I celebrate pride. Whenever not in quarantine, I go to the parades and take part in the festivities. When I was younger I went to a lot of marches. Montreal is pretty good with gay rights so there haven’t been that many here but there are still causes. However, I have never really celebrated Pride on this blog.

There are a few reasons for that. It always seemed a bit out of place. And I also talk about LGBTQ+ (the acronym is getting a bit long) topics and series pretty much all year long. I didn’t think there was a point in confining it to a month or so. But I do enjoy doing little blog pride tours of all my fellow bloggers who do put on special content. So I guess I like to have it both ways! Awww yeah!

I just like this screencap so much

This said, there is one issue that I don’t see talked about all that often. What is pride in Japan? We talk about these pieces of art that celebrate diversity and inclusivity in manga and anime, but we don’t always take into consideration the culture they are born from. And what that culture thinks about this type of diversity.

Now I am not the person to talk about this. It’s not my culture and my knowledge of it is second-hand. So I’m just going to try to go by the dispassionate facts. I have called a few of my Japanese friends to try to corroborate what I could but as always, take it with a grain of salt.

First, it should be noted that Japan does not recognize same-sex unions in any way at all. It’s the only country in the G7 not to have some form of recognition. And, as recently as this year, Japanese courts have ruled that not only would any type of legally recognized same-sex union be unconstitutional but even the act of recognizing the union goes against the Japanese constitution.

Japan put some weirdly specific things in their constition…

I think about Sweet Blue Flowers quite a bit

The general laws and regulations of a country don’t dictate the attitudes of individual people but it does tell you something about how homosexuality is viewed on a larger societal scale. Namely as either bad or harmful. And that’s kind of sad.

This may sound odd since there seems to be so much queer content coming out of Japan. Both Yuri and Yaoi are thriving genres freely available, unlike in some countries. I do think that in some cases we are reading that through our own western perspective. People are creating, selling and buying queer content, therefore it must be accepted. If there’s a market for it… But I’m not sure it’s that direct.

A people’s art doesn’t necessarily represent their societal values or ways of life in a straightforward way. Although from everything I have read and my few visits there, Japan is generally more ok with nudity (mostly male nudity for some reason) they are not what I would consider the most sex-positive society.

Public displays of any affection, let alone sexual affection, are considered a little gauche and not really acceptable. All the hentai, gay or otherwise is not something someone would brag about. It’s still considered generally shameful to enjoy such things. From what I am lead to understand, considerably more shameful than it would be to flaunt a love for hardcore pornography in the West.

you don’t want to be that girl after all

And there are still strong classical expectations that people should get married and start a family. Especially with the birthing crisis. It’s not as bad for men. A gay man could probably get away with just being discreet and maybe having to deal with his parents bugging him to get married. But single women past a certain age (like 25) often feel pressure on a more generalized level and could see it affect their careers and friendships.

The assumption is that a women not married past a certain age must have some deep personal failing or fault of character that has prevented her from getting married. So such a woman can’t be trusted. For some reason, it’s fine for men. I read that. I hope it’s not true. But if any part of it is, then it’s gonna suck to be an adult gay woman under those circumstances.

When you pair more conservative views toward sex and relationship, with the lack of acceptance for homosexuality, it gives the impression of a society that isn’t all that welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community. At least by the standards I’m used to. Admittedly I’m used to something that isn’t very common either. Namely that homosexuality is regarded with almost complete indifference. And I know that isn’t the case everywhere or even in most places but I’m going to take a very rare hard stance and just say, it should be.

this is my best argument

So for me, hearing that a whole nation considers it fundamentally wrong to accept adult individuals falling in love and sharing their lives, well it sounds odd. And I disagree with the principle behind it. We’re not even talking about marriage or any religious ceremony here. Just giving one person the right to visit the love of their life in the hospital! and name them as their emergency contact. Ultimately though, if the majority of Japanese society thinks that’s the way to go, who am I to argue? It’s just not for me.

But after all this, how do I reconcile the fact that I have seen a lot of great (and not so great) LGBTQ+ representation in anime and manga?

I do believe the world is changing. Both Yaoi and Yuri are genres that have expanded a lot recently. Stories of LGBTQ+ characters have started to appear more in the last decade and that might be a sign of a slowly changing society. Artists are often the vanguards of social change. And that’s probably part of it.

And I want to stress once again that a general societal belief does not dictate individual ones. I’m sure there are plenty of gay people in Japan who have loving and supportive friends and families that have allowed them to live fulfilling lives without fear of reprimand or having to hide any part of themselves. Some of them have probably had great experiences with their coming out. And in case I sounded high and mighty earlier there, I know for a fact that some Canadians in my circle of friends were ostracized and punished for being gay. There’s no perfect place.

At the end of the day, what I wanted to talk about was the LGBTQ+ reality in Japan outside of manga and anime. How I have a feeling that it’s not always easy and I wanted to say, hang in there. I hope it doesn’t suck and I honestly believe it’s going to get better. I know that the world is not like a Yaoi or Yuri manga, unfortunately… But I do think that we can all make it a little more welcoming for everyone.

Yaoi kiss
Yaoi fanservice, click on my blog!

10 thoughts

  1. And on this issue, here is a link to an excellent YouTube video on the subject, which links to a number of other excellent videos on the subject:

  2. “Japan put some weirdly specific things in their constition…” (sic)

    Actually, the Japanese didn’t put anything in their modern constitution…it was written by the occupying US authorities after WWII and completely replaced the constitution that had been in place since the late 19thC.

    That said, what is often passed off as “traditional” Japanese attitudes toward sexuality and gender identity are, in fact, relatively modern too, and date from the period of the so-called Meiji restoration, when Japan began its process of modernisation. This process was driven, in part, by a desire on the part of the Japanese modernisers to prove they were the “equal” of the Western powers…not just in terms of military power and technological advancement, but also in terms of those social attitudes which were deemed to be “markers” of “civilisation”. Thus it was that the Japanese reformers adopted many of the attitudes toward sexuality and gender that were then prevalent in “respectable” circles in Victorian England, attitudes which spread quickly through the Japanese middle class and hence into society generally.

    Historically, however, the Japanese have had a somewhat more relaxed attitude to sexuality and gender identity. For example, many famous samurai, daimyo, and shogun were known for their (at least) bi-sexuality, and no-one much cared. It wasn’t really until the Japanese social and economic elites adopted Victorian attitudes during the modernisation period that gender and sexual identity really became an issue at all – and that what many incorrectly regard as the “traditional” Japanese view of such things emerged.

    I suspect this is why yaoi is so popular with Japanese women – because, focusing as it does upon the romantic rather than the sexual element, it represents a romantic ideal that is not available within the salaryman culture of corporatised Japan. Likewise, I suspect the prevalence of hentai (that is, hentai in the Japanese sense, referring to a specific sexual practice or activity, rather than hentai in the western sense which essentially means animated porn) such as panty fetishism and the sexualisation of adolescent girls is representative of a repressed sexual culture that is driven underground by the prevailing middle class attitudes that were acquired in modern times. In other words, I suspect that what is depicted in anime and manga possibly does represent more accurately (at least, in a general sense) Japanese attitudes to sexuality and gender identity rather than what are often ascribed as the “traditional” views that are reflected in laws and constitutions.

    1. I read a lot on the bisexuality of Samurai. From what I read it which is similar to the attitudes of Hun tribes and even parallels ancient Greek and Roman societies. It’s very selective sort of acceptance. No one really cared about the higher ranked samurai who took lovers of either gender. As long as they married a woman. However the lower ranked man in a homosexual relationship was considered lesser than other men although not as low as women and generally granted less privileges. If they lost their powerful lovers they were at risk for violence and mistreatment. Women who had either lesbian or bisexual relationships not at the instruction of their husband were punished, sometimes quite severely.
      What was interesting to me was that this is very much in line with most attitudes towards homosexuality’s around the world even though the civilizations didn’t influence one another so much.
      I like to think that this is more of a sign of a sort of universal attitude towards power because the alternatives are all sort of depressing.

  3. Good on you for celebrating and taking part in it. I am pretty bad at the whole alphabet that this goes with and i only have my upbringing to blame for that. One thing that i do however have is respect and acceptance of others. Regardless of sexual orientation. Great post Irina

  4. Well, I’ve been watching anime as they air since roughly 2010, and I’ve always had a hard time finding queer romances I actually liked. Lately, the genre has picked up spectacularly: Bloom into You, Given, Kaze-san in short succession. Before that I had shows I sort of liked sprinkled over a far wider time period (No. 6 wasn’t a very good SF show, but Nezumi/Shion was great; and I quite liked Love Stage; I’d add Aoi Hana if I’d already watched airing anime in 2009). I don’t think there are more queer romances in anime these days (except that there’s generally more anima all around), but I do feel that more stories treat the relationships with the respect they deserve.

    I hope it’s not just selective attention.

    1. I agree. I don’t think there is more representation but it’s gotten better. Gay characters have become well…characters as opposed to caricatures

  5. In general (when you see that in a sentence you know what you are about to say is wrong) the more something is repressed in society (RL) the more of it is available and popular in art – amd now on the Internet (the only place it can survive) and the more it sells due to purient interest, pure curiosity, and people finding *p0rn* or hentai their only outlet, their only place to satisfy their curiosity, their only place to see others like themselves. In fact, IMHO it seems to me there are two seperate “lives” now. The Internet/cyber world where we are free, liberal, accepting, loving – and the RL world where we are cold, greedy, heartless, judgemental, hating bastards. Those few of us who are the same in both worlds – well, that’s why we end up holed up in our bedrooms for most of our lives if we are the accepting, loving type. (I suppose the hating type also lock themselves in, perhaps in the garage where they make bombs). I THINK the world IS changing for the better. It certainly has in my lifetime. Maybe less in how acceptable an alternative lifestyle is, than in how acceptable it is to openly and publically disparage someone for being LGBTQ+ or a POC.

    Never having been to Japan, having only secondhand accounts and their media to go by I would get the impression that they’re accepting of LGBTQ+ and diversity. I think we all realize, fi we’ve let our curiosity drag us out of our shells, that the actuality of RL Japanese society is different. But I think, perhaps to a lesser degree, that is also true in the U.S. The media would have us believe we are all loving, accepting liberals who believe in equality, compassion and so on (and some of us really are) – but the reality falls far short of that idealistic vision.

    I don’t think our artists and writers are trying to lie to us. They’re trying to create a better world through example, even if it’s an imaginary example. And make a living, too, of course.

    1. I agree. I don’t think showing an alternate version of society is lying. I think these explorations are part of what art is actually about

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