-one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” ~

Just like how I flipped the butterfly around to see the cross, all we have to do is repent (which literally means turn around) and face the Cross where redemption and new life can be found!

Other mizuhiki creations explained:

Saturday, 19 February 2022

About Time

These are my notes for a devotion time with some artists.

Opening song: In His Time 

Biblical Concepts of Time:

1. Time is in His hands

"Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." Psalm 139:16

"My times are in your hands." Psalm 31:15a

→ God is in control!

Time is NOT our master, God is! So don’t get stressed out by the ticking clock or looming deadlines. Look to God for help in managing time.

2. Time is fluid

"Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes." James 4:14

"A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night." Psalm 90:4

→ God is beyond time!

God’s work also transcends time so don’t be limited by time but be flexible and when prompted or as necessary, take time to dream and smell the flowers, connect with people, or simply to rest.

3. All times are appointed by Him

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens… He has made everything beautiful in its time." Ecclesiastes 3:1,11a

"He marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands." Acts 17:26

→ God's timing is perfect!

Trust in His plans and purposes for all that happens - no time/season is ever wasted. 

Sometimes we may have to wait upon the Lord for His perfect time.

4. We are made for eternity 

"He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:11b

"So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." 2 Corinthians 4:18

→ God is eternal!

Some things we hold as important may actually be inconsequential, so spend time focusing on the things that are of greater eternal value from God’s perspective.

Greek Concepts of Time:

Chronos - sequential time, a specific amount of time such as a day or an hour

Time is a gift, not our enemy. How can we use it to be a blessing?

Kairos - an opportune time, a "moment" or a "season" such as "harvest time"

Do we understand the times and seasons, as well as know our roles in what He is doing so we can partner with Him?

Synchronos - happening at the same time

Are we walking in step with Him, not running ahead nor lagging behind?

Poem and video of swans - synchronised swimming 

Eschaton - the last, the final event, the end of the world, the climax of history 

There is an expiry date for our lives and even for this world, so how should that impact what we do with the time that we have left?

What is God saying to you about time, whether it's about your time on earth (macro) or a specific time in your life - past, present or future (micro)? 

Saturday, 5 February 2022

"Navillera" - also highly recommended!

Started watching the K-drama "Navillera" with Aimee today and found it incredibly inspirational! 
It's about a grandpa (Park In-Hwan) in his 70s who starts learning ballet from a 20-something young man (Song Kang). So for 50-year-old me to be learning how to draw and paint is no big deal by comparison! 😆

As we say in Chinese, 活到老学到老 (live to old age, learn till old age). 😁
Since I drew canvas shoes earlier on for another K-drama 'Run On', I thought I'd draw shoes again - men's ballet shoes this time round. I took reference from a photo found online.

Thursday, 27 January 2022

"Run On" - highly recommended!

Just finished watching the K-drama series "Run On" and fell in love with these purple shoes that one of the male leads (Kang Tae-Oh) gave to the woman he loved (Sooyoung), so I tried to sketch them.

In fact, I loved the entire series a lot as it's all about grace and acceptance cos everyone's unique and nobody's perfect. Also about parental expectations vs embracing each child's dreams and passion. Lots of healing and reconciliation through open and honest conversations too.

It portrays a realistic view of life, love, family and friendship with all the challenges and roadblocks. But as the title suggests, we not only have to keep running, we must also cheer each other on through the ups and downs so we can all get to the finish line!

P.S. the bonus was having an artist as one of the male leads (Kang Tae-Oh), and a film translator as one of the female leads (Shin Se-Kyung). It was so fulfilling to see how they expressed themselves and found solace through the arts.

P.P.S. also quite remarkable that three of the four lead actors (Siwan, Kang Tae-Oh, Sooyoung) are actually popular K-pop singers and they can act well too. So talented!