In a place as famous for its smut as Japan, proclaiming someone the country’s most influential porn star takes a lot of balls, and they better be somewhere balls usually don’t go into. To have a shot at the title, you’d need to have done X-rated acts they don’t even have a name for, but all of which has been preemptively finger-wagged by the UN.

Well, Kaoru Kuroki (b. 1965) had none of that. What she did have, though, was intelligence, charm, and a pair of magnificently hairy armpits, and she used those to completely transform Japanese culture.

Kaoru Kuroki Revolutionized The Way Japanese Porn Is Made

You may recognize the name “Kaoru Kuroki,” as Misato Morita plays her on the Japanese semi-biographical comedy-drama The Naked Director (it's on Netflix) about the life of controversial porn director Toru Muranishi.

Muranishi is often given credit for creating the blue(ball)print for the “interview-style” porn format where the videos open with prolonged interviews with the female performers introducing themselves. This style is still very popular in Japanese porn because, even if you’re not into it, you can just click ahead and watch the actress go from being fully-clothed to not at all, just like a novelty pen. But hey, if getting to know a little bit more about the person getting naked for you helps you orgasm, then great. Everybody wins.

Muranishi did come up with this idea, plus a few others. Still, you can invent the most innovative porn-shooting techniques in history but if all you’re filming is an empty chair, only like 20-30 people max will crank it vigorously to said furniture. You also need a star to get people to watch your movies. Kuroki was that star. Toru Muranishi first hired the 21-year-old university student in 1986 for the movie SM-poi no Suki, which became a surprise hit. There are a few reasons for that.

The first one was Kuroki herself. She didn’t look and sound like any other porn star out there. In the opening interview, she was very prim and proper, she spoke honorific Japanese, and she had a kind of high-class charm to her. That wasn’t an act, as Kuroki reportedly came from a very well-off family. So … why did she do porn? Some say it’s because she wanted to make some money without her family’s help, though Kuroki later claimed it was because she looked at porn as a form of art, and as a student of Italian fine art at Yokohama National University, she wanted to explore this form of art deeper. Deeper. DEEPER.

Central library of Yokohama National University

On-chan/Wiki Commons

Weirdly, you won't find a single commemorative plaque dedicated to Kuroki anywhere in YNU.

Also, in many of her movies, the way Kuroki has sex looks very different than most porn because she always tried to get an orgasm for herself out of each shoot. She considered that “winning.” It’s why her pornos were popular with women, and why more than just men noticed that Kuroki was not shaving her armpits. Initially, it was a gimmick to help her stand out but it eventually became part of her feminist philosophy of celebrating the female body in its natural form, and it got people talking until it may have helped change Japanese law.

Japanese porn is famous for its censorship (thanks, America) but until 1990, the country didn’t just censor genitals. It also pixelated pubic hair. The law was eventually relaxed in 1991 to allow the depiction of crotches in art and smut thanks to the work of pioneering photographers like Kishin Shinoyama, but Kaoru Kuroki in her au naturel form was very much part of the pub(l)ic conversation about the connection between body hair and sex. She would go on to be part of many more conversations over the next few years.

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Kuroki Changed How Japanese Society Thinks About Sex And Sex Work

Kuroki actually only made about 10 movies, a career trajectory not unlike that of Mia Khalifa. She didn’t actually have that much time to make smut since not long after her debut, she became a celebrity invited to all manner of panel shows, variety programs, talk shows etc. And we’re not talking about one of those bizarre TV shows where people, say, bake bread while sitting on vibrators (known as a Dildough Challenge), mostly because those are just internet porn vids and not a real thing that you see on Japanese TV.

kneading bread

Anton/Unsplash

The contestants yell, "I knead it!"

When Kuroki appeared on television, she charmed everyone with her views on society, sexuality, and feminism, etc. All that sophistication that helped make her porn videos so popular turned out to be transferable to the world of TV, and the country quickly fell in love with Kuroki. People couldn’t get enough of this woman with an aura of a rich heiress flashing her hairy armpits and talking candidly (but always in that impeccable honorific Japanese) about how she loves making porn because it gives her easy access to large penises, and, hey, who doesn't enjoy a large penis? At the same time, though, she’d use porn as a springboard to share her views on the importance of having an inquisitive mind and questioning the “truth” found in mass media outlets. She’d joke, she’d flirt, she’d share informed insight on a variety of topics. It blew people away.

Before Kuroki, sex work in Japan was seen as a kind of sad last resort, something you turned to in desperation when you were denied the option of working yourself to death in an office. But then suddenly you had this elegant, eloquent woman with Dr. Ruth energy and Babe Ruth’s pits, and she sure as hell didn’t seem desperate. She went into sex work with open eyes, and she seemed perfectly fine. It inspired people.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear first. Japan is not Porn Land, all right? It has no jumbotron blimps traveling the country and publicly screening smut films like “Is She Flashing Her Unguarded Nipples Through Her See-Thru Outfits At Me On Purpose? I Work Part-Time At A Convenience Store, And Late At Night, These Ladies Who Live In The Neighborhood Walk Into The Store Dressed Pretty Casually. And They Usually Come In Without Their Bras On.” (That’s an actual Japanese porn title, by the way.) Like in the West, the attitude towards sex work in Japan very much depends on the individual person. A lot of people there were 100% disowned by their families for going into porn. But at the same time, Japan does seem to have a higher percentage of women who think of porn as something that you can jump into for a while, then quit and not have it define your life.

It’s not always that easy and it has its own problems, but Kuroki made it possible for a lot of Japanese women to think of sex work as just that: work, and businesses have adopted a similar mindset. It’s not uncommon for porn actresses to have non-porn careers after retiring from adult entertainment, without having to hide their past, and that’s mostly thanks to Kaoru Kuroki.

She Inspired The WEIRDEST Fetish Bar Ever

Kuroki’s hairy armpits made a lot of women feel liberated, hypnotized daytime TV guests, and definitely added to the national conversation about female bodies. But primarily people pounded it to them. Japan’s most influential porn star got more people horny for bush than a CPAC convention circa 2001. Some were discovering brand-new things about themselves while others were probably enjoying the novelty aspect of it all. They soon became spoiled for choice as Kuroki has ushered in a brief hairy armpit mania in Japanese porn that lasted for a couple of years before mostly fizzling out. 

But in that short time, that cuddly pit renaissance left its mark on Japan in the form of one of the strangest fetish bars ever. Wanting to cash in on Kuroki’s popularity, a guy opened an “armpit hair club” in Shibuya in the 1980s. For just 20,000 yen (~$200), you got a 1-hour session with a hairy girl, during which time you could sniff her armpit hair, run your fingers through it, or even munch it while pretending it was angel hair pasta. For an extra $50, the girl could probably put on a cartoon chef’s hat and scream “Mamma mia!” while she hit you with a pizza paddle. The session would end with a blowjob since that form of prostitution is kind of sort of legal in Japan. Throw in an additional $100, though, and these Brazilian’t girls would reportedly go all the way. Soon, though, there was a problem.

See, the owner of the club quickly learned that while the extra hair was a nice novelty for some, what the clients ultimately wanted was to close their eyes and pretend that they were with Kaoru Kuroki. They wanted to jam their faces in her pits, sure, but only as long as she kept talking in that elegant voice about politics or the economy. They were chasing a fantasy, and not many girls in the club could deliver that. So the owner got desperate. He introduced the option of removing the hair from the girls. $100 to shave them, $200 to pluck their pits bald.

This definitely attracted a few guys with sadistic streaks and helped keep the club going, but the plucked girls couldn’t regrow their armpit hair fast enough, and the owner had trouble finding replacements. Not even two years after it first opened, the Shibuya armpit hair club permanently closed, and all the disappointed sadists were left wandering the streets, kicking rocks.

The Press REALLY Had It Out For Kuroki

In between her porn career, TV appearances, and recording a song, Kuroki liked to talk about the truth and how you rarely find it in newspapers and magazines, which often just made shit up. To counter those claims, a bunch of newspapers and magazines made up a bunch of shit about Kuroki, like the time they claimed that she tried to kill herself.

In 1994, Kuroki fell off a balcony of a Tokyo hotel, which was instantly reported as a suicide attempt. The false narrative just wrote itself. Kuroki, the face of Japanese porn, the confident woman in total control of her sexuality was secretly so unhappy that she tried to end her life. And that apparently made a bunch of reporters feel much better about the fact they never brought a woman to orgasm. But it was all bull (English sources are kinda sparse but there are plenty of Japanese ones). Kuroki fell off the balcony while drunk and plummeted a grand total of about 7 feet because her room was on the hotel’s FIRST GODDAMN FLOOR. Not saying that you 100% can’t die by falling from that height but as suicide attempts go? Um, no.

1994 was also when Kaoru Kuroki retired from public life after alleging physical violence on Muranishi’s part. No one was outright celebrating it, but the overall tone at some publications was “Now what did Kuroki do to piss off Muranishi so much?” Since quitting more than 25 years ago, Kaoru Kuroki has been a private citizen but even that wasn’t enough to get the press to stop bothering her. Thankfully, since she is no longer a performer, she had the right to sue two magazines that published her pictures and details of her private life in 2002 and 2004. She ultimately won about $14,000 for the invasion of privacy. And she (hopefully) lived happily ever after.

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Top image: Crystal Eizo

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