The Star of the Show

Back to Contents of Issue: September 2003

Maria Yumeno, one of Japan's highest-earning adult actresses and probably its most famous (until she retired a few months ago), on sex and Japan

by David McNeill

One of Japan's highest-earning adult actresses and probably its most famous until she retired a few months ago, Maria Yumeno turns up in a West Shinjuku coffee shop rife with salarymen. She wears a short and glittering gold dress that barely covers her ample assets and brings male faces swiveling in our direction.

"Japanese men love big breasts," she says, popping out a bare breast for closer inspection. "You're going red," she adds. "That's cute, but why are you embarrassed?

"I'm just playing a role, like a movie actress," she continues, slipping the wayward breast back into its gold pouch. "When I step out the door, a switch goes on in my head and I become Maria Yumeno, the porn star who loves sex. It's not the real me. I designed and made her and now I act her. I know who I really am. She's like my best friend. If I didn't keep her separate from myself, I'd go crazy."

"We're good at our jobs.
We make men think we like the sex.
If they don't think that, we've failed"

Like many in the sex industry, Yumeno has a published profile that is entirely bogus. The 24-year-old from Tokyo is in fact a 30-year-old from Yamaguchi who worked as a graphic designer after leaving school. The fact that she didn't begin her movie career until she was in her mid 20s -- making her older and smarter than many of her counterparts -- and that she still looks about 19 helps explain her career longevity.

Since (literally) bursting onto the scene in 1998, Maria has made over 60 movies, many with titles that play on the supposed erotic pleasures of her manga-like 37-inch bust and skinny girl's body. Walk into any big video rental store and you'll find Maria staring out of the covers of The Wild Bust, My Neighbor's Sister Has a G-Cup, The Busty Slave and the classic Give Me Endless F***.

It's just a role, but does it make her uncomfortable to have millions of men obsessed with her?

"Not at all," Yumeno says. "If they don't enjoy my movies, I'm not doing my job properly. The older they are, the harder I have to work, but that's okay. That's what I'm paid to do."

The cliches for why people work in the porn industry -- childhood trauma and abuse, low self-esteem and absent fathers -- are quite often true. Maria's father disappeared when she was a child and she says many women work in the industry precisely because they hate men and think porn is one way of symbolically controlling them. But don't underestimate the draw of porn's quick money and the passport out of a life of drudgery in a gray corporate bunker.

Top AV stars earn up to JPY3 million a movie, but they have a very limited shelf life -- and their price goes down, not up. Most of the men, on the other hand, are willing to work for JPY100,000 or less. Machiki Katsumi, general manager of adult filmmaker V&R Planning Co., claims actresses can earn enormous sums of money in what is probably the only industry in Japan that pays women four or five times what men earn.

"A single shoot pays about JPY200,000," says Katsumi. "Some women like to work straight through, say for 20 days, when they can earn as much as JPY4 million. Some are obviously in financial trouble. But more important is the rise of part-time working culture. A lot of people just want to work for short periods and earn as much money as they can."

Most women are recruited by the ubiquitous scouts around Tokyo's large stations (Yumeno was scouted in Shibuya), but some walk through the door after seeing profiles of sex workers in easily available magazines like Tinkle and Bustier. Many of the smarter women recruit managers, sometimes from unusual places. "We had a girl come in here one day with her mother," claims Hiroyuki Tsunoda, president of Media Station Co. Women who last longest often carve out niches for themselves and earn a semi-loyal following.

"My specialty is breaking down the defenses of guys who are really straight-laced and having sex with them, but I've also done violent stuff, getting raped by three guys, that sort of thing," Yumeno says with a smile. "As soon as the director shouts 'cut!,' the guys completely change, start asking me if I'm all right. It's just a role. I don't hate men. Most of them are good to me, but they're weak."

Lots of men think women work in porn because they like sex.

"That's because we're good at our jobs. We make them think that. If they don't think that, we've failed."

The worst thing about the job, according to Yumeno, is "keeping a boyfriend. First of all, finding a guy who doesn't get jealous. Some men say they don't care and understand it's just a job, but most get jealous afterward. If I don't tell them who I am, someone will tell them or they'll check out my past, but I'm not interested in that sort of man anyway. There are few guys who are strong enough to stay around."

Yumeno has never hung around with her fellow actresses, most of whom she calls "stupid. I like people who are strong, who know themselves, like writers and artists. I like traveling. I've been all over Europe. I love art."

So what happens to porn actresses when they retire? Yumeno is trying to find out by transforming herself into an "all-round entertainer," venturing into singing, acting in variety programs, drama shows, movies and even webcasting (see

Her advice for aspiring actresses?

"If you really want to do it, then try it. But if you're half-hearted about it, forget it. Work in a Seven-Eleven." @

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.