What Is Guro?

Guro is not, whatever impression may have been given in some quarters, another word for pornography – or even erotica. Nor is it, as some have imagined, related to the word “gore” and filled with blood. In fact, ero guro nansensu, usually called ero guro or just guro, began in Japan in the 1920s as an artistic movement that. The focus is on eroticism, sexual corruption and decadence but that does not mean that pornographic and things stained in blood are automatically guro and nor does it mean that guro must necessarily be pornographic and bloody.

guro_lolita_by_girloveslink-d3jn7amJapanese culture has a long history and, though a number of strands came together in guro at a single point in time, all of those elements can in fact be found there from long before the twentieth century.

The name of the movement is an example of what is called wasei-eigo which may be translated as “Japanese-made English” or “English words coined in Japan” and means expressions used in the Japanese language that at first glance appear to be derived from English but in fact are not. The words may have begun as borrows from English but are now so embedded in Japanese that they have taken on their own meaning. In this case we have the abbreviated words “ero” from “erotic”, “guro” from “grotesque” and “nansensu” from “nonsense.” So the whole expression, ero guro nansensu, can be taken to mean “erotic grotesque nonsense”.

It isn’t, of course, as simple as that. “Grotesque” in this case means something malformed, unnatural or horrific – not the usually accepted meaning of the word in English, though the connection is clear.

The process of wasei-eigo began in the Meiji period (1868 to 1912) when Japan was modernising rapidly. There was a tendency to import words without a clear understanding of what they meant so that the Japanese language ended with many words clearly seen now as Japanese and as often as not meaning something very different from their original meaning.

Guro enthusiasts outside Japan should therefore approach the term with understanding.