Bikini power Ja­pan’s lady body­builders smash­ing stereo­types .

Glis­ten­ing with sweat, Sa­toko Ya­manouchi’s bi­ceps rip­ple and the veins in her neck throb as if about to pop as she strikes a fear­some pose at the Ja­pan body­build­ing cham­pi­onships.


Glis­ten­ing with sweat, Sa­toko Ya­manouchi’s bi­ceps rip­ple and the veins in her neck throb as if about to pop as she strikes a fear­some pose at the Ja­pan body­build­ing cham­pi­onships. They are strong and de­ter­mined.

An hour later, the pint-sized Nagoya house­wife is close to tears af­ter nar­rowly fail­ing to re­tain her ti­tle from a field of 34 bronzed and im­pres­sively buff ladies, most of them in their fifties.

“I was pa­thetic!” the 56-year-old Ya­manouchi told AFP back­stage at the close of the event ear­lier this week, sport­ing a skimpy gold bikini.

“A sil­ver medal means noth­ing to me,” sniffed the sinewy ex-champ, who stands just 1.58 me­ters tall and weighs 50 kilo­grams. “It just means you’re the best loser.”

A self-con­fessed gym rat, Ya­manouchi is the poster girl for Ja­pan’s grow­ing num­ber of fe­male body­builders, help­ing break down gen­der stereo­types in a coun­try ob­sessed with the kawaii (cute) fluffi­ness of its ubiq­ui­tous pop cul­ture.

“I want to help change per­cep­tions so that more peo­ple can ap­pre­ci­ate the beauty of a mus­cu­lar woman,” said the five-time na­tional cham­pion af­ter a pu­n­ish­ing two-hour work­out a week be­fore the com­pe­ti­tion.

“When I tell peo­ple I’m a body­builder, it freaks them out,” added Ya­manouchi, who be­came hooked on the sport in her late for­ties af­ter look­ing for a way to keep fit.

“My hus­band didn’t like it when I started ei­ther, his wife wear­ing a bikini in pub­lic, but he came around.”

The num­ber of body­builders reg­is­tered with Ja­pan’s na­tional fed­er­a­tion has al­most dou­bled over the past six years to around 3,000, with women mak­ing up 10 per­cent as part of a na­tion­wide fit­ness boom, of­fi­cials said.

In age­ing Ja­pan, fe­male body­build­ing is dom­i­nated by women in their for­ties and fifties, as many usu­ally only start af­ter their chil­dren have grown up.

Ya­manouchi, who takes around 10 dif­fer­ent sup­ple­ments a day to boost mus­cle growth and aid re­cov­ery, in­sists she knows where to draw the line, de­spite her bulging physique.

“I don’t want to look like the Hulk,” she said, tak­ing a gulp of pro­tein shake.

“I want to look beau­ti­ful and keep my fem­i­nin­ity. I just don’t feel like a reg­u­lar house­wife,” added Ya­manouchi. “I’m al­ways striv­ing to cre­ate the per­fect body.” Women’s body­build­ing is a se­ri­ous busi­ness. The old­est com­peti­tor at the Ja­pan cham­pi­onships, 64-yearold Mariko Taka­matsu, stormed off af­ter fail­ing to make the top 12.The even­tual win­ner, Megumi Sawada, struck a se­ries of eye­pop­ping poses to the theme tune of Godzilla, stun­ning Ya­manouchi to take the ti­tle.

“It’s un­be­liev­able I’ve won,” gasped the 56-year-old gym in­struc­tor, who used to com­pete in se­cret to avoid up­set­ting her mother.

“I want to cre­ate the kind of body that stops peo­ple in the street,” laughed Sawada, sport­ing a bob hair­style and sil­ver nail pol­ish.

“I don’t care what peo­ple think — you can ex­press fem­i­nine beauty with this kind of body.”

Other body­build­ing sub-gen­res have sprung up in Ja­pan, in­clud­ing “bikini fit­ness” — a cat­e­gory that has turned Yuri Ya­sui into a mag­a­zine cover girl.

A two-time Ja­pan cham­pion, the stat­uesque 33-year-old is an­other who caught the work­out bug af­ter ini­tially want­ing to lose weight.

“When I started train­ing se­ri­ously, my par­ents were dead against it — even my friends were,” said Ya­sui, a bank em­ployee from Nagoya, a city south­west of Tokyo, who won her first na­tional ti­tle less than a year af­ter tak­ing up the sport.

“They didn’t want me up there in front of strangers in a bikini flash­ing my bot­tom.”

“At long last women are start­ing to work out reg­u­larly, but Ja­panese men still don’t re­ally ac­cept mus­cle-bound women,” added Ya­sui af­ter lift­ing weights at a Tokyo gym.

“It’s im­por­tant to change at­ti­tudes. The way to a fem­i­nine body — get­ting that tiny waist and a round bum — is by build­ing mus­cle.”

Ya­sui eats horse­meat for break­fast and lunch to help keep her body fat low and mod­els her strik­ing fig­ure on an Amer­i­can fem­i­nist icon.

“Ever since I was at col­lege, I adored Won­der Woman,” said the 1.73 me­ter tall Ya­sui, who even wears a star-span­gled bikini on the cover of her of­fi­cial video.

“I wanted that hour-glass body with the tight waist, big breasts and but­tocks. You can get it – you just have to work at it.”

Flex­ing: Ja­panese body­builder Sa­toko Ya­manouchi poses dur­ing the Ja­pan body­build­ing cham­pi­onships in Tokyo. Hard work pays off: Win­ning Ja­panese body­builder in the women's cat­e­gory Megumi Sawada and win­ner in the men's cat­e­gory Masashi Suzuki pose on stage dur­ing the Ja­pan body­build­ing cham­pi­onships in Tokyo.

Get­ting bet­ter: Yuri Ya­sui changes plates as she works out at a gym in Tokyo.

One more rep: Ja­panese body­builder Yuri Ya­sui works out at a gym in Tokyo.

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