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We have all seen it often before, that when girls are among themselves, they tend to playfully grope their friend's breasts and it all seems to be okay and accepted behaviour. This trope is thus appropriately called Skinship Grope. I am aware this is used often as fan service and it does mention at the trope page, that one should not try this at home, yet I have had this trope confirmed by friends and TV shows. Therefore it made me wonder where this trope originated from. Did it come from a (at that time) weird manga or did this originate from a cultural difference I am not aware off being a European male myself?

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    You have friends that do this? Interesting, I always thought it was invented merely as a cheap way to give fan service (like being in an onsen wasn't enough already?) – mivilar May 27 '15 at 20:00
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    @mivilar They do as a joke. Almost every girl I asked confirmed this, that's why I got curious as to how this all started. – Peter Raeves May 27 '15 at 21:47
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As the member of the Manga & Illustration Society student club at a Japanese national university, I have seen young Japanese women involved in sub-culture perform this joking action in public in real life. I have seen it done in a small group of female friends while staying at an onsen ryokan (traditional inn at a hot spring), in the midst of a large group of male & female college students, and my husband saw it done by girls in a booth sitting in a bar-type restaurant. Sometimes it is either asked ("Can I touch your breasts?" and the person answers "No" or "I don't have any breasts to begin with"), or threatened ("I'm gonna touch your breasts!") but if the person protests, the threat is not followed through, or she might only threaten playfully and then not go through with it of her own volition. In all cases, the girls have been fully clothed (I have not witnessed a case in an onsen [hot spring] itself or otherwise nude context where the Japanese and Korean phrase "skinship" might be applicable).

Culturally, it is indeed considered okay and acceptable behavior, and does not imply that that the girl/s involved are lesbians. It seems to be a sort of compliment, i.e. false hitting-on (a true lesbian could engage in such banter/activity without ever coming out since the purportedly straight girls do it too). I heard one female college sophomore give her name, grade, major, and "I love breasts" as her entire self-introduction to the group (a mixed gathering of males and females) at the start of the academic year. Of course, the context matters: young women would not do this at formal functions, when professors are present, etc. Young Japanese can throw out the phrase 「セクハラ」(seku-hara, short for "sexual harassment") in these cases, but it does not bear the severity and criminal meaning of the English phrase and is not necessarily unwelcome by the person being hit on.

So in anime, this is not simply unrealistic fan service for male viewers, but rather is a practice among real-life young Japanese women who do not do it for the sake of the enjoyment of men. As a non-Japanese, of course this is rather surprising the first time you see it happen.

Culturally, bathing at an onsen or sento does not generally lend itself toward any sensual content; most women there either avoid eye contact with others, just don't look down (focus on the other person's face), or look at the scenery or wall painting instead of at the friend sitting next to you. People who normally wear glasses cannot see clearly while in the onsen anyway. You can go with your family, relatives, friends, co-workers, and/or acquaintances, or alone and no one expects to be looked at uncomfortably. The very fact that everyone is naked and no one cares or is weirded out or shy about it makes it easy for the average Japanese to enjoy and truly relax.

  • +1. Skinship. If I have missed one thing being back in "open"-minded europe it is just that. At least in se-asia people are allowed to show affection (and skinship) without being judged. – Peter Raeves May 28 '15 at 0:22

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