Ardent cosplayer, Twitch streamer, host and former JAV idol. Depending on the corners of the internet you frequent, the name Kaho Shibuya might be synonymous with one or more of these titles. She is a woman of many talents and feats. Shibuya’s recently translated book, The Japanese Porn Industry Unmasked: An Insider’s Guide by Kaho Shibuya, explores but one part of her colorful history. It acts as a guide, an explainer and a memoir of her years working in the Japanese porn industry.

Down the JAV Rabbit Hole

Between 2014 and 2018, Shibuya was active as a Japanese adult video (or JAV) actress. Unmasked is her first tell-all in English. It is the official translation of her Japanese book, AV Nitsuite Joshi Ga Shitteokubeki Subete No Koto (Everything Girls Should Know About the JAV Industry), published in 2020.

By page 13, Shibuya is at a dinner with the president of her first agency, Cruse Group, deciding on an adult film production company. It’s not that the book feels rushed, but rather that it mirrors the fast-paced nature of the industry and the short lifespan of a JAV actress. 

Despite this, there’s a sense of cognizance in every decision that Shibuya makes. She gained her footing in JAV by first responding to an advertisement for a “sex toy reviewer.” She shares what can only be described as a slippery slope, from job postings looking for hand and foot models to coaxing from company representatives promising roles in adult films that wouldn’t involve sexual acts at all. 

Shibuya ended up taking her lingerie and nude publicity photos on the day she signed with Cruse Group. But she’s clear about taking responsibility for her decisions and, for the rest of Unmasked, maintains her own agency over her mind and her body. 

Shibuya Kaho’s Book Shares Misconceptions and Truths

What many might find insightful in Unmasked is her honesty. Shibuya tells it like it is, dispelling misconceptions as much as confirming industry rumors. Why do women choose to work in the adult industry? It isn’t always the story of an innocent girl suddenly being forced to work after shady dealings.

Shibuya mentions that most women recruited to work in porn often already have experience in tangentially related industries such as cabarets and host clubs. These days, women are also approaching it more casually and as a means to supplement an existing income. In Shibuya’s case, it was born out of a desire to have an interesting experience, make good money and embark on a sexual adventure.

Dark Side

This isn’t to say that the industry doesn’t manipulate the girls it lures in. Actresses spend so much time, frequently outside of work hours, with colleagues, managers and industry people. It becomes hard to leave the only thing that they know. Shibuya laments at several points in Unmasked that all that time spent merrymaking could have been better spent educating actresses on financial literacy, something many lacked. With some agencies, being overly familiar is their modus operandi (such as using the “chan” suffix with actresses, regardless of age). This irked Shibuya.

“I prefer an agency where everyone acts like a business professional, especially in an industry as shady as adult entertainment,” she tells Tokyo Weekender.

Small Details

There are sections in the book about finding love in JAV (possible but complicated), about looking after yourself (showering up to three times a day) and about the care that actresses often receive on set (fluffy bathrobes and Jill Stuart shampoo). There are nitty-gritty details that will make you blush about sexual technique, preparation and how artificial body fluids are made and used. Shibuya explains these topics in a fascinating and restrained way. It’s akin to a professional explaining special effects used in blockbuster films.

There’s also the question of money: How much does it cost to produce an adult film? And what percentage can an adult actress make? As with everything else we’ve learned so far, it always depends. An agency is “conscientious” if it only takes half an actress’s earnings. Adult performers also pay taxes like the rest of us — a fact that many are surprised to hear. Based on her own career and experiences, Shibuya considers ¥500,000 per film a lower end offer for a feature actress. This becomes wildly different when working as a freelancer or as a project actress and if the film content falls under the “hardcore” genre.

Body Positivity in Porn

One aspect of JAV that did surprise me from speaking with Shibuya was body positivity. In an industry where visuals are everything, you’d assume actresses would be pressured to maintain a certain aesthetic. While true to an extent, Shibuya is quick to clarify that there are just as many niches where girls of all shapes and sizes are celebrated.

“Working in the sex industry actually helped me accept my body,” she says. “Being a big-chested woman was difficult in my job as a reporter. I would get in trouble for ‘being sexy’ even if I wasn’t trying to show it. As a JAV model, there’s something freeing about showing off your entire body on purpose.”

Lifting the veil on an industry built on a foundation of fantasy is no easy task. Any conflicting feelings Shibuya might have, she reconciles with the fact that the public should know what goes on behind the scenes, especially women looking to enter the industry. At the end of the book, Shibuya has even included a translated version of a typical contract given to a JAV actress. For a non-Japanese speaker, these are the kind of details you might never see anywhere else.

Sexual Harassment

The JAV landscape is constantly evolving. Shibuya tells us that times have changed, even in the few short years since she retired. For one, models and actresses have stronger rights in place.

“Today, it is possible to back out of an adult film deal even after the shooting is complete,” she says. “Your contract will explicitly specify that right. But that wasn’t the case when I started.”

All agree that these positive steps to protect the individual sound promising. At the same time, it makes it harder to read about the moments when Shibuya was wronged, with no remedies available for her. In one passage, she recalls a time in an old public bath where the men’s area was being used for filming, and the women’s area was for performers to shower off set. Despite not being on camera, an actor made advances towards her while they were both showering separately. At the time, Shibuya didn’t feel comfortable denying him.

“I was still new then. Looking back, I know it was not OK. But at the time, I thought that if I told everyone what had happened, he would get ‘canceled,’” she says.

In another part of the book, Shibuya talks about how some directors don’t reveal that they will act alongside you in a scene until you are on set. It’s an easy thing to realize, Shibuya says, because there’s no extra name in the script.

“I don’t know why they did this, if they tried to hide it because they were being shy,” she says. “I would have preferred it if they had just told me. But I’m someone who doesn’t show it on my face, even if I don’t like something. If something negative happens to me, I just write about it, that’s my mentality to keep going.”

Sex Sells

According to Shibuya, the process of writing Unmasked was strangely similar to working as a JAV actress. She described the challenges of collaborating with the editor of her book who envisioned a more risqué tell-all than Shibuya’s more matter-of-fact tone of writing.

“I’m fine with them wanting me to sound like a ‘nympho’ pre-retirement. That’s the image we have to sell as an adult actress after all,” she rationalizes. “But certain individuals had some concerns about the tone of the book. That if I didn’t sound a certain way, it was not going to be easy to promote. I disagreed. Some of the vulgar terms they wanted to include in the book are not words I would use in real life.” 

A compromise was found between Shibuya and the publishing team, but she noted the parallels between publishing a book and working in porn. Ultimately, it’s all about sales. And sex sells.

Shibuya doesn’t have any regrets from her time as an actress, although she jokes that the irony of sex work is that she had less sex overall compared to her life before it. With the release of Unmasked, she can well and truly put this time in her career to rest. As much as it is a story about the sex industry, it also celebrates Shibuya’s varied accomplishments. Her insightful commentary, reflections on her past and nod to the future show that there is, at least in her specific case, life after porn. 

Purchase The Japanese Porn Industry Unmasked: An Insider’s Guide by Kaho Shibuya on Amazon.

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