TOKYO (AFP) – Dressed in a kimono and kneeling silently on a tatami mat floor, 61-year-old Ms Yasue Tomita looks as if she might be about to perform a Japanese tea ceremony – instead she’s debuting as a porn actress.
Fluttering her eyelashes demurely as the cameras prepare to roll, Ms Tomita is proof that in Japan’s greying society you’re never too old to chase your dreams, however racy or unorthodox.
She has also become part of a flourishing niche market in Japan: “silver porn” – stretching the limits of eroticism among the elderly and overturning social norms in a country where people are expected to grow old gracefully.
Love, too, is not confined to the young, say Japan’s growing army of pensioners exploring their desires in more conventional ways, with dating agencies for the elderly reporting increasingly brisk business.
Ms Tomita confessed to being “a bit rusty” but made no apologies for her rambunctious lust for life, or her decision to put aside her knitting and crochet and launch into a career making X-rated movies.
“I like my handicrafts but I wanted to try my hand at this, while my body still works,” she told AFP before filming began.
“I do like sex, and this is my last chance before I get too old. I’m very nervous. I wonder if I should really do it, especially in front of so many people, but everyone should follow their dream.
“I just hope I can keep up,” added Ms Tomita, who used to work in a factory manufacturing car parts and registered for an agency in Japan’s booming “adult video” (AV) industry with her daughter.
“We applied through the Internet together. I got offered a job first, which surprised her a bit.”
In ageing Japan, around 32 million people – a quarter of the population – are 65 or over. Thanks to a low birthrate and growing longevity, that proportion is expected to rise to 40 per cent by 2060.
With statistics like that, it’s no surprise that geronto-porn is big business.
Adult movies rake in about US$20 billion (S$27.4 billion) a year, and those featuring unashamedly wrinkly men and women account for between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of that market, industry insiders say. Sales have rocketed over the past decade as more of Japan’s perky seniors celebrate their mojo.
Though not for the faint-hearted, the genre took off thanks largely to now-80-year-old Shigeo Tokuda, the twinkle-toed king of granddad porn, who has peeled off for hundreds of hardcore flicks with titles such as “Forbidden Elderly Care” and “Manic Training of Lolitas”.
Pornography became widely available in Japan in the 1900s, with seventeenth century Edo-era woodblock erotic prints being many people’s first introduction to the genre.
Attitudes towards sex are less prudish than in other parts of the world and fun-loving fertility festivals, where giant wooden phalluses are joyfully carried around towns, take place annually in parts of Japan.
“Everyone has different sexual tastes or fetishes,” said director Fumiaki Kimura. “Elderly porn has become very popular over the past 10 years or so. Older couples watch together because they can feel a connection, a sense of closeness or familiarity, being the same age.
“It’s like a forbidden pleasure,” he added. “Young people watch it because they’re fed up with the regular stuff – whatever turns you on. You do hear about actors taking Viagra, but that can be dangerous for the older guys.”
Mr Tokuda, who beds actresses young enough to be his granddaughter, also co-starred with Ms Fujiko Ito, just two years his junior, the pair frolicking in hot springs or on tatamis with Ms Ito in a kimono.
Ms Natsuko Kayama, 44, a porn star with 25 years’ experience in the industry, told AFP she wanted to outlast the oldest swingers in town.
“I’d love to be the oldest AV actress,” she laughed. “I want to break the record if I can – if I last that long.”
Far away from the steamy film sets, others entering the autumn of their lives are simply interested in finding companionship, perhaps after losing or leaving their first long-term partner.
But with habits set, it isn’t always easy to meet someone, and many turn to one of hundreds of matchmaking services catering to older clientele, such as the Ai-Senior company, which boasts a total of 6,000 registered members, some in their 90’s.
Later life dating hit the headlines last year with the grisly case of the “Black Widow” – 68-year-old Chisako Kakehi, who was arrested in November accused of murdering her septuagenarian fourth husband with cyanide.
Placing adverts for an “unattached elderly man with assets”, she was said to have amassed millions of dollars in insurance and other payouts over 10 years as a result of the death of a string of spouses and lovers.
Most elderly daters, happily, have far more felicitous stories to tell.
Mr Yosuke Komori, 66, and his 57-year-old wife Mutsuko met through another dating agency. Both previously married, they wed four years ago and still hold hands like smitten teenagers.
“I think a healthy sex life is an added bonus of marriage,” said Mrs Komori, who got married in a daringly short dress, to the horror of her daughters.
“I think perhaps my husband is sufficiently confident in that department. But the most important thing in a relationship is mutual understanding.”
For bashful Mr Komori, it was never only about the physical side of things.
“I feel most contented when she is happy,” he said sheepishly. “I don’t want to sound soppy, but I just want to make her smile. What’s important is love, actually.”