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

Elegant Caucasians, Amorous Arabs, and Invisible Others:
Signs and Images of Foreigners in Japanese BL Manga

Kazumi Nagaike

  1. In contemporary Japanese society, manga (comic magazines and books) generally represent a dominant force in constituting Japanese popular culture. Japanese manga discourse provides various theoretical perspectives from which we can analyze controversial aspects of the Japanese socio/cultural environment, precisely because manga, as products of Japanese popular culture, reflect the political, ideological, and socio/cultural characteristics of contemporary Japanese society. Fredrik L. Schodt says that 'it is no exaggeration to say that one cannot understand modern Japan today without having some understanding of the role that manga play in society.'[1]
  2. During the early 1970s, many Japanese women started writing/reading novels and comic books that featured narratives of male-male romance and/or eroticism, and nowadays this genre of male homosexual narrative, commonly called BL, has been widely acknowledged as a significant component of Japanese popular culture. BL, which stands for Boys' Love, is a term coined during the 1990s to characterise female fantasies concerning idealised male homosexual relationships. This genre has also been defined by other terms, such as yaoi (pornographic narratives that disregard traditional narrative structures), bishōnen mono (narratives about beautiful boys), tanbi mono (aesthetic narratives), and June mono (named after June magazine, which first emerged during the 1970s as a pioneering venue for female fantasies of male homosexuality). This specific genre of female fantasies of male homosexuality has also been discussed in academic contexts, both in Japan and abroad.[2]
  3. A former editor of manga, Tezuka Osamu,[3] who is considered the founder of the modern Japanese manga genre, once declared that racial issues surrounding Japanese manga have not yet been sufficiently debated or analyzed.[4] As John G. Russell indicates, the lack of enthusiasm for the study of the racial aspects of Japanese manga (or of the Japanese media per se) has contributed to a critical neglect of the process of post-colonial identity formation in Japanese society.[5] As theorists of post-colonialism such as Gayatri Spivak and Homi Bhabha suggest, the important contemporary debate about the margins and boundaries of race, ethnicity and minorities has provided various theoretical perspectives from which to deal with questions concerning post-colonial identity creation.[6] Post-colonial theorists show that no understanding of ongoing global cultural processes or activities can be reached, unless controversial issues of race, ethnicity and minority are first analysed and comprehended. In this paper, I shall discuss representations of foreign characters in BL manga in terms of racial discourse. Even though a substantial number of BL manga present foreign characters in foreign settings, so far very little academic research on the racial issues in BL manga has been carried out.
  4. Here, my primary focus involves an analysis of the ways in which the concept of foreignness in BL manga has been constructed and abused, in relation to both the privileged and the (supposedly) disempowered other. As well, the fact that the descriptions of foreign characters in BL manga are invariably associated with a female psychological orientation that fantasises these foreign characters will be considered. It will be seen that female BL authors/readers privilege specific races—ethnic variety in BL foreign characters is very limited—and disprivilege other races as absent others. Following the insights of post-colonial discourse, I shall demonstrate how the concept of the foreign other in BL manga has been constructed by means of racial stereotyping; in this way, the concept becomes directly associated with the power-knowledge correlation.
  5. The BL tradition became publicly recognisable during the 1970s, when several prominent shōjo manga artists successively published the early manga masterpieces representing female fantasies of male homosexuality. Well-established shōjo manga artists, often referred to as the 24-nen gumi (honorable 1949-ers, from the year of their birth) manga artists, such as Takemiya Keiko, Hagio Moto, Yamagishi Ryōko, Ōshima Yumiko, and Aoike Yasuko, among others, emerged as pioneers of the contemporary BL manga tradition.[7] During the 1980s, the popular genre of female-oriented narratives of male homosexuality was expanded, when what is called the ani-paro (anime-parody) culture emerged. Certain Japanese female artists started recasting the male characters in popular animations (as well as manga and other genres) in homosexual pairings. This helped to establish a female-oriented community, in which dōjinshi (amateur coterie magazines) are produced, circulated, and consumed.[8] However, the genuinely revolutionary wave of the BL tradition only arrived in 1990s, when a large number of comic books, novels, and monthly magazines dealing with male same-sex relationships began to constitute a large sector of the Japanese book market, with many BL artists consistently attaining the bestseller list. Nowadays, almost 150 BL manga comic books and novels are published each month, along with more than thirty BL manga magazines (monthly, bimonthly, or seasonal issues).[9] Japanese BL manga have recently received a great deal of public attention in relation to the popularised concept of fujoshi—female fantasies concerning male homosexual relationships. The word fujoshi, which literally means rotten, and connotes the presumed perversions of women who fantasise about male-male eroticism, is now widely accepted as a definitional term. Kojima Ajiko's comic book entitled Tonari no 801 (yaoi) chan (Neighbour Yaoi-chan),[10] which first appeared in 2006, caricatures the life of an ordinary Japanese girl, who is completely controlled by her male homosexual delusions. This manga hit the bestseller list, and, according to Tsukuru Magazine, by June 2007 the number of copies of the first volume in circulation had reached 150,000. Several other books (including comic books) in the fujoshi tradition have followed subsequently. These include, among others, Fujoshi no hinkaku (The Dignity of Fujoshi)[11] and Otaku joshi kenkyū: fujoshi shisō taikei (Analysis of Otaku Girls: The System of Fujoshi Thought).[12] In 2008, a TV drama called Fujoshi deka (Fujoshi Policewoman), featuring a fujoshi police officer, was broadcast.
  6. While the majority of the characters represented in BL manga are clearly Japanese and possess Japanese names and characteristics, a certain number of BL manga depict foreign characters. Chart 1 shows the publication dates of BL manga in which foreign characters appear, as well as specifying how often and in what ways they are portrayed.

    No Story Foreign character Occupation Role Magazine Nationality
    1 『Race』 ラスティ professional baseball player uke GUSH American
    2 『ベリキュ』 ケイン famous volleyball player seme GUSH American
    3 『蜜の烙印』 シェリク crown prince seme   Arab
    4 『セックス・セラピスト』 ジョエル・マウリッツオ Olympic gold medalist figure skater seme GUSH unknown
    5 『ラブ・エゴ』 クロード member of royal family of Western country seme GUSH unknown
    6 『朔楽屋・湯けむり万華鏡』 理史 half-German manager of luxury hotel seme GUSH German
    7 『うちのダーリン外国人』 アレックス university student seme GUSH American
    8 『英国式16夜綺談』 エドワード aristocrat, archeologist seme GUSH English
    9 『戻っておいて僕の犬』 トート   seme GUSH German
    10 『キスと蜜月』 エーリヒ university researcher seme GUSH German
      『龍絡の華』 李ファミリー Hong Kong mafia   GUSH  
    11 『蜜と十字架』 ルネ aristocratic vampire from Western country seme GUSH unknown
    12   ユング servant from Western country seme   unknown
    13 『Blood』 サイ police officer   CIEL Hong Kong
    14 『天気予報恋人』 レオン・カイザー famous news anchor seme CIEL American
    15 『結婚できない男たち』 ルシェン・モンテカルロ chef at well-established restaurant seme CIEL French
    16 『砂の上の恋人たち』 アサド crown prince seme CIEL Arab
    17   ヨハン blonde, blue-eyed servant uke   Arab
    18   シャムス member of royal family seme   Arab
    19   マタル member of royal family seme   Arab
    20   サクル member of royal family seme   Arab
    21   ファハド member of royal family seme   Arab
    22 『パラダイス・ロスト』 カイル male prostitute uke CHARA American
    23 『マカロニ』 テッド gunman seme CHARA American
    24   シドニー gunman seme   American
    25   ロビン son of a lord uke   American
    26 『マイフラッグシップ』 half-French junior high school student uke CHARA French
    27 『暗夜』 head of Hong Kong mafia   CHARA Hong Kong
    28   leader of Hong Kong mafia     Hong Kong
    29 『坊ちゃまと主治医』 坊ちゃま aristocrat uke CHARA English
    30   アダム medical doctor seme   English
    31 王様と恋のから騒ぎ フィリップ King uke CHARA unknown
    32   コールリッジ Duke seme   unknown
    33   ラザフォード prime minister seme   unknown
    34 『恋愛証明』 クリストファー CEO of conglomerate seme CHARA American
    35 『ビューティフルライフ』 ダニエル professional tennis player uke CHARA Australian
    36 『Voice or Noise』 イサアド high school student seme CHARA American
    37 『不思議ポット』 シバ Arabian Genie of the Magic Lamp seme CHARA Arab
    38 『伯爵様の華麗なる挑戦』 アルヴィン・フレーザー Earl seme CHARA English
    39   ダリル male prostitute uke   English
    40 『太陽の貴公子』 レオ crown prince of Western country< seme CHARA unknown
    41 『仏様の言うとおり』 レイ Buddhist monk seme CHARA English
    42 『愛の言葉をキミに』 カール・クラウス A.I. modeled by an American man   CHARA American
    43 『ホテル菱沼楼』 レイ heir of plutocratic family seme   American
    44 『僕たちの王国』 half-American son of an American plutocratic family seme BE-BOY American
    45   ラウル son of plutocratic family seme   American
    46 『Sex Pistols』 国政 half-American son of world-famous sculptor seme BE-BOY American
    47   米国 half-English son of world-famous architect seme   English
    48   ジンジャー world-famous sculptor seme   American
    49   マクシミリアン world-famous architect seme   English
    50   セス member of royal family seme   Arab
    51   ヨシュア son of American millionaire seme  
    52 『神様の腕の中』 キース teacher uke BE-BOY English
    53   レイン son of famous dancer seme   English
    54   メレディス son of wealthy aristocrat seme   English
    55   エッタ servant uke   English
    56   アーネスト son of wealthy family seme   English
    57   ジョゼ son of wealthy family uke   English
    58   ノア Christian priest uke   English
    58   ラッシュ son of wealthy family seme   English
    60   サーシャ son of owner of large corporation uke   English
    61 『王様と乞食』 カイ president of large corporation seme BE-BOY English
    62 『犬の王』 アーチャー leader of street gang seme BE-BOY American
    63   コーキ police officer uke   American
        Chinese mafia        
    64 『異国恋愛方式』 unnamed Korean boy   uke BE-BOY Korean
    65 『恋の経穴』 彗星 son of wealthy family uke BE-BOY Chinese
    66   孫海   seme   Chinese
    67   総龍 wealthy mercahnt seme   Chinese
    68   楊寿 son of aristocrat uke   Chinese
    69   明秋 medical doctor uke   Chinese
    70   月影 student seme   Chinese
    71 『炎の砂』 カッシーミ king seme BE-BOY Arab
    72 『この恋は秘密』 アルヴィン earl uke BE-BOY English
    73   ラジール servant seme   Indian
    74 『僕らの王国アラビアンナイト』 アシフ 3rd prince uke BE-BOY Arab
    75 『ネクラートホリック』 ヘルシング medical doctor and vampire hunter uke BE-BOY English
    76 『Yebisu セリブリティーズ』 レオン world famous architect seme BE-BOY American
    77   フランソワ aristocrat, CEO of conglomerate uke   French
    78 『この恋は秘密』 ユージーン medical doctor uke BE-BOY English
    79   オスカー son of aristocrat seme   English
    80 『ロリポップドラグーン』 ユン Chinese Tai Chi Chuan master seme   Chinese
    81 『夢の日々?』 ティル vampire from Western country uke BE-BOY unknown
    82 『セニエール・エ・ヴァサル』 エーメル prince uke BE-BOY unknown
    83   リオン army commander seme   unknown
    84 『カフェラテ・ラプソディ』 ケイト mixed-race university student seme BE-BOY mixed
    85 『ザイオンの小枝』   Earl, ex-Nazi officer uke BE-BOY German
    86     Jewish servant seme   Jew
    Caucasian (or characters with Caucasian genealogy) Arab American English German

    Chart 1. Foreign characters in BL manga magazines
  7. A total of 140 BL manga magazines published between November 2004 and June 2008 were examined.[13] Of the 140 magazines detailed in Chart 1, one hundred contain stories featuring foreign characters. A consideration of this data reveals several significant factors through which the representations of foreigners in BL manga may be explored in terms of the discourse of alterity. These factors include:

    • Most of the foreign characters depicted are Caucasian (or have Caucasian genealogy): of the eighty-six characters examined in Chart 1, sixty-three are represented as Caucasians or of mixed Caucasian genealogy.

    Figure 1. A Caucasian image in BL manga. Source: Front Cover, CHARA, (June 2005), Tokuma shoten.   Figure 2. A Caucasian image. Source: Front Cover, Magazine BE-BOY (October 2006), Libre shuppan.

    • Arab characters are frequently featured: as Chart 1 shows, after Caucasians, the foreign characters depicted most often in these BL manga volumes are Arabs.

    Figure 3. An Arab image. Source: Front Cover, GUSH (July 2006), Kaiōsha.   Figure 4. An Arab image. Source: Front Cover, B-BOY PHOENIX, no. 12, (2008), Libre shuppan.

    • Other races (for example African-Americans, Asians) appear very rarely in BL narratives.

  8. These particular representations of foreign characters in BL manga evoke such questions as: How can we define the concept of foreignness in BL narratives, specifically in relation to a female psychological orientation which essentially limits the expressive discursive space assigned to women? and How can we analyse these foreign characters in BL manga in relation to the specific characteristics of such BL narratives themselves?
  9. The fact that the foreign figures depicted in BL manga are generally limited to two ethnic types, Caucasians (generally portrayed with blonde hair and blue eyes) and Arabs, provides us with a key piece of evidence which we can use to explore the incredibly complex relationship between female imagination and male homosexual eroticism. First of all, I shall briefly explore some of the theoretical perspectives from which female desires associated with male homosexual eroticism may be analysed. As critics such as Nakajima Azusa demonstrate, it is precisely the romantic elements in BL narratives that attract many (Japanese) women to enthusiastically consume them.[14] The basic BL plot concerns a romantic, monogamous relationship between two men, who are meant for each other and view their relationship as the only way to live. Thus, male homosexual narratives in BL are stylised as romantic fantasy images, rather than as an inscriptive reflection of any realistic form of sexuality. It is precisely because Japanese women absorb such romantic narratives of male homosexuality so eagerly that the specific representations of foreign characters in BL manga can enhance and constitute female romantic impulses. For example, one BL magazine, B-BOY PHOENIX no. 12, is a special issue that features BL stories involving Arab characters. In this volume, three BL novelists (Fujimori Chihiro, Itō Yuki and Shudō Rena) discuss how the term Arab can highlight female BL readers' romantic tension. These essays share the common title Arab moe essei (Essays on Arab Moe). Moe is a popularised slang term, derived from the field of otakuculture. Otakuis the accepted term for obsessed fans of something (for example animations, manga, games, etc.). According to Otaku hakusho 2008 (Otaku Industry White Book 2008), during 2007 the gross revenues of the otaku market were estimated at more than 180 billion yen, so otaku is obviously a dominant force in Japanese popular culture.[15] Moe refers to otaku fans' extraordinary attachment to specific objects or issues. Thus, Arab moe signifies some BL fans' extraordinary enthusiasm for Arab characters and the stories in which they appear. I will return to this issue later, when I discuss how foreign BL characters are constructed and represented as either superior signs or inferior signs, in terms of female imaginative impulses which evidently reflect broader Japanese social paradigms concerning racial issues.
  10. In order to understand the discursive context of female fantasies of male homosexuality, escapist impulses that reflect certain negative aspects of socially constructed femininity also require consideration. Women's subconscious desire to nullify their femininity (or at least some aspects of their femininity), as well as their psychological temptation to identify with masculine identities, should be highlighted here, as underlying premises foregrounded by BL narratives. Even though the subversive possibilities that BL discourse presents have been acknowledged by some scholars,[16] we should also consider the (seemingly) problematic aspects of femininity which are clearly represented in BL narratives. This approach has also been suggested by the work of other critics, such as Nakajima Azusa, Midori Matsui, and Kazuko Suzuki, who consistently employ terms such as pain, fear, abandonment, and escapism in examining the narrative structures of BL in relation to female sexuality. BL narratives apparently correspond to women's subconscious inclination to nullify their femininity and identify with masculine identities. As critics like Nakajima Azusa and Miyasako Chizuru point out, many BL readers convince themselves that fantasies of male-male sex constitute the only medium through which they can sublimate the dilemmas associated with being a woman within a patriarchal context.[17] Fantasies of male-male eroticism thus manifest women's subconscious escapist desires and in this way help them to maintain a stable mental balance. If female readers identified with the seemingly negative representations of characters in terms of specific racial characteristics (even though such representations, of course, reflect socially constructed myths), the essential motive for female readers' attraction to BL manga would thus be called into question. The characters in female fantasies of male homosexuality represent a means by which such fantasies may be contextualised, and through the romantic escapist elements of such narratives, female readers can immerse themselves in a fantasmic world of male homosexuality, without any social or psychological repercussions.
  11. The question thus arises: Why should a female psychological orientation which identifies with male characters, as mediated through male homosexual eroticism, encourage the depiction of Caucasian and Arab characters and effectively erase representations of characters of other races? The Caucasian characters in BL manga are generally depicted as successful men, by means of images

    Figure 5. Representations of Caucasian and Japanese characters. Source: Front Cover, Magazine BE-BOY (February, 2008).
      that express positive qualities, such as elegance, gracefulness, social success/status, and so forth. Here, I do not need to stress the fact that elegantly graceful Japanese characters of high social status can also be found in the BL genre. However, stereotypical representations of specific foreign characters in BL manga should be considered as dramatic narrative devices which vividly emphasise specific positive qualities (for example high social status, elegance, gracefulness, and so forth). Otherwise, elegantly graceful Japanese characters of high social status could have replaced these foreign characters, since there is not much difference between Japanese characters and foreign characters in terms of visual effects (external appearances) in BL manga, as Figure 5 indicates. The character on the left in Figure 5 is a Caucasian character, while the one on the right is Japanese.

  12. These characters are designated socially as, for example, an American professional baseball player, an Olympic gold medalist figure skater, a professional tennis player, English (or other European) aristocrats, a nationally popular American TV anchor, medical doctors, members of royal families, CEOs of conglomerates and world-famous architects.
  13. It becomes apparent that Japanese female readers are evidently tempted to identify with blonde, blue-eyed Caucasian characters, and that, in this way, such characters enhance these readers' romantic, escapist satisfaction; images of Caucasians with blue eyes and blonde hair are not associated with any social stigma, at least in the Japanese socio/cultural context. It is thus not coincidental that many early BL manga artists chose Western settings for their narratives: for example Kaze to ki no uta (The Song of the Wind and the Trees), 1976; Tōma no shinzō (The Heart of Thomas) 1974; Pō no ichizoku (The Clan of Po), 1972; and Eroika yori ai wo komete (Love from Eroica), 1976. As this analysis demonstrates, one of the primary reasons that Caucasian characters are represented so frequently in BL narratives involves the narrative necessity to dramatise such characters in terms of their superior signs. Such signs precisely symbolise specific positive characteristics through which female BL fans can imaginatively identify with the male homosexual characters in these fantasies. As mentioned above, in BL manga, it can be very hard to distinguish such Caucasian characters from the Japanese, since they are visually represented in much the same way as the Japanese characters. Their identity as Westerners (primarily expressed by means of their Western names and settings) itself functions as a specific sign which evidently appeals to female BL readers.
  14. Perhaps it is needless to say that Japanese admiration for Westerners (Caucasians)—including both the pervasive inferiority complex which such admiration reflects and the subconscious desire to identify with them—is not a unique characteristic of BL narratives; as Donald Richie's The Image Factory indicates, this kind of Caucasian-worship/idealisation is also prevalent in a variety of other contexts.[18] However, in narratives such as those found in BL manga, which are primarily devoted to the representation of female imaginative impulses and desires, this tendency to idealise Caucasians is even further reinforced. Thus, virtually all of the Western characters in BL stories are portrayed with blond hair and blue eyes, as well as possessing high social status; this is precisely because such constructed images of Western superiority, symbolised by characteristics like blond hair, blue eyes, and high social status, serve to enhance female BL fans' subconscious desire to identify with BL characters.
  15. The issue of the stylised depiction of the characters in BL thus has considerable significance, in that the conventions of depiction generally reinforce the binary oppositional relationship between penetrating seme (literally attack, connoting the male sexual role) characters and penetrated uke (literally receive, connoting the female sexual role) characters, in ways that parallel the heterosexual orientation. In the process of analysing Caucasian BL characters, we should place emphasis on the fact that these characters generally appear as seme, who support Japanese uke characters both psychologically and financially. Among the sixty-three Caucasians characters listed in Chart 1, twenty-nine are either paired or attempt to be paired with Japanese characters. Among these twenty-nine cases of Caucasian-Japanese lovers (and lovers-to-be), twenty-two follow the pattern of Caucasian/seme and Japanese/ukerelationship. The frequently-presented couples with an elegant, rich Westerner of high social status as the masculine character and an ordinary Japanese as the feminine character may be associated with the totalising idea of the West (Caucasians) as superior others.
  16. Eikokushiki jūrokuya kitan (Sixteen Strange Night Tales, serialised in GUSH, 2008–present) represents one example of this pattern. In this narrative, Edward is an English aristocrat and archeologist. He falls in love with a Japanese goblin named Mishiro and plays the masculine role in their sexual acts.[19] Edward thus actively protects a Japanese uke , not only physically, by destroying the evil demon that attempts to possess his lover, but also financially. Similarly, in Tenki yohō koibito (My Lover is a Weather Forecaster, serialised in CIEL, 2006–present), Leon Caesar, a member of the American plutocracy and a nationally famous news anchor, attempts to promote a Japanese weather forecaster who attracts him to the position of main newscaster on the television program that he directs. In Hoteru Hishinumarō (The Hotel Hishinumarō, serialised in CHARA, 2008–present), Raymond is another Caucasian seme character who financially and psychologically supports a Japanese uke. At first, as heir to an American fortune, Raymond intends to merge the hotel, where a Japanese uke works as a concierge, into his other business enterprises. However, subsequently he yields to his Japanese lover's wishes, by giving up his original plan. In Imperial Leather, the critic Ann McClintock demonstrates the problematic nature of such Western attempts to feminise the Oriental other. As McClintock says: 'In these fantasies, the [unknown] world is feminised and spatially spread for male exploration, then reassembled and deployed in the interests of massive imperial power.'[20] The formulaic relationship between the Caucasian seme and Japanese (Oriental) uke characters discussed here corresponds closely with McClintock's analysis concerning imperialistic attempts to feminise the Orient. It can thus be argued that the socio/culturally constructed ideology of a strong, masculine West and a weak, feminine Orient is subconsciously inscribed, even in narratives which are apparently only concerned with the depiction of Japanese female fantasies.
  17. On the basis of this insight, we can also view Arab characters as another sign within the context of BL readers' psychological orientation. In the stylised context of BL narratives, formulaic relationships between male lovers, with Arab characters as seme and Japanese characters as uke, are frequently portrayed. These Arab characters are generally portrayed as stereotypical sexual others, who have amassed vast petrodollar wealth. Often they are members of royal families with limitless fortunes. As Saitō Mitsu remarks, 'money (fortune) enhances women's romantic motivations. Thus, it is no wonder that women create and read Arab stories which represent their primary concern: money.'[21] Apart from their wealth, the personal characteristics of such Arab characters are otherwise more or less limited to amorousness and eroticism. This stereotypical image of erotic, amorous Arabs may also be seen in Western culture's fetishisation of the harem, as such scholars of postcolonialism as Reina Lewis,[22] Malek Alloula, and Joan Del Plato[23] respectively analyse. As Malek Alloula says, 'the figures of the harem are not infinite, whereas the quest for the harem is: it belongs to obsession.'[24]
  18. According to Kuwahara Mizuna, a well-known novelist: 'These tremendous seme characters have

      matchless sexual appetites. Arab seme characters are the strongest seme in the world. Without the characteristic of a matchless sexual appetite, no Arab seme character would be recognizable.'[25] One example of this is Prince Sheriku, in Mitsu no rakuin (The Brand of Honey, serialised in GUSH, 2005), who is characterised in terms of his incomparably amorous nature and attempt to make love to anyone who sexually attracts him, until he finally finds his true love. In a manner typical of BL romance narratives, after falling deeply in love with one of the other characters, Prince Sheriku's personality is transformed, and he then becomes a romantic, monogamous lover. Other examples of such Orientalist stereotypes include Prince Setsu in Sex Pistols (serialised in BE-BOY, 2003–present) and King Kasshimi in Honō no suna (The Dune of Flame, serialised in BE-BOY, 2005), both of whom abduct young Japanese men and force them to live in harems.

    Figure 6. Image of harem from The Dune of Flame. Source: Magazine BE-BOY (June 2005), p. 412.

  19. In this way, Arab characters function as signs of wealth, and sexual appeal, and this leads BL readers to identify with them. When Noa Azusa, a writer/critic, says 'I still do not get the reason why some narratives portray Japanese characters in the middle of Arabian deserts,'[26] the answer to Noa's question involves a consideration of how women's romantic impulses are stimulated by the concepts of eroticism and wealth that BL Arabs signify, and how these amorous, wealthy Arabs enhance BL female fans' motivation to identify with them.[27]
  20. Even though Caucasian and Arab characters both occupy a seme position in relation to Japanese characters, there is a discernible difference between Caucasian seme and Arab seme, in terms of racial textuality. In BL, Caucasian seme are portrayed as superior, masculine subjects and thus reflect the ideological necessity to reinforce the imperialist voice by feminising the Orient/Japan. On the other hand, a different sort of imperialist voice can be attributed to Arab seme, who are positioned as symbols of eroticism by means of Orientalistic images of harems and polygamy. These differences between foreign seme within the BL context of racial textuality are reinforced by the fact that amorous, polygamous Caucasian characters virtually never appear.
  21. The specific signs associated with the foreign characters represented in BL manga (for example the high social status of Caucasians or the wealth and eroticism of petrodollar Arabs) evidently provide a safe space in which female BL readers can easily find imaginative satisfaction by identifying with such superior signs. This analysis of the idealised, privileged others visualised in BL manga also serves to demonstrate why representations of other races, as unidealised, unprivileged signs, are generally effaced. In this regard, it is important to recognise the social/cultural ideologies in relation to racial issues which are inscribed by both the producers and the readers of BL narratives. Examining 1950s-era American films, Robert Stam and Louise Spense remark that these films give the overall impression that no African-Americans lived in America during that time, since all images of African-Americans are generally effaced.[28] As an example, Stam and Spense discuss Alfred Hitchcock's The Wrong Man (1957). While this film has the realistic flavour of a documentary, no African-American characters are represented in it, even in scenes that take place in the New York subway or in prison.
  22. Just as Stam and Spense refer to African-Americans as the invisible, negative, sign in 1950s-era American films, so we can view the representations of foreigners in BL manga as signs of superiority and inferiority which are clearly constructed within the Japanese social/cultural context. The absence of certain types of foreign others in BL manga may thus be associated with what Robert Albright terms tōmei na mainoritii (invisible minority).[29] According to Albright, the fact that a specific race is not represented in a specific context does not signify the liberation of that race, but rather its invisibility; the negative connotations of specific races are thus merely repressed, not eliminated. As Chart 1 shows, although some BL works feature Chinese characters, they are almost always represented as Hong Kong mafia or characters in ancient Dynastic China. These stereotypical representations of BL Chinese characters reveal the fact that modern Chinese people are generally effaced as the absent other in contemporary Japanese society. Thus, while specific races are represented as constructed others in BL manga (for example prevailing stereotypical images of Caucasians and Arabians), there are also definitely absent others (invisible races) which are completely excluded from representation.
  23. A consideration of the discursive space of the representation of foreigners in Japanese BL manga gives rise to a number of complex and controversial issues with regard to post-colonial identity formation and the Japanese sociocultural criteria on which this representation is based. An overview of the foreign characters represented in BL manga shows that these characters are apparently constructed as a reflection of female fans' psychological orientation in relation to romanticism and escapism. At the same time, this examination of foreign BL characters enables us to recognise that the specific stereotypical images of foreigners constructed in BL reflect the racial textuality which remains prevalent in modern Japanese society. This analysis might well be enriched by examining the depiction of foreign characters in other kinds of female-oriented manga —for example the portrayal of African-American characters as sexual others in Ladies Comics.[30] It is, however, clear that in an era of globalisation and multiculturalism, further studies of this kind will serve to enhance the discourse of alterity in relation to the specific Japanese sociocultural context.


    [1] Frederik L. Schodt, Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga, Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1996, p. 21.

    [2] The amount of Japanese analytical research on (Japanese) female fantasies of male homosexuality is too large to consider here in any detail. See Kaneda Junko's 'Yaoi ron, ashita no tame ni sono2' (Yaoi analysis for the future no. 2), in Eureka Special Issue Boys Love Studies 2007, pp. 48–54), which provides a list of major articles concerning BL analysis written in Japanese. A limited number of academic articles on BL have also been written in English by such authors as: Tomoko Aoyama 'Male homosexuality as treated by Japanese women writers,' in The Japanese Trajectory: Modernization and Beyond, ed. Gavan McCormack and Yoshio Sugimoto, Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988, pp. 186–204; Sandra Buckley 'Penguin in bondage: a graphic tale of Japanese comic books,' in Techono Culture, ed. Constance Penley and Andrew Ross, Minnesota and London: University of Minnesota Press, 1991, pp. 163–195; Midori Matsui, 'Little girls were little boys: displaced femininity in the presentation of homosexuality in Japanese girls' comics,' in Feminism and the Politics of Difference, ed. Sneja Gunew and Anna Yeatman, Halifax, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing, 1993, pp. 177–96; Akiko Mizoguchi 'Male-male romance by and for women in Japan: history and the subgenres of yaoi fiction,' in U.S.-Japan Women's Journal, vol. 25 (2003):49–75; Kazumi Nagaike 'Perverse sexualities, perversive desires: representations of female fantasies and yaoi manga as pornography directed at women,' in U.S.-Japan Women's Journal, vol. 25 (2003):76–103; Kazuko Suzuki 'Pornography or therapy? Japanese girls creating the yaoi phenomenon,' in Millennium Girls: Today's Girls Around the World, ed. Sherrie I. Inness. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998, pp. 243–67, Mark McLelland and Seunghyun Yoo, 'The international yaoi boys' love fandom and the regulation of virtual child pornography: the implications of current legislation,' in Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC, vol. 4, no. 1 (2007):93–104.

    [3] Referred to as the manga no kamisama (god of the Japanese comic books), Tezuka Osamu (1928–1989) has been singled out as the founder of modern Japanese manga; his aesthetic innovations in creating modern manga style are unquestionable. He is also known as a forerunner in the establishment of Japanese shōjo manga (girls' comic books); his Ribon no kishi (Ribbon Knight, serialised from 1958) has been recognised as the first work to appear in the shōjo manga genre.

    [4] See Shinoda Hiroyuki's 'Tezuka manga to kokujin sabetsu mondai' (Tezuka's manga and issues of discrimination against black people), in Shigaisen, ed. Komikku hyōgen no jiyū wo mamoru kai, Tsukuru shuppan, 1993, pp. 276–86, for further details concerning racial issues in Japanese manga.

    [5] John G. Russell's work entitled Nihonjin no kokujinron (Analysis of Japanese attitudes toward black people), Tokyo: Shinhyōron, 1991, demonstrates that Japanese critics have often failed to recognise issues concerning racial prejudice in Japanese representations of African-Americans.

    [6] Fundamental elaborations of racial and minority discourse have been performed by such distinguished critics as Gayatri Spivak 'Can the subaltern speak?,' in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg, Urbana: University Illinois Press, 1988, pp. 271–313; Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London and New York: Routledge, 1994; Rey Chow Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993; Edward Said, Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books, 1979; Trinh T. Minh-ha, Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.

    [7] Early BL masterpieces produced by the 1949-er manga artists include: Takemiya Keiko's Kaze to ki no uta (The Song of the Wind and the Trees), 1976; Hagio Moto's Tōma no shinzō (The Heart of Thomas), 1974; and Pō no ichizoku (The Clan of Po), 1972; Yamagishi Ryōko's Hiizuru tokoro no tenshi (The Prince of the Land of Sunrise), 1980. In Akiko Mizoguchi's 'Male-male romance by and for women in Japan,' the history of BL is well summarised. She also addresses such issues as the sale of BL publications, the definition of BL and other related terms, and the codes controlling sexual descriptions in amateur BL works.

    [8] See Nishimura Mari's Aniparo to yaoi (Anime-Parody and Yaoi), Tokyo: Ōta shuppan, 2001, for more details regarding the history of the aniparo-yaoi tradition.

    [9] According to a trial calculation performed by the Yoyogi Animation Academy, the BL market grosses around 12 billion yen annually. This calculation is cited from Sugiura Yumiko's Otaku joshi kenkyū. This number was computed by including sales of the following BL materials: BL novels (250 million yen per month), BL comics (400 million yen per month), BL CDs (180 million yen per month), and BL games (160 million yen per month). Thus, the total annual sales for BL materials amount to approximately 12 billion yen. However, this figure does not cover the sales of all BL materials. For example, the sales of BL manga magazines and novels are not included in this calculation. Furthermore, the sales of dōjinshi are too significant to be excluded from the BL market, as this calculation has done.

    [10] Kojima Ajiko, Tonari no 801 (yaoi) chan (Neighbor Yaoi-chan), Tokyo: Sorashuppan, 2006.

    [11] Fujoshi no hinkaku seisaku iinkai (ed.), Fujoshi no hinkaku (The Dignity of Fujoshi), Tokyo: Libre shuppan, 2008.

    [12] Sugiura Yumiko, Otaku joshi kenkyū: fujoshi shisō taikei (Analysis of Otaku Girls: The System of Fujoshi Thought), Tokyo: Hara shobō, 2006.

    [13] The magazines I examined are Magazine BE-BOY, GUSH, CHARA and CIEL.

    [14] In Tanatosu no kodomotachi (The Children of Thanatos), Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 1991. Nakajima Azusa considers BL as the ultimate love fantasy and the harlequin romance of male homosexuality.

    [15] Medhia kurieito, Otaku hakusho 2008 (Otaku Industry White Book 2008), Tokyo: Medhia kurieito, 2007.

    [16] For example, in Nagaike's article 'Perverse sexualities, perversive desires,' BL is discussed in relation to female subconscious desires to demystify prevailing gender formations and explore divergent, multiple sexualities.

    [17] Miyasako Chizuru, Chō shōjo (Supergirls), Tokyo: Hokueisha, 1984.

    [18] Donald Richie, The Image Factory: Fads and Fashions in Japan, London: Reaktion Books, 2003.

    [19] A certain number of BL stories incorporate non-human characters (e.g. vampires, Japanese goblins, werewolves, aliens, and so forth). However, the external appearance of these characters remains essentially human.

    [20] Ann McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, London and New York: Routledge, 1995, p. 23.

    [21] Kaneda Junko, Miura Shiwon, Saitō Mitsu, and Yamamoto Fumiko, '2007nen no BL kai wo megutte: soshite "fujoshi" to ha dare ka' (About 2007 BL circle: who are fujoshi), in Eureka Special Issue Boys Love Studies, 2007, pp. 8–25, p. 14.

    [22] Reina Lewis, Gendering Orientalism: Race, Femininity and Representation, London: Routledge, 1996.

    [23] Joan DelPlato, Multiple Wives, Multiple Pleasures: Representing the Harem, 1800–1875, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2002.

    [24] Malek Alloula, 'The colonial harem: images of suberoticism,' in Feminism and Pornography, ed. Drucilla Cornell, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 381–403, p. 381.

    [25] Kuwahara Mizuna, 'Mizuna juku: arabu kōza' (Mizuna's school: lecture on Arabs), in B-BOY PHOENIX, no. 12, 2008, front cover.

    [26] Noa Azusa, 'Goku shiteki "yaoi" kandan R' (Private talk of yaoi R), in Eureka Special Issue Boys Love Studies, pp. 71–81, p. 76.

    [27] In BL narratives, Arabs are never represented as dangerous terrorists; the image of the radical terrorist is one of the most stereotypical representations of Arabs, as Edward Said indicates in Orientalism.

    [28] Robert Stam and Louise Spense, 'Colonialism, racism and representation: an introduction,' in Screen, vol. 24, no. 2 (1983):2–20.

    [29] Robert Albright, ex-president of Johnson C. Smith University, used this term in a roundtable talk attended by Albright, John G. Russell, and others. The transcript of this roundtable talk is included in Russell's Nihonjin no kokujin ron.

    [30] Ladies Comics are another manga genre directed at female readers. Please see Grechen Jones, '"Ladies' comics": Japan's not-so-underground market in pornography for women,' in U.S.-Japan Women's Journal, vol. 22 (2002):3–31, for further details concerning this female-oriented genre, in which African-Americans are sometimes featured as erotic others.


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