Tokyo – 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.

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.

“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.

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.

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

“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.

© AFP Behrouz MEHRI Female bodybuilders pose during the Japan bodybuilding championships in Tokyo

© AFP Behrouz MEHRI – Female bodybuilders pose during the Japan bodybuilding championships in Tokyo