Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 20, April 2009

(A)cute Confusion:
The Unpredictable Journey of Japanese Popular Culture

Mark McLelland
  1. This special edition of Intersections dedicated to 'Japanese transnational fandoms' grew out of an encounter in the Hong Kong Mass Transit Rail Station on Valentine's Day in 2006 when I stumbled upon Hello Kitty's wedding. I was somewhat taken aback because I hadn't realised that Kitty had a boyfriend, let alone that she had been going steady, and surely wasn't old enough to make such a commitment. Kitty had always struck me as something of an air-head, the Paris Hilton of the manga world, and neither Kitty herself nor Daniel, her equally stuffed and vacant boyfriend, seemed likely symbols for a romantic interlude. For a start, neither of them have hands or mouths.

    Figure 1: Commuters stop to photograph Hello Kitty wedding display, Hong Kong Mass Transit Rail Station, Valentine's Day 2006. Photograph by Mark McLelland.

  2. It was only after encountering Kitty's wedding that I began to look more into her background and I realised that, bodhisattva-like, Kitty had many incarnations and was capable of becoming all things to all people (there is even a Goth Kitty). Hence, when Fran Martin and I decided to convene a workshop on how Japanese popular culture travels,[1] it was with great interest that we invited Christine Yano to present on her research into the Hello Kitty phenomenon. It became clear from Christine's presentation entitled 'Kitty Subversion: Turning Cute on its Head,' that it was precisely Kitty's passivity, her vacant look and immobile stance that made her amenable to diverse appropriations. Kitty, like many pop culture products from Japan is, in the words of the Sex Pistols 'Pretty Vacant.' This 'vacancy' which has been described by other researchers as 'cultural odorlessness,'[2] 'lacking nationality,'[3] 'super flat' (i.e. uni- or non-dimensional)[4] or simply 'postmodern,' makes it amenable to diverse appropriations since it does not carry around the same weight of ideological baggage associated with US pop culture.
  3. For instance, in Japan the kawaii or 'cute,' so often associated with Japanese pop culture exports like Kitty, is a ubiquitous and hence extremely unstable signifier. Indeed, in Japan almost anything can be rendered cute, including authority figures. Signs erected by the police, the fire department, or construction firms warning pedestrians of new regulations, hazards or detours are frequently accompanied by a cute child-like character in uniform apologising for the inconvenience and inviting the public to take care.
  4. This strategy of rendering authority 'soft' is exported overseas, too, even to such unlikely places as Iraq. Apparently the Japanese Self Defence Force water tanks that were used to deliver fresh water to Iraqi villagers were emblazoned with cute images of popular manga/anime character and soccer champion Captain Tsubasa (or Captain Majed in Arabic).

    Figure 2: Japanese and Iraqis in soccer uniforms stand in front of a Japanese Self Defence Force water truck emblazoned with the comic-book figure of Captain Tsubasa (Captain Majed in Arabic). Source: Japan Now.[5]

  5. Deputy Chief Minister of Foreign Affairs Yasuyuki Ebata declared that for soccer-mad Iraqis, 'Tsubasa became the symbol of our goodwill.' [6] Prime Minister Aso was recorded as saying that he hoped the 'warm images' associated with these cute characters would result in similarly warm feelings toward Japan and its foreign policy.[7]
  6. The US, too, has borrowed this strategy, producing for free distribution a series of manga books entitled CVN-73, that detail the comic antics of Japanese-American sailor Jack Ohara aboard the USS George Washington, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that replaced the non-nuclear Kittyhawk at the US naval base in Japan's port city of Yokosuka in 2008.[8]

    Figure 3: Front cover of the manga CVN-73. Source: Stars and Stripes Pacific Edition, May 9, 2008.

    Figure 4: The somewhat less cute USS George Washington in real life. Source: The Asia Pacific Journal: Japan Focus.[9]

  7. The use of manga characters by both the Japanese and US militaries is an example of what Joseph Nye termed 'soft power.'[10] According to Nye's original formulation, 'soft power' is about getting other people to agree with you or want what you want through the power of cultural attraction rather than the resort to military or economic pressure. Since the publication in 2002 of an article by Douglas McGray that explored the idea of soft power in relation to Japan,[11] there has been much buzz around Japan's supposed capacity to conquer hearts and minds through its 'super cool' cultural exports, in particular manga, animation (anime) and the 'cute aesthetic' that is closely aligned with these products.
  8. However, analysts have not been able to articulate precisely what values Japan is supposed to be communicating via its global trade in cute artefacts. Prime Minister Aso's comment seems to suggest the relatively straightforward transfer of the warm and fuzzy feelings generated by Japanese cute products onto Japan the nation state. But, what, exactly, does cuteness signify here, other than a sense of harmlessness? Nye's original argument developed in relation to the US showed that there were a fairly clear set of ideologies associated with US popular culture (democracy, the free market, consumerism, individualism, etc.). Yet, given that cuteness is one of the defining characteristics of Japanese pop culture exports, it is much more difficult to associate these products with specific values since cute can be, and is, put to so many different uses.
  9. For instance, when the Japanese military chose Captain Tsubasa as their mascot in Iraq, were they aware of the fact that in the 1980s Captain Tsubasa's character was taken up by female artists specialising in amateur (dōjinshi) 'Boys Love' comics and that a common plot line was to imagine homosexual liaisons between him and his team mates? It would be hard to think of two more opposite appropriations of this figure: one encouraging a homosocial bonding among Japanese and Iraqi men based on a mutual love of soccer, and another encouraging homosocial bonding among female amateur manga fans based on their interest in boy-on-boy sexual interaction. One wonders what might occur if the two fan bases were ever to meet up to share their enthusiasms?
  10. The papers in this 'Japanese transnational fandoms' collection do not seek to provide an answer as to whether or not there is a distinct 'Japanese value system' underlying the export of cute culture. Instead, each paper articulates the different ways in which cute and other aesthetics deriving from Japan are being taken up and deployed in the context of specific communities of production and consumption, among so-called 'prosumers,'[12] in Asia, the US, Europe and Australia. Particularly striking in these papers is the power and inventiveness of female consumers who take up a range of products and aesthetics associated with 'Japan' in an attempt to play with identities and refashion and critique existing sex and gender relations.

    Revisioning the otaku
  11. The first set of papers in the collection all engage to varying degrees with the figure of the 'otaku.' Being declared an otaku, or a manic fan of some pop culture genre (the more obscure the better) is often worn as a badge of pride by western fans of animation, comics and gaming (ACG) but the term has a rather dark history in Japan due to its association with Miyazaki Tsutomo, a reclusive fan of 'rorikon' (Lolita complex) manga and anime, who between August 1988 and July 1989 abducted, murdered and mutilated four young girls. The seriousness of Miyazaki's crimes led to a wave of 'media effects' arguments in the press that drew clear lines of influence from Miyazaki's private fantasy life (the term otaku actually means 'your home') to his public acts of violence. One result was a new regime of self-regulation among manga producers and distributors who began to reign in the more violent and sexual images that characterised some genres, particularly manga directed at shōnen (male youth).[13]
  12. Given the history of the term, one would think Japanese women would want to position themselves against the otaku, who, in the minds of many, is emblematic of characteristically male perversion and obsessiveness. However, as Tomoko Aoyama argues in her review of three recent editions of the literary arts magazine Eureka dedicated to aspects of 'girl culture,' many women fans and producers want to stake a claim for female otaku identity. Aoyama cites one critic who draws attention to the fact that at the 30th Anniversary Comic Market, a major national forum for the celebration of manga culture in Japan, '71.2 per cent of the exhibitors (i.e. artists) and 56.9 per cent of general participants were women.' Hence, despite the fact that it is still shōnen manga (aimed at male youth) that sell the largest number of monthly copies, in terms of an active, engaged fandom, women outnumber men as both consumers and producers. It is odd, then, she argues, that women's perspectives have largely been elided in the study of otaku culture.
  13. Similarly, it might seem unlikely that otaku could be revisioned by Japanese women to become a symbol of male attractiveness. However, the malleability of popular culture, particularly the recuperative value of cute, is brought home by Alisa Freedman's paper on the 'Train Man' phenomenon. Freedman traces the recent transformation of the male 'otaku' from an anti-social and potentially psychotic figure, to a 'compassionate, motivated otaku,' a new kind of 'romantic male hero.' Although Freedman does not focus on cuteness per se in her essay, the rehabilitation of the otaku via the figure of the Train Man is to a certain extent achieved through stressing his cute characteristics, in particular his cluelessness regarding courtship procedures. It was precisely Train Man's helplessness (characteristics he shares with Hello Kitty) regarding how to go about courting the woman he rescued from an abusive passenger on the train that drew people into his world and endeared him to the public. [14]
  14. Larissa Hjorth, in her essay 'Game Girl' on gaming and cosplay among female fans in Melbourne, also notes how the otaku has been refigured in recent years. Hjorth importantly points out how the 'rescripting' of the (largely male) figure of the otaku must be read alongside the development of the female analogue: the kōgyaru, trendy twenty-somethings, associated with mass consumption, particularly of communications technologies such as the keitai (mobile phone) via which they engage in a variety of subcultural activities. Hjorth notes that 'kogals, through their creative and empowered deployment of new media technologies…de-centre the male role of the otaku as prime game consumer,' thus aligning femininity with technology. Hjorth's paper is important in demonstrating the extent to which new female identities are now mediated via technologies and cultures of use previously associated with men.
  15. Craig Norris and Jason Bainbridge's paper 'Selling Otaku,' which looks at the merchandising of Japanese culture to Australian fans, provides another example of the way in which Japanese terms and identities can take on new dimensions. For the hard-core Australian cosplay fans investigated by Norris and Bainbridge, being otaku is linked with authenticity, maintaining a link with original Japanese products in the face of the 'Japanised' products more widely available in mainstream culture. As they point out, 'otaku exist in opposition to the more casual, inauthentic, local mass culture,' and are opposed to 'the too-easily-accessible mainstream and mass-consumed popular culture.' This poses a problem for merchandisers and distributors for, if they are too successful in making Japanese cultural products popular, they run the risk of alienating their core fans whose 'cool' identities are constructed via their subcultural difference.
  16. Vera Mackie, however, in her essay on the gothic Lolita fandom, notes how in this context, the otaku is still positioned as 'other,' arguing that, 'Aficionados of the Lolita and Gothic Lolita fashion style are at pains to distinguish themselves from the fantasies of the men who harbour the desires known as the Lolita Complex…nerdish young men known as otaku.' Yet an instability of signifiers abounds here, too, as Mackie points out, since the desire for Lolita-style girls as well as the desire of girls to fashion themselves as Lolitas may 'actually share common roots in an anxiety about adult female sexuality.' Mackie considers whether the 'scary cute' image created by the gothic-Lolita fans might not be an expression of female sexual agency so much as an attempt to 'draw attention away from the body.' Here, cuteness functions as a refusal of interiority and the 'authenticity' associated with sexual identity.

    Boys' Love goes global
  17. Although the 'Boys Love' (BL) fandom was but one of the potential themes that we highlighted in the call for papers for the fandoms event, over one-third of the thirty submissions received were on this topic. Of particular significance was the geographic spread of these submissions: we received proposals from researchers working on BL producers and fans in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Germany, the UK, the US, Canada and Russia. It is clear that the now global BL fandom is one of Japan's most influential, if overlooked, cultural exports.
  18. Kazumi Nagaike's paper in this collection gives a good introduction to the BL genre. As Nagaike point outs, BL is 'widely acknowledged as a significant component of Japanese popular culture,' at least in Japan where, as she notes, considerable debate is being generated around the term 'rotten girls' (fujoshi), that is, the female producers and consumers of BL media. Nagaike's paper adds an important dimension to existing studies of BL in the Japanese context by focusing upon an otherwise overlooked theme: the genre's interest in representing foreign (i.e. non-Japanese) characters. Nagaike notes the prevalence of Caucasian and Arab characters and the fact that they are usually represented as the seme ('attack', i.e. active role) in relationships with Japanese men, reading this as a reflection of the enhanced masculinity that Caucasian and Arab figures signify.
  19. The juxtaposition of the strong, active masculinity of these foreign characters in relation to their softer, more passive Japanese paramours makes sense when we consider the argument of Sun Jung's paper in this collection. Jung gives a good introduction to the way in which the Japanese 'beautiful boy' paradigm has travelled via a variety of media to create a kind of East-Asian 'soft masculinity' that is appealing to women in the region. However, although the popularity of BL manga surely contributes to this phenomenon, it is important to remember that it was not the early 70s female manga writers who first discovered the aesthetic qualities of male youths. Indeed, there are long historical precedents for the celebration of 'soft' adolescent male beauty in both the Chinese[15] and Japanese traditions. For instance, an early exponent of young male beauty in illustrated form was the artist Takabatake Kashō, active in Japan during the 1920s, whose beautiful boy figures graced the covers of many boys' magazines.

    Figure 5. Cover of Takabatake Kashō bishōnen no zukan (Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Takabatake Kashō's Beautiful Boys), Tokyo: Kronosu books, 2002.   Figure 6. 50s pop idol Miwa Akihiro on the cover of Prints 21, no. 45, Summer, 1997.

  20. The beautiful boy has a long history in popular music, too, the earliest postwar example being chanson singer Miwa Akihiro who first debuted in the mid 1950s and has maintained his popularity until today.
  21. However, as Jung's paper illustrates, since the 1990s what might be called the boys' love aesthetic has spread well beyond the realm of manga and anime and is at work in a number of cultural arenas, especially popular music and TV drama. The mainstreaming of this aesthetic is clear in film, too, and is spreading far beyond East Asia. For instance, in his essay 'The Chinese Side of the Mountain,' Chris Berry argues persuasively for the influence of BL narratives on the hit movie Brokeback Mountain, 'a gay male love story [staged] for female audiences,'[16] by Taiwanese director Ang Lee.
  22. Brokeback Mountain, given the pedigree of its director and male leads, is perhaps the most influential
    Figure 7. Poster for the 1998 movie Bishonen no koi, dir. Yon Fan.   cross-over cultural product that references the BL aesthetic. However, it was the 1998 movie Bishonen no koi (美少年の恋 ) written and directed by Hong Kong director Yon Fan, that most clearly articulates the specifically Japanese origins of this movement. The film was released in the West under the title Beauty, yet a literal translation of the title would be 'A Beautiful Boy's Love', the term bishōnen 美少年 clearly indexing the Japanese BL genre. What is interesting about the publicity for this movie by a Hong Kong director, set in Hong Kong and using only Chinese actors, is that it was released across East Asia with its original title in Japanese. Although the kanji in the title are originally Chinese and therefore intelligible across the Chinese diaspora and in Korea and Japan, the possessive の 'no' (of) was written in the Japanese hiragana script. This might seem like a small point but it was a source of surprise for both Chinese and Japanese audiences alike. [17] As Japanese film critic Miyazawa Hiraku noted while on a trip to Taiwan:

      I did discover something very curious…When I saw the title 'Bishonen no koi' (Bishonen, a.k.a. Beauty, dir. Yon Fan (1998)) written in Japanese on a banner, I drew closer only to realize that it was in fact a Hong Kong film. Usually in Taiwan, names of westerners and film titles are forcibly written in Chinese characters. Writing the film's title in Japanese may very well be due to the current popularity of Japanese culture and the fact that many young Taiwanese are watching 'trendy' Japanese TV dramas.[18]

  23. Due to the lingering memory of Japan's previous imperialist incursions into China and Korea, the representation of the Japanese script has been severely curtailed in both societies and it is significant that a movie, especially one that has no Japanese content, should clearly reference the Japanese tradition of boys' love in its title. What is being referenced is not Japanese content so much as a Japanese aesthetic.
  24. However, it would be problematic to claim this movie as an example of Japan's 'soft power' winning over Asian audiences in a manner that Japanese military or economic power failed to do. According to Nye's original formulation, 'soft power' is about persuading people through the power of cultural attraction rather than resorting to military or economic strong-arm tactics. But, it is difficult to see how the BL aesthetic might support a Japanese cultural agenda or what that agenda might be. In what sense does the association of 'Japan' with romantic stories about the love between beautiful boys advantage the real Japan on the world stage?
  25. Indeed, as the remainder of the articles in this edition of Intersections illustrate, the global spread of BL products can be the cause of considerable cultural conflict and anxiety and it is unlikely that the Japanese cultural establishment would want to link itself with the BL fandom, especially as BL is increasingly generating concern among conservative elements in Japan itself.
  26. Until recently, BL manga, despite their considerable number, have fallen below the censors' radar in Japan and it has been the more realistic depiction of sex and violence in manga directed at male youth (shōnen manga) that has generated community concern. However, a recent complaint shows that BL depictions are beginning to attract mainstream attention and criticism. In 2006, an undisclosed number of people began a campaign to have BL books removed from public display in libraries in Sakai City in Osaka prefecture. The campaign consisted of a series of emails sent to libraries and to the local council, inquiring why public funds were being used for the procurement of this 'pornographic' genre and asking libraries to account for the actual numbers of BL titles in their collections. As a response in August 2008 Sakai City library made the unilateral decisions to remove all existing BL titles from the shelves and place them in a storage facility, to only lend them out on request to mature age readers and to refrain from purchasing any further BL titles. In November of the same year, these moves prompted twenty-eight Sakai city residents and a further twelve persons from around Japan, including prominent feminist academic Ueno Chizuko, to contact the library and request that they reconsider their decision and restore all BL titles to the general collection. This was followed by a complaint signed by forty-one women city councillors and two gender-related citizens' groups who argued that the library council had exceeded its authority when it unilaterally decided to restrict a particular genre of reading matter based on a small number of complaints and that restricting access to BL material potentially infringed upon the rights of children to freedom of expression and could even be perceived as a form of sexual discrimination.
  27. In the meantime the national press had got wind of the dispute and was running articles about this 'troubling' genre and remarking on the sheer volume of BL titles in library collections.[19] The total number of BL manga in Sakai City’s public libraries was reported to be 5,500 titles that had cost in the region of 3,700,000 yen (over US$37,000).[20] Newspaper reports also made much of the fact that these sexually graphic novels had been made available to minors.
  28. This issue generated considerable debate on Japan's social networking site, mixi,[21] with BL's detractors launching a range of critiques. The three main points reiterated by BL opponents were that BL is a pornographic genre and as such should be treated akin to male-oriented pornography and kept away from minors because of its 'bad effects.' Furthermore, having defined the genre as pornographic, the use of tax-payers' money to acquire BL was 'inappropriate.' However it was the third point that is of most interest: it was argued that the popularity of BL among female youth was a sign that the 'gender-free' policies being implemented by local councils in order to root out institutionalised sexism had gone too far and that the result was young women were confused about appropriate gender roles, causing them to identify with male homosexuals and potentially render them transsexual!
  29. Rather than engage with the 'BL is pornography' contention or the clearly hysterical anxieties concerning BL's effects on readers head-on, many supporters of BL countered by arguing that libraries had a responsibility to respond to reader demand rather than set their own agenda on what reading materials should or should not be made available. The high demand for BL material indicated a strong interest in the genre among borrowers and it should therefore be the fans of the genre and not its few detractors who should be listened to; to do otherwise would constitute unfair censorship. Hence, BL supporters tried to limit the debate to matters of procedure and policy: libraries are publicly-funded institutions that have a mandate to make available reading material requested by the public. The corollary of this is that it is inappropriate for one set of readers to limit the reading choices of others based upon their own personal dislike of a particular genre. Furthermore, it was argued that it is not the role of library councils to seek to sway public opinion by supporting or restricting access to particular kinds of information or reading matter.
  30. Although, after consideration of the arguments made by both sides, the Sakai city library eventually decided to return its BL titles to general circulation, its initial knee-jerk reaction in warehousing the collection is a good indication of the sensitivity surrounding BL and its relation to young readers. Indeed, soon after the resolution of the complaint concerning Sakai library's BL collection, another city council, this time Kuwana city in Nagoya,[22] was quizzed by a council member about its libraries' BL-acquisitions policy, suggesting that BL may now be emerging as a major battlefront for proponents and detractors of 'gender free' policies in employment, education and elsewhere.
  31. Jonathan Dollimore notes that 'Nothing excites the censorious more than the prospect of the young hearing and seeing what they shouldn't.'[23] And anxieties about keeping BL manga away from young people are also being expressed in the US context, as can be seen in Dru Pagliassotti's paper. Pagliassotti places the rapid development of the commercial BL scene in the wider context of the US manga boom. As a special feature dedicated to 'how Japanese comics are reshaping pop culture' in the November 2007 edition of Wired magazine points out, manga aesthetics are increasingly moving beyond the confines of specific subcultural communities and exercising a powerful influence upon mainstream culture, notably music and film.
  32. Pagliassotti looks at the manner in which Japanese cultural artefacts have had to be manipulated to
      gain mainstream acceptance.Regarding the spread of BL in the US, she notes how publishers have 'attempted to avoid licensing material with potentially offensive content [and] to adapt that material by eliminating or changing potentially offensive images or words' (emphasis in the original) so as to suit the different legal and cultural environment. However, as she points out, the changes that publishers make to avoid legal challenges (for example over the representation of 'under-age' sex) often frustrate the hardcore fans themselves who, via the Internet and fan conventions, are very well educated about BL cultural products in their 'authentic' Japanese format. This links back to the Australian fans discussed by Norris and Bainbridge for whom their ability to distinguish truly 'authentic' Japanese products from the watered down versions available from mass commercial outlets is a key part of their subcultural identity.

    Figure 8. Cover of Wired magazine, November 2007.

  33. Tina Liu's paper, too, focuses on anxieties in China and Hong Kong over the widespread availability of BL manga and anime, and the genre's supposed deleterious effects upon 'youth.' Unlike the US where the BL fandom is still a small, niche market that has so far escaped mainstream surveillance, the sheer size and impact of what Liu terms the 'animation, comics and gaming' (ACG) subculture in the Chinese-speaking world has made it a major target for social reformers who have a negative view of ACG in general. Liu details two widespread anti-BL censorship campaigns in China and Hong Kong and how the mostly young female fans have mobilised to protect their subculture. Liu's paper offers an extremely important case study of young women's resistance to state-sponsored thought control and demonstrates how participation in the BL subculture can be an important platform for the staging of social and political critique—a topic that is surely in need of further investigation.
  34. Paul Malone's essay on boys love in the German context offers a far less panicked account of the genre's rise than is apparent in either the US or China. Malone puts this down to the genre's extreme marginality. He notes that manga is 'too tenuous and marginal' a medium to exert influence upon the wider popular culture and hence is unlikely to generate widespread social concern—or, indeed, activism. He also notes the fact that BL has gained some acceptance among the wider German gay community (which has its own tradition of gay comics) and it is therefore not seen as primarily appealing to and thus perverting female 'youth,' the main constituency for BL products in the US and throughout Asia.
  35. We end this special edition with Katrien Jacobs' documentary video On the Japanese Doll Complex which explores Chinese fans' engagement with a range of Japanese cultural products, in particular BL manga and associated merchandise. Jacob's doco is an important contribution to BL studies in that it gives a far better sense than any textual survey can of the depth of engagement that many fans have with the genre and its aesthetic. The windows onto fans' lives that Jacobs opens for us are significant, too, in problematising the roles that sexual/gender identity and desire play in motivating fan engagement. All too often, in the Western context especially, an interest in BL is simplistically elided into an interest in paedophilia—a staggeringly naïve association that can do great harm to fan communities by rhetorically (and, worse, legally) linking them with paedophile activities.[24] Jacobs suggests that 'The Boy Love culture specifically allows young women to express their desires and creativity, to develop voices of excessive angst and frustration in finding a suitable kind of love or lover,' in other words BL fan activities can function as a form of social commentary and as such need to be recognised and protected as a form of free speech.
  36. Also of great interest is Jacobs' observation that 'People identify with a "Japanese" kind of openness and branding as an escape from the boundaries and stigmas within Chinese sex culture.' Jacobs is right to problematise 'Japanese' in this context since, as we have seen in the papers discussed above, 'Japanese' is a very malleable signifier and can mean quite different things for fan groups around the world. All of the papers in this collection reference 'Japan' and 'Japanese' aesthetics and testify to the 'soft power' that 'Japan' is increasingly exerting on youth fan cultures around the world. Indeed, McGray has argued that Japan should more proactively deploy its 'super cool' image to 'infuse its universities, research labs, companies, and arts with foreign talent.'[25] However, this exhortation misrecognises the way that 'Japan' functions as a signifier. For many fan communities their intention is not to explore or find out about the real Japan, but rather to use 'Japan' and its associations to explore themselves, establish meaningful bonds with other likeminded individuals and to critique aspects of the society around them, in particular aspects of the mainstream sex/gender system that they find damaging, constricting, or just plain dull.


    [1] A complete record of the 'Japanese Transnational Fandoms' event including an abstract booklet can be found at:, accessed 3 March 2009.

    [2] See Koichi Iwabuchi, Recentering Globalization: Popular Culture and Japanese Transnationalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 2002, pp. 24–33.

    [3] The Japanese term here is mukokuseki (literally 'no nationality'), it is variously translated by scholars, including Laura Miller who terms it 'stateless globalism,' see Laura Miller, 'Those naughty teenage girls: Japanese kogals, slang and media assessments,' in Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, vol. 14, no. 2 (2008):225–47, p. 229.

    [4] The term was invented by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, see Takashi Murakami (ed.), Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture, New York: Japan Society, 2003.

    [5] Japan Now, vol. 1, no. 8 (1 December 2006), online:, accessed 3 March 2009.

    [6] Shiori Okazaki, 'A Japanese Comic Hero Cheers Iraqi Children,' in Japan Now, vol. 1, no. 8 (1 December 2006), online:, accessed 3 March 2009.

    [7] 'Cuddly characters front Japan's military aspirations,' in International Herald Tribune, 16 February 2007, online:, accessed 9 March 2009.

    [8] Allison Batdorff and Hana Kusumoto, 'Comic book to soothe US Washington's arrival,' in Stars and Stripes Pacific Edition, May 9, 2008, online:, accessed 3 March 2009.

    [9] Chūgoku Shinbun, 'Living With the Nightmare of Planes and Aircraft Carriers at U.S. Bases in Japan: Upgrading Iwakuni and Yokosuka,' trans. Aaron Skabelund, in The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, 26 August 2008, online:, accessed 9 March, 2009. 10 Joseph Nye, 'Soft Power,' in Foreign Policy, no. 80 (Autumn 1990):153–71.

    [11] Douglas McGray, 'Japan's Gross National Cool,' in Foreign Policy, vol. 130 (May/June 2002):45–54.

    [12] This term, a fusion of 'producer' and 'consumer' recognises the complexities of modern consumption practices which, via a range of new media, often involve the manipulation and recirculation of 'original' products among consumers, via, for example, Youtube.

    [13] For a discussion of the Miyazaki case and its effects upon the manga industry see Sharon Kinsella, Adult Manga: Culture and power in contemporary Japanese society, London: RoutledgeCurzon 2000, pp. 126–38.

    [14] It is important to remember that in Japanese the related phrase 'kawai sō' means 'how pitiable' and is a call for empathy.

    [15] In the Chinese context, see Cun Cun Wu, Homoerotic Sensibilities in Late Imperial China, London/New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004, reviewed by Mark McLelland in Intersections issue 14, November 2006, online:

    [16] Chris Berry, 'The Chinese Side of the Mountain,' in Film Quarterly, vol. 60, no. 3 (2007):32–37, p. 34.

    [17] For a discussion of this film and its reception in Asia, see Romit Dasgupta, 'The Film Bishōnen and Queer(N)Asia through Japanese Popular Culture,' in Popular Culture, Globalisation and Japan, ed. Matt Allen and Rumi Sakamoto, London: Routledge, 2006, pp. 56–74.

    [18] Miyazawa Hiraku, 'Taiwan International documentary Film Festival part 1,' in Yamagata International Film Festival, 19–26 September, 1998, online:, accessed 9 March 2009.

    [19] Asahi shinbun, 'Nayamashii "boizurabu": Sekai no toshokan shōsetsu 5500 satsu' (5,500 volumes of troubling 'Boys Love' novels in Sekai library), 5 November 2008.

    [20] Mainichi shinbun, 'Dansei dōseiai atsukatta BL shōsetsu hon' (BL fiction books treating male homosexuality), 5 November 2008.

    [21] Mixi is Japan's largest social-networking system, membership of which is available by invitation only. It is not possible to provide links to these discussions since to access them would require membership. However, a good summary of the debate is made by Nakai Shinji on JANJAN (Japan Alternative News for Justice and New Cultures), see Nakai Shinji, ‘BL (bōizurabu) kei sakuhin wa yūgai nanoka? Ōsakafu Sakaishi no shiritsu toshokan ga totta taiō wo megutte’ (Are BL (boys’ love) publications harmful? How Osaka prefecture’s Sakai City’s public libraries are treating them), in JANJAN, 12 November 2008, online:, accessed 25 March 2008.

    [22] Again, this information was made available via discussions on mixi. Ibid.

    [23] Jonathan Dollimore, Sex, Literature and Censorship, Cambridge: Polity, 2001, p. 157. Dollimore notes that adolescents are one major group in society yet to be 'liberated.' Indeed, young people below the age of majority have no rights whatsoever to access information deemed bad for them by their elders.

    [24] For instance, a great deal of BL fan production is illegal in the Australian context where representations of 'persons' who may only 'appear to be' under the age of 16 engaged in sexual activity are prohibited in any medium, including drawings, cartoons, animations, fiction and poetry. See Mark McLelland and Seunghyun Yoo, 'The international yaoi boys' love fandom and the regulation of virtual child pornography: current legislation and its implications,' in Journal of Sexuality Research and Social Policy, vol. 4, no. 1 (2007):93–104.

    [25] McGray, 'Japan's gross national cool,' p. 53.


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