Itō Bungaku and the Solidarity of the Rose Tribes [Barazoku]:
Stirrings of Homo Solidarity in Early 1970s Japan

Jonathan D. Mackintosh
    Introduction: Barazoku – the Venue
  1. When Itō Bungaku (born 19 March 1932), Chief Editor of the publishing company Dai Ni Shobō, announced in 2004 his decision to terminate gay magazine Barazoku,[1] he was unprepared for the media attention he received. Within hours of the news, he was inundated with calls from the national and international press. Citing numerous reasons including falling sales due to competition from newer magazines and the internet, Itō admitted that the magazine he had founded and directed for nearly thirty-five years had become outdated, its message and content corresponding neither to the needs of an increasingly visible gei [gay] community or an evermore aware society.[2]
  2. Yet the response to Itō's decision should not have been a surprise. Appearing first in July 1971, Barazoku was an immediate success, and it became something of an institution.[3] As the first magazine catering exclusively and expressly to homo (as male homosexuals were then known) to be sold in mainstream bookstores, it also caused a sensation in Japan's tabloids. 'Dōseiai [homosexuality] is the ruin of the nation' declared the Shūkan Posuto.[4] Not to be outdone, the major weekly newspapers each put out feature articles, while Shūkan Bunshun focussed on the man himself behind the furore, heterosexual publisher Itō Bungaku: 'The Standard Bearer of the Porno Era – The Homo Magazine Started by a Straight Man!'[5]
  3. To be certain, male-male sexuality was not without its voices in the 1950s and 1960s. Recent study has revealed a significant scene of dōjinshi, 'common interest publications' or newsletters, produced by an array of societies and clubs,[6] largely unrelated, whose male members nevertheless shared in their love of men. There were also the commercially-produced fūzoku zasshi [erotica magazines] which in the 1960s increasingly featured male-male sex in their repertoire of 'perverse sexualities.'[7] Despite this activity, male same-sex love as practice and desire was secretive for many. Its culture was often fleeting in its visibility while its representation, created collaboratively by a disparate range of authors and artists according to a variety of agenda, was eclectic, and often it was informed by negative stereotype.[8] Male same-sex love belonged to an underground scene, its expression and representation largely limited to secret clubs and secretive mailing lists or stashed away in backstreet porn shops. For much of mainstream society, then, male-male sexuality was largely invisible.[9] More importantly, for homo themselves, love was often inaccessible, many suffering the belief that they were unique and alone, strange and abhorred.
  4. Barazoku challenged this situation by introducing some ground-breaking innovations. Marketed in its early years in mainstream bookshops like Shinjuku's Kinokuniya, it broke the barrier separating mainstream society from its underground to bring the largely hidden world of homo into the public gaze. Moreover, the visibility was to be sustained since the professionally-produced and nationally-distributed commercial magazine would appear every other month (and eventually monthly). Homo desire could now be explored in one venue that was accessible to all homo across the nation.[10] Information and entertainment, much of it produced by readers themselves, were combined to form a multi-purpose publication that included a variety of elements: art and erotica, essays, reviews of popular culture and homo entertainment, and the buntsūran or 'personal ads' that enabled men to meet other men. These elements had been seen before at different times scattered throughout the pages of the dōjinshi and fūzoku zasshi. In Barazoku, however, they were brought together to create an enduring format that was adopted by other homo and gei magazines that soon followed.[11] Barazoku pioneered a homo magazine genre and industry.
  5. Barazoku also resisted Japanese homo-phobia, that is, the anti-homo attitudes pervading mainstream society that were propagated not through legal proscription—postwar Japan saw no legislation regulating homo—but through jōshiki [common-sense]-based social condemnation that threatened ostracism from family and society.[12] 'Don't hide; be out!' exclaimed the title of an essay by Itō that appeared in Barazoku No. 2:

      Take courage and stand tall…You might say hiding is alright because there will be no discord if you tell nobody. But, isn't it you, yourself, who understands best and who knows the grief caused by not being able to tell the truth? You might say that you can't tell anybody the truth but what kind of ridiculous thing is that?[13]

  6. It was a radical proposition, one that seemed to presage the arrival of an evermore vocal gay rights movement then spreading across the Anglo-American West. 'The homo tribes' commented the owner of one bookstore, 'have finally acquired civil rights.'[14]
  7. In retrospect, the optimism of some and fear of others that Barazoku might introduce Japan to Gay Liberation was misplaced. A gay movement such as is seen in Anglo-American societies is mirrored in Japan neither in numbers of members nor socio-political influence. As for Itō, he quickly changed his position. Responding to letters from men despairing of the impossibility of Itō's exhortations, and from mothers and wives berating him for promoting a homo lifestyle, he wrote in Barazoku No. 6:

      It may contradict the words I once uttered, "Don't hide; be out". But I now subscribe to the words, "What the Buddha does not know cannot harm him." Informing people of the truth will only result in trouble ... Please don't come out.[15]

  8. It wasn't just the readers who convinced Itō to change his position. It is evident from early on that he had little faith in what was occurring overseas. Gay Liberation was, according to him, irrelevant since Japan was already the kind of 'free and developed country' unconstrained by law and religion that homo in other nations aspired to achieve. It was also largely ineffective. 'Even though the Ministry of Health and Welfare says it'll send a representative to the International Conference on Gay Rights,' he wrote scathingly, 'it probably won't write even one word of support for homo.'[16]
  9. Finally, Gay Liberation in the early 1970s was perceived by Itō as arrogant and presumptuous. Initially, he welcomed all who expressed interest in Japan's homo world, feeling that cross-cultural encounters represented an opportunity for non-Japanese to learn about the barazoku. When the American Press Institute visited, for example, Itō spent a day escorting its members to bars and cruising grounds. To his dismay, the article it produced featured none of the 'real situation' in Japan, focussing instead on the 'beautiful women of cross-dressing bars' and the 'Japan of Mount Fuji and the geisha girl.' It even misspelled Barazoku. From then on, Itō had little time for Gay Liberation. In response to a letter he received in 1975 from an American gay rights activist, he wrote, 'Mr Osbourne,'

      since your country thinks it is number one at everything in the world, it doesn't attempt to understand anything in other countries, and as such it doesn't know the real circumstances of Japan's barazoku ... Today's barazoku of Japan are happy, so I'd like you not to write me.[17]

  10. Reflective of Itō's experiences, Barazoku shed its earlier radicalism to retreat into the underworld it had momentarily worked to expose. Trading increasingly in pornography, it seemed that Itō's magazine became just another fixture in Japan's homo—and later, gay [gei]—mizu shōbai industry (bars, cafes, sex clubs, porn cinemas, and other, often erotic, entertainment).
  11. It should be noted here that although Barazoku's apparently radical messages in its first year may have reflected the globalisation of the gay movement, these messages also may have emerged directly out of indigenous and often conflicting discourses concerning individual liberation at a time of social upheaval. On one hand, exceptional individuals explored the possibility of bringing gay rights to Japan. Tōgō Ken, for example, ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for the upper house of Japan's Diet throughout the 1970s in order to fight, as the 'representative of okama' [effeminate homosexuals], for the 'elimination of sexual discrimination' against homo.[18] Minami Teishirō, discussed below, similarly campaigned for civil equality and legal recognition.
  12. Itō's calls for homo to 'be out,' by contrast, while suggesting the possible influence of foreign concepts like 'coming out,' may equally have been issued as a challenge to specific Japanese social and cultural norms which stressed a strict division between appropriate social appearances and private feelings. Indeed, the 1960s and early 1970s were a time when these norms were vigorously contested in a wave of civic and other activisms: the student and anti-American Security Treaty movements; anti-Vietnam protests; consumer and environmental protectionism; and the radicalisation of minority groups like the burakumin [descendants of feudal-era outcastes] who maintained their own discourses on 'coming out' or self-disclosure. Finally, as discussed below, Itō's aspirations for homo were humanistic rather than legalistic, and as such, his calls to 'be out' may also be interpreted in terms of a highly sympathetic response to the emotional hardships of homo rather than a strongly defined political or legal imperative.
  13. Be that as it may, the judgements of scholars and commentators have tended to understand the history of Barazoku and the early-1970s homo magazine genre in terms of their limited potential to effect change. Watanabe Tsuneo, writing in 1989, for example, highly estimated the importance of magazines like Barazoku which 'act as a sort of "central nervous system" for the homo world,' but he lamented that 'nearly all Japanese homosexuals are still obliged to hide their sexual orientation.'[19] Fushimi Noriaki, a decade later, was equally as qualified in his assessments. The magazines, he asserts, may have effected the 'mass popularisation of homosexuality', but because this trend was commercially-based with gei networks consisting mainly of bars and cruising clubs, their ability to raise awareness was strictly limited.[20]
  14. To be certain, Barazoku does appear to have turned away early on from Gay Liberation and its legal, political and social implications. But to judge the magazine by the goals and standards of this non-Japanese movement is to miss the point. Indeed, although Itō occasionally borrowed from the language and adopted the tenor of the overseas gay movement, his project was conceived with different objectives which will now be surveyed in detail. Through a close textual reading of Itō's writings in the first year of Barazoku's publication, I will explore the key concept of rentaikan, or 'sense of solidarity', as it was conceived of by Itō and realised in Barazoku. I will explore his attitudes towards and sometimes negative reception in the homo world to suggest that his self-portrayal as a heterosexual man obliged him to pay close attention to his readership, hence the paramount importance placed on reader participation. Ultimately, I will argue that Barazoku, as a vehicle for rentaikan, established from early on an enduring conception of homo liberation that emerged from the concerns and needs of some of the men who love men in Japan.

    Rentaikan – The Philosophy
  15. Literally translated as 'sense of solidarity,' this prosaic rendering hardly communicates the meaning that is conjured by the Chinese characters that form rentaikan. Looking at its constituent parts, ren [to accompany, a companion] is linked to tai [bodies] and kan [sense, feeling] to form a highly embodied and affective concept in which the bodies of men move physically and spiritually together as one. It is a concept that explains Itō's purpose in founding Barazoku: 'Through the inauguration of this magazine, it is my cherished desire to drive away your feelings of loneliness, to be able even just a little to give you rentaikan.'[21] A year later in the first anniversary number, he reiterated, 'I want to provide the men who are isolated with rentaikan.'[22] It is a concept that also greeted Barazoku's first readers on the front cover of the inaugural number (see Figure 1): 'Your and My Magazine of Friendship' invites the subtitle using the familiar forms of kimi no (your) and boku no (my); for 'weary' young men who, with tears in their eyes, can't find a friend, beckons the excerpt from Simon and Garfunkel's 1971 hit Japanese-charts single, 'Bridge Over Troubled Water.' Together, these declarations and devices visually and textually conveyed a sense of fraternal intimacy to suggest that rentaikan is a powerful idea, particularly when juxtaposed against oft-recurring readers' self-descriptions of sabishisa [loneliness] and koritsu [isolation]. Enabling the nakama no nai hito, literally 'the men who have no friends' to turn away from their estranged existence and 'join hands' with
    each other,[23] rentaikan could be life-altering as in the case of Mr. Y. of Nishinomiya City:
      There is no way to convey the joy I felt when I happened to discover this magazine sitting next to the cash register in a small store ... I devoured it and learned that 'I have many friends'; and I gained courage.[24]
    In the top right-hand corner is the magazine subtitle Kimi to boku no yūai no magajin [Your and My Magazine of Friendship]. With its use of familiar rather than formal forms of the possessive pronouns 'your' [kimi] and 'my' [boku] and the inclusion of the excerpt from 'Bridge Over Troubled Water', Simon and Garfunkel's 1971 number-one hit single on the Japanese pop music charts, the front cover visually and textually conveyed the sense of fraternal intimacy that informed Itō's conception of rentaikan [sense of solidarity].

    Figure 1: Front Cover of Inaugural Number of Barazoku (September 1971).

  16. As emotionally evocative as it might be, rentaikan was more than a sentiment of warmth and good will, poignant if ultimately ambiguous. According to Itō's vision, it necessitated concrete action that could engage the abilities and efforts of all men to foster a sense of solidarity, and its primary vehicle was Barazoku. 'I resolved to publish Barazoku starting in July, the first magazine for homo in Japan, your and my magazine' proclaimed Itō.

      This magazine is one which everybody creates. I want to make it a magazine where you can vent your worries, where it is okay to make appeals in your search for friends, a place where we can cry out together all the things we want to express. It might not look that pretty, but I want this magazine to open up the future.[25]

  17. Barazoku was a forum where one could disregard the mores and conventions—the jōshiki [common sense]—of everyday society to speak one's mind and heart. It was a site where men across Japan who had hitherto been lost to each other in desolate isolation and desperate loneliness could find solace in the form of what Itō called nakama, a 'friend' or 'mate' not out of sympathy, but a like-minded fellow whose companionship was cemented through knowing empathy.
  18. There were a number of ways that rentaikan was realised in Barazoku. In some cases, rentaikan took the form of promoting actual meetings between people with Barazoku playing the role of events' coordinator. In the first number, for instance, Itō invited readers to help plan various activities, things like monthly parties, speaking societies, and movie clubs.[26] His appeals were successful, with numerous events being sponsored in which readers could meet: a travel day for secondary-school students, regular readers' introduction parties where men could make each others' acquaintance outside of the environment of gei bars, discussion groups and even a matsuri [festival] in Shinjuku.[27]
  19. Barazoku often acted as a facilitator of solidarity. One article entitled 'Bookstores Where Friends Meet,' for example, provided the contact details of three bookshops in Tokyo, stressing their homo-friendly atmosphere and proximity to other gathering spots for homo. 'Isn't it a happy thing that there are places like these? Go on and see for yourselves' encouraged Itō.[28] Individual businesses like the homo bar Pal were also singled out for recommendation.[29] Through endorsements like these, Barazoku acted as a guide to the world of the homo mizu shōbai as well as cruising areas like the infamous Gondawara in the outer gardens of the Meiji Shrine.[30]
  20. If there is one thing that Barazoku included that most helped encourage men nationwide to seek contact with others and promote rentaikan, it was the buntsūran, the 'personal columns.' On one hand, they had the potential to involve thousands of men. Not only did the number of advertisers grow by nearly fifty times from a mere seven in Barazoku No. 1 to 341 a year later, but the number of respondents might have been as high as fifteen times the number of buntsūran advertisers in any given column. Although precise figures are unavailable, it was noted by Itō that up to 700 responses had been received for the fifty-seven advertisements that appeared in the personal column of Barazoku No. 2, with one individual receiving up to fifty replies.[31]
  21. Yet, the buntsūran should not be thought of in terms of a simplistic equation of 'man-meets-man = solidarity.' Its importance is rather explained by the sense of hope it seems to have fostered. Undoubtedly, some advertisements were successful in their appeals for friendship, love, and sex and these were duly reported, for instance, the case of a 45 year-old Nagoya restaurant owner and the young lover he had met over four years earlier through the personal ads. Coming to Tokyo to thank Itō—'it is all down to you' they said—they explained how they became good friends and how they intended to be together until they died.[32]
  22. It is impossible to know how many ads ended so fruitfully, but the rate of success is unimportant. 'I don't know how many people have met,' explained Itō, 'but I think there are all sorts of dramas, some with men who meet once and it ends, and others who hate each other.'[33] More than the number of relationships that did or did not result, then, it is the 'drama' of the project for each individual that is of significance: seeing that there are many others like oneself; knowing that there is somebody to meet without fear of recrimination; discovering that these men might live in the same prefecture; being struck by the revelation that one is normal. And, this is important. Readers could contribute to Barazoku in many different ways; a story or illustration, a letter to the editor. But in all of these cases, the contributor highlighted why he was special, his talent, politics, complaint, or problem. The logic behind the personal advertisements was opposite to that informing any other form of contribution. Indeed, regardless of how contrived an advertisement might be and how wonderful its author made himself out to be, he was, in relation to the potential male partner he envisaged, seeking a man just like you all in the knowledge and hope that you were seeking a man just like him. Above all, the ads were an expression of normality, not in the sense of average looks or predictable temperaments (though these were sought-after qualities), but because each of the authors and their readers shared a common language of desire and aspiration to learn and confirm that, in this community, they were normal, ordinary men. In other words, the buntsuran became a venue to explore one's own identity as a homo and as a man. In their search for friendship, companionship, and sex, these men developed and shared a language of solidarity conceived of not in legal, political or even social terms, but instead, as the affective means to articulating an individual sense of subjectivity. This point will be returned to later.
  23. The personal columns were far more than some piddling lonely-hearts club unceremoniously stuck in the back pages to fill space for the desperate and undesirable.
    In Barazoku and all the homo magazines of the early 1970s, these advertisements were the centrepiece. Often placed near the beginning, they emphasised that the magazines existed to help men meet each other and to achieve the rentaikan that had been so limited and lacking for many in the decades before. Indeed, it was after seeing a column catering to all sorts of sexual interests in a fūzoku zasshi called Fūzoku kitan [Tales of the Weird World of Sex], that Itō had the idea for a magazine centred around personal ads just for homo. 'Wouldn't it be easier for readers in the regions to find friends if I put out a magazine that is devoted to a personal correspondence network?' he thought. 'I want to produce a magazine based on the buntsūran' he resolved.[34] While Barazoku may have been effective in bringing readers into direct contact, they were likely a minority of the total number that the magazine actually reached. This did not mean, however, that rentaikan was fostered uni-directionally with feelings of good-will flowing from the pages of the magazine to infuse an otherwise passive reader with a sense of solidarity. For some, engagement could be realised through reader contributions, whereby readers might use Barazoku as a kind of bulletin board.
    Figure 2. First page of the Buntsūran in Barazoku no. 2 (November, 1972, p. 39).

  24. 'We Are Waiting for Your Participation' invited a two-page spread in Barazoku No. 2 that asked readers to contribute poetry, novels, reviews of stories, and letters on any thought, impression, and/or worry one might have, especially on the problem of marriage for homo (see Figure 3).[35] It also called for readers' illustrations. In the first year of publication when a system for scouting models had yet to be developed and erotic photos of Japanese men were rare, illustrations were vital to the visual culture of Barazoku. Although the magazine's production team included artists like Fujita Ryū, his professional style and layout were offset, especially in the first year, by the home-spun amateurism and eclecticism of contributed artwork. Not that this downgraded the magazine since talent was not the issue. Feeling, that is, freedom of expression and the spirit of contributing to a meaningful project, was the main objective. 'Barazoku won't survive without all your support because it is a magazine that is created by everybody' announced Itō in Barazoku No. 1, 'Even if they are not so good, I hope your manuscripts brimming with your true feelings will come flooding in. I want to make it a magazine that gives expression to everybody.'[36]

    Figure 3. Two-page promotion in Barazoku no. 2 (November 1971, pp. 58-59) The illustration is from a contributor from Osaka.

  25. In addition to illustrations, poems and stories were particularly popular in which readers explored their feelings and fantasies through 'words of sincerity, words of beauty.' They were often shockingly honest as in the following by Kamiizumi Takeshi on yūnen'ai or 'the love of children' in his 'Cosmology of Remembrance – The Eroticism of Shorts':

      The legs of the boys were lewdly splayed
      from their shorts, I spied it all, his maleness.
      My Achilles heel
      calf muscles, lithe and looking like flatfish,
      upside-down teardrops forming the bottom of his thighs,
      from broad sinews, taut muscles to the hem of his shorts.[37]

  26. Kamiizumi's graphic eroticisation of pre-teen childhood sexuality is a theme that was rarely seen in the pages of Barazoku. My reason for introducing it is to illustrate the openness of expression that Barazoku seemed to spark in its first year before conventions became sufficiently defined to circumscribe what could and could not be included. It was not just a case that men had a place to go to announce themselves, thereby establishing their presence in some amorphous network of solidarity. Rather, they could explore their desires and pursue their fantasies through their creations, and in so doing, rentaikan was transformed into a tangible world populated by all sorts of men and interests, some familiar and others completely outrageous. Despite laws which criminalised sex with people under the age of thirteen and that banned the sale of indecent materials to the under-eighteens, readers could and did celebrate their most hidden fantasies with enthusiasm whether it be sex with children, male-on-male rape, 'anus play' with a foreigner, a suck and a wank, or for the romantic at heart, a kiss.[38]
  27. One other form of contribution that needs to be mentioned is non-fiction. From the second issue onwards, Barazoku featured readers' essays. Barazoku No. 3, for example, included Baba Hiroshi's 'Shocking Report' surveying the attitudes of one-hundred Fukuoka high-school students towards homo and masturbation. Baba's report came as a shock to Itō, less because of its findings—homo were regarded as a matter of course amongst students surveyed—and more because it was part of a one-hundred page manuscript that was produced voluntarily to appear, in Itō's words, 'as a bolt from the blue.'[39]
  28. Baba's example is important for two reasons. Firstly, it reveals how powerful rentaikan could be for some, inspiring readers not simply to participate in Barazoku but to help homo in general. In response to such acts, Itō was unreserved in his appreciation:

      Baba, you really did well and I bow my head to your efforts. Because of you, the special collection on high school students was a top-notch feature ... Baba, thank you.[40]

  29. Itō's recognition of readers' contributions was a key defining feature of the magazine, bringing me to the second point, namely, the place of primacy that was given to maintaining an ongoing dialogue with the readership. 'I've met countless numbers of men over the past year' recalled Itō on the first anniversary of Barazoku. 'I've received telephone calls in the morning and late at night, and it was annoying, but they'd come from Hokkaidō in the north and Kyūshū in the south.'

      There was one time when I thought I was talking with somebody from Tokyo, only to find out he was in Sapporo, at which point I became worried about the telephone charges and got all flustered because I couldn't put the phone down. It makes me remember certain faces and voices, and I wonder if they are all happy now.[41]

  30. For Itō, encounters with the public were a source of inspiration. An enduring feature of his essays, which would appear from 1975 as the regular monthly column 'Itō Bungaku no hitori goto [Itō Bungaku's Thought for the Month],' was the considerable space he gave to citing a letter or recounting a telephone call. It was based on these correspondences that he would then meander through his own thoughts and feelings. Shying away from definitive conclusions that might polarise opinion and undermine rentaikan, his style was laid back and conciliatory. It was also possibly calculated. As a 'non-homo man,' Itō was always at risk of being seen by homo as patronising, pandering, and even exploitative. Ōtsuka Takashi, who was particularly active in promoting homo as a lifestyle and who worked with Itō in the mid-to-late 1970s, was ambivalent in his assessment of Barazoku and its founder. While recognising Itō's message which urged men to go and live happy lives, he nonetheless disapproved of Itō's conception of homo as people to be 'pitied,' with an attitude of condescension that seemed to say, 'Therefore, I, a straight man, will speak for you' to affirm homo that 'you really are alright.'[42] It was just this sort of criticism that Itō attempted to dodge. By directly quoting homo at length, Itō's essays became a medium to amplify the voice of homo, and in the process, Itō as an outsider was lent some modicum of legitimacy, or so it was hoped.
  31. It should be noted that although Itō was unfailing in his efforts to promote dialogue, he was slow to formalise systems that might have enabled him to deal more efficiently with readers' queries. 'Barazoku no kokuhaku' or 'Confessions of the Rose Tribe,' for example, looked as though it might grow into a regular column. Featuring autobiographical accounts like Nosaka Tamiō's essay describing how, at the age of nine, the author was forced by his older brother to bestow sexual favours, it appeared in the first two issues of Barazoku only to disappear thereafter.[43]
  32. Haphazard and informal they may have been, Barazoku and Itō nevertheless seemed to spark a genuine creative energy, making the first year of publication special. It is a sentiment that Itō and second-in-command Fujita Ryū shared as the following excerpt from a discussion they had on the tenth anniversary of Barazoku reveals:

      Fujita: I've got my own shop now, and when I ask the customers what they think, they say that the issues before were much better.

      Itō: Maybe it's because there weren't any other magazines ... or was it because it was brand new and it felt really fresh?[44]

  33. Barazoku in its self-proclaimed roles of events coordinator, facilitator, matchmaker, and bulletin board was not novel. As mentioned above, there emerged in the two decades following the Allied Occupation amateur dōjinshi magazines like Nōkami Teruki's 'homo club' Saien, which helped give voice to 'one's own dōseiai or homosexual experiences' in the form of contributed artwork and novels. In some of the more prominent ones like Adonisu and Dōkō in the 1950s, memberships were large enough to support a kōsai shōkai system, that is a buntsūran in which members could meet each other.[45] Yet, it is unclear to what extent they may have affected the homo world beyond a tiny minority of men. Circumscribed in some cases by resources and technology and in any case exclusive in their memberships, these groups were a far cry from the homo media of the 1970s. National, commercial, professionally produced, and above all, out in the public gaze, magazines like Barazoku could bring together men from across Japan, sometimes literally, and at least, literarily. Yet, it was not the scale of the magazine that was its most remarkable achievement. It was the ability of Itō and his production team to animate the concept of rentaikan into something far transcending the meaningless niceties of a platitude. In the shape of the collaborative project of Barazoku, solidarity came to be synonymous with a sense of community whether actually or vicariously experienced, and one which importantly inspired many to contribute their talents and energies.

    Itō Bungaku – Motivations
  34. There were those who questioned the audacity of a man who said he felt no desire for other men and yet dared to represent homo. I have already mentioned Fushimi's and Ōtsuka's critiques. Most truculent of all, is perhaps Minami Teishirō, one of postwar Japan's most prominent gay rights activists. A one-time colleague of Itō who soon became disillusioned with Barazoku, he asserts that the magazine could not be considered a form of gay media. The so-called homosexual space it represented was not spontaneously emergent from homo themselves and was rather 'pried open' by the heterosexual Itō who then proceeded to 'manage' the homosexual voice. It was only when Adon was started in 1974 by a gay man—Minami himself—that a truly gay media appeared.[46]
  35. What these critics seem unwilling to recognise, however, is that by promoting a homo rentaikan, Itō, as a self-professed heterosexual, tried to understand what homo faced. Concerning his attempts to get agents to distribute Akiyama Masami's book Homotekunikku [Homo Techniques], Itō wrote, 'they flat out refused me saying "this kind of thing won't sell" ... Women won't look at it. Men will think its filth and they won't buy it. So, who on earth is going to read it?'[47] He also experienced the virulence of homo-phobic expression first hand. 'How utterly offensive!' read one letter he received from the wife of a public servant after discovering that the packages her husband regularly received were actually his subscription to Barazoku. 'That there actually exists this kind of book ... aren't people ashamed of themselves when asked of what merit they possess having written such things.'[48] Finally, Itō perhaps risked what presumably were his closest ties, his family. Despite Itō Kumiko's dedication to ensuring the success of Barazoku, she herself seems to have worried about her husband's unorthodox occupation and interests: 'I do worry that maybe he has become interested in homo.'[49] This comment may have been light-heartedly spoken, but it does suggest that understanding did not necessarily come easily.
  36. As for Itō's father, he was dismayed and embarrassed to learn that the family business was to be used to publish homo books and magazines. Not only did it seem to be a bad business decision – Itō even admitted that 'homo' was then a 'jinx'—but more importantly immoral and sordid. In the end, Itō the younger was vindicated. Barazoku was a success and within a few years, he was able to rescue the business from stagnation and establish new headquarters for Dai ni shobō in Setagaya. Reconciliation with his father was forthcoming, but only after years of struggle and perseverance in the face of intense parental disapproval.[50]
  37. So, why did Itō do it? Why did he choose to risk all and tie his fate to men with whom he seemed to have little in common? Auto-biographical material provides many hints as to his motives, ones which fully accord with his conception of rentaikan. Although the name of Itō Bungaku has become synonymous with Barazoku, he was earlier known as a poet and a writer. In 1969, he grabbed national attention with his best-selling book Boku dōshite namida ga deru no [Why Do I Cry?]. Documenting the relationship between his youngest sister who died of heart disease and a five-year old whom she shared a room with while in hospital, it was later dramatised on television, radio, and then in a hit Nikkatsu film. Not only did it help to raise public awareness about heart disease, but its success motivated Itō to found an organisation that lobbied the government to give children the heart operations they needed.[51]
  38. Itō's actions here are telling. The image emerges of a person whose sensitivity to others' suffering motivates a desire to help. He expresses his feelings and hopes to effect change through a style of writing that is personal and in turn pedagogical; he writes with the purpose of revealing the plight of others. But his writing is only one side of a two-pronged strategy that sees his feelings channeled into direct action whose ultimate goal is the mobilisation of people to effect a sense of solidarity in order that they might find some solace in the world. Case in point, Barazoku. 'No matter what I do, if I could bring about an era when the phrase "I am a homo" is of no significance ... I can then rest happy.'[52]
  39. As seen above, some have not been so generous, instead characterising Itō as patronising, condescending, and exploitative. Indeed, his actions, while motivated by sincerity and conviction, were sometimes high-handed and self-righteous. Moreover, his decision to take up the homo challenge was not free of commercial considerations. With a business in decline, bold moves were required, even the cultivation of a market catering to society's sexual perverts. In the end, Itō's entrepreneurial instincts were proven correct, but the tension between profit and compassion that accompanied the decision to start Barazoku was never fully put to rest despite protestations to the contrary: 'I want to give you the chance to make friends, but not out of some mean-spirited thinking that says it's because it's a for-profit business.'[53] Fifteen years later, Itō would still find himself trying to defend his credentials. 'We started by trying to make a magazine that was just a little more clean by not publishing advertisements ... We consistently refused to include ads since if we had taken them, they would have been for bars and porno shops.'[54] In other words, inasmuch as Barazoku was not to be associated money, the magazine and the sense of solidarity it promoted were assumed to be that much more elevated and pure.
  40. Itō is a complex and enigmatic figure, but his conception of rentaikan is fully consistent with a principled worldview that disparaged physical and emotional separation. Although its execution was at times clumsy, Itō nevertheless attempted to directly engage himself with the homo world, and for this reason, rentaikan was a sympathetic and ultimately humanistic project.

    Conclusion: Homo Liberation
  41. 'Homo people ... aren't sick,' Itō declared:

      Yet they are tormented by the cold prejudices of the world. They are people violated by society. I cannot remain quiet any longer. Homo people are all good people. Not eccentrics, not perverts. They are people who live regular lives.[55]

  42. This was an impassioned declaration. But it was not a random outburst of emotion, blindly and naïvely condemning homo-phobia. Rather, it tackled in a stroke precisely those judgements that had associated homo with illness, perversion, threat, gender inversion, and sexual depravity. Whereas it was once deemed normal and necessary by society to condemn the 'pervert' and his perversions, armed as it was with the pseudo-medico-scientific sexological knowledge that buttressed the language of jōshiki, Itō declared that the reverse was now the case. The 'pervert' was actually quite normal, his 'perversion' a fiction created by a society that was, on the contrary, itself possessed of a fetishistic perversion to 'torment' and 'violate.' Far from being a repulsively unique condition, homo desire exposed society and its homo-phobia for what it really was, 'perverse.' How could it be anything but that since there was really nothing to see? Indeed, as Itō continued, 'You don't know that this person is a homo when looking at him, because he is an ordinary person.'[56]
  43. In her Foucauldian analysis of the Hite Reports, Veronique Mottier asserts that 'the avowal of "truth" on sex is provoked through confession in all its various modes and sites.'[57] The same can also be said of sexological discourse. As Pflugfelder has detailed, sexological truth in Japan was all about confession in the form of the scientific case history.[58] It was based on the compilation of these that sexology could make pretences to empirical objectivity and scientific rationality. In Barazoku, however, the relationship between confession and truth was turned on its head. Certainly, the confessions of the readership were fundamental to Itō's claims to legitimacy, and in the form of various contributions, it was one of the main functions of his magazine. But rather than 'inciting [subjects] to textual production' in a 'will to know' rendering homo sex 'an object of knowledge' and a 'truth-claim.'[59] 'textual production' was used to incite a will to feel and an 'affect-claim' that cast sexuality as a subject of emotion and aesthetics. Contributions from the readership were deployed by Itō to undermine empirical sexological objectivity and jōshiki with emotional homo subjectivity, as in this letter from a Mr. K. in Mie Prefecture:

      I was relieved to learn in Barazoku that there are lots of homo people in the world. Although it's been 25 years since I was born, I haven't developed feelings for the opposite sex; instead I am only attracted by the charms of young men. I wonder if maybe I'm psychologically abnormal and have recently come to worry whether I am in need of psychiatric counselling. But, just as I was suffering most, I learned of your magazine ... and at the moment I read it, I was so happy that I cried.[60]

  44. Attempting to categorise perversion in ever greater detail, sexology was an exercise in taxonomy. In Barazoku, however, the opposite occurred. Rather than highlighting uniqueness through increasingly minute division – 'the transformation of sex into discourse ... the dissemination and reinforcement of heterogeneous sexualities'[61]homo was positioned to downplay difference in order that rentaikan might be promoted through the assertion that homo is futsū, that is, it is 'ordinary' and, above all, 'normal.'[62]
  45. The project of rentaikan as premised upon the normality of homo had potentially far-reaching implications since the situation possibly emerged that there were fewer men suffering self-denial and self-hatred in the erroneous knowledge that one alone desired other men. Rentaikan may not have developed into some form of movement for Gay Liberation, but, as far as Itō was concerned, this was not the objective. His main aim, rather, was the creation of a venue that enabled men to explore their desires for friendship, love, sex, and camaraderie with other men. And in the process, they ideally might experience potent affective bonds engendered in a sense of community. Unlike the overseas homophile groups of the 1960s, for example, the Mattachine society, or Gay Liberation from the late 1960s onwards, both of which sought to effect change in society through education or the law, rentaikan as it evolved in Barazoku during its first year was an imagined space that, far from attempting to change society at large, enabled men to escape the world to find solace and satisfaction. Through its co-ordinator, facilitator, bulletin board, and matchmaker functions, Barazoku as a confessional site, attempted to create a network spanning the nation, one which enabled men to participate vicariously through text and image or actually by coming together to meet face-to-face. In the process, it was hoped that they might achieve, if momentarily, a highly affective and spiritual sense of liberation from the homo-phobic condemnation of jōshiki.
  46. And, it appears that Barazoku continued to effect rentaikan throughout its history. In his study of the Japanese gay media, Mark McLelland notes how publications like Barazoku in the 1990s have a '"community" feel about them.'[63] This is a crucial observation, one that testifies to a major achievement of Itō's. For, in that first year of publication of Barazoku, a format and impetus was established that placed paramount importance on the participation of homo readers, thereby providing them with an accessible and nationally unified venue to pursue their desires, sexual and, importantly, non-sexual. In the process, it also defined an entire genre of media explicitly geared towards the celebration of male-male sexuality and eroticism. Most significantly, a philosophy of sorts evolved to combat homo-phobia that not only reflected Itō's humanistic approach to alienation and suffering, but that was shaped by the concerns and restrictions faced by the men that Barazoku and rentaikan were deployed to assist. The result was a stirring of homo solidarity, one that effected an enduring, highly affective and for many, it seems, a tangibly-realised subjective form of liberation.


    [1] Asahi Shinbun, 22 September 2004. Barazoku [rose tribes] is a euphemism for male-male sexuality. According to Itō, the association of the rose with male-male eroticism is traced back to Bara kei [Ordeal of the Roses], the 1961 homoerotic photograph collection featuring the homosexual novelist/narcissist Mishima Yukio (Author's interview – Itō Bungaku, Tokyo, 21 March, 2002, Tokyo). Throughout the 1960s, the rose became prominent as a symbol of male-male eroticism, for example, a homo private-members' magazine called Bara in 1964; and Matsumoto Toshio's 1968 film Bara no sōretsu [Funeral Procession of the Roses). While this article] was being revised, Itō reversed his decision to terminate Barazoku, and in April 2005, the magazine was re-launched under his chief editorship. It is now marketed more to older gay men (Zakzak Website, 'Futatabi saku "bara" zoku ... Sakushū haikan mo shigatsu ni fukkan' online:, accessed 28 February 2005.

    [2] Itō Bungaku, 'On Closing Barazoku,' Matsuri Cafe, online, site accessed 9 September 2005. Cf. 'Ongoing Reverberations of Barazoku Closure,' Yomiuri Online:, site accessed 9 September 2005; Leo Lewis, 'It's over and out for the voice of gay Japan after thirty years in the pink,' Times (London), 12 October 2004, p. 13.

    [3] According to Itō, Barazoku sold nearly seventy per cent of its initial run of ten-thousand copies in the first month of sales with many stores running out of their supply within days (Author's interview – Itō Bungaku, 21 March 2002). Although Barazoku could not compare with the hyakumanbu (one-million sellers) or 'first-rate' magazines (Kinsella, Adult Manga: Culture & Power in Contemporary Japanese Society, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2000, p. 43), it sold between thirty and forty thousand copies at its height and carved out a niche market that was viable in terms of future growth, competition, and endurance. According to Ōtsuka Takashi who once worked with Itō, Barazoku was the most popular of the homo magazines which included at least three other titles in the early-to-mid 1970s. (Author's interview – Ōtsuka Takashi, Tokyo, 18 March 2002).

    [4] Shūkan Posuto, 06 August, 1971, p. 43.

    [5] Shūkan Bunshun, 23 August 1971, pp. 30-40.

    [6] For example, Fushimi Noriaki, Gei to iu 'keiken', Tokyo: Potto Publ. Co. Ltd, 2002.

    [7] See, for example, Mark McLelland, Queer Japan from the Pacific War to the Internet Age, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

    [8] Nōkami Teruki, writer for Barazoku, recalled of the early-to-mid postwar dōjinshi scene that many 'homo clubs' were characterised by a 'dank' and 'dark' feel, reflective of a time when society viewed homo as 'pitiful', 'horrible', 'snake-like creatures' inhabiting the hidden recesses of the world illuminated only by a 'queer and ominous light' (Barazoku, September 1972, p. 19).

    [9] It should be noted that male homosexuality in postwar Japan was not completely hidden. While entertainers like the popular Miwa Akihiro acted as a link between the world of men loving men and mainstream society, certain areas in Tokyo's Shinbashi and, increasingly, Shinjuku, were known for their cross-dressing male-for-male prostitutes and bars catering to the nanshokuka [literally, practitioners of male-male eroticism]. See William Fitzpatrick Tokyo no yoru [Tokyo Nights], trans. Watanabe Kureo, Tokyo: Shoeisha, 1966, p. 150.

    [10] Despite Itō's intentions that Barazoku should cater to all homo, my doctoral research reveals that it tended from early on to celebrate non-transgendered expressions of male-male eroticism. The magazine's artists, including Fujita Ryū and Mishima Gō – both known for their visual representation of potent masculine virility – and much of the contributing readership rejected the associations of male-male sexuality with the effeminacy that seemed to characterise homo in the mizu shōbai (bars, cafes, sex clubs, porn cinemas) and entertainment industries. Instead, they actively developed a masculine idiom of homo. Sometimes, this took the form of hyper-masculine physicality with images of muscles, hair, and sweat often used to signify a powerful, predatory male sexuality. Its portrayal of youth similarly reflected the preference for manly masculinity by conflating male maturity with an essential virility and manliness that emerges with the loss of innocence and virginity. This contrasts with traditional representations of youth – for example, the bishōnen [beautiful youth] – which often focussed on the special period when the subject was neither youth nor adult, who, in immaturity, was not wholly male yet not female; in other words, interstitial. In many cases and especially those found in readers' letters and personal ads, the (self-) representation of one's manliness was often constructed out of normative signifiers of masculinity, for example: white-collar employment; average looks and stature; unexceptional hobbies like sports; and sometimes the desire to have a wife and children. The rejection of transgendered idioms and performance was often articulated as a desire for so-called 'normal' [futsū, heibon] masculinity that was rooted in hegemonic constructions of masculinity and patriarchy as defined by the highly conservative gendered ethos emerging in the mid-postwar era.

    [11] These include The Adonis Boy appearing in December 1972 and later re-vamped as Adon (May 1974) and Sabu (November 1974). In some cases, formats differed radically. Minami Teishirō's The Adonis Boy appeared as a monthly newsletter, its structure and content designed to promote homo civil rights through the development of an economic and political public sphere (Minami Teishirō, 'Sengo nihon no gei mūbumento', Impakushon, no. 71, 'Tokushū: Gei Riberēshon', Tokyo: Impakuto Shuppankai, 1991, p. 130). Adon, also published by Minami, maintained these objectives, but its style and structure more closely mirrored that of rival Barazoku, reflecting in part, Minami's previous close association with Itō. Sabu was produced by San Shuppan, a publishing company specialising in heterosexual erotica. Identifying the potential of the homo market, it produced a magazine similar in format to Barazoku but that focussed on homo sado-masochism. Together, these magazines constituted the homo magazine genre of the early 1970s, one which was premised upon the conception of solidarity which Barazoku pioneered.

    [12] In his study of non-normative constructions of gender and sexuality in contemporary Japan, Wim Lunsing identifies a language of jōshiki which defines modern Japanese heteronormativity. Wim Lunsing, Beyond Common Sense: Negotiating Constructions of Sexuality and Gender in Japan,' London, Kegan Paul International, 2001.

    [13] Barazoku, November 1971, p. 15.

    [14] Shūkan Posuto, 13 August 1971, p. 36.

    [15] Barazoku, July 1972, p. 102.

    [16] Itō Bungaku, Barazoku: Henshūchō funsenki, Tokyo: Dainishobō, 1986, p. 33.

    [17] Itō, Henshūchō, p. 33.

    [18] Weekly Pureiboi, 28 August 1971, pp. 122-23.

    [19] Watanabe T.,Iwata Jun'ichi, The Love of the Samurai: A Thousand Years of Japanese Homosexuality, trans. D.R. Roberts, London: Gay Men's Press, 1989, p. 133.

    [20] Fushimi, Gei, p. 194.

    [21] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 70.

    [22] Barazoku, September, 1972, p. 59. The image of rentaikan would continue to inform Barazoku throughout its history. For example, in the fifteenth-anniversary commemorative number of the magazine (September 1986), Itō wrote, 'It is with the wish for you to possess rentaikan that I have published Barazoku (Itō, Henshūchō, p. 31). In 2004, one could still find reference to the founding concept of rentaikan on the Barazoku website: 'To the gay [gei] men who, in their troubled loneliness, think of the same sex while pleasuring themselves, if I can help you to have rentaikan, to give you the desire to live by putting out this magazine, I will be fulfilled. See Itō Bungaku, 'On Starting Barazoku,' Matsuri Cafe online,, site accessed 9 September 2005, alternative site, accessed 27 January 2004.

    [23] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 6; Barazoku, September 1972; Itō, Henshūchō, p. 31.

    [24] Barazoku, November 1971, p. 14.

    [25] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 7.

    [26] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 70.

    [27] Itō, Henshūchō, p. 166.

    [28] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 55.

    [29] Barazoku, January 1972, p. 102; Barazoku, May 1972, p. 96.

    [30] Barazoku's coverage in its first few years was minimal. Personal endorsements aside, information was occasional and incidental and business advertisements were completely absent.

    [31] Barazoku, January 1972, p. 102.

    [32] Itō, Henshūchō, p. 164.

    [33] Itō, Henshūchō,p. 164.

    [34] Itō, Henshūchō, p. 151.

    [35] Barazoku, November 1971, pp. 58-59.

    [36] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 70.

    [37] Barazoku, May 1972, p. 12.

    [38] Itō himself commented infrequently on homo sexual practices. Focussing instead on the affective and spiritual bonds between men, his writings were characterised by a prudishness that was belied by the highly sexualised contents surrounding them. Indeed, a key function of Barazoku was to provide the men who love men with visual and literary materials to explore their sexual desires. As Fushimi Noriaki observes, it was due to the success of Akiyama Masami's how-to book detailing homo sexual practices and feelings, Homotekunikku [Homo Techniques; Dai Ni Shobō, 1968), which was published by Itō's company, that Itō had his inspiration to develop a magazine that conceived of rentaikan in part in terms of homo erotic desire. See Fushimi, Gei, p. 304; cf. Barazoku, September 1971, pp. 5-6.

    [39] Barazoku, March 1972, p. 102.

    [40] Barazoku, March 1972, p. 102.

    [41] Barazoku, September 1972, p. 59.

    [42] Author's interview – Ōtsuka Takashi, 18 March 2002.

    [43] Barazoku, November 1971, p. 21.

    [44] Itō, Henshūchō, p. 152.

    [45] Fushimi, Gei, pp. 279-82.

    [46] Minami Teishirō, 'Gei mūbumento,' p. 129.

    [47] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 5.

    [48] Barazoku, July 1972, p. 102.

    [49] Shūkan Bunshun, 23 August 1971, pp. 33-34.

    [50] Shūkan Bunshun, 23 August 1971, p. 34; Barazoku, September 1971, p. 5; Author's interview – Itō Bungaku, Tokyo, 21 March 2002; Author's interview – Ōtsuka Takashi, 18 March 2002.

    [51] Itō, Henshūchō, pp. 147-48.

    [52] Itō, Henshūchō, p. 149.

    [53] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 7.

    [54] With the appearance of competitors like Adon and Sabu, Barazoku did eventually carry business advertisements to increase revenue. In keeping with Itō's concerns over the commercialisation of the magazines, however, all ads were placed in one section at the back so as not to detract from the main contents (Itō, Henshūchō, p. 161). This was in contrast to Minami's magazines, which promoted an openly accessible and thriving gay commercial world as a means to attaining gay consciousness. See Minami, 'Gei mūbumento', p. 130.

    [55] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 7.

    [56] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 7.

    [57] Mottier, Veronique, 'The Politics of Sex: Truth Games and the Hite Reports,' Economy and Society, vol. 24, no. 4 (1995):521-38, p. 523.

    [58] Pflugfelder, Gregory M., Cartographies of Desire: Male-Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1999, p. 296.

    [59] Mottier, 'Politics of Sex', p. 534.

    [60] Barazoku, November 1971, p. 60.

    [61] Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality: Volume I – An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley, London: Penguin Books Ltd., 1990, p. 61.

    [62] Barazoku, September 1971, p. 7.

    [63] Mark McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities, Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 2000, p. 129.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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