Yaoi Ronsō:
Discussing Depictions of Male Homosexuality in Japanese Girls' Comics, Gay Comics and Gay Pornography

Wim Lunsing

  1. A number of papers in English have discussed the genre of shōjo manga [Japanese girls' comics] known as BLB (boy loves boy) manga in which gay male characters figure prominently and which were first published in the 1970s. However, little attention has been paid to developments in the 1980s, let alone the 1990s, resulting in an outdated depiction of the genre, with, for instance, a stress on the foreignness or otherworldliness of the situations described.[1] McLelland[2] takes the discussion further to include newer manga situated in the present but insists that the depictions are equally not representative of actual gay existence, as they are over-romantic. The same point is made about Japanese films and television shows depicting homosexuality, which, like the manga, are mostly aimed at a female audience.[3] Answers to questions such as who reads the genre and why have been sought in women's resistance to patriarchy,[4] ignoring the fact that there are also many gay male readers. The genre is commonly treated in isolation from other phenomena, such as gay manga, i.e. manga made by gay men for gay men, and pornography.
  2. So far in English scholarship, the yaoi ronsō [yaoi dispute], a discussion concentrating on the politics of depictions of men having sex with men in shōjo manga, is, apart from some remarks in my earlier work,[5] to my knowledge never mentioned. Although the actual meaning of yaoi is limited to manga in which the depiction of sex is pivotal, in this discussion, as well as in many other contexts, the term is used to include all BLB manga. This paper intends to make a beginning in filling these gaps by concentrating on the following questions: What is the meaning of the changes in BLB shōjo manga towards more realistic and contemporary Japanese situations and how do they relate to gay manga and gay pornography in connection with the yaoi dispute?
  3. My research has hardly ever focused on manga as such but as an anthropologist conducting fieldwork on issues of sexuality, gender and later also employment, spanning the years from 1991 until 2003 and being based in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo, the topic regularly came up in discussions and activities I engaged in with informants. Being an anthropologist, I regard these discussions as highly valuable data, as, unlike data acquired from interviews and written sources, these data are acquired without any manipulation by the researcher or an author and they offer insights into how actual people relate to the topic. As a fieldworker, I have usually found myself well accepted as a participant in various contexts, in which I became deeply submerged and consequently my personal experiences also became part of the research data.[6] As part of my research on non-standard employment I interviewed a number of people working in the sex industry, who for instance, provided inside information on the pornography industry, as well as the gay manga authors Hirosegawa Susumu and Tagame Gengorō.[7]
  4. When taking account of the fact that Japanese people are familiar with the idea that particular situations demand particular performances, which finds explicit expression in cultural tropes like honne [real feelings] versus tatemae [public face], ura [back] versus omote [front], and uchi [inside] versus soto [outside],[8] it is no surprise that, for instance, gay Japanese thinkers found value in the concept of performativity on their own terms. Foremost among them is the well-known gay writer Fushimi Noriaki, whose thinking not only combines women and gay men as allies against heterosexism but also explicitly includes any type of non-standard sexuality and gender in his very own queer theory.[9] This chapter focuses on a discussion concerning a form of resistance against heterosexism by women who use depictions of male homosexuality to liberate themselves. On the one hand this phenomenon can be regarded as underpinning Fushimi's argument that women and gay men are allies but others, like the civil servant, gay writer and drag queen Satō Masaki, maintain that women harm gay men with these depictions.

    Developments in the genre of BLB shōjo manga
  5. Two famous early examples of shōjo manga featuring male homosexuality confirm the idea that the stories were often set in contexts alien to contemporary Japan. Both were drawn by members of the Group of 24, named after the year they were born, Shōwa 24 (1949).[10] One is Hiizuredokoro no tenshi [The angel who came from the sun] by Yamagishi Ryōko,[11]—a seven-volume series loosely based on the life of Shōtoku Taishi, an imperial prince from the Nara period (600-700) who is generally credited with promoting the introduction of Buddhism to Japan.[12] In the manga, only Shōtoku's unrequited love for another prince indicates homosexuality. He leads the pro-Buddhist army against the indigenous Shintō faction, aided by his command of supernatural powers, among which is his ability to appear as a woman. When sex plays a role at all, it is heterosexual sex, like when Shōtoku impregnates the mentally challenged woman he married (Figure 1); but same-sex love also plays a major role throughout.
  6. A second example is that of Kaze to ki no uta [The poem of the wind and the trees][13] by Takemiya Keiko.[14] This story is set in nineteenth century France, mostly in a boarding school in the countryside. The main character, Gilbert, makes his way through school without studying or attending classes by having sex with the teachers and anyone else he is able to seduce. Like Shōtoku Taishi, he could be the prototype of the bishōnen, the beautiful androgynous youth, which forms a major trope throughout Japanese cultural history (Figure 2).[15] Gilbert lives to have sex, which means to be anally penetrated. The virtuous Serge, son of a gypsy woman, tries to encourage him to study but fails. The story includes incest, rape and drug abuse and in the end Gilbert dies, run over by a carriage. Commenting on Kaze to ki no uta years later, Takemiya said that it was not about gay men but that she used boys' love [shōnenai] to liberate girls' sexuality.[16]
    Figure 1. Yamagishi Ryōko.[17]

    'Emishi. Emishi. Why Emishi! I am telling you that if you and I come together there is nothing in the world we cannot do' 'Nothing we cannot do…!?' Part of the crucial scene in which Shotoku begs for Emishi's hand but is turned down. One of the most explicitly gay sections of the series.
    Figure 2. Takemiya Keiko.[18]

    'Gil…' 'Stop this half-heartedness' 'a... a' (laughter by Gilbert). In this scene Gilbert seduces Serge.
  7. However, already in the 1980s examples of stories set in contemporary times and in Japan itself appear. A famous example is the story of Tomoi, published in two volumes entitled Nemureru mori no binan and Tomoi respectively, written by Akisato Wakuni.[19] The story of the young Japanese man Tomoi is set in Tokyo and New York during the initial stages of the AIDS epidemic and in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion. Apart from this unusual combination of settings, social realism is a main hallmark. Tomoi looks nothing like the androgynous heroes of Yamagishi and Takemiya; he even sports a moustache (Figure 3).
    Figure 3. Akisato.[20]

    Tomoi's thoughts: 'Marriage... if it were with a man I would not mind marrying' Spoken words: 'Hisatsugu (i.e. Tomoi's first name)' 'Father' 'You will want to have an arranged marriage' (repeated 3 times). As part of Akisato's social realism, parental pressure to marry is applied.
    Figure 4. Takaguchi.[21]

    'What… are you thinking' 'stop' 'quick'.
  8. This more realistic type can also be exemplified by the short series entitled Rakkii Kun or Kōun Danshi [Lucky/fortunate boys] about the love of two high-school boys brought together when their parents marry each other. This story even contains an episode in which the boys are confronted with prejudice against themselves for having a gay relationship (Figure 4).[22] The author Takaguchi Satosumi stressed that she wanted to write about boys' love, but not in the overly-romantic way she perceives to have been common until then. She wanted social realism.[23]
  9. Simultaneously another development took place in the genre: the production of what came to be called yaoi. Yaoi stands for yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi, which means 'no climax [as in the climax of a story], no plot, no meaning.' The genre supposedly consists only of sex scenes, which often are characterised to some extent by violence, hence also the joking interpretation of the meaning of yaoi as yamete, oshiri ga itai [stop, my ass hurts].[24] The feminist manga specialist Tanigawa Tamae estimated, based on figures of fan circles' membership and comic fair participants, that about 100,000 people are fans of the genre, most of them young women.[25] Yaoi critic, Satō Masaki, mentions a figure of 200,000[26] and the lesbian Mizoguchi Akiko even gives the figure of 500,000 people as forming the core of the readership, based on an investigation by the yaoi specialist Kurihara Chiyo of the number of magazines published.[27] The discrepancy in the figures may partly be explained by the fact that the term yaoi is used with varying meanings. Generally, the magazine June, which probably refers to Jean Genet [June in Japanese sounding similar to the Japanese way of rendering Genet), is presented as exemplary of yaoi. However, if one looks at the contents, one will find that they can hardly be described as concentrating on sex only and lacking plots. In fact, manga appearing in June have much in common with the earlier works of Yamagishi, Takemiya and the like as well as the later social realism of Takaguchi and Akisato. In practice, the term yaoi is most commonly used inclusively to refer to all BLB manga, which has evidently led to the high figures of yaoi fans.
  10. A more typical example of yaoi in its more limited meaning is found in the magazine Zettai Reido. Phonetically sounding like 'absolute freezing point' the characters used mean 'absolute beautiful fellows' but also play on the word dorei, which means slave. Zettai Reido is a magazine consisting of explicit sadomasochist manga. Story-lines are not absent, but in general serve the depiction of sexual activity rather than having much import in their own right. Most of the characters in the stories are beautiful men but, unlike those created by the group of 24, the characters are not necessarily particularly feminine. Most feminine in their looks are probably the characters in the work of Tori Maia. They usually have long hair and the way they dress and the depiction of their bodies are, in the main, highly androgynous. Her stories are set in an SM club, where customers can go and hire one of the staff who live in the building (and who also have relationships with each other).
  11. In Volume 17 the development of the story entitled 'Ryōjoku no kauntodaun' [The countdown of violation} is as follows: Sumiya, a staff member, received a brand on his penis during the sex-play of the previous night and Sakurai, the master of the house, feels partly responsible for letting this happen. He feels he must repay a debt and Sumiya replies jokingly that he will rape him. However, Sakurai asks another staff member to prepare him and he is tied up, put in a bag and delivered to Sumiya's quarters with the message that Sumiya is to punish him. After a careful beginning, Sumiya really gets into it and Sakurai gets more than he had bargained for after pleading for leniency, which makes Sumiya gag him and proceed with his sexual torture. Sumiya finds that Sakurai wronged him mostly by assuming responsibility for the brand, even though Sumiya insists that this was his own responsibility. Sumiya tortures Sakurai not because of the pain inflicted on himself but because Sakurai wants to take over his responsibility.[28]
  12. The same volume also contains a story drawn by Horii Jingoro, entitled Sotsugyōsei [The graduate].[29] This story is simple. The high school graduate, Sasaguri, pays a private visit to his former swimming coach, Wakasugi (sounding like 'too young' but here written with the characters for 'young Japanese cedar'), in his apartment. Without much ado the coach undresses to his swimming pants and the student dives into a closet to uncover ropes, which he uses to tie down the teacher who is weakly protesting. He pulls down the teacher's pants, undresses himself and makes the teacher fellate him. Next he makes him sit on his desk and pulls out a vibrator from his bag. The teacher again protests but the student's pants are put into his mouth to shut him up and the vibrator is inserted until the teacher reaches a climax. Then the student turns the teacher around to bend over the desk and penetrates him from behind. This time they both ejaculate, after which the student remarks that he wants to do it one more time and the teacher agrees but asks to be untied first. End of story.
    Figure 5. Tori Maya.[30]

    'You are quite submissive, master, letting me do to you what I will without complaining.' 'Do you feel responsible and so on? Or is your consciousness still dim?' 'I will make it clear in a moment.' '[So clear] that your idiotic sense of responsibility will be destroyed.' 'Does it hurt? I think you can have more.' Sumiya torturing his master.
    Figure 6. Horii Jingorou.[31]

    'Tremendous ... extremely hot!!' 'More, more' 'Master' and sounds of pleasure. Wakasugi penetrates his former teacher.
  13. There is no explanation for what occurs other than that there is a history of sexual relations between the teacher and the student. Basically it is all about sex. If there is any story that fits the explanation of yaoi manga as being without climax, plot or meaning, it would be this.

    Yaoi Ronsō
  14. In 1992, Satō Masaki, a gay activist/civil servant/drag queen, harshly attacked yaoi—using the term in a personifying manner: he attacked women who draw and read yaoi—with the phrase: 'yaoi nan tte shinde shimaeba ii' [that yaoi may die]. He did this in the minikomishi [small-scale non-commercial magazine] Choisir, a feminist magazine devoted to the discussion of female sexuality by women. He felt that his human rights as a gay man were harmed by women drawing and enjoying yaoi manga. He compared them to the 'dirty old men' [hentai jijii] who watch pornography including women engaging in sexual activities with each other. In addition, he accused yaoi of creating and having a skewed image of gay men as beautiful and handsome and regarding gay men who do not fit that image and tend to 'hide in the dark' as 'garbage' [gomi]. In addition, he attacked them for creating the 'gay boom', a media wave of interest in gay issues sparked by women's magazine Crea, which, according to him, did nothing for gay men at large.[32]
  15. Women who enjoy yaoi responded to this attack. Takamatsu Hisako, calling herself yaoi according to Satō's definition, though she dislikes the term, first pointed out that Satō's usage of the term was not correct, as he included all BLB manga, rather than the subgenre of yaoi with its focus on explicit sex. Nevertheless, she accepted Satō's broader usage for the sake of the argument. She pointed out that for her boys' love manga were liberating in the sense that, unlike in heterosexual stories, in the case of yaoi, for a character to look at another's body meant also to have his own body looked at. Whereas in straight material the woman was always the object and the man the viewer—in yaoi this role division did not exist. She agreed, however, that, as a reader of yaoi, she was similar to dirty old men looking at pornography featuring women.[33]
  16. Yanagita Akiko made a slightly different argument. She recounted the fact that when she was in high school she felt that she was an 'absurdly sick being' [tonde mo nai kimochiwarui sonzai]. She felt that her interest in yaoi did not relate to gay men in particular but to people in general. She claimed that she did not particularly like the depictions of beautiful gay men but rather liked particular characters in the manga as well as particular real life women. To her, the interesting point of yaoi manga was that they inevitably concerned men/boys who had individuality [kosei]. The fact that the boys/men in yaoi are depicted as beautiful she related to the fact that women in shōjo manga are also depicted as beautiful, a mere characteristic of the entire genre of shōjo manga. She felt shocked that Satō even read yaoi as something related to himself as a gay man. The reason why she wrote and read yaoi had nothing to do with an interest in gay men but with the fact that she could not cope with heterosexual depictions, in which the woman always ended up being the underdog, nor with depictions of woman-woman relations because of her own confusion in relation to her feelings for women, in which case she could not help, when imagining sex, but to think of raping them.[34] She admitted that what she wanted to draw and read in yaoi, was probably not agreeable to gay men, but then, she wondered, what does Satō want 'us' to draw?[35]
  17. Satō dismissed this question as too stupid for consideration. He never asked women to draw manga featuring male homosexuality in the first place and suggested that yaoi think for themselves.[36] Later, however, he gave an indication of how he would like to see gay men depicted. He wrote that he was very impressed by the skill Takaguchi Satosumi showed in her story Kōun Danshi [Rakkii Kun], discussed above. He read it with great pleasure until in the end, when, to his distress, one of the characters died—an extremely common way to end any sort of Japanese story—and the remaining character decided that he should marry and start a family, which Satō read as a denial of the validity of gay lifestyles. The message that the story in the end conveyed to Satō was that gay men cannot be happy.[37] Later he admitted to liking BLB manga but he remained insistent that yaoi are homophobic and debase the tradition of BLB manga. Good manga must not 'incite an escape from reality' but 'make reality easier to live in.' He also made no distinction between yaoi and the women who like to court gay men as friends, called okoge [fag hags], who also objectify handsome gay men. However, as long as yaoi remained small scale and something for personal pleasure, he did not find any harm in it. The problems arose once the genre entered into the mainstream.[38]—as, undeniably, it has. In March 2002, Tokyo's largest book store Kinokuniya had a BLB manga fair on its ground floor.
  18. Tanigawa Tamae, criticising the women who agreed with Satō that they were like dirty old men, counterattacked Satō for using his position as a gay man to attack a group such as yaoi who are much weaker, since, unlike gay men, they are not recognised in their own right. She maintained that for gay men it was perfectly possible to put the images they want out in the media and that yaoi manga do nothing to prevent them from doing that. She regarded yaoi authors and readers as victims of patriarchy, which prevented them from loving themselves as women.[39] I believe that the admittance of being guilty of hurting gay men by Takamatsu and Yanagita is too easy and that they fell into the trap of siding with the supposedly weaker group of gay men instead of properly analysing their motives. Their inability to enjoy existing depictions of heterosexual activity combined with unease about female-female sexuality suggests, indeed, that female yaoi fans had the larger problem when it came to dealing with their own sexuality.

    Shōjo manga in a different light: gay manga and pornography
  19. Above, I briefly introduced a manga written by a male author but published in the context of yaoi. Japan's two most popular gay manga authors also began their manga careers by publishing in the context of shōjo manga. Hirosegawa Susumu is a prolific manga author, who, when I interviewed him, insisted that much of his work did not focus on sex but rather on stories, disagreeing with my suggestion that his work was mainly sexual. True enough, he also draws manga that contain no sex at all. However, for the purpose of this essay, those containing sex are of more interest. The variety of settings in which sex takes place is broad in Hirosegawa's work and the sex is usually characterised by sadomasochism and often rape, in which the victim comes to enjoy being raped, is part of the storyline.
  20. A typical example is the story entitled Bāgensēru [Bargain sale]: a customer in a clothing shop behaves oddly. When an attendant has a closer look, he discovers that the customer has his penis exposed and apparently was masturbating while gazing at him. The attendant accuses the masturbating man of shoplifting and threatens to expose him at his workplace unless he 'cooperates.' The customer is forced to undress and is tied up in a dressing room. After closing hours, all the attendants gather to have a thorough gang-rape session abusing the customer. He is ordered to return the next day 'or else' but the threat seems superfluous, as the customer can hardly wait to see what they will do to him the next day.[40] (Although freely available in Japan, the illustration itself cannot be shown here, as the contents might contravene the server's anti-pornography regulations.) When I discussed this type of work with Hirosegawa, he felt that it was easier to write for gay men than for women. Being gay himself, he can more easily imagine what excites them. He was clear that he did not personally have sex like that protrayed in his stories. It was all in his imagination. He also insisted that yaoi manga often lack realism, as the female authors do not know how men feel, and that most of the yaoi authors were lesbian women, hence the feminine features. He thought that lesbian women do not really care much about what genitals people have. The men Hirosegawa draws do not, however, look essentially different from the more masculine men in yaoi manga, being handsome, slender and mostly having little facial and body hair.
  21. Tagame Gengorō, is probably the most influential gay manga author in Japan at present. As of the year 2002 he had published six volumes, most of which previously appeared in gay magazines. The men he depicts differ greatly from Hirosegawa's. They are extremely masculine; broad shouldered, muscular and hairy. When his work was published in the then new gay magazine G-men in 1995, a major shift occurred in the gay entertainment area of Shinjuku Ni-chōme in Tokyo. Until then, trendy gay men had overwhelmingly tried to look handsome, slender and slick, not unlike the heroes in BLB manga. Almost everyone was clean shaven and hair was commonly worn in a fashionable and tidy cut. Fat men mostly hung out in special bars for them, shunned by the majority of gay men. After G-men was published, stubble, beards and moustaches became all the rage. Extremely short became the most common hair style and the broad muscular body, soon to evolve to chubby and outright fat, became highly fashionable.[41]
  22. Tagame almost exclusively draws stories of sexual abuse. When I interviewed him, he said that he himself gets excited by faces wrought with pain and enjoys making people suffer in sadomasochistic play. He also bottoms but finds that he is not so good at enduring pain himself. He differentiates between two types of SM commonly practiced in Japan; his favourite in which real pain is inflicted and a softer form in which the masochist is tied up and then has his genitals played with to his pleasure, without suffering much pain. The manga he draws are what he likes to see. He is not interested too much in what the readership wants to read, although he tries not to include too many features that parts of the readership find disgusting, such as scat-scenes and decapitation. After all, he said, the readership wants sexual excitement.
  23. Hirosegawa has called Tagame's manga SM gekijō [SM theater] and does not recognise them as manga, but thinks they are simple emanations of the SM-shumiō [hobby] of Tagame. It is hard to counter his argument, as the stories are not very elaborate. (Again, unfortunately the illustrations cannot be shown here due to their violent nature.) As such they have more in common with western gay comics like those by Tom of Finland than with Japanese-style manga, although the style and themes of the drawings can be related to 1950s and 1960s Japanese illustrations like those of Mishima Gō and Ōkawa Tatsuji.[42] Like Hirosegawa, Tagame feels that BLB manga belong to a world he does not understand as an outsider and they lack reality. He gave the example of a story in which a boy's anus becomes wet when he gets excited, as if it were a vagina. However, I also found an example of this in a gay manga by a gay author.
  24. Tagame's longest story to date, Shirogane no hana [The silver flower], first published in the gay magazine Badi which was established a few years before G-men, is set in the Edo period (1603-1868). The hero, Shirogane, was a wealthy businessman but in the first few pages he runs into severe debt. To pay this off, he agrees to work for a man who will take over his debt. This man resells the debt to an old enemy, the owner of a brothel. Shirogane is tied up and raped several times before being made to work as a prostitute for a clientele that cannot afford female prostitutes. The story continues with him being abused incessantly and punished and humiliated when not complying with clients' desires. He tries to escape several times but, for instance, falls in the hands of a troupe of bandits who also abuse him. He has no luck and is always returned to the brothel that bought him and there subjected to additional torture and humiliation before made to work again. After a fire destroys the pleasure quarters, he is set free only to find his body aching for abuse. In the end, he dies in loneliness, poetically covered by snow flakes. The story, divided over three volumes, comprises almost 900 pages.[43]
  25. Tagame's work has its counterpart in gay pornography. In particular Ejiki [prey] videos and Gareon videos can be characterised as prolonged torture sessions of the models. Like in the case of Shirogane, various artefacts are inserted in the anus, an enema is almost standard, and bondage, candles and whipping are commonplace. The camera pays much attention to the model's facial expressions. Other video companies may focus less on SM but nevertheless, the depiction of rape is a common feature throughout. Otherwise, one of the more exciting aspects seems to be that the models are straight men—and talking with such models, I learned that usually they actually are straight. A relatively new development in this genre is that of having athlete models eventually letting themselves be fucked, which is a pinnacle of excitement, for instance in the case of the Spike series produced by Field, one of the largest Japanese gay pornography manufacturers.

    Homophobia, misogyny, rape and violence
  26. If BLB manga are homophobic because they show characters who say they are straight, then what does that make gay manga and pornography? If yaoi manga are criticised for giving false presentations of gay men, how come gay manga are not? Obviously, gay manga made by gay men for gay men may lack the aspect of voyeurism by a group outside the gay scene, in this context, women. However, women who enjoy yaoi manga often also read gay magazines and thus are also familiar with gay manga and pornography. It rather seems that gay men like Satō have difficulty with the idea that women may look at them as sex objects. Gay manga are not essentially different from BLB manga. Satō can, however, hardly be called a misogynist. He began the yaoi dispute on the instigation of a female friend, Irokawa Nao, editor of Choisir. The women engaging in the discussion wanted to search their souls and Satō's writings served as a welcome incentive.
  27. In Japan, discussions of BLB manga tend to focus on particular features of some manga. Satō's opinion that they are homophobic is shared by Mizoguchi Akiko, though not for exactly the same reasons. She found that the characters in BLB manga, while falling in love with a man, often maintain that they are straight [nonke].[44] She interprets this as homophobia, as the characters are phobic towards a gay identity; they maintain that they are essentially straight but just developed erotic and loving feelings for one particular man. Thus, they distance themselves from gay men, who, supposedly, have feelings of love towards any man, or at least multiple men. To make this point, Mizoguchi introduces various quotes).[45] I wonder, however, to what extent they are representative of characters in BLB manga in general. Many characters are explicitly gay, in particular in the newer manga like Tomoi and New York, New York[46] and even more commonly in the case of Zettai Reido, though they do not necessarily acquire an American-style gay identity. While the argument may hold in some cases, it certainly fails in others and therefore lacks the power to convince.
  28. Similarly, Tanigawa Tamae uses quotes from, for instance, Hiizuredokoro no Tenshi to prove that the characters in BLB manga are often explicitly misogynous, ignoring the fact that there are also many characters that are not. Tanigawa interprets this misogyny as indicative of the authors' and readers' hate of themselves as women.[47] This may have been the case at least initially, but a decline of such manifestations of misogyny in recent manga, as well as the development of manga in which women love women[48] suggests that there is a least a considerable number of women who overcame this hate, possibly thanks to their involvement with yaoi. A third feature is that sex often takes the form of rape, as discussed by Mizoguchi.[49] This is not particular to male-male sex in manga, but has been pointed out in the case of straight sex in manga also.[50] However, manga containing straight sex are mostly drawn by men, and as such they can be discussed in the orthodox feminist framework of men's misogyny, while BLB manga are drawn mostly by women. Gay manga also have similar characteristics. Sex and pain go hand in hand. As in pornography, the mainstay of excitement can be summed up by the term iyarashisa [distastefulness], which becomes most explicit when the object of excitement looses control of his bodily functions, and becomes nothing but feeling. Bondage is one obvious way to further excitement, but other Japanese depictions of sex also often focus on someone loosing control and giving in to corporeal lust when being manhandled by someone in one way or other.
  29. To me, the three issues above seem to contradict the idea that BLB manga exist in a world of fantasy. In today's Japan, the homophobia that Mizoguchi describes is commonplace[51] and, moreover, when men regard themselves as gay it is not uncommon for them not to encompass homosexuality as their mainstay of identity, which in itself need not to be a problem. Misogyny is common, as are depictions of violence in combination with sex.[52] I found that many of my gay informants were not only familiar with BLB manga but read them voraciously from the moment they came on the market in the mid-1970s. Even if the stories were set in alien contexts, the gay informants could relate their situation and feelings to the manga. While Satō felt that the stories were impeding a positive validation of gay lifestyles, other gay men evaluated them in a more positive manner. The fact that some stories may include homophobia did not prevent them from reading them with pleasure. Even the romantic Kaze to ki no uta, in which the main protagonist Gilbert is nothing but a sex toy who gets raped over and over again and in which homosexuality is definitely not placed in a positive light, was often pointed out as a must-read by gay friends. I felt they were right, as for me, too, it was utterly compelling, to a similar extent as the work of Tagame Gengorō, in which men are forced to be sex toys for the satisfaction of others, regardless of what sexual identity they may have.
  30. Satō's accusation that female BLB fans are homophobic is of a complex nature. Based on personal contacts, interviews and participant observation, I believe that there are several ways in which women read BLB manga. As Satō[53] agrees, initially BLB manga were an important innovation in the otherwise asexual genre of shōjo manga. Love between boys was a means for women to reconsider, or even to begin considering, their own sexuality. It mattered less that the stories concerned boys than that they concerned sex. On the other hand, some women to whom I spoke could hardly stop talking about the 'cute' boys in such depictions. They evidently identified strongly with the characters, asking me things like whether I thought they looked boyish themselves. Hirosegawa's view of BLB manga as drawn by and for lesbian women, applies only to a minority. To me it seems that more have an actual interest in cute men/boys.
  31. Another aspect is the objectification of the male, at least in the case where the male looks somehow like the characters in BLB manga. There is an overlap between the okoge [fag hag] and the female yaoi reader, even if they are not necessarily the same. It happened to me in a club in Kyoto that a woman started grinding her crotch against my buttocks, like gay men may do when dancing in clubs. At the time, I had long hair and was wearing tight cut-off jeans under a half-length top and thus quite fitted the imagery presented of the boyish sex object depicted in yaoi. She was obviously mimicking the active male part in the sexual role division, which implied that she was feminising me. Her boyfriend made it quite clear that he did not like what she was doing but she continued regardless. I found it quite interesting, as it was so utterly queer for me as a white man to be feminised by a Japanese woman, and I do not really know in general what is problematic about being objectified or feminised. Being objectified entails an extent of interest in oneself and if one does not have a sexist view regarding sex differences, being feminised is not something negative.
  32. Like Japanese gay friends, I also have experienced that okoge and BLB manga readers alike can be a nuisance in their desire to become one's friends, up to the point of stalking. I feel, however, that no matter where people live, extremities do occur and extremities are no basis for judging entire categories of people, like female readers of BLB manga or okoge. Both Hirosegawa and Tagame insisted that many readers of BLB manga hold positive views of gay men and are also interested in meeting those who do not look like bishōnen, for instance rugged or fat bears. In fact, the cute long-haired style works in gay contexts also. Even at the age of forty-one gay men occasionally called me bishōnen when I had long hair. BLB manga relate quite well to my reality, which obviously is not everyone's but, nevertheless, is shared by many.
  33. In the yaoi ronsō women who depicted and looked at men having sex with men were criticised for discriminating against gay men. However, compared to gay manga drawn by gay men for gay men, BLB manga cannot be said to be more abusive. In both gay and BLB manga, the men depicted are not necessarily gay as in having a gay identity. Thus, the reason why BLB manga were criticised by a gay man cannot only lie in their depictions of gay men since, in that case, gay manga should equally have been the focus of critique. Satō feels uneasy about women watching what he regards as depictions of gay men—he wants such depictions to have limited access. He wants depictions of homosexuality to remain in a closet, viewed only by an inner circle of gay men. However, limiting the audience to those who regard themselves as gay men inevitably limits the opportunities for young and possibly isolated gay men to find gay characters with whom to identify, which is a reason why it can be seen as fortunate that BLB manga are popular and easily available. The implication that gay sex is objectified for the purpose of the sexual liberation of women surely is a queer use of male homosexuality par excellence.
  34. The positive depictions 'making reality easier to live in', Satō wishes to see, are not generally present in BLB manga. However, they exist elsewhere. The iyarashii [disgusting] sex in BLB manga can be liberating for gay men's sexuality in a manner similar to gay manga. This can be regarded as a positively queer influence on male sexuality. Discussions taking place on BLB manga are irrelevant to the majority of the readers, who simply enjoy what they read. Moreover, the recent popularity of BLB manga in China and Korea shows that their impact is not limited to audiences who grew up in a Japanese cultural context. It is to be hoped that BLB manga will remain beyond the scrutiny of the new Japanese law against child pornography and that Korean government efforts to ban the genre will be thwarted, since they are a form of art and art should be free. Critiques such as those of Satō and Mizoguchi entail the risk of leading to the establishment of norms on how male homosexuality must be depicted, which would result in a normalised, stale representation of male homosexuality. Obviously, this would be utterly un-queer and contrary to the performative acts in which identity and activity are not related in a linear manner—a characteristic of Japanese sexualities. Many Japanese gay men appear to use depictions of gay men that are not (meant to be) positive and supportive, by seeing them as performances that can in turn enhance their own lives.


    Acknowledgements: Research on which this paper is based was partly conducted while I was funded by the Japanese Department of Education for a project on sexuality and gender in Japan, by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for a project on sexual activity and discourses thereof in Japan and the Japan Foundation for a project on individual ways of dealing with the changed employment situation in relation to the economic crisis in Japan.

    [1] Tomoko Aoyama, 'Male homosexuality as treated by Japanese women writers,' in The Japanese Trajectory: Modernization and Beyond, ed. Gavan McCormack and Yoshio Sugimoto, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 186-204; Mark J. McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities, London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2000.

    [2] McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan.

    [3] Wim Lunsing, '"Gay boom in Japan:" Changing views of homosexuality?' in Thamyris, vol. 4, no. 3 (1997):267-93; McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan; Jonathan Hall, 'Japan's progressive sex: male homosexuality, national competition, and the cinema,' in The Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 38, nos 3/4 (2000):31-82; Stephen Miller, 'The (temporary?) queering of Japanese TV,' in The Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 38, nos 3/4 (2000):83-110; Tanigawa Tamae, 'Josei no shonenai shoko nit tsuite III: "yaoi ronso" ara' [On the yearning of women for boys' love III: from the 'yaoi ronso'], in Joseigaku Nenpo [Chronicle of Women's Studies], vol. 16, October (1995):36-51.

    [4] Aoyama, 'Male homosexuality as treated by Japanese women writers'; Matsui Midori, 'Little girls were little boys: displaced femininity in the representation of girls' comics,' in Feminism and the Politics of Difference ed. Sneja Gunew and Anna Yeatman, St. Leonards: Allen & Unwin, 1993, pp. 177-96; McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan.

    [5] Lunsing (2001), Beyond Common Sense, London: Kegan Paul International.

    [6] My position in the field is discussed in detail in Wim Lunsing, 'Life on Mars: love and sex in fieldwork on sexuality and gender in contemporary Japan,' in Sex, Sexuality and the Anthropologist, ed. Fran Markowitz and Michael Ashkenazi, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1999, pp. 161-74; and in Lunsing, 'Between margin and centre: researching "non-standard" Japanese,' in The Copenhagen Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 15 (2001):81-113; and in Lunsing, Beyond Common Sense.

    [7] Interviewees relevant to this paper included straight and gay men and women and were recruited through a variety of organisations as well as personal networks; interviews have always been open-ended and unstructured. In total, over 200 informants were interviewed and thousands of other informants have participated in other ways in my research over the years.

    [8] The scope of this paper precludes a thorough discussion of these concepts, which are central to the anthropology of Japan. Some works discussing them extensively are: Jane Bachnik and Charles Quinn Jr. (eds), Situated Meanings: Inside and Outside in Japanese Self, Society, and Language, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994; Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword: Patterns of Japanese Culture, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1977 (1946); Dorinne Kondo, Crafting Selves: Power, Gender and Discourses of Identity in a Japanese Workplace, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1990; Takie Sugiyama Lebra, Japanese Patterns of Behavior, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1976; Nancy Rosenberger (ed.), Japanese Sense of Self, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

    [9] Fushimi Noriaki, Puraibēto gei raifu: Posuto renairon, [Private Gay Life: Post-love Theory], Tokyo: Gakuyō Shobō, 1991.

    [10] Other major members of this group are Moto Hagio and Ōshima Yumiko.

    [11] In the text, Japanese names are given in Japanese order, i.e. first the family name and then the given name.

    [12] Yamagishi Ryōko, Hiizuredokoro no tenshi [The Angel who came from the Sun], Yamagishi Ryōko zenshū [collected work of Yamagishi Ryōko] nos 1-8, Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten (16th-18th print; 1991-1992, originally published from 1980); Fujimoto Yukari, Watakushi no ibasho wa doko ni aru no? Shōjo manga ga utsusu kokoro no katachi [Where is my Place?: The Shape of the Heart Reflected in Shōjo Manga], Tokyo: Gakuyō Shobō, 1998, p. 331.

    [13] Though often translated as 'Song of the wind and the trees', I stick with 'poem', as the added French title on one of the (Japanese) editions I have reads 'Le poème du vent et des arbres,' while in the same edition the awkward English translation 'Poem of wind & tree' is given.

    [14] Takemiya Keiko, Kaze to ki no uta/Le poème du vent et des arbres [The poem of the wind and the trees], Tokyo: Shōgakukan, Shōgakukan Sōsho, (1991; first published from 1976).

    [15] Saeki Junko, Bishōnen tsukushi, Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1992.

    [16] Satō Masaki, 'Shōjo manga to homofobia' [Girls'comics and homophobia], in Kuia Sutadiizu '96 [Queer Studies 1996], ed. Kuia Sutadiizu Henshū Iinkai, Tokyo: Nanatsumori Shokan, 1996, pp. 161-69.

    [17] Yamagishi Ryōko, Hiizuredokoro no tenshi, vol. 8, p. 170.

    [18] Takemiya Keiko, Kaze to ki no uta, Shōgakukan, vol. 2, (1977):125 (copied from vol. 1, p. 311 in a bound edition, published by Shogakukan Sosho in 1991).

    [19] Akisato Wakuni, Tomoi, Tokyo: Shōgakukan, 1992 (1987); Akisato Wakuni, Nemureru mori no binan [The Sleeping Male Beauty in the Woods], Tokyo: Shōgakukan, 1986.

    [20] Akisato Wakuni, Tomoi, p. 44.

    [21] Takaguchi Satosumi, Rakkii kun, vol. 1, Kōdansha, 1991, p. 39.

    [22] Takaguchi Satosumi, Kōun danshi/Rakkii kun [Fortunate Boys], Tokyo: Kadokawa Shoten, 1991.

    [23] Fujimoto Yukari, Shōjo manga damashi: ima o utsusu shōjo manga kanzen gaido & intaby&$363; shū [The Soul of Girls' Comics: A Complete Guide and Collection of Interviews of Girls' Comics Reflecting the Present], Tokyo: Hakusensha, 2000.

    [24] Fujimoto, 'Shōjo manga damashi.'

    [25] Tanigawa 'Josei no shōnenai shōkō ni tsuite III.'

    [26] Satō 'Shōjo manga to homofobia.'

    [27] Mizoguchi Akiko, 'Homofobikku na homo, ai yue no reipu, so shite kuia na rezubian: saikin no yaoi tekisuto o bunseki suru' [Homophobic homos, rape out of love, and queer lesbians: analyzing recent yaoi texts], in Queer Japan Vol. 2: Hentai suru sarariiman [Salarymen Engaging in Perversions], (April 2000):193-211.

    [28] Tori Maia, 'Ryōjoku no kauntodaun' [The countdown of violation], in Zettai Reido [Absolute Beautiful Fellows], vol. 17, (December 2000), pp. 1-34.

    [29] Horii Jingorō, 'Sotsugyōsei' [The graduate], in Zettai Reido [Absolute Beautiful Fellows], vol. 17, (December 2000):91-106.

    [30] Tori Maya, 'Ryōjoku no kauntodaun,' p. 21.

    [31] Horii Jingoro, 'Sotsugyosei,' in Zettai Reido, vol. 17, p. 105.

    [32] Satō Masaki, 'Yaoi nan tte shinde shimaeba ii' [That yaoi may die], in Yaoi Ronsō [The Yaoi Controversy I], Tokyo: Choisir, (1994; first published in Choisir vol. 20, May 1992):1-3. It must be noted that this was quite early, at which time the effect the boom came to have on younger generations of gay men, who as a result found easy access to the gay scene, was unclear. See also Lunsing '"Gay boom" in Japan,' on the gay boom.

    [33] Takamatsu Hisako, '"Mikata-teki" ron no karegata e: miyoo to suru koto, miete kuru koto' [To those who engage in the 'ally-enemy' discussion: what you try to see, you get to see], in Yaoi Ronsō I [The Yaoi Controversy I], Tokyo: Choisir, 1994, pp. 4-6, (first published in Choisir, vol. 20, May 1992).

    [34] This would give an additional reason to why she did not like to read lesbian manga, apart from their plots being very dark, as James Welker maintains; James Welker, 'Beautiful, Borrowed and Bent: Boys' Love as Girls' Love in Shōjo Manga,' paper presented as ICAS (International Convention of Asia Scholars) III, Singapore, August 2003.

    [35] Yanagita Akiko, 'Satō san e no tegami' [A letter to Mr. Satō], in Yaoi Ronsō I [The Yaoi Controversy I], Tokyo: Choisir, 1994, pp. 13-16.

    [36] Satō Masaki, 'Shōjo manga kara ushinawaretsutsu aru mono' [Things that are lost from shōjo manga], in Yaoi Ronsō I, [The Yaoi Controversy I], Tokyo: Choisir, 1994, pp. 36-37.

    [37] Satō Masaki, 'Shōjo manga ni daietto o 2: Takaguchi Satosumi 'Kōun Danshi' [A diet for shōjo manga 2: 'Fortunate Boys' by Takaguchi Satosumi], in Yaoi Ronsō II [The Yaoi Controversy II], Tokyo: Choisir, 1994, pp. 1-2.

    [38] Satō, 'Shōjo manga to homofobia.'

    [39] Tanigawa Tamae, 'Josei no shōnenai shōkō nit tsuite II: shikisha no kenkai to, feminizumu ni aru kanōsei' [On the yearning of women for boys' love II: Opinions of intellectuals and possibilities in feminism], Joseigaku Nenpō [Chronicle of Women's Studies], vol. 134, (October 1993):66-79; Tanigawa, 'Josei no shōnenai shōkō nit tsuite.'

    [40] Hirosegawa, Susumu, 'Bēgensēru' [Bargain sale], in Bāgensēru [Bargain sale], Tokyo: Hirosegawa Kojinshū (private publication), 2001.

    [41] Even rent-boy clubs specialising in fat rent boys developed.

    [42] See Tagame Gengorō (ed.), Nihon no gei erotikku āto Vol. 1: Gei zasshi sōseiki no sakkatachi/Gay erotic art in Japan Vol. 1: Artist from the time of the birth of the gay magazines, Tokyo: Potto Shuppan, 2003.

    [43] Tagame Gengorō, Shirogane no hana: danjorō kugai sōshi [The Silver Flower: A Book on the Bitter World of a Male Prostitute], vol. 1, Tokyo: G-project, 2001; Tagame Gengorō, Shirogane no hana: danjorō kugai sōshi [The Silver Flower: A Book on the Bitter World of a Male Prostitute], vol. 2, Tokyo: G-project, 2002; Tagame Gengorō, Shirogane no hana: danjorō kugai sōshi [The Silver Flower: A Book on the Bitter World of a Male Prostitute], vol. 3, Tokyo: G-project, 2002.

    [44] 'Nonke' is gay slang for 'straight,' a combination of the Anglo-Japanese 'non-' and the Japanese 'ke,' which is an alternative pronunciation for the character usually pronounced 'ki,' meaning 'feeling.' As it is gay slang, usage of the term suggests that the user is gay. A 'real' nonke is unlikely to be familiar with the term.

    [45] Mizoguchi, 'Homofobikku na homo.'

    [46] See McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan.

    [47] Tanigawa, 'Josei no shōnenai shōkō nit tsuite II.'

    [48] Mizoguchi, 'Homofobikku na homo.'

    [49] Mizoguchi, 'Homofobikku na homo.'

    [50] For example, Anne Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Mothers, Comics and Censorship in Japan, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000; Sharon Kinsella, Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japan, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.

    [51] Lunsing and Maree, 'Shifting speakers: negotiating reference in relation to sexuality and gender.'

    [52] Allison, Permitted and Prohibited Desires; McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan.

    [53] Satō, 'Shōjo manga to homofobia.'


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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