Celebrating Lesbian Sexuality:
An Interview with Inoue Meimy,
Editor of Japanese Lesbian Erotic Lifestyle Magazine Carmilla

interviewed by Katsuhiko Suganuma and James Welker

translated by James Welker

Inoue Meimy is the editor of lesbian erotic lifestyle magazine Carmilla [Kāmira] 2002- (Figure 1), the third commercial lesbian magazine created by and for lesbians in Japan, following Phryné [Furīne] 1995 and Anise [Anīsu] 1996-97, 2001-03. In this interview, conducted in March 2005 in the office of Pot Publishing, Inoue-san talks about her background and her various erotic interests and influences and discusses how these have shaped Japan's first lesbian-produced commercial magazine whose primary focus is sex and sexuality.

Interviewers: We'd like to begin by asking you to share with us how Carmilla (Figure 2) came to be created.

Inoue Meimy: It all started with me taking part in drag queen [doraggu kuīn] performances with the group Upper Camp [Appā kyanpu]—these happened about once every two months. Through my participation I was able to meet all sorts of people, including gay [gei]
Figure 1. Inoue Meimy poses with several issues of Carmilla in the Pot Publishing office in Tokyo. Photographer Katsuhiko Suganuma.
writers. And while for ordinary drag queens the fact that they're gay is the core of their performances, my performances were different in that they were based on me being a lesbian [rezubian]. And while the fact that I am a lesbian was a departure point for various performances, rather than just expressing this on a stage and setting it to music, it was more like, I also started to develop an interest in how on the printed page I could express what there is to laugh at about being a lesbian as well as the ways I can turn being a lesbian into something erotic. And that's how I got the desire to create more and more things like magazines and mini-komi [zines].[1]

Figure 2. Carmilla [Kāmira], no. 5 (September) 2004, cover. And around the time I decided to try working on something like that, I'd had my 'debut' [debyū] on the Shinjuku ni-chōme[2] scene, and there already were [the commercial magazine] Anise [Anīsu] (Figure 6) and other [non-commercial] magazines aimed at lesbians. And I felt like all these magazines were all very serious. Now, I'm not all that bright, and I felt like I didn't come here to work on those kind of activist-type magazines—I just plain didn't get what they were saying very well. That, and, well, I'm a perv, and from the time I was in Upper Camp I'd been working on an erotic magazine aimed at heterosexual women, and in it there was a kind of lesbian section. So, doing things like that is how I got hooked on being involved in this kind of thing. And it's why I wanted to start up an erotic magazine aimed at lesbians.

Interviewers: The magazine you were working on aimed at heterosexual women-was that Mist [Misuto]?

Inoue: Mist was a manga [comic] magazine and the magazine I was working on Kirei [Beautiful], which
took the world of 'ladies comics' [redi-komi][3] and transformed it into actual photographs.[4] For example, if there was a reader who wanted to perform with a certain male actor, we'd arrange the setting and then we'd be able to take pictures while the two of them were having sex. And, I would act as the director and that kind of thing. As for the lesbian section, we employed a female model/actress, and we'd set everything up like a date for the reader and the model and then photograph them having sex. Well, when you think about it, it seemed pretty natural as the next step for me to want to make something focused specifically on lesbians. And someone I knew was nice enough to tell someone from Pot Publishing [Potto shuppan][5] about my plans for the magazine. So, that's how I came to make Carmilla.

Interviewers: You mentioned the lesbian publications already on the scene when you made your 'debut'. In contrast with the mini-komi and commercial magazines aimed at a lesbian audience, which tend toward a more feminist and/or political focus—such as LABRYS [Raburisu], Phryné [Furīne] (Figure 3), and Anise [Anīsu], Carmilla is basically focused on sex. And unlike most magazines in Japan aimed at either gay men or lesbians up to this point, there is no personals column. We'd like you to speak about these editorial choices.

Inoue: Yes, well, we considered having a personals column in Carmilla, but at this point it's clear that the internet is serving that role—in the lesbian community when you talk about personal ads, just about everyone is using the internet for that. And I'd like to add—and this is my own personal opinion—in the lesbian world, the people who use dating sites are different from in the gay world, I mean there is an overwhelming number of women who live in the 'ordinary' heterosexual world. For women who live as lesbians, ordinarily they meet other women at bars and events.
Figure 3. Phryné [Furīne], no. 2 (November) 1995, cover
But, well, even still, in general for lesbians who want to meet someone—who want to meet someone right away—most of them use the internet. So you could say there's really no need for this in magazines anymore.

Interviewers: The title of Carmilla comes from the title of an old lesbian-themed vampire novel by Le Fanu, doesn't it?[6] How did you happen to choose that title?

Inoue: In the beginning we had all kinds of ideas. We were considering something like 'Peach'—something that resembled female sex organs. But, one day I happened to be talking with Kawanishi, who I was writing with, about this novel that I had read as a child—a novel that first made me aware of sex between women. I had really loved Carmilla and it turns out that she had felt exactly the same way. And when we talked about it, it was perfect—Carmilla was erotic and the storyline focuses on a vampire named Carmilla who draws hetero women into the world of love between women. And so we thought, well, that'll work. Plus, it had fueled both our masturbatory fantasies—and that's how the magazine became 'Carmilla'.

Interviewers: The original Carmilla could be described as a pornographic lesbian novel written by a male author and aimed at heterosexual male readers. At a glance, the intended readership of the magazine Carmilla is rather unclear—that is, it might be aimed at heterosexual men just as easily as it is at homosexual women. Frankly, it looks like the kind of magazine heterosexual men might well enjoy reading. Would you say that the choice of the title Carmilla is in any way related to this?

Inoue: Well, like you just said, to some of the folks in the women's studies crowd, Carmilla's porn is aimed at the so-called male gaze, or they say that it's edited by a man. That probably has a lot to do with me, personally, which I guess is because from a very young age all the erotic books and stuff I was interested in were all intended for men. You could say that my own eros grew out of the things I picked up when I was little—erotica aimed at men, or erotic manga [comics] magazines—like Erotopia (Figure 4) —and I've never really been into reading erotic stuff aimed at women. Although I used to love reading ladies comics when I was in elementary school, if I had to say one way or the other, of course I preferred erotic manga magazines for men like Penguin Club [Pengin kurabu] and Hot Milk [Hotto miruku]. That's why people often say that inside me is a hetero guy. (laughs)

And so I like manga in which women are humiliated, in which women are viewed in a more detached way, and where women are humiliated they are also depicted as being really masochistic—which is unlike manga aimed at women. You'd have to say that I look at women with a male gaze.
Figure 4. Erotopia, October 1985, cover
And, personally, I don't see anything wrong with there being lesbians like that. Unlike those who would say that at least in magazines for women it's taboo to write things like 'huge tits' and 'big beautiful ass' that judge women... well, I like those kinds of words. I'm the kind of person who uses words like 'huge tits'. So, since Carmilla is done in that style, in a sense, I think you could say it's a very 'male' magazine.

Interviewers: We've heard elsewhere that you have absolutely no qualms about heterosexual men reading Carmilla. Do you have any estimate of how many heterosexual men actually read your magazine?

Inoue: Well, among readers who return the post cards in the magazine, a lot of them are middle-aged men. But I suspect these are perverted [hentai] men.

Interviewers: And you really don't have any problem with this?

Inoue: Nope. I get letters and phone calls from them. (laughs) And I don't have any sort of negative feelings about this—in fact, I'm thankful that they're buying the magazine. With lesbians, one person buys a magazine and passes it around to a lot of other women, but perverted men like that definitely buy their own copy.

Interviewers: So, would you say that's why Anise hasn't had very good sales?

Inoue: Well, that's what I've been told.

Interviewers: With internet sites like Bravissima and a relatively large amount of other lesbian media available to those with internet access, what kind of lesbians do you think read Carmilla?

Figure 5. Readers featured in issue 5 of Carmilla [Kāmira], September 2004, pp. 8-9 Inoue: Well, as for Bravissima, I think it's by and large a serious site. And in contrast, I think that with Carmilla, you've got people who aren't into that kind of serious discussion, as well as a lot of people in the younger generation who refuse to categorise themselves in any sort of political way (Figure 5). Generally speaking, a lot of lesbians see themselves based on some sort of ideal perspective, right? For example, they see themselves as a something-or-other feminist. But when it comes down to it, to me, for women
who love women, the thing where they don't have any barriers between them is sex. Sex is something that you don't do with your brain, and it's something that everyone does, and this is why Carmilla emphasizes sex—and if everyone uses it when they masturbate at night, that's just great. That's why we don't worry about little things, and just focus on making something that all sorts of people can use to enjoy having sex, and in fact, I think that's why we are able to continue selling magazines. And that's why we're not bothered if our readership isn't limited to homosexuals but includes men who are into lesbians, or heterosexual women who are interested in lesbians. I would be really happy if everyone could just be open with each other and have fun without having to worry about barriers.

Interviewers: Is there any connection between the content of Carmilla and yaoi manga [comics depicting romance and sex among beautiful boys and young men]?

Inoue: I used to draw yaoi in amateur yaoi magazines [yaoi dōjinshi].

Interviewers: Did you read classic 'boys' love' [shōnen ai] manga like Takemiya Keiko's The Song of the Wind and the Trees [Kaze to ki no uta] (1976-1984)?[7]

Inoue: Yeah, I loved that one! (laughs) I used to cry every time I read it. I couldn't stand it when Gilbert died.

Interviewers: But, while Gilbert is very effeminate, he certainly doesn't have a large, round ass and large breasts, which you said you liked. Did Gilbert turn you on anyway?

Inoue: Ah, well, that work is really a fantasy, and so I was moved by the story itself. You'd have to say that among lesbians who like yaoi, there are two mindsets. In my case, it's not that I imagine myself in the world of a manga like The Song of the Wind and the Trees, it's just that I like the fact that it's about two boys and I definitely wouldn't like it if a girl got tangled up in it. When Pascal's lover[8] entered the scene, I was like, 'Huh? Who needs her!' (laughs)

Interviewers: You could say that the most successful commercial magazines aimed at male homosexuals, such as Badi, are the ones that have a very strong erotic component-would you say that Carmilla has that in common with those magazines?

Inoue: Well, when we started to design the magazine, we used gay magazines as a model, and I'd say we've been getting closer and closer to that style. Plus, to be honest, the people making Carmilla don't know anything about earnest stuff, or at the very least, don't have anything to do with any sort of seriousness. When you stick your hand in something you don't know anything about, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble. (laughs) We'd like to get you off with our own special eros.

Interviewers: Given that you have long enjoyed yaoi and that gay magazines were a kind of model for Carmilla. What do you think about the real thing—that is, do you enjoy watching gay porn? In America and elsewhere, for example, some lesbians make no secret about enjoying gay porn.

Inoue: Hmm, personally I don't watch it, but this isn't because I watched it and it turned me off or anything like that.

Interviewers: How about among your friends or lesbians you know.

Inoue: I don't think there are many who watch gay porn. But there are a lot who enjoy yaoi. Anyway, I wouldn't say that anyone feels particularly turned off by gay porn. Compared with men, women don't have so much resistance to something like that, I'd say—which is why there are surely women who'd watch gay porn and, well, laugh. (laughs)

Interviewers: So then, are the pornographic photos in Carmilla taken from your own perspective, or would you say that, rather, they are a kind of a female version of yaoi?

Inoue: No—I don't think that yaoi itself is a basis for what I do anymore. I think that the psychic worlds of yaoi and of lesbians have some similarities, but there are quite a lot of differences between yaoi and lesbian sex. It's true that if you just look at pictures, they do really resemble each other, though. However, in Carmilla, we use male-female sex as a model for some of the positions. I'd have to say that it generally comes from the sadistic male perspective inside me. That's why I often read magazines aimed at straight guys.

Interviewers: In Carmilla, you introduce your readers to lesbian porn films produced by the magazine. Are these films created from that same perspective?

Inoue: Sure—I wrote the scripts and directed them.

Interviewers: When you think about lesbian 'adult videos' up to this point, you can really sense the fact that they are tailored to get off straight men. Would you say that the videos you direct resemble these?

Inoue: When you make adult videos, the first thing you need to think about is the market. For lesbian videos, 99 per cent of the market is aimed at men, or at the very least not intentionally aimed at lesbians. That being the case, economically, aiming something at lesbians would be a real problem for the production companies. So in my videos I used the same kind of lesbian imagery that would totally jive with the usual ideas in men's minds. For example, the girl who is the top has to say 'call me o-nee-san [big sister]', stuff like that. In a sense, it's pretty over the top and when lesbians watch, they might think that the roles are a little over-emphasized, which is kind of embarrassing-and when straight guys watch it, you just know it makes them think this is really what lesbian sex is like. At the very least, my videos aren't trying to challenge the lesbian fantasy image flooding the market.

Interviewers: Because of this, have you been faced with any negative reactions from the lesbian community—who might represent a very small minority of the market?

Inoue: Well, of course, since I'm just trying to create a lesbian fantasy, I've gotten a lot more feedback from women who say that they are really embarrassed but they really enjoy watching it than from women who are unhappy because they don't see themselves in the videos. Plus, I made these videos for people who don't have a lover. I had a long period of time when I was unhappy because I didn't have a lover, and I was really happy to hear from women like that who said they saw the videos and really wanted a lover even more.

Interviewers: What kind of response have you gotten from men about your porn videos.

Inoue: I haven't heard anything directly yet, but I'd really like to hear what they think about my videos.

Interviewers: Returning to the magazine, have you consulted foreign lesbian magazines in creating and editing Carmilla.

Inoue: Yes—certainly.

Interviewers: Magazines from which countries?

Inoue: American magazines, British magazines, European magazines—these have been the main ones.

Interviewers: Are those lesbian magazines aimed at men?

Inoue: Well, when I went to Amsterdam, at a bookstore I happened to walk into, there was a shelf full of gay magazines as well as a shelf with lesbian ones. And so I had a look at lesbian magazines from American and Australia and so on. And—no big surprise—I really preferred the ones aimed at men. I just felt like the magazines aimed at lesbians were lacking something. (laughs) I mean, all the models were so real.

Interviewers: Would it be fair to say that you aren't really bothered by feminist criticism that magazines such as lesbian magazines aimed at men are problematic because they only serve to further the objectification of women's sexuality?

Inoue: I'm really not all that familiar with that kind of criticism, but the way I think about it is this—here I am a lesbian with certain tastes, and I'm just trying to realize them, so what's wrong with that? Basically, people all have their own taste, so there's no need to make a big deal about it. Of course I hear from readers who wish there would be more content aimed at building the community, but I also hear from people who want more graphic content, so it's not really possible to please these different desires. When you increase the desire and make things more graphic then you make things simpler, and so on, and I think this just goes on forever. So how can you say something is good or something is bad? And in that sense, if there are women who have male stuff, what's wrong with that? At least that's what I think.

Interviewers: What do you see for the future of Carmilla?

Inoue: Well, I've been thinking about increasing the amount of manga and stories and pictorials that readers will want to hang on to. Also, there's a news column, but I'd like to put more into that to make it a more valuable reference. And of course, I'd like to make content that will increase sales. And I'd like to make the magazine even more visually erotic—reaching the point where male porn editors will refer to Carmilla when planning their own lesbian issue. Of course none of this has anything to do with the community, and I know people are going to get angry at me. (laughs) But, basically, I'm erotic to the core.

Interviewers: Have you had phone calls from readers complaining about the magazine.

Inoue: Before, there was one from someone who wanted the magazine to be more like Anise (Figure 6). And when I asked if she'd seen the most recent issue—well, no just the first one. So I told her to buy the latest issue and then I'd respond. (laughs) And, well, the reason I don't try to have Carmilla any more like Anise is that I'm really hoping Anise will be published again. I'm a huge fan. I don't touch the kind of content they covered, and because they didn't do any of this kind of erotic stuff, that's why Carmilla has this editorial stance. But I really think we need both for balance.

Interviewers: Most gay magazines are focused on sex but there are a limited number of other genres. Commercially, that kind of variety doesn't seem to be viable on the lesbian scene.

Inoue: Sure. But there's no reason that the community has to have just one magazine. Of course it would be great if there were a large variety of lesbian magazines so that lesbians could choose the ones they like. But
Figure 6. Anise [Anīsu], Winter 2003, cover
most lesbians aren't in the habit of spending money on lesbian magazines, which is a large factor. Of course, the fact that women's income is on average lower than men's makes things harder. Sure women do spend money on things they like, but it doesn't seem like there are many women struggling financially who are going to spend much money on erotic magazines or vibrators or whatever. I hope that women become more and more accustomed to spending money on what's below the belt. If only women put as much value on erotic stuff as they do cosmetics.... The lesbian desert in Japan has to be forested.

Interviewers:: Finally, looking at things from a somewhat international perspective, you could say that Japanese lesbians as well as the women's lib movement have been strongly influenced by western books and vocabulary and so forth. Recently, however, there have been an increasing number of western scholars and students who have come to research Japan's homosexual communities who have then returned to their own countries to publish articles and books about these communities. Among this research, there has been some that—rather than being some form of intercultural communication—you can see a lot of materials that seem to take a stance where the west is advanced and Japan is still developing in terms of its homosexual communities. To be fair, even this interview about a Japanese lesbian magazine is being conducted with the intention of being published abroad. How do you feel about this kind of research?

Inoue: Personally, I think foreign audiences will be shocked. Japan is considered to be a rather uptight culture, and I think this interview will dispel that a bit. How could there be such an extreme lesbian!? Speaking of my own desire, I really want to go to the most extreme country in the world. (laughs) I can't really read English, so I don't really know, but there's a really serious-looking foreign lesbian magazine called Diva. In contrast, Japan's lesbian magazine is so vulgar, so extreme. I think people will be shocked to learn how extremely erotic the stuff is we put in the magazine.

Interviewers: It's been a real pleasure talking today with you, Inoue-san—editor of Carmilla and someone who is working to make the vulgar and the perverted no longer taboo for women.

Inoue: It's been my pleasure as well. I promise to keep getting more debaucherous. (laughs)


[1] Mini-komi are a cross between newsletters and magazines, very similar to what today are called zines. The term itself is Japanese shorthand for mini communication, which stands in contrast to the mass media. Keith Vincent ('Gay and Lesbian Literature,' in The Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture, ed. Sandra Buckley, London: Routledge 2002, p. 164-165) writes that 'perhaps the most self-consciously gay, lesbian or "queer" writing is to be found in the community-based alternative publications known as "mini-komi,"' (p. 165) which stem from the feminist movement.

[2] Shinjuku ni-chōme is the neighborhood in Tokyo with the largest concentration of gay bars and which also contains a handful of lesbian bars.

[3] Redi-komi or redīsu komikku is a genre of manga aimed at adult women that often includes graphic depictions of sex. For background on the genre, see Gretchen Jones, '"Ladies' Comics": Japan's Not-So-Underground Market in Pornography for Women,' in U.S.-Japan Women's Journal English Supplement, vol. 22 (2002):3-31.

[4] Mist was a ladies' comic (redi-komi / redīsu komikku) magazine, published between 1996 and 1999, which, while not specifically aimed at lesbians, contained a lesbian personal ads column as well as numerous lesbian themed comics and articles. 'Ladies' comics' are manga aimed at women who've outgrown shōjo manga [girls' comics], and often include graphic depictions of sex.

[5] Pot Publishing (Potto shuppan) has also published the magazine Queer Japan Returns, edited by prominent gay writer Fushimi Noriaki.

[6] Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's (1814-1873) Carmilla was first published in English in 1872 and it has been translated into Japanese perhaps a half-dozen times since at least the mid-twentieth century.

[7] Takemiya Keiko, Kaze to ki no uta (The song of the wind and the trees), vols. 1-10, Tokyo: Hakusensha bunko, (1976-1984) 1995.

[8] Inoue is probably actually referring to Pascal's sister Patricia, who had a crush on Gilbert's lover Serge.


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

This page has been optimised for 800x600
and is best viewed in either Netscape 2 or above, or Explorer 2 or above.
From February 2008, this paper has been republished in Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific from the following URL: intersections.anu.edu.au/issue12/welker2.html.

HTML last modified: 18 March 2008 1632 by Carolyn Brewer.

© Copyright