Manga Sound Effect Guide

explosionJapanese has around 1,200 onomatopoeia divided into 3 families (Kadooka, 2009.; Inose,n.d. ). That’s around 3x more than English has.  Onomatopoeia are words used to represent calls of animals, sounds of nature, sounds of people, and other sounds (Alilyeh & Zeinolabedin, 2014).  Luckily, manga doesn’t use all of these sound words.  However, it’s common for manga to leave these sound words untranslated. First, it’s expensive to edit the sound effects and replace them with English. English words can mess up the flow and impact of the story. Next, English lacks most of the sound effects found in Japanese. So manga readers have to learn these words. This actually means manga readers have an edge over traditional book-readers.

Manga is called a multimodel text. This simply means it takes many different skills to read.  Manga readers have to understand some aspects of Japanese culture to get the references. You have know how to read the overlapping images and text. Not to mention good manga is read right to left. Now add in Japanese sound words and words English lacks like shonen, shojo, and maiko. Manga encourages a variety of skills, from image interpretation to the Japanese language, that reading traditional prose cannot do. Manga readers have better developed multidimensional thinking than traditional readers because of the complex cinematic language of the medium. Manga readers are comfortable with seeing different languages and looking up the meanings of words. They are more aware than the general reader about cultural differences between countries.

Understanding Japanese Sound Words

With all that in mind, let’s look at how Japanese onomatopoeia work. There are 3 families and 5 classes.  Families group words together by what sounds they mimic. Classes group words by their structure, how the words themselves look and sound.  English sound words have the same families and classes. Let’s look at the families before we get into the more technical classes (Inose, n.d.):

Giseigo: These words mimic voices of people and animals.

  • ワンワン wanwan (bow-wow);
  • キャア kyaa (aaaah).

Giongo: Words that imitate sounds.

  • ザアザア zaazaa  (the sound of rain, English lacks a true equivalent)
  • バキッ baki (crack)

Gitaigo: words that represent something visual or a feeling.

  • ニヤニアヤ niyaniaya (smiling ironically)

We will look more into gitaigo later. These are not true sound words but they appear in both anime and manga. I will use katakana for sound words, but you may also see them in hiragana and kanji. Onomatopoeia are mostly written in katakana. Katakana is used to write loanwords like television, テレビ (terebi) and to make words stand out.

Okay, so let’s go into the classes. There are 5 classes that categorizes word structure (Kadooka, 2009).

Bare stem – this is the root of the word. Think of the word study. Stud is the stem. Study becomes studied in the past tense. Studying is the present perfect tense.  A word stem is the basic version of the verb.

For example:

hanasu (to speak) => hana (bare stem) => hanashimasu (speak, present tense)

Japanese sound words in this class use the stem like hana

Altered Reduplication – repeats the first word with a slight change. Think bow-wow. ガサゴソ gasa-goso (a rattling sound).

Doubled Base – repeats the base sound of the word. Think rattattat.

Reduplication – repeats the sound. Think pop-pop. コロコロ  korokoro (something rolling) This is the most common class of sound words.

Miscellaneous – catches all the other words that don’t fall into the previous groups.

So why do you need to know this? It can help you determine which words are sound words and which are not while you read. Sound words can have degrees and knowing the class helps you determine if the words are related:

ハタハタ  hatahata – the sound of something fluttering in the wind

パタパタ patapata – the wind is stronger than in hatahata

バタバタ batabata – the wind is stronger than in patapata.

They words retain the same Reduplication and Doubled Base (ata). This is pretty technical. But knowing these classes can help you know, at a glance, if the word is an onomatopoeia.

キュアアツ - kyaatsu

キュアアツ – kyaatsu

Words Representing a Sight or Feeling

Gitaigo aren’t unique to Japanese. We have them in English too: smirk, wink, grin. Gitaigo clarify or emphasize expressions or feelings a character has. One of the most common is じーっ, jii. This means “stare” and is often used with a character, well, staring at another or the reader. Gitaigo become a part of anime’s visual language. They are not meant to be read as much as seen. Mimetic expressions, as these are called, are common in Japanese language. These expressions sometimes appear in anime.

Words that translate to headache and other internal feelings make it clear what a character is experiencing. Manga isn’t able to describe internal feelings like prose can. In a novel, you often sit inside a character and watch events through their eyes. In manga, you are an outside observer. Gitaigo allows authors to clue readers in on internal feelings. They work the same way as writing “Timothy rubbed his throbbing head.” We can see the character rub their forehead, but we may not know it is because of a headache instead of an itch without gitaigo.

Japanese Sound Words Guide

This chart is by no means complete, but it should help you learn some of the more common onomatopoeia found in manga. The chart uses katakana, but you may see the same words in hiragana. I then provide the transliteration in English and its rough translation.

Gitaigo are in bold. The table is sorted by katakana to help you find the phrase by its first letter. This guide doesn’t contain every sound effect.

First Kana LetterKatakanaEnglish TransliterationEnglish Equivalent
あイ あははは ahahaha ahahaha
 イイヤア or やあiyaano (screamed)
イライラirairagrrr
おっとっとototooops
 がgaawhirl
がおーgaoogrowl
ガガガgagagarumble/ratatat
カサカサkasakasaburn (as in sunburn)
ガシャンッgashancrash
カタカタkatakataclick-click/typing sounds
ガタンガトンgatangotonclick-clack
カチカチkachikachiclack
ガチガチgachigachishake
ガツガツgatsugatsumunch
カラカラkarakarasweat
カリkaricrunch/crisp
かんかんkankanangry
キキーkikiioohoohahah (monkey)
キャアkyaaaaah!
ギャアgyaaaaaah!
キラキラkirakirasparkling
キリキリkirikiristabbing pain
ギリギリgirigirigrind
ぐグぐうきゅるるるguukyurururugurgle / stomach growl
グチャguchyasquish
 ぐにゃりgunyariflex
ぐるぐるgurugurudizzy
 グルルグルルgururugururupurr
グラグラguragurarattle
ゲッソリgessorishoom
ゲロゲロgerogeroribbit
ゴコゴクゴクgokugokugulp
コケッkokestumble
コスコスkosokososecretly
こちょこちょkochokochokoochie-koochie koo
こっくりkokkurizzzz
コトkotoclink
 コロ コロkorokororoll
ザサザーzaaheavy rain
サワサワsawasawarustling
じジじーjiistare
ジュージューjyuujyuusizzle
ジリリリリjiriridingding
 シワシワshiwashiwawrinkles
ズウウウウンzuuuuundepressed/doomed
ズズウウzuzuuusip
ゾソゾクゾクzokuzokutremble
ソロリソロリsororisororitip-toe
ダだ ダダダダ dadadada running feet
 だらだら daradara lazy
チち チチチ chichichi chirp-chirp
 チュウチュウ chuuchuu squeak
 ちゅっ chu mwha (kiss)
 ちゅるちゅる churuchuru slurp
 ちょこんっ chokon silence
  ちらっ chira peek
  ちらほら chirahora drift / flutter
チンchinding
ドどドーンdoonboom
どきっdokithump (heartbeat)
ドキドキdokidokiheartbeat
どっかーんdokkaanbooom!
 どろ どろdorodoroooze
ドンドンdondonknock-knock
ニコニコnikonikosmile
にゃあnyaameow
ニヤニアniyaniayaironic smile
ニヤニヤniyaniyaheh heh
バハパバキbakithump (hitting sound)
 バキッ baki crack
ハタハタ hatahataflutter
バタバタbatabatawhooooooosh!
パタパタpatapatawhoooosh
パチッpachizap/zzzt
ハックションhakkushonachoo
ハラハラharaharauneasy
  バラバラ barabara flutter
 バリバリ baribari crunch
ピカッpikaflash
 びしょびしょ bishobisho wet
ピチャンpichansplash
ヒヒーンhihiinwhinny/neigh
ピピピピピpipipipipibeep beep
ヒュオオオオオhyuooooohowl
ピョンピョンpyonpyonboing-boing
ヒリヒリhirhirithrob
 ビリビリ biribiri bzzzt
ピンポン or ぴんぽんpinponding dong
フブフーツfuuhiss
 ブーン buun buzz
ブカブカbukabukaloose/baggy
 ブクブク bukubuku bubble
 ブチュー buchuu smoooch
 ブツブツ butsubutsu mutter
 ブヒブヒ buhibuhi oink-oink
 ブフーツ bufuu snort
ふらふらfurafuraflap-flap
ブルブルburuburubrrrr (shivering with cold)
 ブロロロロ burororo vrooom / zooom
 ふわふわfuwafuwafluffy
ペベペこペこpekopekoperson bowing
  ペたべた betabeta stick (as in sticky)
 ベラベラ berabera blah-blah
ポ キッpokisnap
 ボー boo woosh
 ぼたぼた botabota drip drip
ホホホhohohohahaha
メエメエmeemeebaa
もおーmohmoo
もぐもぐmogumoguchew
もじもじmojimojifidget
ラブラブraburabulove
ワンワンwanwanbow-wow

References

Aliyeh, K. & Zeinolabedin, R. (2014). A Comparison between Onomatopoeia and Sound Symbolism in Persian and English and Their Application in the Discourse of Advertisements.International Journal of Basic Sciences & Applied Research. Vol., 3 (SP), 219-225.

Inose, Hiroko (n.d.) Translating Japanese onomatopoeia and mimetic words https://www.academia.edu/8327377/Translating_Japanese_onomatopoeia_and_mimetic_words

Kadooka, K. (2009). Onomatopoeia Markers in Japanese. Lacus Forum 28. 267-275.Schwartz, A., & Rubinstein-Avila, E. (2006). Understanding the Manga Hype: Uncovering the Multimodality of Comic-book Literacies. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 50 (1) 40-49.

The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima

There is a tradition in the Nabéshima family that, many years ago, the Prince of Hizen was bewitched and cursed by a cat that had been kept by one of his retainers. This prince had in his house a lady of rare beauty, called O Toyo: amongst all his ladies she was the favourite, and there was none who could rival her charms and accomplishments. One day the Prince went out into the garden with O Toyo, and remained enjoying the fragrance of the flowers until sunset, when they returned to the palace, never noticing that they were being followed by a large cat. Having parted with her lord, O Toyo retired to her own room and went to bed. At midnight she awoke with a start, and became aware of a huge cat that crouched watching her; and when she cried out, the beast sprang on her, and, fixing its cruel teeth in her delicate throat, throttled her to death. What a piteous end for so fair a dame, the darling of her prince’s heart, to die suddenly, bitten to death by a cat! Then the cat, having scratched out a grave under the verandah, buried the corpse of O Toyo, and assuming her form, began to bewitch the Prince.

Vampire Cat of Nabéshima

But my lord the Prince knew nothing of all this, and little thought that the beautiful creature who caressed and fondled him was an impish and foul beast that had slain his mistress and assumed her shape in order to drain out his life’s blood. Day by day, as time went on, the Prince’s strength dwindled away; the colour of his face was changed, and became pale and livid; and he was as a man suffering from a deadly sickness. Seeing this, his councilors and his wife became greatly alarmed; so they summoned the physicians, who prescribed various remedies for him; but the more medicine he took, the more serious did his illness appear, and no treatment was of any avail. But most of all did he suffer in the night-time, when his sleep would be troubled and disturbed by hideous dreams. In consequence of this, his councilors nightly appointed a hundred of his retainers to sit up and watch over him; but, strange to say, towards ten o’clock on the very first night that the watch was set, the guard were seized with a sudden and unaccountable drowsiness, which they could not resist, until one by one every man had fallen asleep. Then the false O Toyo came in and harassed the Prince until morning. The following night the same thing occurred, and the Prince was subjected to the imp’s tyranny,  while his guards slept helplessly around him. Night after night this was repeated, until at last three of the Prince’s councilors determined themselves to sit up on guard, and see whether they could overcome this mysterious drowsiness; but they fared no better than the others, and by ten o’clock were fast asleep. The next day the three councilors held a solemn conclave, and their chief, one Isahaya Buzen, said—

“This is a marvelous thing, that a guard of a hundred men should thus be overcome by sleep. Of a surety, the spell that is upon my lord and upon his guard must be the work of witchcraft. Now, as all our efforts are of no avail, let us seek out Ruiten, the chief priest of the temple called Miyô In, and beseech him to put up prayers for the recovery of my lord.”

And the other councilors approving what Isahaya Buzen had said, they went to the priest Ruiten and engaged him to recite litanies that the Prince might be restored to health.

So it came to pass that Ruiten, the chief priest of Miyô In, offered up prayers nightly for the Prince. One night, at the ninth hour (midnight), when he had finished his religious exercises and was preparing to lie down to sleep, he fancied that he heard a noise outside in the garden, as if some one were washing himself at the well. Deeming this passing strange, he looked down from the window; and there in the moonlight he saw a handsome young soldier, some twenty-four years of age, washing himself, who, when he had finished cleaning himself and had put on his clothes, stood before the figure of Buddha and prayed fervently for the recovery of my lord the Prince. Ruiten looked on with admiration; and the young man, when he had made an end of his prayer, was going away; but the priest stopped him, calling out to him—

“Sir, I pray you to tarry a little: I have something to say to you.”

“At your reverence’s service. What may you please to want?”

“Pray be so good as to step up here, and have a little talk.”

“By your reverence’s leave;” and with this he went upstairs.

Then Ruiten said—

“Sir, I cannot conceal my admiration that you, being so young a man, should have so loyal a spirit. I am Ruiten, the chief priest of this temple, who am engaged in praying for the recovery of my lord. Pray what is your name?”

“My name, sir, is Itô Sôda, and I am serving in the infantry of Nabéshima. Since my lord has been sick, my one desire has been to assist in nursing him; but, being only a simple soldier, I am not of sufficient rank to come into his presence, so I have no resource but to pray to the gods of the country and to Buddha that my lord may regain his health.”

When Ruiten heard this, he shed tears in admiration of the fidelity of Itô Sôda, and said—

“Your purpose is, indeed, a good one; but what a strange  sickness this is that my lord is afflicted with! Every night he suffers from horrible dreams; and the retainers who sit up with him are all seized with a mysterious sleep, so that not one can keep awake. It is very wonderful.”

“Yes,” replied Sôda, after a moment’s reflection, “this certainly must be witchcraft. If I could but obtain leave to sit up one night with the Prince, I would fain see whether I could not resist this drowsiness and detect the goblin.”

At last the priest said, “I am in relations of friendship with Isahaya Buzen, the chief councilor of the Prince. I will speak to him of you and of your loyalty, and will intercede with him that you may attain your wish.”

“Indeed, sir, I am most thankful. I am not prompted by any vain thought of self-advancement, should I succeed: all I wish for is the recovery of my lord. I commend myself to your kind favour.”

“Well, then, to-morrow night I will take you with me to the councillor’s house.”

“Thank you, sir, and farewell.” And so they parted.

On the following evening Itô Sôda returned to the temple Miyô In, and having found Ruiten, accompanied him to the house of Isahaya Buzen: then the priest, leaving Sôda outside, went in to converse with the councilor, and inquire after the Prince’s health.

“And pray, sir, how is my lord? Is he in any better condition since I have been offering up prayers for him?”

“Indeed, no; his illness is very severe. We are certain that he must be the victim of some foul sorcery; but as there are no means of keeping a guard awake after ten o’clock, we cannot catch a sight of the goblin, so we are in the greatest trouble.”

“I feel deeply for you: it must be most distressing. However, I have something to tell you. I think that I have found a man who will detect the goblin; and I have brought him with me.”

Capturing the Vampire Cat

“Indeed! who is the man?”

“Well, he is one of my lord’s foot-soldiers, named Itô Sôda, a faithful fellow, and I trust that you will grant his request to be permitted to sit up with my lord.”

“Certainly, it is wonderful to find so much loyalty and zeal in a common soldier,” replied Isahaya Buzen, after a moment’s reflection; “still it is impossible to allow a man of such low rank to perform the office of watching over my lord.”

“It is true that he is but a common soldier,” urged the priest; “but why not raise his rank in consideration of his fidelity, and then let him mount guard?”

“It would be time enough to promote him after my lord’s recovery. But come, let me see this Itô Sôda, that I may know what manner of man he is: if he pleases me, I will consult with the other councilors, and perhaps we may grant his request.”

“I will bring him in forthwith,” replied Ruiten, who thereupon went out to fetch the young man.

When he returned, the priest presented Itô Sôda to the councillor, who looked at him attentively, and, being pleased with his comely and gentle appearance, said—

“So I hear that you are anxious to be permitted to mount guard in my lord’s room at night. Well, I must consult with the other councilors, and we will see what can be done for you.”

When the young soldier heard this he was greatly elated, and took his leave, after warmly thanking Buiten, who had helped him to gain his object. The next day the councilors held a meeting, and sent for Itô Sôda, and told him that he might keep watch with the other retainers that very night. So he went his way in high spirits, and at nightfall, having made all his preparations, took his place among the hundred gentlemen who were on duty in the prince’s bed-room.

Now the Prince slept in the centre of the room, and the hundred guards around him sat keeping themselves awake with entertaining conversation and pleasant conceits. But, as ten o’clock approached, they began to doze off as they sat; and in spite of all their endeavours to keep one another awake, by degrees they all fell asleep. Itô Sôda all this while felt an irresistible desire to sleep creeping over him, and, though he tried by all sorts of ways to rouse himself, he saw that there was no help for it, but by resorting to an extreme measure, for which he had already made his preparations. Drawing out a piece of oil paper which he had brought with him, and spreading it over the mats, he sat down upon it; then he took the small knife which he carried in the sheath of his dirk, and stuck it into his own thigh. For awhile the pain of the wound kept him awake; but as the slumber by which he was assailed was the work of sorcery, little by little he became drowsy again. Then he twisted the knife round and round in his thigh, so that the pain becoming very violent, he was proof against the feeling of sleepiness, and kept a faithful watch. Now the oil paper which he had spread under his legs was in order to prevent the blood, which might spurt from his wound, from defiling the mats.

So Itô Sôda remained awake, but the rest of the guard slept; and as he watched, suddenly the sliding-doors of the Prince’s room were drawn open, and he saw a figure coming in stealthily, and, as it drew nearer, the form was that of a marvelously beautiful woman some twenty-three years of age. Cautiously she looked around her; and when she saw that all the guard were asleep, she smiled an ominous smile, and was going up to the Prince’s bedside, when she perceived that in one corner of the room there was a man yet awake. This seemed to startle her, but she went up to Sôda and said—

“I am not used to seeing you here. Who are you?”

“My name is Itô Sôda, and this is the first night that I have been on guard.”

“A troublesome office, truly! Why, here are all the rest of the guard asleep. How is it that you alone are awake? You are a trusty watchman.”

“There is nothing to boast about. I’m asleep myself, fast and sound.”

“What is that wound on your knee? It is all red with blood.”

“Oh! I felt very sleepy; so I stuck my knife into my thigh, and the pain of it has kept me awake.”

“What wondrous loyalty!” said the lady.

“Is it not the duty of a retainer to lay down his life for his master? Is such a scratch as this worth thinking about?”

Then the lady went up to the sleeping prince and said, “How fares it with my lord to-night?” But the Prince, worn out with sickness, made no reply. But Sôda was watching her eagerly, and guessed that it was O Toyo, and made up his mind that if she attempted to harass the Prince he would kill her on the spot. The goblin, however, which in the form of O Toyo had been tormenting the Prince every night, and had come again that night for no other purpose, was defeated by the watchfulness of Itô Sôda; for whenever she drew near to the sick man, thinking to put her spells upon him, she would turn and look behind her, and there she saw Itô Sôda glaring at her; so she had no help for it but to go away again, and leave the Prince undisturbed.

At last the day broke, and the other officers, when they awoke and opened their eyes, saw that Itô Sôda had kept awake by stabbing himself in the thigh; and they were greatly ashamed, and went home crestfallen.

That morning Itô Sôda went to the house of Isahaya Buzen, and told him all that had occurred the previous night. The councilors were all loud in their praises of Itô Sôda’s behaviour, and ordered him to keep watch again that night. At the same hour, the false O Toyo came and looked all round the room, and all the guard were asleep, excepting Itô Sôda, who was wide awake; and so, being again frustrated, she returned to her own apartments.

Now as since Sôda had been on guard the Prince had passed quiet nights, his sickness began to get better, and there was great joy in the palace, and Sôda was promoted and rewarded with an estate. In the meanwhile O Toyo, seeing that her nightly visits bore no fruits, kept away; and from that time forth the night-guard were no longer subject to fits of drowsiness. This coincidence struck Sôda as very strange, so he went to Isahaya Buzen and told him that of a certainty this O Toyo was no other than a goblin. Isahaya Buzen reflected for a while, and said—

“Well, then, how shall we kill the foul thing?”

“I will go to the creature’s room, as if nothing were the matter, and try to kill her; but in case she should try to escape, I will beg you to order eight men to stop outside and lie in wait for her.”

Having agreed upon this plan, Sôda went at nightfall to O Toyo’s apartment, pretending to have been sent with a message from the Prince. When she saw him arrive, she said—

“What message have you brought me from my lord?”

“Oh! nothing in particular. Be so look as to look at this letter;” and as he spoke, he drew near to her, and suddenly drawing his dirk cut at her; but the goblin, springing back, seized a halberd, and glaring fiercely at Sôda, said—

“How dare you behave like this to one of your lord’s ladies? I will have you dismissed;” and she tried to strike Sôda with the halberd. But Sôda fought desperately with his dirk; and the goblin, seeing that she was no match for him, threw away the halberd, and from a beautiful woman became suddenly transformed into a cat, which, springing up the sides of the room, jumped on to the roof. Isahaya Buzen and his eight men who were watching outside shot at the cat, but missed it, and the beast made good its escape.

So the cat fled to the mountains, and did much mischief among the surrounding people, until at last the Prince of Hizen ordered a great hunt, and the beast was killed.

But the Prince recovered from his sickness; and Itô Sôda was richly rewarded.

This story emphasizes the idea of loyalty and vigilance samurai needed to aspire toward. Sôda is willing to risk bleeding to death or becoming crippled in order to protect his lord. Stabbing himself in the thigh in order to stay awake is a drastic measure in a time period where wounds had the real danger of becoming infected. The story is also a commentary on the mysteriousness of cats. After all, they seem to disappear and reappear. They are also nocturnal. In our age of artificial light, we can’t really understand just how threatening night was in the past. Candles and lanterns gave little light. Vast swaths of land went black when the sun went down. Anything could lurk in such darkness.

The story also points to women as being suspect. After all, the vampire cat took the from of a woman. Keep in mind that Japan was a patriarchal society. Women are often portrayed as vain, untrustworthy, and suspect.

The story mostly focuses upon how a samurai is supposed to behave: putting his lord’s welfare and life ahead of his own.  Sôda , however,, isn’t a samurai. He is an ashigaru, or peasant soldier. Despite his low rank in the military, he has the soul of a samurai. This may involve killing oneself for one’s lord or almost doing so as in Soda’s case.

[They] saw that Itô Sôda had kept awake by stabbing himself in the thigh; and they were greatly ashamed, and went home crestfallen.

The samurai were ashamed by the superior vigilance and dedication of an ashigaru. Shame is deeper than emotion. it involves a loss of honor and status. Sôda  is promoted to the samurai class, which in feudal Japan is rare. This story opens an interesting window to feudal Japan’s concerns and hopes. A peasant who becomes an ashigaru is better off than the serf. The ashigaru who is elevated to samurai safeguards not only his lifestyle, but he also changes the fortunes of his entire family.

And all thanks to a cat.

References

Milford, A. (1871). Tales of Old Japan. http://ftp.utexas.edu/projectgutenberg/1/3/0/1/13015/13015-h/13015-h.htm

The Otaku Versus the Sportaku

Society thinks anime fans are uncool. Yet, that same society accepts the sportaku. A sportaku is better known as a sports fan. You know, the people who fill their houses with  jerseys, blankets, and everything else stamped with their favorite team’s logo. Really is a sportaku any different from an otaku?

Fan of the Angolan team at the 2008 African Cup of Nations.. by Jake Brown

Fan of the Angolan team at the 2008 African Cup of Nations.. by Jake Brown

Nope.  In fact, sportaku can be even more extreme.

Okay, we know otaku enjoy anime to the point of having their own lingo and enjoy collecting figures, DVDs, manga, and other anime merchandise. Anime is a part of an otaku’s identity. It shapes how she views the world. Anime is a channel for meeting people and being a part of the anime community lends a sense of belonging.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds awfully similar to being a sports fan. But I am going to take some time to build an argument to point out how silly it is for sportaku to be accepted while otaku are not.

Defining Otaku

The words geek and otaku often intermix. Geek is an American term that mostly refers to males who spend a lot of time with computers and video games. They are stereotyped as pale, disheveled, neck-bearded, and poorly dressed. They have few friends. Otaku in Japanese parlance share the same traits only they are obsessed with the information computers and media provide rather than the computers themselves. Otaku links with obsession, and many types exist: train-otaku, pop-idol-otaku and others. However, in Western use,  otaku refers specifically to extreme anime fans. (Tobin, 2001). Weeaboo also substitutes for otaku.

While otaku is a negative word in Japan, in the West it has become a label embraced by anime fans. It still carries some stigma and negativity, just like the word geek. However, both geekdom and otakuism has become more acceptable and mainstream in recent years with comedies like Big Bang Theory and the prevalence of the cultures online.

Otaku culture involves community events like conventions, blogging, and other social outlets. It has become a common part of America’s public libraries. Most libraries have manga and anime now.

Many otaku collect manga, anime, figurines, and other memorabilia. They spend time writing about anime and drawing their favorite characters. Self-expression remains a part of the culture. Some write fan-fiction and draw their own comics.

Defining Sportaku

Now let’s take a look at a sportaku. The formal, academic definition of a sports fan is “an enthusiastic devotee of some particular sport consumptive object” (Yoshida, 2015). It’s a stuffy definition, but hang in there while I illustrate it. Let me throw out a few other definitions before we get started. They are important to understand what exactly a sport fan is and how he ultimately compares to an otaku.

Fan identification – “the degree to which the fan’s relationship with the team contributes to their social identity” (Peden, 2015).

Fan engagement – “escalating behavioral involvement that includes socially committed behaviors such as self expression, story-telling, and community participation.” (Yoshida, 2015).

Basically, a sportaku is a fan that is so into a sport or team that it becomes a part of who they are and how they act. A team victory feels like a personal victory. A fan also feels a strong sense of comradery with other fans of their team. How many times have you seen complete strangers high-five, hug, and celebrate together when their team wins? I am not a sports person, but I’ve seen it happen frequently. The shared engagement and identity transcends normal boundaries between strangers. They share feelings of elation, enthusiasm, and other emotions. This shared connection and collective feeding of emotion feeds the hooliganism we see when a sports team wins. The elements that define a fan also create victory riots.

Speaking of motivating factors, researchers created models that help explain sportakus. People watch sports for various reasons and to differing degrees. Spectators are people who follow a team casually and are not affected by a team’s victory or loss (Peden, 2015).  People are rated based on their engagement and identification levels up to the ranks of the dysfunctional fan and fanatic (Yoshida, 2015; Sveinson, 2015). A sportaku is someone who lives in these extreme levels.

Sports, like anime, motivates people based on how much they identify with it. Fanatics have different motivating factors –self-esteem, group affiliation, knowledge, and social interaction–than spectators–entertainment, social interaction, and stress reduction (Sveinson, 2015).  Like anime fandom, emotion underpins sports fandom. In fact, the effect of sports on people is as strong as religion (Cottingham, 2012).

Illustrating Sportakuism

It is common to see sport fans wearing hats, sweaters, jerseys, and other symbols of their team loyalty.  Sport fans rank themselves based on their dedication and knowledge about their teams. Fans can be authentic or inauthentic, and women are often seen as less authentic than men (Sveinson, 2015). Wearing team logos is an outward sign of being a part of the “in” crowd. Identity is defined by what a person is not more than who a person is. I am a Steelers fan.  I am a Browns fan or a Yankee fan. Those statements exclude other teams. It creates boundaries, and those boundaries define identity.

Sportaku wrap their identity with these boundaries. Fandom becomes so much a part of an extreme fan’s life that it blends with family, religion, education, and other ways that become inseparable from the person (Cottingham. 2012).  Let me use Cottingham’s illustration to drive home the point:

Steelers solidarity is illustrated in the story of a woman who, at the final request of her late husband, brought his ashes to a Steelers game at Heinz Field. Her husband never attended a game in his lifetime and was, therefore, unable to experience peak moments of interaction rituals, but he had been a devoted fan even from his home in New England. His sons dressed in Steelers jerseys for his funeral and his body was covered with a Steelers blanket.

Okay, let me throw one final definition at you before we compare the sportaku to the otaku.

Sportaku (noun) – a person for whom a sport or sports team is an integral part of their identity, defining their social life, self-esteem, and self expression.

The Sportaku Versus the Otaku

Phew, with that muddle out of the way, let’s get to comparing the otaku to the sportaku. We will also look at how silly it is for society to favor the sportaku over the otaku.

haiyore_nyaruko_san-01-nyarlko-anime-otaku-comedy-excitedThe otaku is an extreme fan of anime, one that derives their sense of identity from being a part of the anime community. Like sport fans, the otaku consumes products related to their interests. Both wjll spend a lot of money on memorabilia. Where sportaku will meet in bars, anime fans will meet in conventions. Both like to gather around the TV. Anime lends the same emotional motivators as sports: social interaction, entertainment, group affiliation, self-esteem, and knowledge. Also like sport fans, anime fans organize themselves based on their level of knowledge and loyalty. Otaku have particular series, characters, and authors they identify with. Just as sport fans have particular teams or type of sport.

The importance of the sport or anime to a fan’s identity defines the otaku and sportaku. The team, the waifu, becomes as much a part of a person as they eye-color. Anime and sports can consume the majority of the fan’s free time. Anything you spend a lot of time consuming will shape your perspective. The messages of competition, sportsmanship, violence, loyalty, misogyny, and other positive/negative ideas naturally become a part of your world view.  Anime as a storytelling medium conveys messages more directly than sports, but sports do the same within their cultures.

When it comes to women, it’s a mixed bag. Sportaku and otaku tend to have sexist tendencies within their cultures. Both remain boys’ clubs in many ways, but this is changing. Female athletes become stars. Anime in the West features more strong female protagonists. Neither sports nor anime are inherently sexist, but they have their moments.

Sportaku–not all–will sometimes trash a city block as they celebrate. Otaku–again, not all–will start flame wars about a particular anime. Sportakuism can form cult-of-personalities around certain players. Otaku do the same around some characters and Japanese pop idols.

Considering all of this, why is it that society favors sportakuism? Well, sport franchises have far more money and power than anime studios. Mostly, it is because of cultural concerns. American culture embraces sports as a representation of American values: personal achievement and competition. Sports touch on feelings of nationalism and belonging. Anime doesn’t. Think of the World Cup. Teams represent their home countries and compete to show who is the best. Victories and losses feel like personal victories and losses. Sports offer a story that resonates and is easily understood. Anime stories can be a muddle. Anime is also a cultural import while most popular sports (American football and baseball) are domestic creations. Anime also suffers from its association with cartoons. Cartoons are seen as the realm of children. Basically, anime won’t ever gain the widespread acceptance sports enjoy.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

Like sport fandom, anime fandom has degrees of dedication.  Sport fandom lasts through most of life and into death. Many anime fans age out of the fandom. Why? Because over time anime stops fulfilling the emotional and social needs it once did.

Sportakuism and otakuism are identical. Whenever a sportaku makes fun of you for your interest in anime, keep this in mind. You share more in common than the sportaku will believe.

References

Cottingham, M. (2012) Interaction Ritual Theory and Sport Fans: Emotion, Symbols, and Solidarity. Sociology of Sport Journal, 29 168-185.

Peden, C., Paula Upright, et al. (2015) Fan Identification in Sports: Assessing Fan Motives for Supporting a Sports Organization. KAHPERD Journal. 52 (2). 37-41.

Sveinson, K. & Hoeber, L. (2015) Overlooking the obvious: an exploration of what it means to be a sport fan from a female perspective, Leisure Studies, 34:4, 405-419, DOI: 10.1080/02614367.2014.923496.

Tobin, J.. (2001). Save the Geeks. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44(6), 504–508.

Yoshida, M., et al. (2015) Fan Community Identification: An Empirical Examination of its Outcomes in Japanese Professional Sport. Sport Marketing Quarterly. 24. 105-119.

Symbols of Summer: Power Lines and Cicadas in Anime

serial-experiments-lain-power-electrical-lines

Have you wondered why anime shows power lines with cicada chirping in the background?

Power lines and cicadas seem to be a strange association, but for many, overhead power lines are a part of home. They are a common sight in Japanese towns and cities . Unlike many countries where power grids are underground, the majority of Japan’s power lines are above ground (Baseel, 2014). Because power lines are a part of the landscape, anime likes to show them with the sounds of cicada to evoke the feeling of summer heat. It is a way of establishing an atmosphere. Such scenes can create feelings of nostalgia. Slice-of-life anime shows power lines during happy and sad moments in the story. This isn’t filler. Writers do this to emphasize the fragile nature of the moment. It associates the event with familiar sights of home. The moment of non-action hammers the impact.

Power lines lack meaning outside of setting atmosphere, establishing place, and providing a reflective moment. The sound of cicada that plays during these scenes allows power line scenes to work. The cicada has a long history as the symbol of summer. The noisy bug appears throughout Japanese literature.

Where the cicada casts her shell
In the shadows of the tree,
There is one whom I love well,
Though her heart is cold to me.

-Tale of Genji

Some species of cicada spend between 13 and 17 years (!) underground before emerging, molting, and mating. They spend all but a few weeks underground as a vampire. The nymph attaches to tree roots and guzzle sap. Once they emerge and molt for the 5th time in their lives, they live only 3-4 weeks (Milius, 2013). Males make all the noise. Girls sit back and pick the best drummer. Males have a membrane on their abdomen called a tymbal. Vibrating this membrane creates their characteristic loud noise (Edoh, 2014).

cicada-molt

Cicada are big ugly things. The most famous (and loud) Japanese cicada, kumazemi, measures 7 cm long, about 3 inches long (Holden, 2007). But don’t worry, they are wimps. They can’t bite, they can’t fly well, and they can’t hide. Their only defense is their numbers (Milius, 2013). My old cat loved to chase and eat them. He would get  fat from gorging on them during summer swarms. Oh, and the male cicada can get loud. Up to 95 decibels, about the same noise level as a subway train.

Catching cicada is a traditional summer pastime for many Japanese children. Lafcadio Hearn (1900) accounts of how these  cicada despair when captured:

The sound made by some kinds of semi (cicada) when caught is really pitiful, — quite as pitiful as the twitter of a terrified bird. One finds it difficult to persuade oneself that the noise is not a voice of anguish, in the human sense of the word “voice,” but the production of a specialized exterior membrane. Recently, upon hearing a captured semi this scream, I became convinced in quite a new way that the stridulatory apparatus of certain insects must not thought of as a kind of musical instrument, but as an organ of speech, and that its utterances are as intimately associated with simple forms of emotions, as are the notes of a bird — the extraordinary difference being that the insect has its vocal chords outside.

Japanese literature teems with cicada. Japan inherited appreciation of the bug from China. The Chinese scholar Riku-un, as he is known in Japan, wrote about the virtues of the cicada (Hearn, 1900):

The Cicada has upon its head certain figures or signs. These present its characters, style, and literature.

It eats nothing belonging to earth, and drinks only dew. This proves its cleanliness, purity, and propriety.

It always appears at a certain fixed time. This proves its fidelity, sincerity, truthfulness.

It will not accept wheat or rice. This proves its probity, uprightness, honesty.

It does not make for itself any nest to live in. This proves its frugality, thrift, economy.

One species of cicada is called higurashi in Japanese which translates to “day-darkening.” This cicada only sings at dusk. The Japanese poet Yokai Yayu wrote: “no matter how many higurashi be singing together, we never find them noisy” (Hearn, 1900). Japanese poets play on the meaning of the cicada’s name, believing the strums of the bug made darkness descend faster:

Oh Higurashi!
even if you let it alone,day darkens fast enough!

And another from the poet Rikei:

Already, Oh Higurashi
your call announces the evening!
Alas, for the passing day, with its duties left undone.

Most Japanese poems about cicada are short and attempt to mimic the sound the insect makes.  The 18th century poet Yokai Yayu captures the association of the cicada with summer’s heat:

The chirruping of the cicada
aggravates the heat until I wish
to cut down the pine-tree on which it sings.

Other Japanese poets found the sounds of the cicada as annoying as the summer heat:

Meseems that only I, —
I alone among mortals —
ever suffered such heat!
Oh, the noise of the cicada!

Gone, the shadowing clouds! —
again the shrilling of cicada
rises and slowly swells, —
ever increasing the heat!

Fathomless deepens the heat:
the ceaseless shrilling of cicada
mounts, like a hissing of fire, up to the motionless clouds

According to Hearn (1900), the shells cicadas leave after their final molt are used in both Japan and China as medicine to cure ear-aches. Nice irony!

There are many more poems, but you get the idea. Anime’s association of the cicada with heat pulls from centuries of Japanese literature. The scenes of power lines with cicada chirruping are meant to evoke feelings of summer. As you look at the summer sky and you wipe your brow, this is what you would see and hear throughout most of Japan. I surmise these scenes can make many Japanese anime watchers nostalgic.

Some anime fans speculate power lines represent philosophical concepts like the connection among all things. This may be true in some anime, but most of these scenes provide reflective calm after major events in the story. They establish the feeling of summer. These scenes invoke memories of home and childhood.

References

Baseel, C. (2014). Why does Japan have so many overhead power lines? JapanToday. http://www.japantoday.com/category/lifestyle/view/why-does-japan-have-so-many-overhead-power-lines

Edoh, K., (2014) Modeling Cicada Sound Production and Propagation. Journal of Biological Systems. 22 (4) 617-630.

Hearn, L. (1900) Shadowings. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company.

Holden, C. (2007) Random Samples. Science, New Series. 317 (5843) 1301.

Lewis, L. (2007). Amorous cicadas drown out sound of silence. The Times.

Milius, S. (2013). Mystery in Synchrony: Cicadas’ odd life cycle poses evolutionary conundrums. Science News. 18 (1) 26-28.

Shikibu, Murasaki. The Tale of Genji. N.p.: Tuttle, 2006.

10 Anime Essay Topic Ideas

People often ask me for help with choosing topics for essays and thesis assignments. Anime gives us many, many topics to write about. Sometimes too many. So here is a list of ideas and links to articles I’ve written that have sources you may find useful.

rosario-classroom

1. Manga and American Comics

Contrast the different themes found in Manga and American Comics. Manga features heroes who overcome their challenges with help from friends. American comics have heroes who overcome challenges through their personal grit and ability. Discuss this difference.

You can also compare art styles: the muscles of American heroes and impossible poses against manga styled bodies. Compare the fixation of bust size in American female heroes and manga. Speaking of bust size this may help.  Anime Breasts looks at the relationship of breast size and character personalities.

2. Goku vs. Superman

Look at the cultural differences between these two iconic heroes. Compare how each represents the ideals of their respective societies. This will let you write about Japanese Confucian ideals and American Judaeo-Christian ideals. For an idea, check out my article about this topic.

3. Anime and Homosexual/Transgender Concerns.

Look at how anime explores homosexuality and transgender concerns. Anime often features transgender and ambiguously gendered characters. Look into how these characters hurt and/or help homosexual and transgender identity.

These articles will help:

4. Manga as literature

I wrote a thesis on this in grad school where I argued how manga helps readers explore issues in their lives, develop literacy skills,  and explore sexual identities. Literature does all this and more. You can write a similar argument.  You may read the paper, What has Cat ears, homework and a love for bishie?  to give you an idea of this topic and see my 21 sources.

5. The Influence of Disney on Anime

The work of Walt Disney impacted Astro Boy and other anime/manga. Explain this impact and compare and contrast the art styles. See:

6. The Influence of Anime on Disney

In recent years, Disney has begun producing works that resemble anime more than classic Disney. Examine this trend. Sorry, I don’t have any articles here on JP about this topic, yet.

7. Explain Anime’s Visual Language

Anime’s visual language works….when you understand it. Explain the symbols anime uses to express character emotions. Contrast the methods with how Disney characters express those same emotions. Argue for how anime is more effective (or not!).  See my article about Anime’s Visual Language for ideas on emotions you can write about.

8. Objectifying Women in Anime

Kill la Kill was a great anime that caused a stir about objectification of women in media. The anime doesn’t. In fact, it satirizes fan service and other objectification. Kill la Kill provides a good case study of the problem. Look at how women are objectified in anime and use Kill la Kill to point these problems out. See these articles to help you:

9. Explore the Folklore of Tanuki

Write about Japanese tanuki folklore and how relates to anime. Explain how Studio Ghibli’s movie Pom Poko is one more story in a long line of tanuki stories that show the conflict between change and tradition. I touch on this topic in my book Tanuki: The Folklore of Japan’s Trickster.

10. Explore the Folklore of Kitsune

This isn’t exactly anime related, but you can relate the folklore of the Japanese fox back to Naruto and other popular anime. My eBook, Come and Sleep: The Folklore of the Japanese Fox
covers all there is to know about kitsune folklore, including her origins in Chinese stories and in Ainu stories. Yeah, this is a shameless plug for my book. But you can find some of the stories in Project Gutenberg and other online sources.

I hope these essay ideas help. The links I post should help you get started with your own research. Anime and manga are as legitimate a story telling medium as movies and literature. It is fine to write about them. Manga and anime draw from old Japanese traditions in literature and art. They are also international mediums that pull from Disney. So don’t worry about exploring these art forms. It is identical to writing about Beowulf and Toy Story.

Pots, Cats and Lilies, but Nothing Changes?

Japanese Lesbian/Transgender Identities in Contemporary Media.

The anime and manga community will probably be familiar with the term okama (literally, kettle), variously translated as ‘transvestite’ or ‘Drag Queen’, which is commonly applied to (effeminately) gay characters, especially in a cross-dressing context. mr.2_3Bentham/Bon Curry from Oda Eiichiro’s One Piece may turn being okama into a martial art,  but he is still an example for the ridicule transpeople often face. Also, in the Japanese gay community there is an ongoing debate about the offensiveness of the term okama because it transports associations not only of a passive sexual role but also of prostitution.[i] Possibly even less known fact: there is a corresponding term for female-to-male cross-dressers, onabe (literally, flat pot), which was obviously coined in response to the male equivalent. Yet, onabe are not simply female okama; and not just because there aren’t as many flamboyant 2D-examples.[ii]

The (Internationally?) Ghosted Lesbian

Japan’s relatively lenient approach to male-to-male homosexuality, in specific contexts at least, has been discussed previously.[iii] By contrast, hardly anything has been said, or indeed can be said, about the history of women’s non-normative sexualities, in Japan or elsewhere.[iv] In the West, this has been due to the (Victorian) assumption that women are not supposed to even have a sexuality in the first place, and the complete disregard of any possibility of female-to-female sexuality. This has produced what Terry Castle so pointedly termed the ‘Apparitional Lesbian’: non-heterosexual female experience is ghostly, not-quite-real, because lesbian desire fundamentally challenges the patriarchal hegemony.[v] It would of cause be condescending and essentialist to assume that the same principles structured a society as vastly different as that of Japan, but there is a basic similarity – the patriarchal society (Buddhist and Confucianist rather than Victorian Christian, in the case of Japan), which needs to deny deviant sexualities and gender identities to maintain itself. This allows for the assumption, I believe, that female sexuality outside strict lines of necessity (dynastic procreation) was obstructed and condemned in a similar fashion in Japan, and that (especially non-heterosexual) female desire was similarly ghosted. Indeed, there are but a few hints, as Mark McLelland describes in his interesting, though necessarily sketchy, history of female cross-dressing in Japan.[vi]

Therefore, my sources mostly consider only the time period from the 1960s to the present. I am going to take an even narrower focus and try to find some narrative depictions I can mention, and perhaps venture to say a thing or two about their recipients, because that is what I, as a literary scholar, am interested in and feel competent to deal with. So, which images of lesbians and transpeople can one come across in Japanese media?

Imitation and parody: Cross-dressers

A first sign of lesbian visibility, Lez Bars (again a reaction to male Gay Bars) began to open in Tokyo the 1960s. Mainstream magazines covered this trend and their clientele;[vii] allegedly, this consisted of both curious heterosexuals, and two types of lesbian women. In an imitation of heterosexual gender roles (as McLelland points out), there was supposed to be a male role player, called tachi (this term can be linked to the leading actors in (all 1789male) kabuki or (all-female) Takarazuka (see an example on the right), or to the idea of a sword-bearer, or simple to the ‘standing’, i.e. up, partner), and a feminine role player, called neko (literally, cat).[viii] In addition, there is also rezu, the abbreviation of the transliterated English ‘lesbian’), but it is often associated with the porn industry.[ix] Neko were seen as the more subversive type, both because they seemed like ‘normal women’ and because they were deemed especially lustful.[x] While tachi simply associated a masculine lesbian woman, there were also onabe: waiters and bartenders who dressed as and acted like men,([xi]) and were therefore more acceptable, especially if they looked down on ‘carnal’ neko.[xii] This is no doubt an expression of general misogyny – tachi and onabe at aspired something ‘better’ by being more masculine; and this binary idea of masculinity entails misogyny.[xiii] In a backlash against this, the 80s women’s liberation movement was very critical of the tachi/neko image, to the extent of excluding cross-dressing women.[xiv] There are so many kinds of small-mindedness… Especially if you consider Judith Butler’s theories, which suggest that the enactment of traditional gender roles by people not qualified, i.e. masculine acts performed by biological women, and vice versa – actually deconstruct the gender binary.[xv]

In the more well-known and more popular world of the gay bars, MtF transvestite entertainers were known as gei boi or ‘sister boys’, leading to the term ‘brother girls’ for their lesbian counterparts, though those never achieved comparable popularity. And the entertainment factor complicates the picture. BUcB_NICIAAQ3RbLike the women throughout history who cross-dressed for the sake of travel safety or employment, how far were and are cross-dressed bartenders actually lesbians or transgender people? Have they been looking for work outside the gender binary, or are they simply trying to make a living?

If we look to narrative art, girls cross-dressing as boys have appeared a lot in the romantic genre, from Shakespeare to Rose of Versailles. Speaking of shōjo (‘for girls’) manga, depending on where you pinpoint the beginning of the genre, its very first heroine, Tezuka’s Ribon Knight, was a cross-dresser.[xvi] Sadly, cross-dressing (in romantic comedies and elsewhere) tends to be ultimately contained in a heteronormative ending. Even in the funnily deconstructive Ouran High School Host Club. Also, whereas the entertainer/bartender MtF transperson has appeared in popular media – tumblr_inline_mt1ai2qu3h1qz4rgpI think, for example, of the brilliant Eriko in Yoshimoto Banana’s Kitchen, or ‘Ranka’, the transgender father of the protagonist in the abovementioned Ouran – the reverse seems less popular to me.  I can think of a few examples of FtM transpeople, such as the librarian Oshima in Murakami Haruki’s Kafka on the Shore, or (argueably) the cross-dressing and duelling protagonist of Revolutionary Girl Utena, but not of any character who would fit the onabe bill. By contrast, depictions of carnal lesbians are still around, I’m afraid, and not just in the hentai corner. For example, there is Chizuru, a minor chchizuruaracter from Bleach. Here she is, doing what many of the male audience members might dream about doing, and thereby she demonstrates one important function of negative images of women: to represent man’s sinful urges and carry the blame for them. Also, of cause,, in Chizuru’s case, as in Betham’s above, the non-normative identity is essentially played for laughs, not accepted as a genuine alternative lifestyle.

Fantastic Lilies and Hammered-In Nails – Fiction and Reality

Previously, I mentioned shōjo manga and romance. Fans of the genre might be familiar with the term yuri (literally, lily) for female homosexuality. This metaphor actually gained currency in the same context; to be precise, in the personal ads columns of Boys’ Love Magazines directed at girl readers. James Welker argues that BL manga help girls to form concepts of sexuality, and since the protagonists are often quite androgynous, the stories can also be read as lesbian. Moreover, while the stories are about boys, the featured articles in the magazines he analyses deal with lesbian themes, and the personal ads are also lesbian.[xvii] The personal ad column of gay magazines being labelled bara tsûshin, ‘rose communication’, so the lesbian equivalentMaria-sama_ga_Miteru_light_novel_volume_1t came to be called yuri, ‘lily’,[xviii] and this grew to be a genre name.  Lily imagery can thus function as allusion or pun, as in the platonic yuri narrative of Maria-sama ga miteru (Maria Watches Over Us). Much like the male equivalent BL/yaoi, yuri can cater to many audiences and include anything from romantic friendship to sweet homosexual romance to various degrees of porn. One thing it hardly ever includes, though, is an actual depiction of homosexual life experience.

Therefore, the sheer amount of homosexual and trans characters in romance and comedy fiction should not be misread as a sign of broad social acceptance for deviant sexuality in Japan. Social pressure to stay closeted is strong, so that most queers cannot come out even to friends and family for fear of being rejected and isolated.[xix] Heterosexual marriage and childbirth are seen as conditions for full adulthood, for both genders; thus, while homosexuality is not illegal, homosexual individuals and couples cannot expect legal protection either. The lack of court cases about discrimination is probably based on this fear to stand out in a society which, as the proverb says, ‘hammers in every nail which sticks out’.[xx] Similarly, Japan’s educational system is hampered by heterosexist bias, as Sugiura describes students complaining about the lack of information regarding homosexuality and gender issues.[xxi] As with other personal and social problems, keeping face seems to be most important – whatever you do in your private time, or feel in your heart, do not let it disturb public complacency. Be it families, schools, or companies, it is commonly pretended – to the extent that it is believed – that non-heterosexuals do not exist. Thus, insulting jokes are made without hesitation, and the majority of Japanese believe homosexuality to be ‘wrong’.[xxii]

A man inside? The re-enforcement of the gender binary

Queer individuals themselves suffer from this internalized prejudice. An autobiographic essay on FtM transgender experience, for example, reads: “I learned the term “gender identity disorder” (sei dôistsusei shôgai) [from TV shows], but I couldn’t face such reports head on, as I felt that I couldn’t be one of those freaks (hentai).’[xxiii]

An example of this internalized homophobia is the treatment of the LastFriends-RukaMichiru6queer character Ruka in the television drama Last Friends. It becomes apparent at the end of the first episode that Ruka is in love with her childhood friend Michiru, who also holds her dear. However, both Ruka’s family and Michiru herself are disgusted by the idea of Ruka having sexual feelings for another girl. Ruka’s family hopes for her to eventually lead a traditional life (the keyword here is ‘bride’), despite her dislike of feminine dress and behaviour, and her masculine profession (she is a motorcross biker). Her protective actions toward Michiru are read as masculine by her friends, somewhat jokingly, but still as a transgression of her gender role.

This transgression is contained, however, by the fact that Ruka is not portrayed as a tachi lesbian or onabe. Instead, she seeks consultation for gender identity disorder and wishes for sex reassignment surgery – in other words, she is ultimately designated a transsexual in the small-minded way Japanese law acknowledges transpeople [xxiv] – as a heterosexual man in a woman’s body, so to speak. This gives an aura of righteousness to her formerly transgressive actions: she may act and dress in a masculine fashion and desire Michiru, because she is ‘actually’, psychologically, a man, and men are entitled to do so.

Such a view is not only blatantly misogynistic and homophobic. It also depicts transgender feelings and actions as sick and portrays trans people as ‘victims of nature’, who must be treated medically in order to fit back into the precious binary sex/gender role system.[xxv] Various transgender phenomena are subsumed under the label of ‘gender identity disorder’,[xxvi] for there is no need to consider the individual wishes, needs and sufferings of a person if you can just stick a label onto them, or, even better, if you can use surgery to ‘fix’ them and have them return to a normative life. Also, if it is the person who is ‘sick’, then society itself does not have to change to accept gender variants. And sadly, this is how the drama ends: The transgressive, progressive elements of the series dissolve as Ruka decides not to come out at a press conference. Whether she continues to live as a woman or seeks surgery to live as a man, at this point everybody’s face is saved, the heterosexual matrix is preserved, and nothing changes.

Web 2.0 – A New Hope?

Many of my sources express hope that the internet will enable more visibility and connection of the queer community, and McLelland states that with the ‘gay boom’ in the media in the 90s, ‘Japan developed a gay culture […] and that both gei (gay) and rezubian (lesbian) are now commonly deployed as identity categories by Japanese homosexual men and women.’[xxvii] Perhaps fiction still has to catch up to fact in this case. Hopefully. In any case, I’ll be more than happy to read and watch such narratives.

Links and References:

[i] Lunsing, Wim, ‘The Politics of Okama and Onabe: Uses and Abuses of Terminology Regarding Homosexuality and Transgender’, in Genders, Transgenders and Sexualities in Japan, ed. by Mark J. McLelland and Romit Dasgupta (London, New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 81–95, p. 81.

[ii] For the treatment of transgender identity in Anime, see http://www.dailydot.com/geek/transgender-characters-anime-boston. For a non-exhaustive list of anime’s MtF trans characters, see http://transetheralbrimwylf.tumblr.com/post/48181242428/canonically-trans-characters-in-anime.

[iii] For the widespread acceptance of male-male sexuality in Japan until the Meiji Restauration, see http://www.tofugu.com/2015/09/30/gay-samurai

[iv] As Chris mentioned in this post on homosexuality in Japan, http://www.japanpowered.com/?s=homosexuality

[v] I recommend you read the introduction of: Castle, Terry, The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), especially p. 2-5.

[vi] McLelland, Mark J., Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2005), pp. 116-8.

[vii] This is the topic of Sugiuras article ‘Lesbian Discourses’, to which I refer below.

[viii] McLelland makes this connection, Queer Japan, pp. 118-9.

[ix] Lunsing, ‘Politics of Okama’, p. 90; McLelland, Queer Japan, p. 122.

[x] Sugiura Ikuko, ‘Lesbian Discourses in Mainstream Magazines of Post-War Japan: Is Onabe Distinct from Rezubian?’, in “Lesbians” In East Asia: Diversity, Identities and Resistance, ed. by Diana Khor and Saori Kamano (Binghamton: Harrington Park, 2006), pp. 127–44, p. 131.

[xi] Sugiura, ‘Increasing Lesbian Visibility’, in Transforming Japan: How Feminism and Diversity are Making a Difference, ed. by Kumiko Fujimura-Fanselow (New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2011), pp. 164–76, p. 164. Lunsing points that the term is defined differently by every individual, but always carries associations of female homosexuality, cross-dressing, and transsexuality in varying degrees: ‘Politics of Okama’, p. 89.

[xii] Suguiura, ‘Lesbian Discourses’, pp. 132-3.

[xiii] See also Lunsing, ‘Politics of Okama’, p. 90.

[xiv] Sugiura, ‘Lesbian Discourses’, p. 134.

[xv] I recommend pp. 172-80 of Butler, Judith, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (New York: Routledge, 1999). It is not exactly bedtime reading, but understandable, at least the second or third time one tries.

[xvi] Aoyama Tomoko, ‘Transgendering Shôjo Shôsetsu: Girls’ Intertext/sex-uality’, in Genders, Transgenders and Sexualities in Japan, ed. by Mark J. McLelland and Romit Dasgupta (London, New York: Routledge, 2005), pp. 49–64, p. 53.

[xvii] Welker, James, ‘Lilies of the Margin: Beautiful Boys and Queer Female Identites in Japan’, in AsiaPacifiQueer: Rethinking Genders and Sexualities, ed. by Fran Martin (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008), pp. 46–66, pp. 47-9, p. 51.

[xviii] Welker, ‘Lilies’, p. 52.

[xix] For instance, Hara Minako writes that “[f]ear of parental disapproval is a primary obstacle stopping lesbians from coming out”. ‘Lesbians and Sexual Self-Determination’, in Voices from the Japanese Women’s Movement, ed. by AMPO (Japan Asia Quarterly Review) (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1996), pp. 129–32, p. 130.

[xx] Lunsing, ‘Politics of Okama’, p. 83.

[xxi] Sugiura, ‘Increasing’, p. 171.

[xxii] Sugiura, ‘Increasing’, pp. 169-72.

[xxiii] Takafumi Fujio, ‘How I Became an FTM Transgender Gay’, in Queer Voices from Japan: First Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities, ed. by Mark J. McLelland, Katsuhiko Suganuma and James Welker (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2007), pp. 289–94, p. 292. See also Hara, ‘Lesbians and Sexual Self-Determination’, p. 131.

[xxiv] For the legal and political situation of transgender people in Japan, especially regarding sex reassignment surgery and koseki (family register) registration, see McDermott, Nicola, ‘Resistance and Assimiliation: Medical and Legal Transgender Identities in Japan’, in Manga Girl Seeks Herbivore Boy: Studying Japanese Gender at Cambridge, ed. by Brigitte Steger and others (Zurich: Lit Verlag, 2013), 3, pp. 177–226.

[xxv] Lusing, ‘Politics of Okama’, p. 89; my argumentation is of cause also based on Butler’s concepts (see note xiv)

[xxvi] Sugiura, ‘Lesbian Discourses’, pp. 140-2.

[xxvii] McLelland, Queer Japan, p. 189.