Sex in Anime and Manga

Sex is one of the most powerful and controversial words in the United States. People blush and giggle. People wince. It is a taboo subject that sells everything from cars to dollies. Sex is a sin, and it is an obsession in American society. All of this influences how sex is perceived by American manga and anime fans. Japanese aesthetics, sexuality, and gender ideas may seem unnatural to us with our “universal” concepts of sexuality and gender (Comog, 2005). However, our views of sexuality and gender are far from universal. They come from our culture. Anime and manga provides a safe way to explore different sexual perspectives. As you can tell, this discussion isn’t safe for work.

American culture associates sexuality with identity. Traditional Japanese society doesn’t wrap identity and sexuality in the same way. Manga and anime inherited this tradition. For example, in traditional Japanese culture men could have homosexual interests. However, this didn’t override their duty to have a wife and raise a family. Homosexuality was just a small part of who they were instead of being one of the defining pillars of their identity. See this article for references and more information. In the United States, sexuality is a defining part of a person’s identity. Anime and manga explore different sexual ideas because it is only a small part of a character’s identity. Sailor Moon, for an example, contains lesbians, transgender characters (female to male), and cross-dressing characters. However, the story doesn’t play up these proclivities as defining identity markers. They are just a part of the character’s overall personality. This ties back to tradition. Homosexuality was a small part of being a samurai. Likewise, transgender and cross-dressing played a part in kabuki. Kabuki began as an all-female production–women would dress as men–until the Tokugawa government stepped in. The government stipulated kabuki had to be all-male because it was “safer for the viewers and the performers alike.” This meant males would play female roles. Many of these men became sex symbols for samurai men with their blurred homosexual and heterosexual interests (Darlington, 2010). The gender-bending stories we see in manga trace to this tradition.

While Japan doesn’t make sexuality the defining part of a person’s character, it is a factor. It put it simply, Japanese tradition views sex as a part of normal life (Comog, 2005).

Japanese Obscenity Laws and Censorship

Tradition has limits, however. As Japan westernized, it adopted some of the West’s ideas of obscenity. Article 175 of the Criminal Code makes the sale and distribution of obscene material a criminal act. Yet, Japan has a constitutional provision for the freedom of expression. This creates similar tension to what we see in the United States. On one hand, you have the desire for uncensored expression of ideas and views. On the other hand, you have the desire to not see material you consider damaging or offensive.

Japan also has a constitutional principle of public welfare, which includes sexuality morality, as defined by the Supreme Court in two cases from 1957 and 1969. The cases defined public welfare as an idea “shared by an average person of good sense, a sense of modesty and shame.” Sex in Japanese culture, though normal, is considered a private affair. This view, coupled with the definition of public welfare meant obscenity became defined by the artistic merit of a work compared to its level of intended sexual stimulation. Basically, if a manga didn’t intend to sexually arouse someone with a beautifully drawn page, it was safe. But if the artwork fully intended to make you horny, it was smut. In other words, the regulation settled on forbidding explicit portrayals of adult genitals and pubic hair. The side effect was the rise of sexual metaphors–tentacles being the most famous. However, throughout the 1990s, the law allowed nonexplicit, nonsexual depictions of adult genitals (Zanghellini, 2009).

Nothing in the law concerns itself with underage nudity. This led to an over-representation of children or child-like characters in manga and anime. Erotic genres used this as a loophole and adapted the kawaii designs of girl’s comics. Many of these stories are essentially child-porn by American standards. The characters may be adults or of legal age, but they certainly don’t look that way.

In the 1950s and 1960s, female artists took over the girl’s comic genre from male artists. Their new, cute designs and more diverse storylines introduced an association with beauty and cuteness with morality. Protagonists were beautiful and cute. Villains were not (Zanghellini, 2009). Erotic genres took these designs to circumvent censorship. The side effect was the development of the lolita.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government passed a law in 2010 that obligated businesses and residents to recognize materials depicting sexual acts of minors as harmful. The regulation stated such materials prevent children from developing a healthy attitude toward sex. Yukari Fujimoto, a professor of girls manga and gender at Meiji University in Tokyo, claims the opposite. She claims the censorship of sexual material hurts children and teens. It bars them from stories that help them cope with their desires and the realities of sex. She claims exposure to sexual material at an early age reduces the chance of committing sexual crimes. She thinks children should gradually learn about sex and censoring manga would prevent this (Fukada, 2010).

The Benefits of Sex in Manga and Anime

Fujimoto’s argument brings us to the benefits of sexuality as seen in manga and anime. The debates surrounding censorship center on harm. Advocates of censorship desire to control exposure of sexual imagery because they see it as harmful. On the opposite side are those like Fujimoto and those who make profit from the sale of sexual content.

The growth of manga and anime here in the States makes this debate important. From 2002-2004, North American manga sales grew from an estimated $60 million to $135 million. Sales peaked in 2007 at $210 million (Brienza, 2014). Even with sales declining, manga remains an important part of the American social fabric. As a small town librarian, I see steady interest in manga, and I see hesitation. Some libraries have banned manga, anime, and books about manga in the past:

A parent of a 16-year-old son was offended by sex scenes in a history called Manga: Sixty Years of Japanese Comics, by Paul Gravett. Under pressure, the California library pulled the book. The Chair of the Board of Supervisors stated the library must do more to “protect children from inappropriate books and other materials” (Oder, 2006).

Manga still has association with porn because of its different sexual perspective. Outside of hentai, sex in manga differs from American porn. In many cases, manga’s sexuality is “powerful, vivid, and deeply emotional.” Because Japan lacks “the Eurocentric Christian notion of sex as polluting or dangerous, most manga present sex as physically and emotionally desirable for men and especially for women. (Comog, 2005).” American culture feeds men the idea that they need to be dominating and stoic. Sex is something to be enjoyed because it feels good and because it is “manly”. Manga shows how the emotional aspects of sex isn’t just for women. Powerful moments of tenderness and an openness to emotional connection are masculine. They are more masculine than the usual “male” narrative of dominance and control.

Whereas American porn reduces people to their genitals, many manga and anime stories focus on the exchange of emotion between characters. Again, I am leaving hentai out of this. Part of the appeal of porn is its taboo, dangerous nature. What is forbidden by law or religion becomes desirable. Christianity, for that matter, recognizes this in the book of Genesis. Sex in manga teaches the beauty of deep relationships, and how sex can enhance that connection.

In the 1980s, ladies comics targeting 25-30 year olds gained popularity. These comics presented women’s desires and alternative role models for adult women who were most often housewives. Early ladies comics showed sex as positive and women who enjoyed it. They focused on the female point of view which helped women accept the reality of their sexuality. However, the stories featured post-marriage problems and the darker side of sex. Amane Kazumi’s Shelter deals with a mother who is beaten by her husband. After the death of one of their daughters in an accident, the husband’s violence escalates. The wife and her eldest daughter escape to a shelter for battered women. The story follows her recovery and how she regains her confidence and independence (Ogi, 2003).

Manga allows people to explore stories, different sexualities, and different cultural perspectives. Gender-bending stories allow people to escape rigid social roles and imagine what it is like to experience life from the opposite gender’s view. Manga allows readers to explore alternative sexual identities and controversial issues about sex without feeling threatened or exploited.

Yaoi, BL, Yuri, and Dojinshi

Yaoi, BL, Yuri, and dojinshi are unique aspects of manga. Yaoi, BL (Boy’s Love), and yuri began as dojinshi, or self-published comics. Better known as fan-fiction, they became genres in their own right. Each tell alternative relationship stories and provide alternative views of sexuality. Yaoi and BL are written by female artists for female readers. BL focuses on the relationships between bishonen, or beautiful boys. While yaoi features explicit relationships between men. Yaoi is an acronym for the Japanese “Yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi.” – “No build-up, no foreclosure, and no meaning.” It is also a backronym–a deliberately formed acronym that fancifully explains the origins of the acronym: “Yamete! Oshiri ga itai!” — “Stop! My ass hurts!” (Zanghellini, 2009).

Yaoi may feature homosexual relationships, but it isn’t aimed at males. Manga of that type are called bara. Japanese homosexual men dislike yaoi because of its unrealistic relationships (Zanghellini, 2009). When yaoi and BL appeared in the 1970s, it shook the male-dominated world of manga. It appeared just as kawaii designs and women began to take over shojo. Yaoi raised eyebrows with its explicit sexuality. BL flew under the censorship radar of the time because of its underage characters. Bishonen are basically the male version of Lolita.

Because of the gender roles of the time, young women were better able to to imagine idealized strong, independent characters if they are male. Manga like Sailor Moon would later change this, but yaoi and BL remained popular among female readers. Despite its content and initial resistance by male mangaka, yaoi was more acceptable than yuri. Yuri, literally translates to ‘lily’, deals with love between girls, which is a taboo subject. While we know women Japanese history, particularly in the Edo period, had sex and relationships with each other, it is not something discussed. Yaoi fell within accepted samurai practices. The most famous yuri manga, Revolutionary Girl Utena broke ground by placing a female character in the role of a male. Utena doesn’t want to be male. Rather she seeks to embody the virtues male characters typically embody: courage, strength, and compassion. The story completely flips the traditional narrative. Utena along with Sailor Moon and other stories, including yaoi, changed the narrative of female sexuality and gender role. They break the Judaeo-Christian narrative that dominates American culture.

The Male Side of Manga Sexuality

Most studies focus on the benefits of manga reading for women and girls. Manga allows Japanese girls to break from their rigid gender roles. It allows American girls to explore taboo sexualities and different cultural perspectives. However, men see many benefits as well. As I mentioned previously, manga allows boys and men to safely explore feelings of affection, tenderness, and other emotions typically reserved for women. Masculinity in America and in Japan is one dimensional. Society expects men to be go-getters, controllers, and sexual conquerors. Some of the issues in American society concerning homosexual men centers on the idea of sexual conquest. Men are expected to go out and “get” women. Gay men defy this cultural norm. They are seen as being “got” rather than “getting.”

Gender-bending stories such as Ranma 1/2 use comedy to explore the different dimension of masculinity. In the story, a boy becomes a girl whenever he is splashed with cold water. Comedy stories like Ranma 1/2 stimulates the imagination and helps male readers consider other possibilities for manhood.

Manga also breaks the equation American romance has: sex = love, love = sex.  Newitz (1995) writes:

Anime offer to the post-sexual revolution generation stories which suggest that young men and women do not need to have sex in order to experience love.

Look at many shonen stories. Male characters often fall in love with female characters, but they never get down to banging like they would in American television. When they finally do, such as in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, it is off camera, and the story clearly shows the consequences: children. Pregnancy and children are a reoccurring theme in manga sexuality. Fatherhood is lauded, unlike in many–perhaps most–American stories. Goku is a dad. Even the goofiest fathers are still active in the lives of their children. This provides an example for male readers of an alternative to the “dead-beat” dad issue found throughout the United States: fathers who have little or nothing to do with their children. It also contrasts against the Japanese salaryman who is never home because of their work schedules.

Manga provides escapism, titillation, and–most importantly–a different perspective. Sex is a part of the human experience. It is wrapped up in identity, morality, and taboo. Sex will continue to spark controversy and provide a means to explore different culture and gender perspectives.

References

Brienza, C. (2014). Sociological Perspectives on Japanese Manga in America. Sociology Compass. 8 (5) 468-477.

Comog, M. (2005). Non-Western Sexuality Comes to the US: A Crash Course in Manga and Anime for Sexologists. Contemporary Sexuality. 39 (3). 1-6.

Darlington, T. & S. Cooper (2010) The Power of Truth: Gender and Sexuality in Manga. Manga in Depth. 157-172.

Fukada, T. (2010) Child sex in ‘manga’ – art or obscenity?: Graphic but healthy, free speech.  The Japan Times

MacWilliams, M. (2008). Japanese Visual Culture 40-42.

Newitz, A. (1995) Magical Girls and Atomic Bomb Sperm: Japanese Animation in America. Film Quarterly. 49 (1). 2-15.

Oder, N. (2006). Manga history pulled from PL. Library Journal, (9). 14.

Ogi, F. (2003). Female Subjectivity and Shoujo (Girls)Manga (Japanese Comics):Shoujo in Ladies’ Comics and Young Ladies’ Comics. Journal Of Popular Culture, 36(4), 780.

Zanghellini A. (2009). ‘Boys love’ in anime and manga: Japanese subcultural product and its end users. Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 23(3) 279-294.

Zanghellini, A. (2009). Underage Sex and Romance in Japanese Homoerotic Manga in Anime. Social & Legal Studies. 18 (2). 159-177.

Anime’s Breast Obsession Explained

haganai-sena-swimsuitBoobs, headlights, breasts, jugs, chichi. Modern American culture worships the breast. But American culture isn’t alone. Anime too has a special fixation on the breast. While I’ve already addressed breast symbolism in anime, I haven’t discussed why anime obsesses over breasts. At first blush, this seems like a simple answer: guys. Guys like boobs, and anime targets men. However, this isn’t entirely correct. Modern men like breasts, but for most of human history, the breast was associated with life, particularly that of a child, instead of sexuality (Domshy, 2003). Let’s first take a look at modern ideas of why men  like breasts and then look into the traditional Japanese view.

Modern Man and Mammaries

Modern theories on breast fixation center on the idea of resource competition and biology. Scientists see the presence of large-breasted statues and cave drawings from the earliest period of human history as evidence for men’s focus on the female chest. Researchers see these artifacts across cultures (Chivers, 2012). It’s thought large breasts developed to keep men interested in women with children. They are a form of competition to attract men with resources. Basically, they work similar to how a male bird has colorful feathers. Breasts also mimic the shape of the backside which is a turn on for other apes (Miller, 2006). Larry Young, a professor of psychiatry at Emory University, suggests men like breasts because stimulating a woman’s nipples releases oxytocin, the neurochemical responsible for strengthening affection. The chemical helps bond a lady to the man (Wolchover, 2012).

soukyuu_no_fafner_dead_aggressor_exodus-01-rina-senpai-shopkeeper-fanning-cleavage-fanserviceBreasts show off fertility. Men are said to prefer young women who haven’t had children, so traits associated with youth and virginity (in this case, never being pregnant) like a slender waist, wide hips, and large, firm breasts attract men. Now you might be asking yourself, if this is the case why don’t all women have large boobs? Because breasts are costly, according to many researchers. They take vital nutrients to create, and energy to carry around; they make the female body biomechanically less efficient (again, all like the peacock’s tail). Eventually, the sexual selection benefits are outweighed by the costs. So not all women have these. Women’s breasts, on average, are already very large by comparison to most primates. (Chivers, 2012).

Sounds like science has the reason sewn up, doesn’t it? Not so fast. While these explanations are accepted, some argue against breast attraction as a natural part of male sexuality. These arguments offer convincing evidence that men learn to be attracted to breasts.

Men Aren’t Naturally Attracted to Breasts?

bleach-matsumoto_00290646The presence of large-breasted statues and paintings doesn’t necessarily point to a fixation on the chest for sexual reasons. The breast was the only means of nourishing an infant up until the 19th century. Because of this, a fixation on the breast as the symbol for life is a reasonable explanation for its prolific appearance across cultures. The idea that breasts were a way of competing for men makes little sense in light of cultural norms. Anthropologist Fran Mascia-Lees takes on this view and Young’s oxytocin argument by pointing out how not all men are attracted to breasts. She cautions: “whenever evolutionary biologists suggest a universal reason for a behavior and emotion: how about the cultural differences?” (Wolchover, 2012). For example, in some African and New Guinean cultures, women don’t cover their chest, and men show a lack of interest in the exposed bosoms.

What about breasts looking like a woman’s backside? This is a cultural projection of the West. Breasts don’t look like a lady’s backside without being squished together by bras and corsets. Both of which are Western inventions.

In Japanese culture, you also find a distinct lack of interest in the chest until the modern era. If you look at Japanese woodblock print from the Edo period, not a lot of attention is lavished on the breast. Artists rendered other body parts  in loving detail, but they largely ignored breasts. Yoshihiko Shirakawa, an expert on woodblock prints states (Kozuka, 2013):

“It appears that men of the Edo period considered breast to be a tool for child rearing. They were not a sexualized part of the body. In shunga from the early Edo Period, men and women were depicted with largely similar chests. From the point of view of the artists, breasts really didn’t seem to matter.”

Shunga are pornographic woodblock prints. Typically, shunga shows small breasts when they show up at all. When breasts appear, they appear in scenes where a woman breastfeeds an infant. Only a few artists fixated on sexual scenes involve breast stimulation. Such behavior doesn’t appear across shunga.

Back here in the West, the erotic breast appears in a brief period during the 15th and 16th centuries. The French painter Jean Fouquet paints one of the first erotic breasts in Western art. He painted Agnes, the mistress of Charles the VII with a bare breast specifically designed to suggest her eroticism. During the 16th century, prostitutes would stand on the streets bare-chested as a form of advertisement (Domshy, 2003). However, in the United States, the breast didn’t become erotic until the 1940s. Miller (2006) argues that the science of breasts is a projection of this late cultural fixation and the boom in breasts as a form of advertisement. The arguments seek to validate what is an aberration or vested interest. In 1982, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons went as far as labeling small boobs as a disease. Because scientists live and grew up in a culture that fixates on breasts as a symbol for sex, they struggle to view breasts in any other way.

Anime and Breasts

kill-la-kill-ryukoAll of that brings us back to anime and its breast fetish. Anime came out of the complex interchange of American culture and Japanese culture after World War II, the same time breast fixation developed in the United States (Miller, 2006). The United States had a large influence on Japanese culture. For example, the United States is responsible for the panty fetish we see in anime. It stands to reason that the US also influenced how Japan views female chests. On the opposite side of the coin, anime targets West. In order to make more money, studios need to make stories that have the widest appeal. This explains why you often see Japanese humor–falling flat, puns, and other jokes that are strange for Westerners–combined with breast hijinks. Both the US and Japan share the same fetish, so it’s common ground for marketing stories.

Culture becomes a self-perpetuating loop. That loops can make us think something is natural. Think about Chinese foot-binding. That was a practice in ancient China that forced women to have abnormally small feet by binding them so they couldn’t grow. It caused pain and even prevented women from being able to walk. But Chinese men at the time thought it was erotic. These small, 4-inch feet, hidden in elaborately embroidered shoes, became the focus of erotic fantasies. It shows nearly anything that is hidden can gain sexual attraction. Eroticism in humans starts in our large brains. It isn’t as hardwired as some people believe. In Japanese culture, the nape of a lady’s neck excites men. For most of us here in the West, the nape of the neck is about as sexy as a wrist — which was also sexy in feudal Japan I might add. During the Roman Empire, women considered the sweat of gladiators sexy.

This article doesn’t seek to validate objectification of women. Rather, I attempt to sketch some of the reasons why we have a cultural breast fetish. Culture directs the biological drive for sex. In this article, I focused on male sexuality, but culture shapes women’s ideas of eroticism as well. While genetics creates the foundation for attraction, culture determines how that attraction forms. But in all cases, culture fixates on individual body parts. Which body part depends on culture and time period. Anime focuses on breasts because it is a product of American and Japanese culture. The breast fixation in otaku culture will disappear once culture shifts to the next erotic body part. Perhaps elbows will be the next big fetish.

References

Chivers, T (2012) Is it really ‘the West’ that’s breast-obsessed? Or just men? Telegraph. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchiversscience/100129578/is-it-really-the-west-thats-breast-obsessed-or-just-men/

Domshy, H. (2003) (Re) Imaging the Breast: An Analysis of a Cultural Obsession. Fellowship. 34 (3).

Kozuka, J. (2013) How Times Change: Japanese Men in Edo Period Not Interested in Breasts.  RocketNews24. http://en.rocketnews24.com/2013/04/18/how-times-change-japanese-men-in-edo-period-not-interested-in-breasts-nsfw/

Miller, L. (2006) Beauty Up:  Contemporary Japanese Body Aesthetics. University of California Press.

Wolchover, N (2012) New Theory on Why Men Love Breasts. Live Science. http://www.livescience.com/23500-why-men-love-breasts.html

 

Homosexuality in Japan

Japanese history is well known for celebrating homosexuality. Well, what we in the West call homosexuality.  During the feudal era, homosexuality wasn’t an identity as it is today. The celebration of male love changed with many other aspects of their society during the Meiji Reformation.  Like the protections single mothers and women enjoyed, homosexuality declined as Japan pushed to break out of the Tokugawa isolation and westernize.

Homosexuality in Feudal Japan

Photography by Wilhelm Burger 1869 near Yokohama Japan

Photography by Wilhelm Burger 1869 near Yokohama Japan

During the Tokugawa Era, which lasted from 1603 to 1868, homosexuality was a part of being a samurai.  Buddhist monasteries embraced it, and male brothels associated with Kabuki theaters flourished. Male homosexuality was thought to be useful for teaching young men virtue, honesty, and an appreciation for beauty. During this time, particularly in the samurai class, relationships with women were devalued. They were only necessary for the continued existence of the household (Furnham & Saito, 2009).  Men who were attracted to women were thought to also be attracted to young boys and female impersonators (McLellend, 2000b). Homosexuality among men was a normal characteristic of being samurai. Men who loved other men were still expected  to have wives and families. Homosexuality wasn’t the binary it is now. It was only a small aspect of a person’s character and responsibilities.

What about lesbians? I couldn’t find information about lesbianism during the Tokugawa period. Japan was, and still is, a male-oriented society. Women had roles they were expected to play.  I am certain many samurai and peasant wives were also lesbians.  Like same-sex male relationships, women’s relationships were not to interfere with their duties to the family. The heart of Japanese womanhood is to be a good wife and mother.  Marriage was the defining characteristic of adulthood for men and women. Even in modern Japan, singles are not considered full adults (Chalmers, 2002).

Anyway, during the Meiji Restoration homosexuality’s prominence declined.  Homosexuality remains acceptable in modern Japan as long as it isn’t flaunted.  It is simply not spoken about (Furnham & Saito, 2009;  Nakagawa, 2010).  Despite this acceptance, exclusive homosexuality is seen as something to fear and despise. Unlike the United States, this fear doesn’t come from religion. After all, Buddhist monks practiced same-sex relationships. Exclusive homosexuality is despised because it breaks gender expectations and social roles demanded by a culture that centers on family.

Discrimination in Modern Japan

ukiyo-3-suzuki_harunobu-geese_descending_on_the_koto_bridges__kotoji_rakugan-1769-1600x686Although the samurai class embraced same-sex relationships, it didn’t interfere with a man’s responsibilities to head a family and have children.  In modern Japan, marriage is still seen as establishing a household rather than a romantic relationship. Because of this, many Japanese gay men willingly marry women and do not see it as a contradiction to their sexual preference. In fact, Japanese media lauds gay men as perfect marriage partners for women because gay men are considered to be more feminine and sympathetic to women’s subordinate social position (McLellend, 2000a).  Many Japanese homosexuals hide their orientation in order to avoid disappointing or troubling their friends and family (Furnham & Saito, 2009). Remember, Japanese society and identity revolves around the family. The family comes first, above the desires of the individual. Well, this is the ideal anyway.

Openly gay people risk social discrimination despite Japan lacking laws against the orientation. Families have been known to disown gays and lesbians because of the dishonor they bring to the family and their inability to continue the lineage (Furnham & Saito, 2009).

Lesbians, in particular, face discrimination.   Women who are not satisfied with marriage and childbearing are often seen as lacking and less than a real woman. Lesbians and unmarried gay men are not seen as adults. Lesbians experience intense pressure to appear heterosexual and interested in men (Chalmers, 2002). They also lack the historical precedents that gay men enjoy. To ice the cake, parents are thought to be the reason why a girl is a lesbian. Her sexual orientation is seen as a parental failure that can and should be corrected (Nakagawa, 2010).

samurai-womenLike in the United States, Japan has slang words used to refer to gay men and lesbians. Okama refers to the butt and used to refer to gay men. Obviously, this term is suggestive of anal sex which is considered the definitive sexual act engaged by gay men. Okama is also used to refer to transgender men. Homosexual men are stereotyped in a similar way as in the US. They are seen as feminine and promiscuous.  Lesbians are called onabe and seen as the opposite of okama. Onabe are stereotyped as being masculine in dress and behavior. They understand themselves as a man, only without a penis (McLelland, 2000b; Furnham & Saito, 2009).

Same-sex Marriage

Same-sex marriage steps closer toward acceptance. Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward became the first locale to recognize same-sex partnerships as the equivalent of marriage, guaranteeing the identical rights married couples enjoy.  However, the ordinance isn’t legally binding (Associated Press, 2015).  Japan’s constitution prohibits same-sex marriage in Article 24 (Newswire, 2015):

Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.

Boy’s Love and Yuri

Boy’s Love stories also called BL or YAOI are some manga fan’s first exposure to Japanese ideas of homosexuality.

Only the ideas found in BL are wrong.

Shinjo Mayu ShitaumiBoy’s Love is not considered gay literature. The genre, better known by its acronym YAOI ( ochinashi, iminashi – translates to “no point, no meaning”), are stories that emphasize sex scenes between bishonen, beautiful boys, rather than focusing on romantic plot development. Written by female authors for female readers, the stories do not reflect the struggles and view points of Japanese homosexuals. Rather, the stories are fantasies of what homosexual love means. The characters are androgynous and behave in a feminine manner (McLelland, 2000a).

Likewise, yuri does not represent lesbian identity. Yuri focuses on sexual encounters between beautiful girls. Written by men for men, they explore male fantasies of lesbianism rather than actual lesbian relationships. Of course, in both genres there are certain to be a few stories that touch on homosexual people’s concerns and challenges.

Japanese Homosexual Identity

Like many touchy subjects Japanese culture slips around, homosexuality lacks the hard boundaries it has in Western culture.  There isn’t a strong sense of identity attached to sexual orientation. Gay men willingly marry and have children without seeing the act as a contradiction of their identity. It is simply their duty as a Japanese man, regardless of whether or not he is attracted to women. Likewise, lesbians are expected to marry and have children. Many do just that. Their attraction toward the same sex isn’t the defining part of their personality.  Of course, this is all just generalization based on surveys and other research. Such private, personal matters always have exceptions. It can be difficult for those of us in the West to understand how sexual orientation can play a small role in a person’s sense of identity. However, we live in a culture that values the individual. Whereas in Japan and other Asian cultures identity is focused on the family and family history.  The individual is just another part of a large tree; a part that is pressured to continue the lineage and not dishonor it.

The Problems of World View

It is difficult for those of us who are heterosexual to understand the social pressures transgender and homosexual people face. This becomes even more difficult when culture differences add further complications. Despite Westernization, Japan still remains a culture different from that of the United States and other Western societies. Applying our understanding to their viewpoints and unique cultural identity is a disservice, but at the same time we can only understand based on what we know. Basically, what I am trying to say is this: we  must have care when thinking about Japanese homosexuality and not view it from our own cultural lens. There are similarities and differences between the challenges homosexual people face in Japan and other countries.  It becomes even harder to understand and explain these challenges when you have a world view that isn’t discriminated against, such as mine as a white, heterosexual American male.

In any case,  it is important to understand that yaoi and yuri do not represent Japanese homosexual relationships. On the same note, hentai doesn’t represent Japanese heterosexual relationships. You can go ahead and smack your forehead and shout duh! But the messages we consume help form that worldview I talked about. We must remember not to allow media to shape our views without our knowledge.

References

Associated Press. (2015). Tokyo Ward 1st in Japan to Recognize Same Sex Marriage. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/03/31/world/asia/ap-as-japan-same-sex-marriage.html?_r=0

Chalmers, S (2002). Emerging Lesbian Voices from Japan. Psychology Press.

Furnham, A., & Saito, K. (2009). A Cross-Cultural Study of Attitudes Toward and Beliefs About, Male Homosexuality. Journal Of Homosexuality, 56(3), 299-318. doi:10.1080/00918360902728525

McLelland, M. (2000a). Is there a Japanese ‘gay identity’?. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 2(4), 459-472. doi:10.1080/13691050050174459

McLelland, M. (2000b) Male Homosexuality and Popular Culture in Modern Japan. Intersections: Gender, History, and Culture in the Asian Context. 3. http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue3/mclelland2.html

Nakagawa, Ularam (2010). Japan’s Lesbians Still Scared to Come Out. CNN. http://travel.cnn.com/tokyo/life/lesbians-in-Japan-struggle-to-build-their-own-community-814836

Newswire (2015) Abe Lays Down Constitutional Barrier to Gay Marriage in Japan.