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How adult video girls in Japan cope with the transition back into mainstream life after retiring

from – Japan’s pornographic industry, known locally as AV (adult video), is widely known to be somewhat different to the West, not least due to its mainstream acceptance in daily Japanese culture.

AV stars can enjoy a high-level of celebrity not only in Japan, but across Asia, with women like Maria Ozawa, Ai Iijima and Sola Aoi [pictured] variously promoting games, anime and starring in reputable films, TV dramas and theater.

When Ai Iijima passed away aged 36 in December 2008, found lying in her apartment, rumors abounded of a drug overdose or succumbing to a sexually transmitted disease, such was the notoriety of the 1980s and 1990s industry.

The police pathology report eventually revealed the cause as pneumonia. In 2010 it’s a widely-held view that the world of AV is far safer and mafia-free compared to Iijima’s heyday, so CNNGo spoke to a recently retired AV star, current superstar Sola Aoi, and an agency chief manager to find out what today’s generation of adult video actresses do once they decide to call it quits and what kind of support is on offer for them.

“There have been cases where they have been discovered at work and fired from their new jobs, but this is really quite rare,” says Akifumi ‘Aki’ Matsuoka, chief manager at Prime Agency Inc on some of the worst-case scenarios faced by his clients after they leave the business.

But he says, on the other hand “some girls open up their own businesses, such as a bar, and it’s actually not an insubstantial number. They have the start-up money at that point so it works out well.”

Matsuoka has worked for one of the top agencies in Tokyo now for six years as a manager of AV actresses. When asked why women initially join the business, he says that although it varies from person-to-person, it seems it’s often for escaping boredom and trying something new, but also commonly for the money. Japanese women ranging from students, housewives, and ‘office ladies,’ (or ‘O.L.s’ as commonly called in Japan) have all chosen to make the foray into the business.

Still, for others, it’s a chance at fame, and thus a possible route to attain the goal of making it in more mainstream show business. Matsuoka, who manages about 20 clients at a time, stresses that the reasons women leave the industry widely vary and are case-by-case.

“It’s hardly fair to use an average to determine what many do,” he says.

“But perhaps these days there are more women staying in the industry for much longer, anywhere now from five to 10 years.”

A fascinating aspect of the AV industry which is at total odds to the strictness of the Japanese entertainment business in general, is the almost complete absence of contracts, which means the agencies have to treat every girl with kid gloves, and be on call to them 24 hours a day, a huge part of Matsuoka’s job. “Say for instance, an actress enters a one-year contract, but after one month she wants to leave, we cannot legally force her to work in this business by abiding to the contract. So the ones who stay do so by choice and it’s up to us simply to persuade them or give them a good offer.”

When they do decide to leave, many are able to keep it secret, including Akiko (not her real name). “I’m now a university student — at the same school I took a break from during my AV work. I keep my past experience in the industry a secret to everyone.”

Yet Matsuoka has seen a change during his years in the profession, stating that these days fewer and fewer girls feel the need to hide their background and only a few slip back into total obscurity.

“I started working as an adult video actress in 2004 and left the business in late-2008,” says Akiko.

“I was initially curious and interested in the industry and also wanted to make a good income.”

Sola Aoi, now a veteran of nine years in the business, claims her longevity is down to ambition.

“I think from the start I knew this was an industry with very few veterans in it, but on the other hand I didn’t expect that I’d necessarily be in it for the near nine years I have, so I’m kind of myself surprised. Many of the other girls I started with didn’t have the same goals as me, that is, to use this career as a launching pad to move into other areas of show business.”

“Prior to joining the industry, I aspired to be a pre-school teacher and was already attending school to become one. I’d wanted to do that since I was a child. However, when I thought about my future in that career I could envision exactly how my life would turn out and to be honest, it seemed a little boring.”

It just so happened that Sola was scouted on the street by an agent and was given an alternative career path, and she soon became one of the most well-known AV girls around, so well known in fact that she says she won’t ever return to her real name and hide her background.

“I still use my non-business name in my private life but I really don’t have any desire to fully return to it. Maybe in many ways Sola Aoi is a character I play, and I don’t really differ so much from her in my private life, but Sola is the name that I feel comfortable using in many professional arenas, not just AV. I have no desire to erase or deny my history.”

In terms of relationships, Matsuoka reveals that AV girls never marry anyone within the industry out of convention, again, entirely different to the regular entertainment business in Japan where idols, actresses and singers regularly marry directors, managers and stylists.

“Some girls will meet a guy when already in the business and in that case, they’ll generally tell the guy before they are too involved and it’s fine. If they keep it a secret, then it can be harder. But of course, sometimes their partner will understand. So it’s really case-by-case. These girls are surprisingly normal girls. They have friends and really aren’t out of the ordinary. And a lot or urban men these days don’t seem to mind. Perhaps in rural areas of Japan they would. But now, they are more open-minded.”

Sola, who previously had a long relationship with comedian Jiro Hachimitsu, admits she very much has the ambition to settle down some day.

“Well, I’ve always loved children so the idea of having a family and raising kids is something that hasn’t changed and is something I still want. However, the feeling of ‘not yet,’ for me is very strong. Before, I’d hoped to settle down and have kids in my 20s but now I see that that can happen in my 30s as well.”

Matsuoka admits that there are occasions when relationships turn sour, but he believes not more so than for girls in any other profession. “We do keep contact with some even after they settle down or marry. We ourselves won’t contact them, but with some of our longer-term clients, we end up becoming quite close friends so even afterward we might meet them for dinner or just hang out.”

Sola is currently finding far more success outside of AV than in it, performing in theater productions like “Baragaki”, and dramas such as Yutaka Yamazaka’s “Torso”. She has also caused a storm in China after launching her own Twitter account, prompting Chinese fans to rush to break the so-called “Great Firewall” — Twitter is banned in China.

“I’ve been in a few non-AV overseas films now, in the Asia region including one that hasn’t been released yet that I just finished filming in Hong Kong. But I’d certainly like to do more movies, to make that transition to international film — hopefully in Europe and North America as well so next year I’d like to focus on improving my English more seriously and am considering studying abroad.

“Also, using my name to make a difference in a positive way is something I’d really like to do more of. An area of interest to me right now is AIDS and HIV awareness. I’d like to do more volunteer work encouraging people to get educated and tested.”

While Sola is breaking new ground, few AV idols can expect to achieve her level of success. But retired idol Akiko has no regrets. “When I look back at those four years or so now, I think that it was an incredibly stimulating time in my life and I felt very fulfilled each day. Even now, sometimes I think that I’d really like to go back into it, but I know that it’s not a career that I can do for the rest of my life. I think I got out at the perfect time and I have no regrets.”


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