Extensive gay (male) print media has existed in Japan since the early 1970s, yet the six nationally distributed gay magazines are primarily pornographic and contain scant, if any, reference to gay identity, activism or lifestyle. However, in the early 1990s, mainstream media saw a 'gay boom' during which popular magazines and journals and to a lesser extent TV and film began to take an interest in Japan's gay subculture thus making information about gay meeting places and lifestyles more widely available.
For the first time, this widespread interest enabled gay men and lesbians to publish their own coming out narratives. These included Fushimi Noriaki's Private Gay Life (1991), Kakefuda Hiroko's On Being 'Lesbian' (1992) and Ito Satoru's Two Men Living Together: My Gay Pride Declaration (1993). As terms such as 'gay' (gei), 'lesbian' (rezubian) and 'gay pride' (gei puraido) in the titles alone show, all these authors were familiar with western constructs of homosexual identity. The interest paid to their stories ensured that English loanwords such as gei, rezubian and kamu auto (come out) were widely reported in the media. One result of the gay boom has been that recently coined English terminology for describing a whole range of queer sexualities is now widely understood. For instance, in 1998, I heard the loan word kamu auto (come out) used in conjunction with the Japanese verb suru 'to do' in a news item on George Michael on MTV Japan.
Another result of the gay boom has been that Ito Satoru and his partner Yanase Ryuta, who have published several books in Japanese about the problems they experienced when coming out and setting up a home together, became Japan's most famous 'gay couple' (gei kappuru). They now run, Sukotan Plan a gay-rights Internet page, and are regularly cited in Japanese media as spokespersons for the Japanese gay community. Since the appearance of a brief essay by Ito in Barbara Summerhawk, Cheiron McMahill and Darren McDonald's edited 1998 book Queer Japan, interviews with Ito in Japan's English-language press and the release of Ito and Yanase's book Coming Out in Japan by Melbourne's recently established Trans Pacific Press, they are also becoming known in the west as Japan's most high-profile gay activists. Given the very limited amount of information so far available about the different modes of homosexual expression in contemporary Japanese society, the English edition of Coming Out in Japan is to be welcomed. It provides detailed information, grounded in the daily experience of two very different men, about the difficulties associated with coming out and developing a 'gay identity' and a 'gay lifestyle' in Japanese society.
Yet, somewhat paradoxically, I have grave reservations about the usefulness of the book for non Japanese-reading students and scholars who are looking for a text to help them understand the positioning of same-sex desire in the context of contemporary Japanese culture. My reservations are threefold. Firstly, the book was originally written in Japanese for a Japanese audience and there has been no effort made to rewrite it in such a way as to make the differences that exist between Japanese and western societies intelligible to western readers. Secondly, the text is framed by the translator's introductory remarks and prefaces written by two Australian homosexual activists and politicians in a manner that tends to highlight the 'backwardness' of Japanese social values vis à vis some unarticulated but presumably more advanced 'other' society (Australia, perhaps?). Thirdly, my main concern is that the essentialist manner in which Ito and Yanase present their homosexuality as, in the translator's terms, 'the most profound aspect of their being,' could be used as some kind of proof text for the universal applicability of the 'gay identity' model argued for by some, primarily American, gay rights activists.
In terms of this model, there is the possibility that Ito and Yanase could be held up as somehow in advance of their same-sex desiring peers for whom the model of homosexual identity they are pioneering is neither a necessary nor a desired consequence of their same-sex attraction. To an extent, this is already the case when Senator Brian Grieg, in his preface to the first part of the book, speaks of Ito and Yanase's experience as 'a manual for others to follow'. Similarly, Barbara Summerhawk, drawing upon an essay by Ito in her introduction to Queer Japan, argues that 'a majority of Japanese gay men live in contradiction, a constant struggle with the inner self, even to the point of cutting off emotions and the denial of their own oppression'. This argument leaves little space for same-sex desiring men or women who do not fit the 'gay identity' model to articulate their desires and denies the validity of other models of sexual expression. Indeed, those who fall outside the identity model are disenfranchised, their experience silenced by the criticism that they are 'in denial'. A new binary is established: one is either an 'out' or a 'closeted' homosexual and yet another hegemonic pattern of 'sexual development' is established.
To return to my first point, despite the fact that the translation is very well done, the book was originally written in Japanese for a Japanese readership and therefore no attempt is made to interpret Japan or explain the differences that underlie Japanese and western forms of social interaction, family structure, work relationships or modes of subjectivity. The text is full of highly emotive terms such as 'torture', 'anguish', and 'agony' and both Ito and Yanase certainly put themselves through hell, particularly in the early days of their relationship when, at one stage, Yanase refused to eat with Ito in restaurants for fear that they would be mocked by other diners. Yet much of the psychological trauma that both Ito and Yanase go through in their attempt to come to terms with their homosexual identities and build a life together as an 'out' gay couple simply is difficult to comprehend because we are not told what it is about Japanese society that makes the articulation of a gay identity so controversial and traumatic. After all, neither male nor female homosexuality is now, nor ever has been legally prohibited in Japan; homosexual relations are not defined as sinful by the indigenous religious traditions; and homosexuals are seldom the victims of the homophobic violence (perpetrated by both passers by and the police) that can make visiting gay bars in some western cities a dangerous experience.
Despite the very real psychological trauma that coming to terms with their homosexuality obviously caused both Ito and Yanase, the positive results following on from their coming out causes the reader to wonder what the problem was. For instance, when, after many years of soul-searching, Ito finally came out to his mother, her response was not to throw him out of the house but to say that she had suspected for a long time and that it was important for him to live in such a manner as to bring him happiness. Yanase's coming out, too, met with a similarly positive reception from his mother and sister. Indeed, when Ito and Yanase decide to live together as a 'gay couple' both mothers met and exchanged similar sorts of pleasantries as would normally accompany a heterosexual betrothal. Yanase's mother even began to give him cooking lessons. In fact, much of the trauma caused by moving in together seems to have been caused by fights over the use of the washing machine, the sharing of household chores and the inability of either partner to cook.
Again, Ito (who is a schoolteacher) went through considerable anxiety about using his own name in his first book about homosexuality. Would he or wouldn't he lose his job? Would he or wouldn't he be rejected by his colleagues and students? Yet, after he finally presented a copy of the book to his school principal, declaring that not only was he a homosexual but that he lived with a same-sex partner, Ito writes that 'I am delighted to be able to report that he accepted this as being a personal matter and assured me that he would not fire me on the basis of my sexuality.' The expected negative responses from colleagues and students consistently fail to materialise. Indeed, when the mother of one of Ito's private students expressed anxiety about him visiting Ito in his home, the youth took her to charge, pointing out the high esteem in which he held Ito and the many ways he was indebted to him. Ito reports that 'This message seemed to get through to his mother. From then on she was happier seeing him off whenever he came to visit me than she ever had been before.' If anything, Ito seems to gain, not lose respect, in the eyes of his associates after the publication of his first book about homosexuality. Because of the lack of background information about Japanese society offered in the book, the non-Japanese reader is left wondering what the psychological trauma was about.
It is never really made explicit in the narrative that since sexual preference is viewed as a private affair that has little to do with the obligation to choose an appropriate opposite-sex partner, get married and rear children 'on schedule,' there is little sympathy in Japan for individuals who make their homosexual orientation public knowledge. As one Japanese man writes into an English gay chatline:
[P]eople in Japan deny all the way about the normalization of gay cultures. It is always strange and weird in everyone's mind when thinking about gays in general. I am forced not to discuss any matters that relate to gay people at work because talking about it makes people uncomfortable.
This social conservativism has meant that there exist no socially validated lifestyles for adults other than the heterosexually married couple. As Chalmers points out:
The act of heterosex (within the private sphere) is reduced to the singular function of human reproduction within a particular family type. The result of judging this representation as the 'norm' is that all other forms of 'familying' and household structures are virtually ignored.
Since 'coming out' about one's sexual orientation is necessarily also a rejection of conventional lifestyle patterns, Japanese gay men like Ito and Yanase are extremely cautious about who they disclose their same-sex feelings to. The result of this social pressure to maintain silence is that many gay men experience guilt about their homosexual preference, not because of any sense of its inherent sinfulness, but because it is seen as a purely personal indulgence that detracts from the adequate performance of the public roles deemed necessary by parents, workmates and society. Significantly, it was not until Yanase encountered the Mormon church that he developed a 'sense of guilt' about his homosexual feelings. As he points out, until he came across Christianity, it had not occurred to him that the result of homosexual sex would be an eternity spent in hell. In view of this kind of cosmic damnation, the potential social ostracism faced by open homosexuals in Japan seems rather mild.
A detailed introduction which discusses the material presented in the book in terms of the scholarship, both Japanese and western, that analyses characteristically Japanese conceptions of gender, sexuality and family roles and obligations would have helped the reader to interpret the experiences described by Ito and Yanase. As it is, these experiences are presented as brute, unadulterated 'facts' about Japan which at times degenerate into polemic. Take, for instance, Yanase's attack on conventional Japanese masculinity:
All you poor, pathetic guys out there who are prisoners of the dictates of society's straight-jacketing, victims of society's inability to accept a wide variety of types of men--work away as you will every day! Never display vulnerability, never display your weaker side, your gentler nature to anyone! You might as well bury yourselves in your work as you have no life....
Francis Conlan, the translator, does attempt to provide some background information in his brief preface, introduction and translator's notes (totalling only six-and-a-half pages). Sadly, the image of Japanese society portrayed in these few pages is hardly very nuanced, tending to rehearse the usual information that westerners think they know about Japanese society. We are told that Japanese people are characterised by their 'Confucianist mentality, which favours uniformity and authoritarianism,' and that 'traditionally held conservative, mainstream attitudes are so deeply ingrained in the Japanese psyche that they are virtually sacred.' Needless to say, these 'feudal values' are the main reason that non-conformity is 'held in contempt' and that 'bringing about social change is even more difficult in Japan than in the west'. Conlan comments that during a recent trip to Japan he was struck by 'the imbalance between levels of technology and social attitudes', the latter having moved forward in Japan, if at all, 'by a negligible amount.' The impression is that 'Japan', despite its status as a technological superpower, lags behind some 'other' place in terms of social development. This impression is further reinforced by the forewards to parts one and two of the book written by openly homosexual Australian politicians in which Australia seems to be represented as a 'progressive' society, apparently having already worked through the issues of minority rights that Japanese society has yet to acknowledge. Doubtless, this would come as a surprise to members of Australia's indigenous minority who are still awaiting an official apology for the catastrophic effects of white colonialism on their culture.
This Orientalist image of Japan as a static and backward place which, because of the feudal way of thinking characteristic of Japanese people, is somehow immune to the rapid transformations in social attitudes that have overtaken western societies is completely out of touch. Japanese media do, in fact, often feature frank, nuanced and intelligent discussions of sexuality, including matters relating to homosexuality and gay rights. For instance, one recent issue dedicated to AIDS in the trendy lifestyle magazine Da Vinci, enquires whether 'In the midst of a society where sexual orientation has become a matter of personal freedom, are you going to get into bed with a partner you have just met and ask "Have you had an AIDS test?"' Furthermore, the media section of Ito and Yanase's Web site mentions over forty articles that they have published in a wide variety of mainstream media. These include six brief essays on the topic of sexuality by Ito in the Mainichi shimbun, one of Japan's top three national dailies, under the title 'I want to live like myself.' The amount of media space offered to activists like Ito does not really support the characterisation of Japan as a society in which non-conformity is held in contempt.
Nowhere in the book's front matter is it questioned whether or not very recent developments in the way minority rights are conceptualised in Australian society can be held up as a template for Japan. After all, much of the protest made by lesbian and gay activists in Australia and other Anglophone societies was directed against laws which made male-male sex illegal. Japan, however, has never criminalised 'gay sex' and consequently does not impose unequal age of consent laws relating to hetero and homosexual acts as is common throughout Anglo-Saxon cultures. Just as Japanese gay men and lesbians are starting from a rather different position than that experienced by many western gays in their attempt to gain increased visibility, it can also be expected that the end point reached will also differ. There is, however, little in this narrative that explains the local specificities of the Japanese case.
Other researchers, notably Manalansan in relation to the Philippines, Chao in relation to Taiwan and Chiang regarding the Chinese diaspora, have questioned the universalising rhetoric of 'lesbian and gay liberation' in relation to indigenous constructions of sexual identity. Chiang comments that 'proclamations of an "international" lesbian and gay movement risk subsuming heterogeneous forms of sexuality under a gay identity that is implicated in a specifically Western and bourgeois construction of subjectivity, with its themata of voice, visibility and coming out.' Manalansan, also complains that western models of identity are often represented as more progressive or evolved than indigenous constructions, the result being that 'all same-sex phenomena are placed within a developmental and teleological matrix that ends with Western "gay" identity.' Unfortunately, the way in which Ito and Yanase's narrative is framed in the English edition of their book tends to do just this: uphold Western 'gay' identity as a kind of holy grail.
In the modern west sexuality and ethnicity have coalesced as two primary nodes of individuation which interact with many other factors such as gender, class and education to create characteristically modern forms of subjectivity. At a recent conference on sexuality and human rights, Mark Johnson commented that 'individuals are increasingly subjected to, and colonized by, discourses of identity (be it ethnic, national, gender, or sexual) to the extent that the compulsion to identify oneself as something or other is now becoming almost hegemonic, and all action or behaviour is read in terms of the occupation or transgression of this or that identity'. Johnson is not alone in being suspicious of the supposed liberatory force of identity politics. Stuart Hall (speaking of ethnic identities) problematises the 'existential reality' that he suggests underpins the modern psychological understanding of identity which he says 'contains the notion of the true self, some real self inside there, hiding inside the husks of all the false selves that we present to the rest of the world. It is a kind of guarantee of authenticity.'
Yet, despite the fact that Hall speaks of this model of the authentic, unitary self as being 'finished,' one place in which it lives on is in the recently emerging genre of Coming Out narratives. In his book Gay Lives: Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette, Paul Robinson looks at the various ways in which men who are sexually attracted to other men have narrated this desire in the context of their life stories. Over the course of a century of writing, he traces a movement from diversity to uniformity in the ways in which homosexual desire has been explained, discussed and represented, culminating in the post 60s 'coming out story.' Robinson argues that 'coming out' has become the controlling factor in the narrative structure of the 'gay life' and represents a kind of conversion narrative in which 'phoniness versus authenticity, nothingness versus life'. He questions the usefulness of the coming out narrative when, in the face of the multiple ways in which homosexual desire has been narrated in previous periods and across cultures, he inquires 'what explains why this particular version of a homosexual life is now the only one we tell ourselves?' While endorsing the 'psychic truth and political effectiveness' of many of these stories, he cannot help but express frustration with the 'formulaic, even oppressive, predictability' of all conversion narratives.
Ken Plummer, too, in Telling Sexual Stories argues that 'stories of "homosexuality" have recently changed' and increasingly focus on 'coming out' which he terms 'a dominant narrative.' These tales can be heard everywhere: 'in biographies, edited collections of letters and interviews, in poetry, on tapes on film, on chat shows, in newspapers.' As Plummer argues, coming out is now 'a global story since many of the tales told criss-cross their way around the world.' The coming-out narratives offered by both Ito and Yanase fit the model of the Euro-American stories analysed by Robinson and Plummer. When Plummer wonders just how the 'microscopic experiences' of same-sex desire, in the twentieth century suddenly become 'a major way of being in the world' (emphasis in original), he could be reflecting on Ito and Yanase's narrative.
'Homosexuality' in most coming out narratives is understood as an unadulterated 'given' fact about the personality that is impossible to ignore or disguise. Ito and Yanase's narrative, too, is founded on straightforward, biologistic assumptions about the nature of 'homosexuality' as well as its universal 'sameness'. For instance, Ito takes comfort in the fact that 'in our species the genes have been programmed such that homosexuals will always exist in our midst.' He also tells us that he is 'a homosexual such as exists in all places and has existed in all ages throughout history.' Despite the psychological comfort that this mode of essentialism may bring, as Stuart Hall points out, the strict insistence on one 'authentic' mode of identity always 'provide[s] a kind of silencing in relation to another'. Silenced in Ito and Yanase's narrative are the other multiple homosexualities that have traditionally existed in Japan and, in modified forms, are still expressed today. Throughout the book, Ito draws upon the American gay liberation rhetoric of homosexual pride, identity and empowerment and consistently puts down other individuals and institutions from Japan's gay subculture which challenge this. For instance, he rejects Japan's pioneering gay magazine, Barazoku, for its support of what he terms 'sham marriages,' referring to the 'sad fact' that many married men with children seek out affairs with other men and he offers a rather negative reading of male sex workers and of casual sex. Indeed, both Yanase and Ito are convinced of the redemptive power of romantic love, describing in exhausting detail the ways in which they tried to become each other's 'ideal partner.' Yanase also speaks dismissively of the many openly gay 'talents' who often appear on Japanese TV, criticising them for 'cashing in on their gayness.' One of the most prominent of the gay personalities, Osugi, is even accused of 'flaunt[ing] his campness for the camera.' In this model, only the suitably sober and politically astute gay is to be respected.
Despite the concerns sketched out above, the book does make a contribution to the literature available in English on homosexuality in modern Japan. It is also necessary to acknowledge the immense bravery of pioneers like Ito and Yanase who have done so much in their books and on their Internet site to make information about the issues affecting male and female homosexuals available to a wider audience in Japan. However, theirs is a specific story about the process of negotiation that two individual gay men needed to go through in order to come to terms with their same-sex orientation and it cannot be read as a story about 'Japanese gay men' in general. Senator Greig's opinion that the text represents 'a manual for others to follow' assumes the superiority of recently evolved western notions of homosexuality over other homosexualities. As Stuart Hall warns, 'it is not possible to use oral histories and testimonies, as if they are just literally, the truth. They also have to be read. They are also stories, positionings, narratives.' This book would have been a much more valuable contribution to our understanding of the diverse ways in which homosexuality in contemporary Japan is understood if it had been provided with an introductory essay that attempted to provide a context for the narrative. Unfortunately, without such a context, Coming Out in Japan further reinforces the position developed in Queer Japan, that Japan is somehow 'behind' some ill-defined 'other' place populated by happy, healthy, but most importantly, 'out' gay people. Perhaps the most valuable role this book can play is not as a proof text describing the reality of what it means to be gay in contemporary Japan but more as an example of the complex ways in which western values are taken up and negotiated within a non-western culture.
 For a discussion of Japanese gay magazines, see Mark McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities, Richmond: Curzon Press, 2000, pp. 127-34.
 On Japan's gay boom, see Wim Lunsing, 'Gay Boom in Japan? Changing Views of Homosexuality,' Thamyris, vol. 4, no. 2, Autumn 1997, pp. 267-93; and McLelland Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan, pp. 32-7.
 Fushimi Noriaki, Puraibeeto gei raifu (Private gay life), Tokyo: Gakuyoo shoboo, 1991.
 Kakefuda Hiroko, Rezubian de aru to iu koto (On being 'lesbian'), Tokyo: Kawade Soboo shinsha, 1992.
 Ito Satoru, Otoko futarigarashi: boku no gei puraido sengen (Two men living together: my gay pride declaration), Tokyo: Taroojiroosha, 1992.
 Barbara Summerhawk, Cheiron McMahill and Darren McDonald (eds), Queer Japan: Personal Stories of Japanese Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, Norwich VT: New Victoria Publishers, 1998.
 'Gay pair lecture at schools in bid to nip prejudice in bud,' The Japan Times, Saturday September 28, 1996, and 'Academic Crusade for Homosexual Rights,' The Daily Yomiuri, 15 August, 2000.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. x.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p.1.
 Summerhawk, McMahill and McDonald (eds), Queer Japan, pp. 10-11.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 233.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 236.
 Mary Brinton, 'Christmas Cakes and Wedding Cakes: the Social Organisation of Japanese Women's Life Course,' in Japanese Social Organization, ed. T.S. Lebra, Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1984.
 Cited in McLelland, Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan, p. 230.
 Sharon Chalmers 'Lesbian (In)visibility and Social Policy in Japanese Society,' in Gender and Public Policy in Japan, ed. Vera Mackie, London: Routledge, in press.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, pp. 288-90.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 150.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. xv.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. xvi.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. xvi.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. xvi.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. xv.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. ix.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. xiii.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 1, p.155.
 Da Vinci, January 1999, 'What if the person you loved caught AIDS?'
(Anata no itoshii hito ga eizu ni natte mo), front cover headline.
 Da Vinci, January 1999, p. 20.
 Martin F. Manalansan IV, 'In the Shadows of Stonewall: Examining Gay Transnational Politics and the Diaspora Dilemma,' GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, vol. 2, (1995):425-38.
 Antonia Chao, 'Global Metaphors and Local Strategies in the Construction of Taiwan's Lesbian Identities,' Culture, Health & Sexuality, vol. 2, no. 4, October-December (2000):377-90.
 Mark Chiang, 'Coming Out into the Global System,' in Q & A: Queer in Asian America, ed. David Eng and Alice Hom, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
 Chiang, 'Coming Out into the Global System,' in Q & A: Queer in Asian America, p. 386.
 Manalansan, 'In the Shadows of Stonewall: Examining Gay Transnational Politics and the Diaspora Dilemma,' GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, p. 428.
 Mark Johnson, Peter Jackson and Gilbert Herdt, 'Critical Regionalities and the Study of Gender and Sexual Diversity in South East and East Asia,' Culture, Health & Sexuality, vol. 2, no. 4, October-December, 2000, p. 371.
 Stuart Hall, 'Old and New Identities, Old and new Ethnicities' in Culture, Globalization and the World-System, ed. Anthony D. King, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 42-43.
 Paul Robinson, Gay Lives: Homosexual Autobiography from John Addington Symonds to Paul Monette, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
 Robinson, Gay Lives, p. 393.
 Robinson, Gay Lives, p. 310.
 Robinson, Gay Lives, p. 393.
 Ken Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories, London: Routledge, 1999.
 Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories, p. 81
 Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories, p. 82.
 Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories, p. 96.
 Plummer, Telling Sexual Stories, p. 86.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p.104.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 8.
 Hall, 'Old and New Identities' p. 56.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 24.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 56.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, pp. 88-91.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 58.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 200.
 Ito and Yanase, Coming Out in Japan, p. 336.
 Hall, 'Old and New Identities' p. 58.