Books on Japan: Gay & Lesbian
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Gay Japanese Manga Comics
Gay Japanese manga (i.e. comics) are a subgenre of the vast manga scene in Japan. They are known as gei komi (a Japanese transliteration/abbreviation of "gay comics") in Japan, and sometimes called "bara," (literally "rose") by non-Japanese.
Japanese gay manga are characterized first by the amount of painstaking detail that goes into the drawing of almost any genre of Japanese manga. Next, the dichotomy of submissive and dominant plays a very big part in the stories of gay manga, based on the sempai/kohai, or junior/senior, relationship that is found throughout Japanese society.
Also, related to sempai/kohai, is a prevalence of depictions of sado-masochism, reflecting the "no pain, no gain" ethos that also pervades Japanese thinking.
There is also a strong sci-fi/horror influence in gay manga, which is very much shared with countless other genres of Japanese manga.
Finally, gay Japanese manga are overwhelmingly erotic and explicit. It is rare to find a succession of more than about 2 or 3 pages anywhere in a gay manga that wouldn't outrage a prude.
There are several famous manga artists whose works can be found in gay bookshops in Japan. Best known in the West of the prominent gay manga artists is Gengoroh Tagame, who could be called the Tom of Finland of Japan, but with a stronger SM twist. His works are an orgy of sexual agony and ecstasy, violence, muscle, uniform, implements, and often off-the-wall fantasy.
The work of Seizo Ebisubashi is in a similar vein, but is mainly differentiated by being more purely gachi-muchi (pronounced "gatchy-moochy"), i.e. "muscly-chubby," featuring big-boy-next-door characters, rather than the more heroically built men of Tagame. Ebisubashi also draws in a more straightforward manner, reflecting the more down-to-earth content of his stories.
Hibakichi is a gay manga artist well-known for the strong element of sci-fi fantasy/horror in his stories. His works are distinguished by a sense of fun that shines through even the most outlandish, bloodcurdling scenarios.
Other famous manga artists include Takeshi Matsu (think ebullient young sporty machismo), Tsukasa Matsuzaki, Hyogo Kijima, Gai Mizuki, Sakuya Takagi, and, the female artist, Reibun Ike.
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Beyond Common Sense: Sexuality & Gender in Contemporary Japan
by Wim Lunsing
My Websters dictionary defines common sense as "the unreflective opinions held by most people." Common sense is that which we take for granted, that which we assume is "natural." However, common sense is a cultural construct, it differs from one society to another.
When it comes to questions of sexuality and gender, Japanese common sense is simple and straightforward..... you get married and have children. In fact, as many observers have noted, in Japan you are not considered to be a complete adult until you do marry and have children. This is the starting point for Lunsings fascinating ethnographic study of sexuality and gender in Japan.
By studying those that fall outside the "norm," a clearer picture of the mainstream society is possible, so he chose to study Gays, Lesbians, Feminists, and others who choose to remain single. Covering the variety of discourses on marriage, questions of identity and self - including the Japanese system of tatemae (public face) and honne (private self)-, issues of "coming out" and "passing," Lunsing reveals that a surprising variety of behaviour is tolerated in Japan, which he attributes to Japan's efforts to educate people about sexuality and gender issues to bring about a change in "common sense" as opposed to the West, where laws are changed and made, but common sense in the majority of people left untouched.
Throughout the book Lunsing goes in to some depth as to the meanings of words concerning sexuality and gender in the Japanese language, uncovering some of the subtle differences between the literal meanings and common usages, as well as how these words are glossed into English. The importation of the many English words into Japanese is also discussed. The book is a little pricey, but it covers a lot of ground and is readable even for the general reader. Recommended.
Utopia Guide to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan: the Gay and Lesbian Scene in 45 Cities, Including Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, Seoul, Pusan and Taipei
Edited by John Goss
Only the naive would believe that modernization brought homosexuality to Japan. The Utopia Guide to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan introduces the present state of homosexuality in East Asia, via its historical and literary vintage, and brings it to a manageable head in this must-have handbook. Drink deep!
Utopia is well known as the world's most comprehensive and authoritative English-language resource on gay Asia. As a matter of course, the book, too, covers everything you want to know about the scene in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
The Utopia Guide to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan is organized alphabetically and covers pretty much every town that has at least one gay bar. The mammoth size of the task means that the editor relies to a large extent on the up-to-date feedback of gay men and women via the Utopia website for details such as directions and type of clientele, and in some entries the reader is directed to a Utopia URL.
This guide is anything but bare and goes far beyond being a mere 'how to get there' manual. It is comprehensive in the types of establishments it covers: bars, saunas, discos, bookshops, restaurants, cafes, shops and salons. Furthermore, it is written with a sensitive finger on the social, cultural and political pulse of the three countries it covers. It turns the most casual riffler into a reader with its knowing commentary on various gay issues and evocative descriptions of various gay scenes and areas. A particularly memorable example of commentary is its textbox on p.114 about the state of homosexuality in Korea. And for pure descriptive stimulation, this excerpt from the memorable introductory sketch of Shinjuku Ni-Chome sticks in the mind:
Who could resist?!
One small fault in the Tokyo pages is that it fails to distinguish between bars and what are predominantly dance clubs (specifically Ace - now known as ArcH - and Arty Farty). However, to anyone who has employed the guide to get as far as Ni-Chome itself, what better way to approach that guy than with 'Where can we dance?' Otherwise, directions to often difficult-to-find establishments are set out in meticulous and easy-to-follow detail, and there are ample tips, depending on the establishment, to make your experience there as enjoyable as possible. The frequent 'Comments from Utopians' are especially helpful, being up to the minute information from the ground via the Utopia website. Note that these comments supplement the main coverage, and are not merely used in its stead.
The look of the book is clean. Its cover features the dazzling kaleidoscope of color that is a Korean temple roof, and inside layout is spacious with generously sized font and interspersed with photos every four or five pages. Establishments that offer a discount to Utopia members are clearly marked.
As the beginning of the Guide's introduction says 'This guide is a slice of pink life, frozen in time on Apr 15, 2006 By the time you read this book, no doubt some venues will have closed, moved, or morphed, while many others with have emerged into the light of day or into the neon splash of night.'
In other words, get it while it's hot!
Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities
Japan has its own tradition of male homosexuality, albeit one that in practical terms is of little relevance today, when gayness is almost exclusively associated in the public eye not with the masculine rigors and roles of samurai and their catamites, but with the luridness and sensationalism of the late-night cross-dressing entertainment world.
In Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan, Cultural Myths and Social Realities, Mark McLelland, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia, describes - after coming to terms in the introduction with his doubts about the legitimacy of any sexuality-based labels - and analyzes male homosexuality in Japan from its native history to its now mainly Western-tinted present.
One of McLelland's biggest contributions is his description of how male homosexuality in Japan has been appropriated, and indeed idealized, by the female-orientated media, particularly girls' comics. Starting with this female fascination with the idea of males whose predilections redeem them from the kind of oppressive masculinity that the comics provide an escape from, male homosexuality in Japan is strongly and broadly associated with things feminine in the mind of the public, specifically with the cross-dressing, loud, mincing "okama". Therefore a large initial focus of the book is gender differences in Japan and what this means for perceptions of male homosexuality.
McLelland takes the reader through a thoroughgoing survey of portrayals of gayness in the gay media, reserving perhaps his biggest contribution to the topic, interviews with gay men, for the last part of the book. Having found as many men-who-love-men as McLelland did, and getting them to talk as he did, is a tour de force, and reading quotes and synopses of what they say only confirms and elucidates the difficulties of what in the introduction McLelland confesses is the almost impossible task of defining what 'male homosexuality in modern Japan' really is and means.
McLelland's conclusion may not, especially on a political level, please those who want a firm and recognizable handle on gayness in Japan. Moreover, the author's devoted explication of this issue based on a massive body of multifarious items of evidence comes up with what almost seems like a plea to Japanese uniqueness: one that cannot, however, be dismissed. Will developments over the next few decades show that McLelland has not stood far back enough and missed pointers to a trend towards the creation of a recognizable gay identity in Japan? Or is his ear too close to the ground on this issue to warrant doubting his diagnosis?
Genders, Transgenders and Sexualities in Japan
Acceptance of diverse genders and sexualities in Japan is well documented. Kabuki, the Takarazuka Revue, samurai pederasty and the homoerotic vanity of Mishima Yukio are prominent examples. But how accepted is sexuality outside the male/female gender binary in everyday life?
The thirteen chapters in Genders, Transgenders and Sexualities in Japan do not presume to answer this question. They do, however, give an overview of the multiple genders and sexualities within Japanese scholarship and examine how language and image are used to manipulate and perpetuate gender stereotypes.
This book's greatest contribution to gender studies is the successful de-compartmentalization of subjects usually separated into specific volumes about "women", "men", or "sexual minorities". In doing so, it is less about difference and more about plurality, about observation rather than classification.
"In the politics of okama and onabe", Wim Lumsing's analysis of the Japanese word 'okama' (loosely, 'homo') highlights how attempts by Japanese gay groups to use words as tools of discrimination or exclusivity have failed. Ichida, McLelland and Murakami scrutinize the proliferation of the 'perverse press' at the end of WWII and the liberation it provided from hegemonic sexual and gender norms.
The Japanese government's manipulation of gender stereotypes for political and economic ends is analysed in Futoshi Taga`s "Rethinking Japanese masculinities". This essay includes an overview of the transformation of the Meiji Emperor Mutsuhito from an 'effete noble' in 1867 to a masculine patriarch in the space of 20 years and the makeover of the humble postwar salaryman into the symbol of Japanese masculinity in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.
Japanese women are often discussed in terms of their consumption patterns and Akiko Takeyama's essay on host clubs in Tokyo raises some thorny questions. For example, where does consumer sovereignty stop and exploitation start in matters of the heart?
To read that onna kotoba (feminine Japanese) is not the result of thousands of years of Japanese tradition but a Meiji restoration directive is the kind of background information that makes this book revelatory for the lay reader and an update for the scholarly. Furthermore, Nagata and Sullivan's essay, "Hegemonic gender in Japanese as a foreign language education" underscores, as does Romit Dasgupta's "Salarymen doing straight", that while diverse genders exist in Japan, they do so within a heterosexist/ patriarchal framework.
Even so, in the last decade the Japanese salaryman has begun to lose his position as champion of Japanese business and has been ridiculed as merely a drone. Subsequently, with the declining birthrate and the dwindling workforce, it may well be the defender of hearth and home, the Japanese housewife, who defines the next phase in Japan's economic development and in so doing redraws gender boundaries completely. Conversely, she may be relegated to the role of a "birth-giving machine", a comment (approving of that role) made by Hakuo Yanagisawa, the Japanese Health Minister, in early 2007.
With chapters by key Japanese authors and Western scholars who have worked extensively with Japanese language resources, Genders, Transgenders and Sexualities in Japan draws on and addresses current thinking in debates on sexuality. As part of the Routledge Asia's Transformations series, it is intended for an academic audience but its appeal will be far more wide reaching.
In the Company of Men: Representations of Male-male Sexuality in Meiji Literature
By Jim Reichert
Nanshoku, literally 'male colors', describes a traditional form of Japanese homosexual relationship between an older man, typically a warrior, and his catamite. However, with the influx of Western medical thinking into Japan at the end of the 19th century, nanshoku, from being a normal and predominantly social mentor-acolyte relationship with a long and honorable vintage, immediately became problematized as a sexual relationship, and a 'deviant' one at that.
As a vestige of a 'dark past', nanshoku had to be dispensed with. Not only that, but, as it was the basis of the (misogynistic homosocial) warrior milieu, nanshoku was the embodiment of the values of the samurai, those paragons of the clan-based political order that the new regime had legislated against, forbidden to wear swords anymore and forced to cut off their topknots.
Nanshoku, therefore, stood against everything the new order stood for, and references to it began to be rigorously censored by the new government almost as soon as it took power in 1868. For this reason, and because nanshoku had been such a popular theme in pre-modern literature, any reference to it was seen as automatically harking back to a time that had been officially banished from memory, and thus became an act of virtual ideological treason towards the new social, cultural and political regime. Nanshoku therefore becomes the touchstone that Reichert employs to investigate Meiji-era Japanese literature.
Reichert subjects eight writers and their relationship towards nanshoku to a detailed, historically informed, political, social and literary analysis. The approach taken in using nanshoku to cast light on each writer's relationship with Japan's new modernizing ideology differs according to each one's use of it. The deftness of Reichert's handling of the various tools he has availed himself of for the task requires steady concentration, but reiterations throughout keep his arguments clear and comprehensible.
As wide-ranging as the types of work he scrutinizes are, the seven chapters form a continuum beginning with investigation of Shizu no odamaki, a virtual bible of nanshoku, progressing through to authors whose oeuvres transformed nanshoku themes by overlaying the typical literary format of the genre with heterosexual themes, to progressively more and more cursive and cautious treatments of the theme where nanshoku was only hinted at, and even then with subtle irony.
At base however, is the author's assertion that any mention of nanshoku at all was a form of protest against the compulsory heterosexuality that had been imposed on the nation by its modernizers. Hearteningly, after the very coolly academic analysis that this thesis is, at the very end of the book he identifies his own effort as being a part of this protest.
Reichert succeeds in helping rescue a major strand of Japanese culture that has still not recovered from the repression it suffered in the 1870s. He does it convincingly, interestingly, and, perhaps best of all, with a stunning breadth of disciplinary reach that does full justice to the topic of nanshoku and the scope of its significance.
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Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age
Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age is a 20th century history of non-heteronormative sexual expression in Japan. Mark McLelland's third solo publication is an unparalleled collection of first person accounts from tojisha (those who speak from direct experience), meticulously researched and engagingly told.
Ever aware of antecedents and how they illumine the present, McLelland has included an introduction to Edo Period (1600-1867) sex lives and an analysis of Meji Era "normal" and "perverse" desires. The decades of censorship and privation during the Taisho and Showa war years contrast starkly with the freedom and dynamism of the early 1950s.
The unregulated proliferation of the Japanese "perverse press" in the 1950s is all the more fascinating when juxtaposed with the proscriptive US regulations of the time. In 1953, while copies of the first US homophile magazine ONE were being seized in the USA Japanese publishers were circulating their own magazines, which included "practically any type of sexual activity other than 'ordinary sex' between a man and a woman."
The burgeoning exposure given to a range of sexual minorities in the Japanese media has prompted a chapter on transgender lives. Japan's Gender Identity Disorder Law (GID) remains controversial, not least because it pathologizes transgender people. A diagnosis of "gender identity disorder" is necessary to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Japan and therefore be eligible to change gender in the koseki (family register).
While some in the transgender community see the GID as a necessary evil, and part of a recognition process (however negative the present connotations might be) others, including Trans Sexual Stars web mistress Misaki, are skeptical of labels that potentially reduce categorization of transgender people to the overly simplistic binary of "transitioning" and "post op." "Recently, the term Gender Identity Disorder has popped up and it might be easy to think of this together with nyuhaafu (loosely, transgender), but thisis a separate issue," she writes. "There are those who have no balls (tama) but have a penis (sao) remaining, there are also those who, although they want abundant breasts, want to keep their balls and penis," she continues.
Sources from the Internet have generated an "insurrection of subjugated knowledges" and as such this book is an invaluable resource for scholars. McLelland's accessible style and knack for provocative translation ensure it will appeal equally to those with a passing interest in gender studies, Japan, or both. Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age could only be improved by the "wealth of images" the jacket notes so tantalizingly promise, but fail to deliver.
Queer Voices from Japan: First-Person Narratives from Japan's Sexual Minorities
Even in the early post-war years, foreign gay men in Japan were lauded for their "good technique in the aftermath." This had nothing to do with their ability to follow procedures in the event of an earthquake, but rather their post-coital expertise in the bedroom. This, and other titbits are between the covers of Queer Voices from Japan, a compendium of 21 first person lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) magazine articles, memoirs, and discussions from post-war Japan to the present.
Articles from the hentai zasshi ("perverse magazines") of the late 1940s and 1950s are here for the first time in English and afford the reader a candid entree into the sexuality of this period. "Yes, after the war the foreigners came and these days sex is getting more hard core," said Yutaka Yoshimura, at the Grand Sodomia Conference in 1953. "It's strange," he ruminated, "but foreigners lick all over your body, even between the toes." "Night brings out the homo," wrote Kabiya Kazuhiko in 'Lifestyles in the Gay Bars,' a 1955 guide to Shinjuku-ni-chome. He was a stern and self-righteous chaperone. "Generally," he wrote, "the personality of sodomites is introverted and neurotic, and externally, they keep a straight face. That is because most of them do not have an iota of burlesque."
Queer Voices is the second compendium of narratives in English from the LGBT community in Japan and a corrective of sorts. Queer Japan, published in 1998 was the first, and as such a milestone, however it exuded despair. Furthermore, its critics, including Mark McLelland, questioned what they perceived as the editors' analysis of Japanese LGBT culture within a Western framework. Conversely, Queer Voices is uncompromised by dogma and the entries are constructive, and on occasion even euphoric. In particular, the unremarkably titled, "Lesbians in the Mountains," conceals a well-written rhapsody to Ozaki Harumi's experience as half of an out lesbian couple in rural Japan.
The informative 'Timeline of Queer Japan' charts the growth of the gay rights movement, and in particular the advocacy work of OCCUR (The Japan Association for the Lesbian and Gay Movement). And yet, despite the persistent efforts of Togo Ken, veteran gay activist, and more recently, Osaka assemblywoman Otsuji Kanako, in federal politics, success has eluded LGBT people.
'Reflections on the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Parade 2000' is a snapshot of intra LGBT bickering. Public displays of "gayness" are anathema to many in the Japanese gay community, but nonetheless the first pride parade was held in Tokyo in 1994. Infighting diminished participation in 1996 and 1997 and resulted in a two-year hiatus in 1998 and 1999, until 2000, when Sanagawa Hideki took the mantle. The fractiousness of the LGBT community in Tokyo perhaps explains the obsequiousness with which he writes about his experience as director of the parade.
On a lighter note, Mitsuhashi Junko writes of her cross-dressing odyssey with relish. The intrigue of the Elizabeth Club in Tokyo is indeed colourful, but her "I want to be a woman" refrain may be deafening to those who actually are.
Queer Voices from Japan is insightful and evocative, with a comprehensive introduction and extensive footnotes. The most reassuring aspect of these narratives is not so much the courage of those directly concerned, however, but the ongoing support of spouses, family, friends and colleagues who have fostered the development of these people into the role models they are today.
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