If your mobile phone is naked, you're totally behind the fashion curve. Over a million pure silicone panties were sold in Japan this year. Silicone may not sound like the most comfortable of lingerie materials, but they weren't your ordinary underwear; they were mini-panties, boxer briefs, special underwear made for smartphones. Naked phones are simply gauche now.
Bandai, one of Japan's biggest toymakers released the product SMART PANTS™ (スマートパンツ) in March of this year and found that their slightly ribald knickers had become a surprise hit. People soon started to tweet pictures of their own smartphones adorned with smart pants inspiring others to do the same. As you can see in the photos, the briefs fit nicely on most high-tech mobile phones, deftly covering the most sensitive part of the unit's "body".
Hisashi Moriuchi, age 27, is a toy designer from the Vending Machine Business Department at Bandai. He came up with the idea during a brain storming session with his colleague from the same department. "I was asked by my boss to come out with something amusing to sell in capsule vending machines. So I thought it would be funny to dress up my iPhone with underwear."
According to Moriuchi, the appeal of the novelty device as follows, "The purpose of the smart pants is partly to protect the home button of your smart phone from being accidentally pushed. People wear pants to protect their sexual organs, their most sensitive spot. Well, on the Android phones, that's the home button and the same with the iPhone. It just feels right to cover it up nicely."
However, Moriuchi notes rather than functionality, "its major purpose is to be amusing. It's a great conversation starter for only $2 (¥200). It's an object you can exchange or offer to your friends as a gift."
Roughly the size of a Barbie doll bikini, they come in all shapes, sizes and with culturally entrenched gags.
The first initial run were of eight varieties, roughly of the size of a Barbie doll bikini bottom, which come in a plastic capsules. They were sold in special vending machines placed in toy stores, electronic goods mega malls and supermarkets all over Japan. The product was so successful that a second collection was launched in June.
The summer collection came out in August, with more colourful seasonal patterns such as watermelon skin. In addition they came with a matching round sticker that is the same size as the home button. The summer hit, was the beer pantie, featuring a cold, juicy, and frothing beer with matching icon.
Tsukasa Ogawara, from the Bandai Promotion Team told us, "With the third collection, the idea was to say that the smartphone is funny when wearing panties but it could also be attractive, naked. When you take off the pants, the little sticker on the home button is a second surprise." Most of the smart pants fall into uni-sex categories, but some are clearly gender specific, especially the tighty-whities with a significant bulge.
Another pair of racy underwear is transparent but comes with a patch that appears to be blurred-out pubic hair, in harmony with Japan's obscenity laws, which don't allow nudity. Erotic films and photos in Japan still often have the genital areas obscured to avoid obscenity charges, although many sexual services in Japan are legal.
Of course, some of the jokes are only funny to the natives -- even the unintentional ones, like the pair that comes with a chestnut sticker. Chestnut in Japanese is pronounced "kuri" which sounds surprisingly similar to the Japanese slang pronunciation of "clitoris".
Bandai notes, "We did not intend to connect 'kuri' with 'clitoris'."
However, Japanese culture is not left out of the mix. There are also white & blue pants featuring the iconic Mount Fuji, which was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO this year. Bandai's promotional video for the product juxtaposes images of a beautiful female "android" wearing pants and their product mounted on a phone. It is bizarrely amusing.
The fourth collection, which debuted last month, includes XL sized panties for the iPad and tablets, a smart skirt, elephant and zebra motif underwear, cherry patterned panties for the first-time user, and even plaid knickers.
As with any hit project, there were immediate attempts to illegally reproduce it. Within two months after Bandai launched the product in Japan, some smarty-pants pirates in China copied their original idea and started selling counterfeit SMART PANTS™ online in China. Even worse, some Japanese companies also tried to import them into Japan. Bandai sent warning statements to the importers of counterfeits in Japan as well to protect their intellectual property.
Hey, nobody likes having his or her pants ripped off without consent.
"We made about one hundred 40 million yen domestically in sales so far. But the global market retail sales are estimated to maybe even double that," says Mr. Ogawara. SMART PANTS™ are currently sold in Japan, Hong Kong and China. Bandai is planning to launch a series in the UK soon and considering the European market. He says they have no plans to launch a slightly furry version for France.
Republished with permission, this article originally appeared on Japan Subculture Research Center as "Panties for Smart Phones Become Du Jour in Japan."
Nathalie-Kyoko Stucky is a freelance journalist in Tokyo, writing for The Daily Beast and The Atlantic Wire, among other publications. She was an assistant correspondent for the Japanese news agency Jiji Press in Geneva, and has contributed to the book Reconstructing 3/11, and is the chief editor at Japan Subculture Research Center.
Jake Adelstein has been an investigative journalist in Japan since 1993. Considered one of the foremost experts on organised crime in Japan, he works as a writer and consultant in Japan and the United States. Adelstein writes for The Atlantic Wire, The Daily Beast, and Japan Subculture Research Center. He is the author of Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan and the forthcoming The Last Yakuza: A Life In The Japanese Underworld. Find him on Twitter @jakeadelstein.