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Japan rewind: 25 erotic years since release of ‘Santa Fe’

Shukan Post June 24
Shukan Post June 24

The October 13, 1991 issue of the Yomiuri Shimbun contained an advertisement for the upcoming release of the nude photography book “Santa Fe.” Featuring actress Rie Miyazawa, the book caused a sensation: Phone lines at publisher Asahi Press were inundated with supposedly 1,000 calls per minute.

Upon the release of the book the following month, Miyazawa was a star on the rise. The 18-year-old actress had recently garnered popularity in commercials for Mitsui Fudosan Realty. There was one other reason for the rabid interest…

“(Until then, nudity) had been obscured, with something dark being used as a shadow,” says the photographer of the book, Kishin Shinoyama. “But that was not case for Miyazawa; she was totally nude.”

A quarter century later, weekly tabloid Shukan Post (June 24) looks back at this landmark publication and its influence on the artistic photography genre known as “hair nude,” meaning the showing of pubic hair.

“Water Fruit”

“Santa Fe” was not the first book to clearly display a woman’s nether area. Ten months before, Kanako Higuchi, a star at the time in the NHK drama “Chronicle of Great Peace,” was seen fully naked in the book “Water Fruit,” which was also photographed by Shinoyama.

Makiko Esumi in 'Esumi'
Makiko Esumi was the subject of ‘Esumi’ in 1996

According to Shukan Post, the publisher received a warning from police about reissuing the title on the grounds of waisetsu (or obscenity). That simple admonition sent a signal to the industry.

“Because of Higuchi’s case, there was a sense that pubic hair was acceptable,” says an editor with more than 200 photography collections to his credit. “And, subsequently, an uncensored Miyazawa was evidence enough to multiple publishing companies that (pubic) hair was acceptable.”

Shot in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the book shows Miyazawa lounging in a number of seductive positions both outside among the desert landscape and indoors.

Huge impact on the industry

Santa Fe” would eventually go on to ship a whopping 1.55 million copies. “Water Fruit” sold about one million copies less. Together, the two books had a huge impact on the industry.

“Book sales in 1991 showed an annual gain of 9.1 percent. And, given that 1990 was a big year, that was huge,” Yasuo Ueda, an emeritus professor at Sophia University, tells the magazine. “With both of these books retailing at lofty cover prices, they were the primary reason.”

And a hair nude bubble was born.

In 1992, Yoko Shimada appeared in a nude book at the age of 39 that shipped 550,000 copies. (She would send shockwaves through the entertainment industry two decades later by making her adult video debut.) The following year, a book shot by famed photographer Helmut Newton and featuring Eri Ishida sold 250,000 copies in 1993. Linda Yamamoto (160,000 copies) and Mari Henmi (150,000) also enjoyed hit releases that same year.

A golden age

It was something of a golden age for the industry. The aforementioned editor says that budgets were five times what they were today, with first pressings numbering 50,000 copies.

“Some publishers would even carry around suitcases with 10 million yen in cash to negotiate with actresses to appear nude.”

Aya Sugimoto in 'Enfin'
Aya Sugimoto in ‘Enfin’ in 1993

For some women — Aya Sugimoto (at the age of 24 in 1993), Kumiko Takeda (25, 1994) and Saki Takaoka (22, 1995) — it was a way to make a splashy entrance into the entertainment industry. For others, it was a means to revitalize a languishing career (Naomi Kawashima and the 550,000 copies at the age of 32).

“If an actress took off her clothes (before the camera) and it sold well, the environment was such that it was easy to coax another to do the same,” adds the editor. “They were in a conscious competition, with one after another releasing photo collections.”

What led to the genre’s decline is not explained by Shukan Post, though one could surmise, as with everything related to publishing these days, that the Internet played a role. The magazine says that even today readers find favor with women appearing in its pages in such photos — most recently, spreads featuring Mitsu Dan — and all of them owe a debt of gratitude to “Santa Fe.”

Source: “Heanuudo 25 nenshi,’” Shukan Post (June 24, page 157)