'30 Rock' features the Japanese body pillow meme

'30 Rock' features the Japanese body pillow meme

The award-winning NBC comedy show pulls from the pages of the "New York Times" to give James Franco the rare Japanese otaku affliction of lusting after a body pillow
Japanese body pillow
These particular body pillows feature characters from the popular game "DOA." (Photo by Flickr user bdu)

The January 14 episode of American comedy series "30 Rock" revolved around actor James Franco and his secret love of a Japanese body pillow named Kimiko-tan. (See the clips on Jezebel or Hulu.)

The inspiration of this subplot comes straight from a controversial July 2009 "New York Times Magazine" article entitled "Love in 2-D." The article follows a hapless late-thirty-something fellow nicknamed Nisan (as in お兄さん) who carries around a body pillow printed with an animated Japanese female character. Nisan calls the pillow "Nemutan" and squires it around town like a girlfriend.

While body pillows are a staple of Akihabara's otaku culture, Nisan is definitely taking the obsession to a new extreme. He is not particularly indicative of what the "New York Times" claimed is a "thriving subculture of men and women in Japan who indulge in real relationships with imaginary characters." Sure, there are many otaku who have abandoned hope of relationships with real romantic partners, but they're not all running around hugging full-sized body pillows. (Mutantfrog fisks the article's other issues here.)

The article, however hyperbolic, may have been redeemed by serving as pure comedy gold on American television. "30 Rock" took the sexual fetishism of the romantically doomed in Japan and turned it into the kind of devious debauchery Hollywood talent has to hide at all costs. The show also gets credit for using the words "moe" and the "-tan" ending correctly.

If you would like your own Japanese body pillow -- either to cure loneliness or to decorate a sitcom writer's room -- head to the otaku districts of Akihabara and Nakano Broadway. Just don't tell your other female body pillow about the new purchase. They get very jealous.