The recent inflow of interviews with people in the sex interdustry continues. Today I am pleased to present the results of a dialogue with the owner and operator of the ZENRA website. ZENRA is of course known around the world for supplying authorized Japanese porn videos with English subtitles to its members. It is the go-to source for gaijin who want to know exactly what it is the people in those creative Japanese porn videos are saying.
Japanese porn is of course interesting in its own right. But being able to understand the dialogue can help a lot. There is the old joke about people buying Playboy magazine for the articles. But the elaborate stories behind some of the Japanese porn videos are actually quite erotic. So the dialogue greatly enhances the scenes.
I have been keeping a keen eye on ZENRA for some time now. Regular readers may remember that I featured the site in my list of porn worth paying for in 2016. I also included it in my list of the best Japanese porn on the internet. And for good reason. ZENRA was and continues to be the preeminent source for authorized subtitled Japanese AV on the internet.
The owner of ZENRA is a very affable man. I have been in somewhat regular communication with the gentleman for years. It only seems right to share some of his insight with the audience here. This long overdue interview is detailed and filled with information that will interest anyone interested in Japanese AV and the way it is viewed and consumed around the world. I trust that you will enjoy it.
What exactly does “ZENRA” mean?
The Kanji for our site name (全裸) means stark naked.
What was your first experience with porn? How about Japanese AV?
That’d have to be back in elementary school watching Playboy TV when sleeping over a friend’s house whose dad had one of those descrambler boxes. This was way back in the early 90’s when projection televisions were still a thing; the ones that had the RBG lights at the bottom.Soon enough the internet came along and the rest was history. Specifically for JAV, I’ve always had an interest in Japan since high school so changing my habits from western to Asian wasn’t too big of a stretch. I don’t recall my first instance of encountering JAV though I do remember the scanner community from back in the day (Bluebird, Bonvarg, PureJapan, etc.).
How do you think Japanese porn compares to the western equivalent?
For studios, JAV makers are way more conservative and less tech savvy. This applies to the big, established ones of course, but also smaller studios and even one man shops led by guys still in their twenties. Overall quality of content and industry maturation is a no-brainer. Japan has had self-regulation since the 80’s which gives it a lot more freedom compared to the west. But western studios can adapt quickly.
Japan has always had the mosaic issue, but I feel just like how Twitter imposes artificial limits on text limits, mosaic requires makers to think outside of the box. Very little domestic (censored) JAV features extended close-ups of sex. Yes, hardcore titles may have some, but you usually get shots that focus on other aspects of the play instead. You also get truly out there genres including some you’d never be able to sell in the west like pseudo-incest, scat, pseudo-rape, and more. Again, self-regulation for the win here.
What about the mosaic and censorship? This is a pretty big deal for a lot of international porn viewers.
Without trying to be a buzzkill, it’s here to stay. I don’t see mosaic being a goner any time soon. One thing most international fans of JAV may not realize is that studios hate it as much as fans–maybe even more. Mosaic costs money to apply (think several hundred dollars USD per title) and getting ‘Ethics approval’ (self-regulation from previous answer) also costs around the same. They don’t want it and Japan’s obscenity law pretty much is the same as USA. It’s just that studios have taken the approach that ‘pixelizing genitalia = not obscene’. Your guess is as good as mine why scat doesn’t require mosaic nor how titles produced some years ago when mosaic was thinner may not past Ethics approval today, but can still be sold at all the big sites and stores.
Uncensored JAV of course exists. There’s 100 percent amateur-produced content, and then there are a few big makers. The latter are all incorporated abroad and have servers hosted outside of Japan. The law with obscenity in Japan basically punishes those who distribute obscene contents so uncensored JAV kind of finds a gray area loophole as it’s still shot there, but it’s not technically sold on Japanese soil.
Nine out of ten times, the quality of uncensored JAV is considerably poorer than censored. You also get less well known women taking part and most content is very vanilla. We show some at ZENRA, but we don’t beat around the bush in reviews and mention its flaws as well. If you want beautifully-shot content with great stories and big names, you rarely will see it in uncensored.
What made you want to bring Japanese porn to western audiences?
It’s my vocation. I truly enjoy working on ZENRA and I’m happy to say there hasn’t been a day in years where I’ve woken up dreading to ‘go to work’. It’s a rush to log on and get started subtitling, checking emails, doing social media, etc. I also take solace that unlike the majority of JAV sites out there, what we do is legal and we actually help studios make money. I can sleep easy knowing I may not be suddenly sued or arrested like quite a few of the ‘free JAV streaming’ site operators out there. There’s something big being planned by JAV’s copyright authority soon and I can’t say anything more on it.
I guess it’s safe to assume that you are fluent in Japanese. It’s not you’re native tongue. How long did it take you to learn the language?
I speak it pretty well. Subtitling, meetings, etc are fine. Watching most TV also is easy. I’ll admit reading a newspaper at times can be challenging. Thus, I don’t consider myself totally fluent, but definitely know more than enough to live and work in a total Japanese environment. Super local dialects, drunk old men at bathhouses, and Yakuza/Yankee talk I have some issues comprehending.
Japan has a reputation for xenophobia. How do studios react when you approach them to license AV?
I believe there are very few outright racists in Japan. Most issues of xenophobia are more about being comfortable doing what one’s doing and not wishing to offend. I’m sure ZENRA was far from the first western company to contact JAV studios for licensing, but was the first to do it correctly.
What most western companies may do is shoot an email–probably in English–to the JAV studio looking for a deal. They probably won’t reply to this because of language issues. Emailing first in proper business-level Japanese is important and if you don’t hear back which for me happened very often at first, you pick up the phone and call. Most studios clearly have their contact info up so finding the number shouldn’t be hard. The phone call shows you’re serious, that you speak the language, and want to really get the deal done. You also need to meet them in person. The majority of initial licensing deals I have made for ZENRA required a face-to-face meeting in Tokyo. Thus, if a western studio wants to add JAV content to their site legally, legwork will be required. There are no content markets here like Amazing Content (great site and owner). If you want content from Studio XYZ, then you need to contact Studio XYZ and gosh forbid if they already have an exclusive deal with a big distributor like DMM because that will just make things even more complicated.
How long did it take to get your website off the ground? How much time do you put into it each week?
ZENRA is a full time job for me. I’ve a team of developers (we’re still hiring!) and now also a team of time-coders and probably will expand further soon. I work 365 days a year though not literally all day and night. A true “off day” may just see me working 2 hours in the morning and a really busy day perhaps would be about 8 hours. However, as the site owner and the one who handles support requests, I always have my phone with me.
What do you think the future of paid porn is, especially on the internet? We’ve been hearing about the “death of the porn industry” for many years yet videos keep coming from various studios.
Paid porn isn’t going anywhere. It’s evolving to some extent. Platforms–something that has been the main source of income for most studios in Japan for decades now–are becoming extremely powerful. As a pay-site owner, I don’t like this trend as having one’s own site with one’s own merchant processing gives the most control and the ability to make the most money per subscriber. I’ve told many a JAV studio they should focus more on selling on their own such while only putting older (ie., over 3 months) content on the big sites. If you think the cut sites like ManyVids takes is bad (20 percent-ish, right?), come to Japan where DMM, the biggest of the big, takes around 70 percent!. Even brick-and-mortar sales may only net a JAV studio around 50% of the cover price. It’s not an ideal situation. Studios are caught between a rock and a hard place with ludicrously high kickbacks on one side and blatant piracy on the other. Yes, the average new JAV release costs almost $30USD on average, but the studio may make only a fraction of that.
What do you think about the emergence of so much amateur porn and small independent studios?
If we’re talking JAV here, I think this is a good thing. Sites like FC2 and HeyDouga are seeing more and more real amateurs in Japan submit their (uncensored) content. There’s the legal issue with no mosaic of course, but this really is the proper way to see disruption take place. I want these sites and these amateurs to succeed. I want big studios to worry because at the very least, you may see this as a reason for mosaic to start thinning out again.
Mosaic got thick in late 2016 due to ethics companies complaining about downsizing FHD movies to make it look like they’re almost uncensored. My only issue with the true amateurs is the content for the most part is not shot well and is super basic. Stories, scenes, production crews, and big casts are absent making for very bare-bones affairs.
Who do you think is the most popular Japanese AV star ever?
Hard to say so I’m not going to answer. This may surprise some people given my occupation, but I’ve always cared more for what the movie is about rather than who is in it. ZENRA subscribers have always been more interested in titles that feature nothing but older hotel massage therapists having secret sex rather than ‘vanilla hardcore title starring super popular JAV star’. This is what we cater to and what I like as well.
Who is your favorite Japanese porn star of all time?
I indirectly answered that above, but I will say Saya Takazawa is one of the most under-rated actresses of all time. As of this interview, it looks like her retirement was short-lived as she’s appearing in a JAV going up in June. She mainly does super alternative titles (lots of scat and no, I’m not into it, but I’m not going to judge those who are), but has absolutely incredible proportions. Saya has done many movies, but only has had sex a few times. We have one of hers on ZENRA from early in her career that does feature sex (in an orgy setting, no less).
Do you have any experience with fuzoku? What do you think of the Japanese sex industry?
Some people may disagree with this, but I believe Japan has the most progressive sex industry in the world. Yes, paying for penis-in-vagina sex is illegal but that is it. Yes, paying for sex in many parts of the world is easy, but it’s still illegal and there’s always the risk of surprise crackdowns. Most adult services like healths, erotic massage clinics, newhalf brothels, etc., have websites that clearly show prices and what basic service entails. Heck, anal sex is an option many offer right on their pages. Imagine calling up your favorite brothel, requesting a girl and a time and then asking to add the ‘anal sex option’ on top. Robotic? Sure, but it’s totally legal. Brothels even register with the police as adult establishments so it’s all sanctioned. Few places outside of Japan have systems like this (Australia, Germany, Netherlands…any others?).
Thanks so much for doing this. Do you have anything else to say to readers?
Sure, and I hate to talk about it, but you can’t talk about JAV without mentioning piracy. There is literally only one site I know of that is legally streaming full length movies for free without any registration (and no, we’re not plugging ourselves here because it isn’t us!): SOD Prime. And it’s mainly movies from the 90’s. All those ‘free JAV streaming’ sites are 100 percent stolen, run by crooked individuals who are financially destroying the JAV studios that they claim to love. Sadly, there are also pay-sites like ours that straight up steal as well. If you wish to support your favorite studios, I’d recommend you only purchase digital JAV from sites listed here.
Thank you for having me.