And reality is reality…

Japanese high school fail:

Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture is full of all manner of fantastic depictions of sexualities and gender expressions, the overwhelming majority of which are made up for the -ahem- use of the straight readership. A fair amount of this gets placed into high school settings because young and sexy sells. All manner of synthetic “queer” is considered easier and more fun to slip into manga and anime than space aliens, and only slightly more of a plotting stretch than ‘returnees’ and outlander transfer students.

While some manga or anime show bullying, insults and ignorant behaviour, CJVC generally presents sexual and gender minority characters as ‘interesting’ and accepted, at least by the ‘good’ characters.

Unfortunately it looks like this is pure bullshit.

japan0516_en_mangaweb detailA

The big balloon full of jello that is the Japanese educational system is squeezed down mighty tight in the service of ‘harmonious behavior’ and ‘common values’. It has a really nasty habit of going all bulgy on anyone who might be different in any way. Bullying is epidemic and  government policies to reduce it seem ineffectual and willfully blind.

Since we western manga and anime fans occasionally enthuse over the neato and somewhat risqué depictions of Japanese high schools in manga and anime, the good folks at Human Rights Watch, Japan Branch, decided to include a few testimonials, some rendered in manga-esque form, about how things really play out for LGBTQ+ students in Japan.

japan0516_en_mangaweb detailB

Not cool, Pretty fucking typically vicious. I guess that humans behaving badly is endemic to our condition. But then, so was lice.

Have some depressing manga:

Here are some highlights from the report:

(Tokyo) – The Japanese government has failed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students from school bullying, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Japan has a bullying prevention policy, which is up for review in 2016 amid a growing national debate on equal rights for LGBT people.

The 84-page report, “‘The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down’: LGBT Bullying and Exclusion in Japanese Schools,” examines the shortcomings in Japanese government policies that expose LGBT students to bullying and inhibit access to information and self-expression. Bullying is widespread and brutal in Japan’s schools, yet government policies addressing bullying do not specifically address LGBT students, who are among the most vulnerable to bullying. Instead, the national bullying prevention policy promotes social norms at the expense of basic rights. LGBT students told Human Rights Watch that teachers have told them that by being openly gay or transgender, they are being selfish and should expect not to succeed in school.

Full report in pdf form:

School bullying is notorious in Japan and has been for decades. For LGBT kids in particular, the harassment, threats, and even violence in schools can be unbearable. School policies don’t adequately protect these students. At best, teachers are confused about how to handle LGBT bullying; at worst, they take part in it. Although same-sex marriage is being debated in Japan, the shortage of real LGBT role models is so stark that kids turn to gay manga characters for inspiration and very basic information about gender and sexuality.

Looks like Fujoshi Rumi, Sasameki Koto and the Genshiken got at least one thing right. Folks with minority sexualities and/or gender expressions in Japan had best get good at Judo.

Where do LGBT kids find their information?

Most of them turn to the Internet and to comic book characters. The “Boys Love” genre of comics have gay characters, but they are mostly read by young girls, and the characters aren’t taken to be real. When kids came out to their classmates, their classmates said, “Oh, we thought this was something just in comic books.”

What the comic books captured was the isolation these kids felt. Many kids we spoke with said they knew the characters weren’t real, and that they wanted more real role models – not ones based on fashion.

So you had some created.

We took the stories of four people we interviewed and made them into comics. We hired the first openly gay manga artist, Taiji Utagawa, to do it.

The comics in this report tell the stories of specific individuals Human Rights Watch interviewed, using their own words to describe their experiences. In a few instances the artist added language to provide necessary context. © 2016 Taiji Utagawa
— Ibid

Of course, butt-insky activist NGOs have a habit of raking up problems all over the place and are professionally committed to wa-disturbing on a global scale.

Everyone knows that the harmony of the Japanese social is at best a polite fiction and at worst a horrendous lie but they also know the terror of the unknown that lies behind it is as real as sudden and catastrophic destruction. Perhaps the educational bureaucracy needs to throw a virgin into a volcano before enacting any changes, so petrified are they of any change.

Japanese schools continue to promote conformity and harmony over individualism and rights. The national bullying prevention policy calls bullying a human rights violation, but then promotes moral education on social norms as a bullying prevention measure. The concerns and needs of individual students get lost. “Bullying can happen to anyone” becomes bullying will happen to anyone as required to frighten everyone else into blind, strict obedience.

Geh! this smells like the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors of the 1930’s. Ultra-nationalist pols are still fighting over getting supposedly lefty teachers to stand and sing the “Kimigayo“. Hooray for all marching together! “Duty is as heavy as a mountain, while death is as light as a feather“. Except when it comes to the duties and responsibilities of pols and bureaucrats.

Pity that all those neato fantasy Japanese high school manga and anime are now such an important part of your economy. How does your Cool Japan sell all those happy stories when the reality is proto-fascist violence and lethal neglect?

The manga testimonials were undoubtedly done as part of a communication strategy. They also read as an inadvertent grim rebuke to all those happy fantasy-inclusive manga and anime high school tales.  I wonder if kicking the educational bureaucracy and the pols hard in their Cool Japan might provide some incremental benefit in any upcoming push to address their utter, criminal failure.

At least, all fans should see this and know this. It should be inescapable.

Such behavior from teachers left students in a vulnerable position. As Akemi N., an 18-year-old transgender male bisexual in Okinawa said, “If the teacher had any knowledge, I could have gained positive knowledge about myself instead of so many questions all of the time.” Instead, he said he learned about gender and sexuality mostly through comics he could find in local stores—an increasingly common medium where LGBT issues are discussed openly. A researcher studying the use of manga cartoons in lieu of comprehensive sex education observed that while “teen manga and magazines have taken up the slack and provide young people with a wide range of information about sex … those informal sources of sex education prove confusing rather than instructive.”

The point of all this relentless grimness is that our favourite manga and anime might be innocently abetting some powerful desperation and nasty behaviour, if only by accident and omission when it deploys its fantastic characters. Even Kio Shimoku, with his “sorry, I’m not either…” approach to Hato’s diffuse gender expression and desires might play a bit part in “fetishsizing” real minority gender expressions and sexualities. The author’s fujoshi collective are of course built to highlight this problem even as they try to edge around it. Kio-sensei has made it clear that he sought to avoid entanglement in real-world LGBTQ+ issues. Perhaps he needs to modify this approach and apply a small nod towards corrective realism or even idealism; as in the light rom-com hyper-shoujo teachable moments that Usotsuki Lily’s creator deployed when she dropped a slightly more “real” trans-girl character into her fantasy safe-space “crossdressing-lite” comedy. 

Saki alone mentioning that the Genshiken fujoshis are unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable with real LGBTQ+ folk is no longer enough.

The point of calling out this kind of violent ignorance is not just touchy-feely “social justice”, it is an economic imperative. Violent stupidity and authoritarian notions of social conformity, like fraud and corruption are a drag on the economy and a wound to a modern, creative-capital driven mass culture. Crypto-authoritarianism provides short-term gain to a few well-placed individuals while it fools the rest into digging themselves deeper into unproductive holes. It produces nothing. It destroys everything it touches. If it worked, North Korea would be the richest county on the planet. Even the current Japanese government grudgingly admits as much, at least as they try to paper over a few overt manifestations of bigotry and hysteria in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.

What happens when the fujoshi project runs smack into the problem of complicity with the fetishization of real-world gay folks, especially vulnerable teens? Some accommodations are going to have to be worked out. Some western slash fen transpose their fantastic rapey gay fantasies further into fantasy-space. Make them all super-powered gay werewolves! Unfortunately this does nothing to de-mystify real-world folks who just so happen to… etc. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done.

Think of it as a market opportunity. 

4 thoughts on “And reality is reality…

  1. I am sorry to read that things are not as nice as depicted in Hourou Mosuko. One of the gay characters depicted as knowing Judo is in “School of Water Business.” However 65-60 years back this is how things happened in public schools in California. People are still being harassed and discriminated against all over the USA wherever a red neck can be found.

    Look at the way people like Cruz and other presidential candidates wanted to deal with LGBT people in this nation in the year 2016.

    So we should not be too exercised about the bad treatment LGBT people receive in Japan while the excoriation of Matthew Carpenter is still fresh in out memories.

    I hope we can find a way to relieve that madness here and abroad.

    I guess Hato-kun’s story of HS discrimination was fairly accurate.

    I am really unhappy about the possibility that Japanese untra-right could provoke another Pacific War but I am likely to be dead before that happens as they have to recreate the willingness in the general population to die for their racist ideals.


  2. Oh, no. Somehow I read the entire report. I made it to page 32, poker faced, before I broke down. That Naoko was able to glean support from her well-intentioned, if ignorant, nurse~ People need to see that little sliver of happiness to be able to contrast the depth of the tragedy.
    I wasn’t ready for that much reality.

    I remember back in my early days of lurking, that some misguided fans made comments about how Japan’s production of BL correlated to a real life acceptance of LGBT+ minorities. This confused me, as the (admittedly small selection of) Japanese people I knew at the time had more conservative social views compared to what I considered ‘the norm’. (‘The norm’ was not particularly supportive, but probably willing to turn a blind eye without too much judgement.)

    …But maybe this was an easy mistake for misguided fans to make.
    I can’t remember all my sources. But it was probably you that linked to the study that contrasted how Japanese BL fans viewed their hobby in relationship to LGBT+ issues, with how Filipino BL/slash fans viewed these issues. (Note: I wonder about the views of Japanese BL fans of Western media.) I also remember Jeanne at Aestheticism arguing that slash and yaoi – made in Japan or not – were different genres, that slash writers were comparatively focused with research and realism, and that there wasn’t a yaoi equivalent of the ‘freaking out because you might be gay’ slashfic trope, because as a genre it wasn’t concerned with personal identity so much as group identity. (She’s definitely onto something but, in the context of the contemporary English-language fanspace, I’d say she’s outdated. The current style seems very eclectic.) And then there was that part in ‘Beautiful Fighting Girl’ that talked about how Japan and the US view censorship in fundamentally different ways.

    I think all of these kind of reveal that Japan has a very different relationship with fiction. Certainly Genshiken part 1 made it clear that fiction is fiction, and reality is reality – no crossover allowed.

    Not that it’s the wrong relationship to have with fiction. I’m not sure freaking out about violence in video games is the right way either. And then there’s the disturbing number of fanfic writers that like to believe they’re doing a public service to the LGBT population by writing happy endings and omegaverse porn…

    But it seems to me like a large amount of anime/manga is escapism, and is viewed as such (and nothing more) by the Japanese readership. And, well, I’m all for escapism (and objectification and fetishization). Honestly, with all that pressure to conform, can you blame even the straight ones for trying to break free on paper?

    But just on paper. The desire to see acceptance realized is apparently not implicit. Fiction is fiction.

    And I kind of agree. Writing fantasies is nice, and all. And I would never say it’s unimportant. But the struggle in reality is greater than that. For Western societies too, but especially in Japan, where fiction isn’t assumed to inform reality in quite the same way.

    Only, geez, it’s much easier just to write some nice stories, than it is to come up with a viable game plan to help victims of bullying in Japan. It’s depressing.

    As an aside – Looks like mainstream BL got at least one thing right, as an LGBT+ person you’re certainly less likely to be specifically targeted for bullying as long as you conform to other societal standards of gender expression. Now watch as the aggressively masculine guys get all up in each others’ business. >_>

    • Yup, reality… grrrrrrrrr! The report surfaced 3 weeks ago and left me raging. I originally snagged the comic part because, hey! high school manga format! I couldn’t really clear my head to write it up back then, so I passed it on to a senior blogger who knows more about such issues.

      What got me was how the bullying collaborates with the bureaucratic/ ideological framework in the education system. The cluelessness, even hostility of teachers and staff also threw me. The ideology of “learn to fit into perfect Japan way fantasy or suffer” seems to be the ONLY thing that the bureaucracy cares about. Apparently some ‘crats are also so enamored with martial art training in high schools that they can’t crack down on serious deaths and injuries in judo classes and clubs either.

      The ideology also hides a certain cheap-ass attitude from the central gummint. They are very big on pushing things to the local levels without providing any resources, training, standards, clear policies, nadda zip. Looks like the teacher’s professional organizations are pretty behind the times on this as well. Parallels can be drawn with the repeated failures to fix the way ESL is taught, Mushroom treatment.

      I am a firm believer that lots of this kind of ignorant, seemingly random and personal bad behaviour is supported and enabled, if only as an “unintended consequence” or “blowback” by short-sighted institutional structural choices, policies and decisions. Finding and fixing these is what a competent bureaucracy and the professions are supposed to do in a modern society. That’s why we have Electrical Wiring Codes. Every line in them was a big lethal fire or rash of electrocutions. The Japanese version seems to be: “All wiring must respect Japanese societal norms, good luck suckers.”

      I wasn’t kidding about the virgin and the volcano either. Japanese bureaucracy is existentially fearful of change. It is almost religious terror. They need Shinto priests and a grave ritual or 3 to give them permission to make any change. “Whew! we will not be destroyed by earthquakes and tsunami for making the change in the sacred regulations!” The performance art possibilities are interesting. I wonder where the Education ministry offices are in Tokyo?

      (Btw: found a really neato blog on the history of social protest and radicalism in post-war Japan. See:

    • for lots of interesting, if sometime depressing reading.)

      It is pretty shitty that manga and anime are left to pick up the slack. The genre shouldn’t have to shoulder the load but since it is in that position, it needs to smarten up.

      Lives are at stake.

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