on point

An academic conference in Yokohama, this weekend:

Queer Transfigurations — International Symposium on BL media in Asia.
Saturday, July 1 & Sunday, July 2, 2017,
Kanagawa University, Yokohama Campus

“My critical examination of yaoi begins with the premise that yaoi does not represent any person’s reality, but rather is a terrain where straight, lesbian, and other women’s desires and political stakes mingle and clash, and where representations are born.”
— A. Mizoguchi, “Theorizing comics/manga genre as a productive forum: yaoi and beyond”
http://imrc.jp/images/upload/lecture/data/143-168chap10Mizoguchi20101224.pdf

‘Fantasy is fantasy and reality is reality’ opine the characters of the Genshiken, echoing a claim made by Dr Saito Tamaki that despite the libidinised nature of otaku (and fujoshi) consumption — or because of it — the Japanese fan, even (or especially) the most committed of these are able to keep the walls between real life and “play” separate. They are all in effect flaneurs, connoisseurs of their outre fictions and these fictions’ effects (or affects). The riajuu may be bombarded by the relentless flow of images and desires and retreat into numb passivity, even reactionary withdrawal but the L33T fan surfs the shock-waves and hacks the spew.

How’s that workin’ out for you all?

Ok, so what if this sounded a lot like an update of the old floating world brothel-crawler notion of “iki” — which incidentally influenced european ideas of the flaneur – – as well as trying to drag the old-school practice of situating narratives of minority sexualities and gender expressions in lurid pulp exploitation settings into a better neighborhood [see: https://heartsoffuriousfancies.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/your-own-private-game-of-laplace/] via Comiket, shoujo manga and its more interesting offshoots.

Along the way, a lot of folks pretended that they forgot someone(s).

If you are a not-quite-straight kid in Japan (or adult) and you value your privacy, this pretense or at least quiet convention had (and still has) its uses. The last decade’s general agreement about BL and yaoi in Japan was that %90+ of the readership was female and that the overwhelming majority of these were straight women who enjoyed it as a relaxing and amusing diversion. If you were a gei male, there was manly-manly Bara for you and nobody really bothered about what 3D women who liked women cared to read. There were even a few convenient broadsides from honest to goodness flesh-and-blood homosexual male polemicists who criticised the rotten tribes for acting like “dirty old men” (though the major flare-up of this controversy happened decades earlier). If real gay guys groused about the stuff, it must be some kind of odd straight-girl fantasy thing and therefore harmless. Pay no attention to the fujoshi behind the curtains.

Meanwhile in the euroethnic mostly anglosphere west, research spotty as it was, indicated that slash readership was closer to %50-50 male-female and that the desires and identifications of the readership were all over the map, with a strong ‘queer’ gradient.

Something was due for a change.

I wonder how many casual fujoshi will make their way to the conference this weekend? What the devil is a casual fujoshi anyway?

In truth, gay folk, queer folk have always, apparently been part of creating these stories and consuming them. Folks are doing the historical research so that concealment does not end up as erasure. At the same time, there is a vast readership and fandom made up out of straight women and even (per the two extant fan studies plus hints about secret secret publisher data) somewhere around %1 straight male readership (%10-15 of the male readership). And then there are lesbian fujoshi, who while unfathomable in terms of demographic representation, make up some of the most productive and articulate champions of the genre. And there are gay guys who like it too. (those fan studies would put them at %80 of the male readership or %8 of the total readership) Over across the boulevard are the Yuri fans with all those pesky mostly-straight male yuri-danshi (I still prefer the older, western-anglosphere LFB term), even if them’s are for a different conference (which I would also really like to attend). We LFB guys aren’t too good on holding up our end of the fandom, but our Japanese brethren keep buying the magazines, so that’s something.

A lot of the academic interest in fujoshi and otaku fandoms in Japan has been carried out as informed by queer interests and situates comfortably within a larger idea of “queer theory”. If you are going to read any kind of academic writing about your fave manga, anime and/ or games you are going to get hip deep in it fast. After all, BL and yaoi (and yuri and even weird otokonoko/jousou) stories sure look like ‘queer texts’. Lookie: same-sex bonking! How long can the publishers keep up the pretense that they are all just something like sci-fi-ish or fantasy allegory and mostly for straight folks dreaming in queer?

In Japan, probably for a while longer, especially if it has something to do with sales revenues.

Time for some Academic Cool Japan jiu-jitsu:

[http://human.kanagawa-u.ac.jp/BLinAsia/Transfigurations_Program.pdf]

Take a close look at the conference presentations, the presenters and the moderators. All-star line-up! Welker, Mizoguchi, Nagaike, Baudinette, McLelland, Galbraith and a whole bunch of others whose names look vaguely familiar from my amateur theory scrapings. Note as well the titles and subjects of the presentations/ papers. This is about how a certain Japanese cultural product hits the rest of “Asia” and then creates its own context and readings. Ichiban Nihon Bunka!

Note as well, the absence of the dreaded fashionable academic neologism “Gl-ocal“.

Oh frabjous day!

Wonder how many Cool Japan bureaucrats will be in attendance? You wanted “soft power”? Congratulations! Now about the way Japan is sluggish about the rights and protections of minority sexualities and gender expressions and the upcoming 2020 Olympics… Do I hear whistling from the audience?

One academic not on the program (perhaps because the historic role of the wider shoujo genre is mentioned only in passing) is professor Matt Thorn, who in a recent Twitter thread went into the changing face of the Japanese fandom — at least the university-attending fans in her classes. TLDR: they ain’t the Genshiken. They are hyper-social, engaged, productive and even activist. I hope that she gets around to expanding upon these observations in her blog. [http://www.en.matt-thorn.com/]
(Update: per Twitter, prof Thorn plans to attend.)

I suspect that the student attendees at this conference will be equally unrecognisable to anyone expecting Genshiken style fans/ fujoshi, even as their updated versions will be undoubtedly surprised at the range, influence and effect of their fave genre. A few might even wonder if any of the diaspora product needs to be tracked down and studied, for the sake of a wider cultural perspective. …Won’t even get into speculation over the straight, fujoshi, fudanshi, gei continuum issues. I have a feeling that Dr. Mizoguchi has long since updated her 2010 observations to include male interest, even as the genre remains a powerful primarily female-authored form.

Readers of this blog know my angle on all of this and I would be curious to see how the conference presentations handle the clashes, not only between cultures, but between the readerships who want their fantastic allegorical (and somewhat racy) dream-in-queer diversions and readers who seek aspirational representation and support from the genre. So far the only strategy I can identify that does not involve proscription would stress authenticity as verisimilitude; in effect a value added approach — which is damn crass when real lives are at stake.

Unfortunately, publishing and content creation, like most capitalism is crass, and often brutal.

A final thought: Open Access = mega citations and academic fame.

It would be wonderful if the uni streamed the proceedings, or at least vidded them and put them up on YouTube. (Later: have been informed that presenters were not asked/ warned about the possibility of video recording, so that’s out. As someone who participated in a conference that let me use my blog nym, I should be better clued in on privacy concerns for presenters/ attendees.. Duh!)

(LATER: Howbout an audio transcript for Soundcloud? They embed well. I should stop; my previous gallery gig – we always tried to at least get a sound transcript from a presentation. We’d put a volunteer/ student intern in charge, do a little Audacity trimming and up it went, even if the sound quality was atrocious. Again, prior warning, privacy concerns…  So much to consider…)

Publication of the papers/ presentations in an open source journal or collection so that the conference doesn’t end up on some shelf or stuck behind a paywall would be wonderful.

(LATER: Prof Welker points out that he “shares all published articles & book chapters on request. As do many scholars. Just ask!” Regging up an indepedent researcher account at Academia.edu makes requesting such fast and easy. I was even able to do so using my blogging nym. Such individual ‘sharings’ are legal and  allowed by journal and/or publication contracts; which otherwise lock down academic articles and books behind paywals that even notorious [-cough- sci -cough- hub] russian academic study sites fail to worm their way past.)

 

Best wishes for a successful conference!

Upon a stage of sand

A status update of sorts.

sumo-web5

Soon, the last chapter of Genshiken Nidaime will show up on various grey places on the internet, with magically shooped-in english words. To say that I am feeling withdrawal symptoms already would be an understatement.

Rest assured, I will keep this blog going: the search is on for a viable approach to the continued examination of how Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture and its artifacts do so many neat things with fan desire. It is just going to get a bit bumpy as I fit new landing gear to this thing.

Meanwhile… Diversion Time! 

sumo-web4

From the 11th, on through to the 25th, the September Grand Sumo Tournament is on!

Don’t ask me how I became a somewhat-fan of Sumo. I loathe professional sports. I loathe professional sports on a visceral and intellectual level. Do not go there, Just think of everything you despise and hate, add logical arguments for your feelings plus a gut-level disgust and then multiply by a factor of as much free time as you can muster. I have lots of time.

Fortunately, Sumo is different.

sumo-web3

It is a socio-religious ritual.
No tournament, no more Sumo?
Perhaps the sun will not rise tomorrow.

This leads to a few considerations:

  1. If it is 4pm through to 6pm in Tokyo, what time is it in my time zone?
  2. Why must the Japanese Sumo Association and NHK be so freaking tight-fisted about live-streaming the tournaments? $10 a day on Ustream or a cable subscription to NHK sports, IF the local cable co has it and IF I have cable.
  3. Highlights and daily summary videos don’t cut it. It is all WHOMP when the wrestlers launch at each other and then one of them is out of the ring. No build-up, no drama, NO RITUAL! In short; it is treated like a sport. Add one more thing to the “why I hate” pile. It has to be live feed to capture the drama and the spectacle.

However, If I find that a Japanese government cultural initiative has made the live NHK feed of the tournaments available to an asian country’s national broadcaster, on the basis of that country’s longstanding interest and involvement in Sumo, and that for some reason, their web streaming service is available to me…

sumo-web6

There goes my sleep schedule.

Here’s a pile of web links:

Official NHK site: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/tv/sumo/

Good sports fan site: http://www.cibersumo.com/index.php/en/

http://www.squidtv.net/asia/mongolia/mongolia-009.html
(you’ll need a throw-away email address to reg up on the streaming site, plus Google Translate to navigate)

sumo-web1

A live Sumo tournament is a wonder to behold, even if one is way back in the cheap seats during a weekday, early on in a tournament. Actually there are no “cheap” or “seats” but you and a friend might manage to get an entire four-cushion railed-square to yourselves. Yes, you take your shoes off and don’t spill your food and drink on the carpet, please! The crowds are well behaved, except for the drunk oyagi who yell out their fave’s name and sing randomly during matches. If a high-ranking wrestler wins a difficult bout that clinches a loss-free tournament, the crowd might toss their cushions in celebration. These displays invariably only happen after the last, highest ranked match of the afternoon. Everything is usually over by 6pm.

sumo-web3

Unlike western pro sports, the wrestlers make a show of good sportsmanship, modesty and serious behavior in the ring. There is no trash talking, prima donna acting out, or cheap shots. The closest I have ever seen to a foul was what looked to me like a masterful fake-out: a high-ranked veteran, nursing an injury on his left side, faked to one side, then dodged to the other during the face-off and effortlessly face-planted his bewildered opponent with a light tap on the back. To me, it looked like a genius move but it earned the winner the vocal disapproval of the crowd and later, a warning from the association. It might be a “legal” move but it was considered a cheat to the fans, who paid to see the wrestlers wrestle.

sumo-web2

So: a holy rite. Stop with the TV coverage that treats it like a mere “sport”.

If I had the ears of the highest ranks of the Japanese government, I would beg they knock heads at the NHK and the Sumo Association, then drop a nice hefty subsidy on both in the name of tourism and cultural exchange, that the tournament feeds be made available free for a worldwide audience.

Make sure the bow ceremony at the end doesn’t get cut out, DAMMIT!

That also means showing the entire award presentation at the end of the tournament too, down to the last 40kg bag of rice and chromed tractor engine (the awards get odd, it becomes a charming form of product placement) that the lucky tournament champ has to lift to accept. I swear, I would never get tired of it.

Damn! It’s 5am!

Assimilating their culture that’s what I’m doing

One should probably take Campbells and like it

Wherein I become so weaboo that I make farm sake. Sorry; I have had too much IRL stuff going on to sit down and thrash out a juicy theory-ish essay about:

♦ The need for fujoshi spaces and their one-dimensional representation in CJVC.

♦ Hato is now a Fu-Danshi, officially even. Madarame gave him permission.

♦I am bored with time-travelling guys and even with guy-written time/probability travelling girl heroes.

I hope to get to those once things calm down with work, summer and my happy fun riajuu life.

In the meantime…

A glass of doboruko

Secrets of Farm Sake brewing below the cut!
Continue reading

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:
https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/japan0516_en_mangaweb.pdf

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.
https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/05/japan-bullied-lgbt-students-unprotected

Full report in pdf form:
https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/japan0516web.pdf

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.
https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/06/interview-bullying-lgbt-kids-japans-schools

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.
https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/06/interview-bullying-lgbt-kids-japans-schools

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.”
https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/05/06/nail-sticks-out-gets-hammered-down/lgbt-bullying-and-exclusion-japanese-schools

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. 

The hammer of desire

On hand-waving… 

‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.’
— Bertolt Brecht

Objects-In-Mirro rblurr web

…Or a distorted mirror; one that does not announce its distortions. There are no OBJECTS IN MIRROR etc. markings below the images. The pretty pictures are but entertainments. If you take them as reflections, you do so at your peril.

Yet Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (CJVC) operates with strong feedback loops between producer, publisher and consumer/ commenter/ transformative fan worker and gives rise to certain effects, most which could be roughly categorised as over-emphasis. More interesting is the way the process also serves to mediate participant opinions and desires. The temptation to stare into the mirror is great. As is the temptation to try to bend the reflection to one’s ends.

A few right-wingers and/or cults have in the past made clumsy attempts at taking advantage of this effect; so far their successes have been limited. A nominally ‘apolitical’ fandom holds advantages as well as drawbacks. But when the fandom devours stories that point towards a fleeting shadow of social progressivism, the temptation to nudge the canon is hard to resist.

At what point does Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture (CJVC) pick up the hammer?

Tgirls web

“Fuji TV announces Japan-first lesbian drama, but attracts criticism for ‘outdated’ portrayal by Andrew Mckirdy

Fuji Television has announced a drama series featuring a lesbian love story as its central theme — a first for Japan.

But a prominent lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activist has slammed the show’s promotional material for portraying an “out-of-date” image of same-sex couples.
[…]
But Maki Muraki, the leader of nonprofit organization Nijiiro Diversity, which promotes workplace equality for LGBT people in Japan, believes the show is sending out the wrong message.
[…]
“Having two girls lying naked on a white sheet and using words like ‘forbidden’ is a little out of date, I think,” Muraki told The Japan Times on Thursday.
[…]
“The things we do are not about sex. We face a lot of difficulties in our life, for example in the workplace. To be told that the image of us is one of sex doesn’t make me happy.”
— http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/10/22/national/social-issues/fuji-tv-announces-japan-first-lesbian-drama-heels-advances-lgbt-rights/#.VkPujdSNg7X

A machine translation of an interview with Muraki-san:

https://translate.google.ca/translate?hl=en&sl=ja&u=http://www.huffingtonpost.jp/2015/01/01/lgbt-maki-muraki-1_n_6403210.html&prev=search

And a presentation on workplace diversity policies in Japan that she worked on:

http://www.outandequal.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/0M12501.pdf

A few western fans gush over Transit Girls:

http://yuri-goggles.com/2015/10/23/transit-girls-j-drama/

More Google-fu reveals that Transit Girls is most probably going to be a live-action Citrus-lite retread. Nearly underage step-sister angst and fanservice. Not much chance to confront any real-life issues. Erica Friedman’s Okazu blog review was short:

“…just a typical unrealistic Yuri trope – sister[s] by marriage fall for each other. Snooze. LGBTQ activists in Japan are about as thrilled as I am. [link to Muraki-san reaction piece] You know what I say about this – how lazy do you have to be to not even leave your living room to fall in love.”
– Erica Friedman, Okazu blog, Oct. 28, 2015
http://okazu.yuricon.com/2015/10/31/yuri-network-news-%E7%99%BE%E5%90%88%E3%83%8D%E3%83%83%E3%83%88%E3%83%AF%E3%83%BC%E3%82%AF%E3%83%8B%E3%83%A5%E3%83%BC%E3%82%B9-october-28-2015/

Decide yourself (?) See FOOTNOTE FOR UPDATE (1)

http://jp.jplovetv.com/2015/11/transit-girls-1-transit-girls-ep1.html

The subs look like they are in old-school/TW Chinese. Skimming through looks like they swiped a bit of Kanojo to Camera to Kanojo no Kisetsu as well.

Contrast this to her review of Otouto no Otto:

“If there is, in 2015, a single series I would call “most-anticipated,” Tagame Gengoroh’s Otouto no Otto (弟の夫) is that series.

Tagame-sensei is best known in North America for his overtly sexual comics by about and for gay men, known as bara, with an emphasis on large, hairy men (what are called “bears” in western gay vernacular).

The protagonist of Otouto no Otto (弟の夫) , My Brother’s Husband, is Yaichi, a single father, who has been estranged from his now late twin brother for many years. The volume begins on the day his brother’s widower, Mike Flanagan, arrives at Yaichi’s home. Yaichi is not at all comfortable with Mike, or the fact that his brother was gay, or married, but Kana, his daughter, can’t see the problem. The only problem she sees is that she had no idea she had an uncle at all! So when she invites Mike to stay, Yaichi can’t really say no.”
– Erica Friedman, Okazu blog, Nov. 8, 2015
http://okazu.yuricon.com/2015/11/08/lgbtq-manga-otouto-no-otto-%E5%BC%9F%E3%81%AE%E5%A4%AB/

Is this juxtaposition unfair? Can Bara auteurs can do things that Yuri and BL auteurs can’t?

Meanwhile, IRL New York:

Equality, Then What? New Plays Explore Modern Gay Life
By ALEXIS SOLOSKINOV. 5, 2015
http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/08/theater/equality-then-what-new-plays-explore-modern-gay-life.html

Note how the reviewer raises an eyebrow at the designer stage props.

The article is somewhat of a follow-up on:

A Baby for the Gay Authors Behind the Daddy Penguins
By Jennifer 8. Lee
October 2, 2009 7:30 am October 2, 2009 7:30 am
http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/02/a-baby-for-the-gay-authors-behind-the-daddy-penguins/

How’s that for a range of fictional treatments of LGBTQ lives and desires; from silly fantasy through to social realism written by and for the community? Note the strident “anti-“ in the comment section that plays the class card. (And yes, the author of the piece has the numeral 8 in her name. Google her for her wiki page if you are wondering.)

I sincerely hope this stuff pops some reactionary county clerk’s cookies (or not; I suspect the whole controversy was a cynical attempt to cash in on the wingnut celeb circuit) Here’s a backgrounder, to soothe residual knee-twitching:

What’s Good for the Kids
By LISA BELKINNOV. 5, 2009

“…approximately 1 in 5 male same-sex couples and 1 in 3 female same-sex couples are raising children, up from 1 in 20 male couples and 1 in 5 female couples in 1990.

In most ways, the accumulated research shows, children of same-sex parents are not markedly different from those of heterosexual parents. They show no increased incidence of psychiatric disorders, are just as popular at school and have just as many friends. While girls raised by lesbian mothers seem slightly more likely to have more sexual partners, and boys slightly more likely to have fewer, than those raised by heterosexual mothers, neither sex is more likely to suffer from gender confusion nor to identify themselves as gay.

More enlightening than the similarities, however, are the differences, the most striking of which is that these children tend to be less conventional and more flexible when it comes to gender roles and assumptions than those raised in more traditional families.

There are data that show, for instance, that daughters of lesbian mothers are more likely to aspire to professions that are traditionally considered male, like doctors or lawyers — 52 percent in one study said that was their goal, compared with 21 percent of daughters of heterosexual mothers, who are still more likely to say they want to be nurses or teachers when they grow up. (The same study found that 95 percent of boys from both types of families choose the more masculine jobs.) Girls raised by lesbians are also more likely to engage in “roughhousing” and to play with “male-gendered-type toys” than girls raised by straight mothers. And adult children of gay parents appear more likely than the average adult to work in the fields of social justice and to have more gay friends in their social mix.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/08/magazine/08fob-wwln-t.html

115,772 same-sex couples in the USA were raising children circa 2009. So says the statbox on the side of the article. That’s less than half the population of my town. C’mon folks, get with the program! Or perhaps I need to get with the program, as an “old” who hasn’t being paying attention to the changing social.

Since the NYTimes Magazine was running a series on the topic, here is some more fieldwork (note the approaches used):

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/theater/review-dada-woof-papa-hot-about-gay-men-and-parenthood.html

An older generation, a LGBTQ commune

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/magazine/out-of-the-woods.html

And still you get no guarantees;

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/fashion/weddings/unhitched-for-a-lesbian-couple-marriage-equality-was-no-guarantee-of-marriage-quality.html?_r=1

These families exist because in their neck of the woods the state can no longer deny folks their rights to get married and be parents. And random jeebus-spouting, publicity crazed asshats cannot grab the power of law and regulation and use it to bash a subset of queer folks for smug and profit. It means that happily married guy couples and happily married gal couples are afforded the same rights as everybody else. This is how we expect it to be in civilized countries. In some European countries these families, like all families would enjoy even greater rights and benefits; generous mandatory parental leave, better health and education opportunities, and even less Kim Davies.

Meanwhile in Japan…

Representations of minority sexuality and/ or gender expression in vernacular narratives are treated as entertaining variants on the theme of having a minor super power. Even Hato Kenjiro gets a super power (no, not be-dazzling Mada…)

It seems you can now build an interesting story either with the MC being bitten by a radioactive spider or by having the MC struck by sudden same-sex desire or with the incomprehensible urge to start dressing in clothing not conventionally ascribed to their gender.

Clumsy ensues.

Why not try all three?

You could kick it up a notch by actually having realistic tōjisha characters from the start, but perhaps Japan still finds that to be ‘too political’. There is also the readership’s fond attachment to the ‘out of the blue, its only you, mad love to ensue’ (tm) dance. If everyone already had super spidey powers the comic would be boring.

The limits to this type of use seem not to be “realism” but a simple-minded form of narrative utility. (lazy storytelling.)

Sometimes the thought experiment justifies the hack. There might not be that many crossdressing, liminal/ conflicted fudanshis struggling with their awakening sexualities at real university otaku clubs in Japan and even less of them back in 2009, yet Hato Kenjiro remains an interesting and useful construction. But Saki is right, the club should meet and try to make friends with some real gay/TS/TG folks.

At least these representations are not pulled out of the central casting sack for want of a quick clown or villain.

A sympathetic “truthy” representation of LGBTQ-ish characters is certainly better than using them as orcs and shikigami novelties and serves at least a few wider societal goods, but we should be cautious as to how far we suspend our disbelief. While these may serve an incidental purpose of “queering” a narrative, providing visible (shadow) representations of lives and desires, even offering the chance for the majority straight vanilla audience to dream in queer, ‘cross-dream’ or at least cheer on the cause of justice and true love; unless these narratives are positioned as testimony for and by the (tōjisha) populations they claim to represent, then these effects are afterthoughts and subject to problems.

And those of us who would examine why they exist risk missing the central question of their creation, use and popularity.

Why are all the straight boys and girls reading (and sometimes making up) so many stories about minority sexualities and gender expressions?

What’s with that? 

Sect detail mot web

Fanservice/ Mild kink?

Tourism?

True Romance?

Poisoned riajuu well?

Do the right thing/ Social Capital ?

For great Justice?

Admiration/ Akogare?

I should go on about each. Perhaps later. (1)

For now, please jump to the long-standing critique, visible (for example) in Erica Friedman’s weariness with the yuri genre Story A‘s refusal to engage with larger social concerns, supposedly rooted in the distaste of the readership for “the political”.

This observation is sound for the moment. It can even be taken as a mild reproach towards the timidity of the publishers and the conservative tastes of the audience. Stick to gauzy depictions of “forbidden love”, high school romances and secret crushes but avoid realistic depictions of the daily grind (and the daily joys) of living an “out” identity. Study after study, as well as the obvious structure of the stories themselves remind us that the main audience for these tales of “forbidden love” are not the people “in the life” / lives supposedly depicted, but the rest of us curious (mostly) heterosexual tourists. The timidity of the representations, the reassuring same-old same-old plots and the aversion to tackling serious issues is a side-effect of conservative traditions of production and conservative expectations in our escapist reading and viewing matter.

And you thought this meandering essay was going to be about social/ political activist tropes in vernacular stories that featured LGBTQ characters? I was going to go on and on and (shudder) make recommendations, do some re-inventing the wheel, mouth off and give free advice… Unfortunately, that too will creep in. But it is an afterthought. The focus must remain on the majority, nominally straight audience for these little tales and how this audience limits or could get behind activist stories.

Let me try to make this clearer by example. Assume there is enough of a market in Japan for a subset of gay desire to have their own vernacular narrative form. We’ll call it Bara. Gay guys write and draw stuff for other gay guys. Some of it is heartwarming, some of it looks extremely nasty, but it is a conversation within a social, with characters from that social. Whether or not it wants to go activist is it’s own business, because in the end it will be preaching to the choir. Few rotten girls go buying Bara mags for inspiration for their fantasies. Maybe they used to for drawing tips? Who knows, there are now pose-books out there for aspiring mangakas.

But for BL, Yaoi, Yuri and a few other odd genres that center around fantasies of gender expression, there is no “this is for real lesbians and or gay people and or trans people” subsections and/or “riajuu welcome but you may find it boring” sub-genres. And despite some of the warning disclaimers on Japanese (and other) fansites, there are no “real lesbians don’t act like this, these are straight fantasies, proceed at your own delusion” stickers on Yuri Hime or on Transit Girls. Obviously this warning is implicit, but we are easily distracted, we often forget. It would all be easier if we stuck to sci-fi and made all the queer folk Cat-aliens. Japanese Cat-aliens. Gay Japanese Cat-aliens. Oh wait, we tried that alreadyNevermind.

Along with real Japanese queer folk who might wish to see characters that they can relate to, somewhat realistically and sympathetically presented, we have a huge pile of straight boys and girls visiting for the fanservice and staying for the feels. Apparently my taste in feels, or at least the tastes of my Japanese LFB counterparts runs to the simplistic (or fantastic – and don’t forget the fanservice, we want our fanservice!). Across the boulevard, the shape of the rotten girls’ hearts is apparently equally simplistic (and fantastic – they want their fanservice too).

Understanding why we silly tourists come poking around could be useful.

Time for a digression!

There is an elephant in the room and it needs to be vaporized. It is the old “reading this stuff will make you gay“. First off; as quoted/ noted previously, gay folks have to deal with overwhelmingly straight narratives all their lives – these do not turn them (back into???) straight. Ah! that just means that gay is insidiously, powerfully contagious! Fine, then everyone would be gay by now. Besides, these stories are overwhelmingly cooked up by straight people. Ahah! That’s why they don’t work! Guys, stay away from the Bara! The Genshiken’s Hato Kenjiro is safe, fake girl-made stuff won’t turn him. Or it will turn him into… (dum dum Dumm..)

Don’t laugh. The contagion theory is still very powerful. Youth are considered especially vulnerable. Even if the gatekeepers admit the impossibility of the majority of readers being bent by these silly stories, there are always the few on the margins who should at least stay unhappily straight, marry, reproduce and then go off to have a sordid mid-life changing adventure later. Or kill themselves. More to the point is the worry that the proscription against the queer, as a social category itself may be threatened. Story A and “I’m not gay, its only you” may be grudgingly tolerated as fire-breaks but you get the sense that the mythical “authorities” would be happier if all that stuff stayed in the seedy floating world of “The Black Lizard“.

Too bad that we have finally figured out that this kind of bullshit is a drag on the smooth functioning of a modern post-industrial society and its economy. And no, we aren’t going back to slavery, bond servitude and private health care insurance plans either. (Right wingers forget that in the early 20th C it was business heads who pushed for early social policy innovations – they wanted them as common utilities that couldn’t be snapped up by the competition and used for unfair advantage – only my workers get a hospital bed, yours die, I will own whole town by next year!) Have an asbestos suit, welcome to Star Fleet, now get back to your post.

You doubt me? Go read why Bismark instituted old-age pensions.

Once the “contagion effect” is dispensed with, or at least toned down to a dull roar, we can go back to wondering why all of us straight people are reading Yuri, BL, Yaoi, even gender-benders and Josou weirdness. Start from the fanservice again and work through it.

And what of putting complex “political” situations into silly “feels” tales? Won’t the iyashi be killed?

Transit Girls could suddenly get “political” as easily as the usual “personal”. There was a strong tradition of hard hitting politically aware gekiga manga well into the 80’s, (Here is something typically class conscious, socially aware and grim) though the genre faded to yakuza grinders thereafter. Shoujo manga and later anime offshoots pioneered socially transgressive subjects and genres but now feels set in its ways. Transit Girls won’t break any new ground because it’s a Citrus retread and it is safer to play out the almost-incest schoolgirl forbidden lurv story but there is no structural storytelling reason why a tale of two young women who happen to like each other has to creep out and/or stick to hackneyed “personal” story tropes.

The limits lie in the perception of what the audience will buy.

Would a mostly heterosexual audience run away from a tale if a bit of social realism or “political” was snuck into the story? Can we lay the blame at the feet of Japanese LFBs and rotten girls? If you are a young person who suddenly finds themselves having feelings for someone of your own gender and all you have to go on is BL or Yuri (as the case may be) you sure have a good argument for being pissed off. Congratulations, you are now a unicorn! A bit of realism would sure feel supportive, even reassuring. Something that gives the idea that mundane every day life, friendship and happiness is within reach can go a long way. In some respects, the Story A bubble at least provides a small personal space where the impediments are manageable and a happy ending is possible.

Most of the time the impediments are personal: bullying, whispers at school, parents, the thwarted opposite sex suitor who thought they were close to winning true love. It does all get a bit claustrophobic, doesn’t it? Sure the meet the parents challenge can be dramatic. And the usual steam (and cheese) can be squeezed out of the step-sisters under the same roof set-up. But there is no reason why you can’t get good story mojo out of I can’t visit my partner at the hospital if it is done well. At very least, tossing one small true love vs structural discrimination challenge ups the story’s realism points. It also assumes that there is life after the happy pair graduate from high school. Will we fanboys and fangirls buy it?

If it works well once, can it too become a trope?

Then we can try for the family register hell episode!

Followed by the same-sex-partnership certificate on Friday, fired on Monday episode.

And the “stop listing our kid as a bastard” episode.

Better ration these lest the tale gets too dire: give the lovebirds a chance to surmount the obstacles, catch their breath, and cuddle. Friends and supporters can grin and give a thumbs up. A whole new slew of happy event tropes could go a long way too: visit Comike, go to a public bath and relax after, visit a shrine with your friends on New Years (hey, wait a sec, where have I ???) The audience wants a few victory parties and their D’awww moments too. Sooner or later some enterprising auteur must stage a vacation- marriage in Hawaii.

Throw too many bureaucratic bigotry hurdles at the couple all at once and it will smother the tale in grim. Then you end up back on the old “thorny path” cliché; which would be downer and a waste. Unless you personify each structural obstacle (Nurse impose-the-rules Ratchet comes with a tragic back story) and appropriate the endless level-up battles of shonen fight grinders as some kind of fantastic comedy exercise. (Once Nurse Ratchet is defeated, she realises that her opposition was because of a long suppressed childhood disappointment, resolves this and becomes an ally)

Too ridiculous?

Since the playset field somehow got flipped on…

…I always suggest a rich beta couple hovering in the wings (I’m hobby horsing, so what?) Maybe they went to New York on family business empire duty for a few years, met and tied the knot. Per the conspicuous consumption deployed in the play referenced in the above NYTimes article, a shitload of posh from the prop dept goes a long way toward legitimizing ways of living in aspirational fiction.

Ah, for the support of the wealthy and sophisticated almost-foreign other. Naysayers can’t even play the nihon-jiron card.

I’m playing clumsy social tinkerer here. I wonder what someone more knowledgeable about the issues would have to say about the series if they could contrive to find a way to watch it? Or if better extant examples exist?

Along with the attractions of more “truthy” representations of minority sexuality and gender expressions in terms of verisimilitude, interest and a ripping good yarn with a happy ending (or a wise and poignant one), the possibility for the advancement of a social policy agenda comes into view, at least to the extent that the changes advocated and the support for these can be personalised. In other words;

We’ll probably keep reading if you make the political personal.

Heck, we might even start seeking out stories with such tropes in them. Why? Here’s where I go out on limb:

1) Do the right thing:
People as individuals are fundamentally good at heart. (Hand-waving; it gives us bystanders something to do.) Neighbors and small socials invariably support and encourage diversity if given a risk-free chance, though older and/or wounded ones may struggle dramatically with their initial reactive positions. Common folk support one another, this is the wisdom of the village. This is flattering for us hand-wavers. It makes us feel like we are townspeople in a Jimmy Stewart Christmas movie.

2) Fight the evil machine:
Only bureaucracies, faceless edifices of power and profiteers enforce repressive structures and punitive rules. Again, we didn’t act like shits towards you folks, it was the bad bureaucracy!

3) The wars are over:
Conformity/ taboos/ rituals which once saved the tribe now weaken it. A new generation points the way forward. … Even if we did behave like shits it was because of the “old ways”; which we are so over with…

4) Careful with that hammer Maxwell.
Don’t go overboard on the new personalised political challenges; keep the main story on track with all the usual hackneyed melodramatic same old same olds. Yup, the happy young couple still get the bed-sheet publicity pic – we drooling fans expect it.  All peasant village weddings come with a wedding-night charivari! We really do get into hand-waving, and pot banging, and…. Any excuse for a party.

Sure it’s all fantasy, but it comes with a bonus drama CD.

Given the opportunity, there seems no great reason why a readership that is somewhat predisposed to open-mindedness (we are reading about the MC’s neh?) would not adopt a supportive attitude/ enjoy the fantasy of activism, especially if the d’awwwwww payoff is presented at no cost to us.

In the United States, reactionary forces recognise this and have spent decades subtly insinuating narratives of fear and cost into arguments against human rights and social justice issues. Social justice reforms sound good but in reality they will steal our jobs, destroy our families, degrade our manliness, corrupt our youth, slip into our daughters’ bathrooms, cause bad weather and tooth decay…

…And they will take down those damn slaver flags.

Less so in Japan.

As Japan is a culture of conformity, surface appearances, restrictions and arbitrary rules, the overwhelming majority of which have long since outlived their raison d’etre, the attraction of putting the different folks out on the front lines for societal change is universally attractive. (sounds like the plot for the Seven Samurai) A large amorphous issue like gay marriage (what of all the rules and regs and forms and laws and procedures and the prefectural governments and the constitutional amendments needed?) might be too much (for now). But when a tale or a campaign takes aim at specific day-to-day petty injustices, most of which are part of the larger portion of the soul crushing bullshit that everyone has to suck up and smile at, we have a market for some good ending aspirational fiction. As long as Japan doesn’t get serious again and have everything end in a hammer-of-the-fates disaster barrage. (The Japanese movie happy ending: everybody dies.)

Unable to get an apartment (or twice the key money), bullshit at the municipal office, sleazy yakuza blackmail(!), a loved one alone in a hospital, civil union-ish certificate on Friday then fired on Monday; make the challenges specific, personal, understandable, unfair and let them loose to tug at the heart. I sense the chortling shades of Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens in the shadows.

To a degree, the instability of traditional patterns has already wormed its way into the tropes of the social depicted in Japanese manga and anime. Fifteen or twenty years ago, the young MC’s family would have been fun, supportive and very nuclear. Now fractured families, absent parents, single parent households, dramatic fob the kid off on distant relatives (note the setup in Transit Girls) or not even relatives settings are all over the landscape. Strong, intact families like those in Wandering Son are rare exceptions. Compared to these, having two moms or two dads would read like an idyllic solution.

And here we come to the final reason why all of us vanilla fanboys and fangirls might be paying attention and cheering from the sidelines, even if it is a bit unfair:

Put the queer folk out on point

One would have to be in suspended animation to miss that for all the sturm und drang, the activist agenda advancing LGBTQ rights in the West has done an amazing job. It might not look like it from the eye of the storm, and it has been one heartbreaking mess of a long slog, but their activists and advocates have scored an impressive set of wins. Big wins that have and will shape society for decades to come. Compare these to say, average family incomes in America over the last 20 years. You have to respect what works. Seeing anything that works gives us all hope.

Is this too odd a reason to add to the pile of why so many straight boys and girls are fascinated with the odd notions they themselves dreamed up about LGBTQ characters?

Compared to the the rest of any progressive agenda, LGBTQ activists have done the impossible and that makes them mighty. So much so that reactionary types will even whisper of a “gay conspiracy“. Conspiracy? When is decades of hard work, organizing, lobbying, advocating and litigating a magical thinking “conspiracy”?

Guess what the reward is for a job well done. (2)

And yup, popular art forms get drafted do their part. Note the tone of this review, complete with the reference in the lead to earlier civil rights issue films:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/film/fall-films-emancipate-once-forbidden-love/article21023368/

See also:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/08/22/love_is_strange_anti_lgbtq_workplace_discrimination_happens_in_real_life.html

I remember hearing about the first movie; Love is Strange a year ago, it sounds like it is on program. The appeal to social justice is clear, compelling and personal. After all if someone can lose their job for one thing, anyone can lose their job for any other form of religio-bureaucratic sanctioned bullshit. I live in Canada. Most of the provinces (like states, only bigger) still implement constitutional guarantees that mandate taxpayer-funded school boards for certain faiths. You want to keep your taxpayer-funded job, you go to mass on Sunday and you watch your Facebook posts. Exceptions are at the discretion of the board. How’s that for faith-based exemptions?

The second film is new to me; it might be a bit too stridently bolshie for American tastes. The third, I had a chance to view inflight and it felt like a Cumberbach vehicle. It got grim really fast. We know what happened to Turing. Since I loathe the British class system, I found no entertainment value in watching a fetishization of its murderous small-mindedness.

Doubtless there are many more useful examples out there, with at least half of them making up episodes in Glee. I must get over my aversion to anything that flies under the dread flag of Fox.

In the meantime, off the top of my head, something close to this was pulled off for the girl couple in Mouretsu Space Pirates. Not content to have the thwarted arranged marriage trope leave a dangling disappointed dude, it went on to show our plucky heroines unmasking the boy as a young Goebbels fronting a crypto-fascist conspiracy out for power and big bucks. The arranged marriage was just part of his campaign to seize power. Well; that was kind of political, even if set in a scifi far future light-years away.

Why bother?

Activist themes and tropes within stories cannot directly change society, at best they can “win hearts and minds” and displace older tales of dire abjection and deviance while lessening “the shock of the new”. We all tend to resist things we have not run into before; if we run into them in fiction, we can fool ourselves into feeling some manner of familiarity with the situation and the folks caught up in it. Coupling a story to appeals to justice and enlightened self-interest; This sucks, we wouldn’t like this to happen to us, we should support a fix so that everyone can breathe easier has been a part of storytelling since we all sat around the fire in caves. Ally of Justice makes for a nicer story than “when bad things happen to people, run away from them and/or throw rocks at them to drive them off otherwise the bad things will get you too“. The latter may be closer to human nature at its worst, but it raises problems for story tellers; they risk getting rocks themselves instead of a meal.

These concerns are for the rest of us scared villagers. For someone who finds themselves trying to negotiate a queer identity, having stories that say “you are not alone“, and “this is normal, life is good“, “be proud of who and how you are“, especially ones that are not too fantastic and/or loaded with dire oppressions can be a life-changer. Not everything has to be a “fight the power” tale to do some good, but it’s OK too to add “why should asshats think they have any right to jack you around?” to this above list.

Why now?

Significant reform is more than ever now possible in Japan. At first glance the Oyagi-cracy of the LDP looks like the barnacle least likely to do anything progressive: first looks can be deceiving. It has been argued that Japan’s perpetual party of power, the LDP is no longer anywhere as ideological as it appears and that it will swipe any policy platform, even socially progressive ones, if it thinks another (non-communist) party could possibly get traction from such. For a supposed right-wing party, its appetites have become amazingly ‘catholic’. It has assimilated policy initiatives from opponents and allies alike, especially if these present a good face for Japan to “the West” (look how smooth-running and progressive our society is, please invest and do business with us.) Bonus points if the grab pulls the rug out from under an opposition (or even an allied) party. The Olympics are on the horizon, Japan doesn’t want to look like Putin’s reactionary Russia. Mrs Abe shows up at the Pride parade. The LDP reads Krugman for economic policy advice. It’s not personal or ideological, it is just what it takes for the LDP to remain in power at all cost and render any alternative parties or alliances thereof weak and ineffectual. The LDP is the developed world’s most left-wing right-wing government. They have a parliamentary supermajority and they no longer give a flying… squirrel about ideology. They can pass progressive legislation at the drop of a hat if it suits their party’s strategic purposes.

Operator: Main screen turn on!

in case you missed the original

Clickee for old time’s sake

To paraphrase Michael Cucek, You have no chance to be government, make your time. [https://www.google.ca/search?q=youtube+micheal+crucek&oq=youtube+micheal+crucek]

Aside: Shisaku and Tokyo on Fire are great Jp politics/culture backgrounders! (from whence I have have cribbed much of my sloppy analysis)

UPDATE: Tokyo on Fire does a short segment on “Tokyo’s First Same-sex Marriage Certificate”

Conceivably the LDP could even do something really nasty and militarist: full equality and marriage rights at all levels of Japanese government and civil society for same-sex couples as long as one of the couple is serving in the new bent-article-9 JSDF! Yearly mandatory visits to the that shrine required too. Nothing too good for our patriotic boys and girls in uniform. Supermajority, remember?

This loony example belies a serious point. The main legalistic impediment to same-sex marriage rights in Japan is a close reading of the Japanese constitution. Marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman. Any move to revise the constitution to fix this legitimises the Abe/ LDP program to revise other parts of it. Similarly, the re-interpretation of article 9 for “collective self-defense” points to the strong possibility of other re-interpretations, as long as one is willing to legitimise the entire exercise of re-interpreting.

Political chess-playing ensues. At least the pieces can move.

Despite initial appearances there never was a better time to sneak a few progressive social reforms through the Japanese Diet. Or I am completely deluded and the removal of one class of institutionalized pariah-dom in the Japanese social will so threaten the mechanisms of control and subservience that keep the salaryman at his (sometimes her) desk for 12 hours a day and the rest of the losers happy to scrape by on low-paid temp jobs, as to completely up-end the power structures and economic foundations of the nation. There goes our weekly group hate sessions… And those sound trucks.

Naw… The entire Abe/ LDP program has been to build up a monolithic appearance of progressive stability in Japanese society and politics. No more Prime Ministers of the month, no more low-class cabinet scandals, no more bureaucrats fighting out policy initiatives with competing press leaks. A nice promise of structural reforms for the business world. Quantitive easing to grease export earnings. Woman-omics. Now if they can get the Olympic stadium embarrassment cleaned up; the old pols who ran the original stadium committee have been ritually shamed and neutered. Abe’s technocrats can now step in to save the day. Everything looks stable and peaceful. As long as mildly progressive social reforms don’t come off as looking like something forced upon Japan by pesky outlanders, the pols have no reason to dig in their heels. We are talking at most of gay marriage here; not ending the whale hunt or that messy thing with the dolphins…

Oh my; a silly manga and anime blog is going on about pop poli-sci and Japanese politics!

Muda Muda Muda!

Watch for my future post on Keynesian macro-economics and Japanese monetary policy presented as allegory in Gintama:

You wipe first, you lose“.

Uh.. Where was I?

Any progressive and/ or activist themed expansion of the range of tropes and stories available to the hack mangakas and anime script teams is pure profit for ambitious authors a and publishers, as long as these new tropes can be successfully deployed at least once. I think the fandom/ public could well be way out in front of the publishers, authors, producers and TV executives.

Given that CJVC already supports a number of viable market niches that at least superficially appear to venture into the territory of representing (and perhaps supporting) minority desires and gender expressions, simple capitalist competition and the need for new interesting grist for the story mills should be sufficient to grease the wheels of social progress a bit.

There is no structural reason for the absence of activist, progressive story- lines in CJVC. Advocacy is possible and can advance progressive change. Politics has a nasty habit of getting personal but the personal is the realm of storytelling. These stories can once again recognise this as we take comfort and inspiration from the possibilities set forth in their telling and enjoy the opportunity to vicariously support progressive social change. Because the rest of us were all too busy and tired and distracted to have done anything to fix our shit; perhaps you folks will have better luck. We’re rootin’ for you…

Hand-waving for great Justice!

(1) Hmmmm… I could draw a pyramid chart of these and cash in big time over in theory land. Mudakun’s hierarchy of prurient interest over Yuri and BL ™. Come for the novelty pr0n fantasies, stay for the abstract concerns. Where my newest bit of why are we interested about this stuff slots in is another matter.

(2) For a job well done, you of course get another job. And raised expectations. And spectators cheering you on. And the idea that perhaps your program could make a nifty ‘point of the spear‘ for some larger, more diffuse program of change. And that your unique experience gifts you with rare insights and the facility to give general relationship advice to couples, fix defective technology by touching it and dress sharp. Such is the price of success!

 

UPDATE AND ENDNOTE:

This was not my brightest post but I still figured I needed to thrash out some of the ideas. Further attempts to develop them hit a snag, so still working on the troubling intersections of “gay” vs “shadow of gay, written by straight folks for their own odd purposes, not all of which involve pr0n” on one axis and realism vs fantasy on the other axis. Realism implies a certain temptation towards activism. Leave it at that for now.

Transit Girls has finished its run, and by reports, is not execrable. Shoujo, rushed, but at least the background characters are supportive. Google with the terms “watch” and perhaps the optional “247” (note download tab) added to the series name and you can probably find eng. subbed versions somewhere out on the intertubes. Raise ad-blockers to maximum, ahead full impulse.

The Okazu review of the entire series is also out:
http://okazu.yuricon.com/2016/01/25/lesbian-live-action-transit-girls-%E3%83%88%E3%83%A9%E3%83%B3%E3%82%B8%E3%83%83%E3%83%88%E3%82%AC%E3%83%BC%E3%83%AB%E3%82%BA/

At some point Viki and/or Crunchyroll might get with the program too.

What more can be said?

Time to shut this blog down (?)

It’s been a blast, but when South Park discovers BL and redoes the Ogiue’s sin plot, it can only go downhill from here.

“I used to think that being gay was a choice, but you don’t get to decide. Japan picks who they pick and that’s that.” 

Full Ep here: http://cart.mn/TweekXCraig
Canucks can watch here: http://www.much.com/shows/south-park/episode/735209/tweek-x-craig/
Discussion: http://en.rocketnews24.com/2015/10/30/anime-style-boys-love-comes-to-south-park-with-yaoi-themed-episode/

The last violence we impose upon the queer of our straight imaginations is the burden of our hopes.

(Later: redacted a bit of me overdoing it in the comments section. The main point is of course not tweekcraig or the slashy nonsense but the needs of the town’s citizenry. Given the alternatives, call it a win)

Your own private Game of Laplace

Ranpo Kitan: Game of Laplace and the curious case of the detective novelist’s good friend’s hobby.

(Warning: Here there be honking big blockquotes – Game o Laplace mild spoilers too.)

The currently airing anime Ranpo Kitan: Game of (lets shorten it to) Laplace is of course a bit more and a bit less than a commemorative retelling of the iconic Japanese detective stories of Tarō Hirai/ Edogawa Rampo. There is also a toned-down re-visiting of the mood of the “erotic grotesque nonsense” (ero-guro) genre that played a prominent role in the original stories, with a deft updating of the tradition by laying out bait for otokonoko fanboys and yaoi fangirls. Anyone who wonders why this little weird thing exists is bound to do a quick peek at the wiki entry for Hirai/ Rampo.

From thereon however, things get odd and very, very Japanese.

Tarō Hirai, AKA Edogawa Rampo is considered the father of the Japanese detective story and was a great admirer of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His Akechi, the first recurring detective character in Japanese fiction was clearly inspired by Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. In Laplace he is a grouchy 17-year-old genius with carte blanche from “The Imperial Household Agency” (we wont go there, just as we will not dwell too much on how the civilian casualties of the Ginza invasion in the anime version of GATE were kept low through the timely intervention of ‘higher authority’). Plagued by ennui and a never-relenting (per previous; caffeine withdrawal-get that kid to make you some strong coffee dammit!) headaches he ends up with two unwanted “assistants”. The first of these, Kobayashi is a diminutive junior high school (middle school) student who is often mistaken for a girl and displays a curiously amoral, detached passivity.

Happy Zet Carnage

Grotesque murders – even those that he is accused of committing seem to be the only thing that interest him. His friend, serious rich-boy Hashiba has appointed himself as Kobayashi’s protector and gets dragged into the Boy Detective Club that updates an original Edogawa Rampo conceit. As well, Kobayashi has started to crossdress, whether for solving crimes or just to amuse himself. I recommend episode 6, A Glimpse of Hell; the remaining episodes so far try too hard but not hard enough at giving the viewer a pasteurized taste of both “ero-guro-nansensu” and “iki”, that fatalistic, refined detached air which was a big thing in Edo Japan and which I suspect is the hook for the Kobayashi character.

“As an aesthetic expression, iki alludes to a certain style of life and of art that was current in the amusement districts of Edo, reaching a fashionable climax around 1830. However, in spite of its mundane outlook, iki has spiritual roots enabling it to reconcile the idea of Buddhist renunciation with Bushido idealism. Kuki Shûzô (1888–1941) established iki as a more abstract, philosophical term by attempting to define it, in his famous book The Structure of ‘Iki,’ with the help of Western metaphysical and anthropological methods. Surprisingly, Martin Heidegger mentions the notion of iki in an essay published in 1959 entitled “Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache.” Though Heidegger’s reflections are interesting as such, they do in not grasp the real concept of iki.
Kuki writes that “‘iki’ has its origin in the ‘World of Suffering’. […] Now, ‘resignation’, that is the disinterestedness in ‘iki’, is an urbane and well-formed heart which has gone through the polishing of the hard and heartless floating world”. Iki is produced through a “resignation to fate and the gaiety based on ‘resignation’”. Iki asks for the negation of an “everyday world” which Kuki calls the “con-ventional” world. If we resign from the “conventional” we discover style: “You will be chic when the conventional has been rubbed away”. In many ways iki comes close to a philosophical ideal of “coolness.” The decisive point is that through the negation of the “conventional,” iki will not be “dis-covered” as an “essence” that already existed “out there”, outside everyday life. On the contrary, the act of resignation from everyday life reveals a kind of iki that always exited within everyday life (and even within ourselves) but that was covered by the conventional. In this sense, Kuki writes: “If we are able to combine the abstract conceptual moments of transformation obtained through analysis, and to constitute the being of ‘iki’, that is because we already carry iki with us as experiential meaning” (73). The particular act of stylization through which the conventional is “cut off” depends on the stylistic cut called kire, which is essential to the aesthetics of iki.”

– The Structure of Detachment: The Aesthetic Vision of Kuki Shuzo: With a Translation of Iki no kozo. University of Hawaii Press 2004. Botz-Bornstein, Thorsten.

In less elegant words; stray kittens, beautiful prostitutes, pretty boys and attractive boi-dykes get into horrible life situations. Life is messy and cruel, only the fleeting moments of beauty redeem it – be careful not to over-react to these. You can pet them and occasionally feed them; you can admire the sublime moment but nothing can save them. Falling in love or sympathy with any of these is folly and will only drag you and everything around you down with them. We’re all going to die and they will die sooner, in messy circumstances. “The flame that burns twice as bright burns only half as long” and dwelling on this ruins the moment, so shut up and enjoy the cherry blossoms. Note that Iki predates the European idea of the flanneur by half a century or more. Also note that “the floating world’ was a miserable place to be stuck in for either sex; bond-servitude prostitution (slavery) remained open and accepted until the advent of the post-war constitution.

As well, Kobayashi embodies another aspect of the homage-a-Rampo-ness in Laplace; the True Crime/ Tokyo Reporter nudge nudge wink wink “deviancy” of all sexuality, be it riajuu or minority. It may seem odd to the Western mind, but high levels of Japanese literacy and cultural engagement, combined with the heavy hand of the state resulted in tons of important discussion on sexuality, gender and society being carried out during the twentieth century in sensational, lurid vernacular publications. Imagine if Masters and Johnson had to release their landmark sexuality studies in Real Man’s Manly Adventure Monthly, sharing space with “Flesh Eating Marmoset Attack!!!”.

manly man attacked web600

When he was not writing detective stories Hirai/Rampo spent time with his friend Jun-ichi Iwata, who appeared to have been determined to prove that a separate, long-standing nihon-jinron ‘gay in Japan’ tradition existed independent from contaminating Western notions of sexual and gender minorities.

“Another of his interests, especially during the late 1940s and 1950s, was bringing attention to the work of his dear friend Jun’ichi Iwata (1900–1945), an anthropologist who had spent many years researching the history of homosexuality in Japan. During the 1930s, Edogawa and Iwata had engaged in a light-hearted competition to see who could find the most books about erotic desire between men. Edogawa dedicated himself to finding books published in the West and Iwata dedicated himself to finding books having to do with Japan. Iwata died in 1945, with only part of his work published, so Edogawa worked to have the remaining work on queer historiography published.[12]”
— (per Jeffrey Angles, Writing the Love of Boys: Origins of Bishōnen Culture in Modernist Japanese Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-6970-7.) – Wiki enty for Edogawa Ranpo/ Rampo, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edogawa_Ranpo

… And here I do a bit of link following and lookie what turns up! A Cliff’s Notes summary of the whole ball o wax by Brad Borovitz, academic, cultural critic and conceptual/ software artist originally written back in 1993. (This is damn fine, take some time later and read the whole thing)

“Iwata’s friend Edogawa relates that he was completely disinterested in Western materials on sexology while Edogawa found them both fascinating and important. In fact, Iwata refused to treat the ethnographic dimension of homosexuality; but his relationship to ethnography is complicated. He did do other “ethnographic” work (such as a study of Toba area pearl divers) and was associated with minshukugaku (民衆苦学) especially through his correspondence with Minakata Kumagusu (南方熊 楠). If, as I assert, Iwata’s historical project is a response to a new sexuality that has everything to do with the West, his refusal is significant; it seems to suggest a reactionary positioning. It may represent a reaction against the ethnographic attentions of the West—Edward Carpenter (1911), Ferdinand Karsch-Haack (1906) and Magnus Hirschfeld, all wrote about the phenomenon in Japan —and an enactment of defiant self-definition, a “writing back”; or, it may be defensive appeal to tradition in response to the undesirable influence of Western notions of sexuality. In doing history, Iwata performs an implicit rebuff of a privileged foreign knowledge and in a claim for identity and consciousness absents the imposing voice of the West.”
— The Discourse on “Love Between Men” in Interwar Japan: Iwata’s History of Homosexuality by Brad Borovitz http://onetwothree.net/writing/discourse-%E2%80%9Clove-between-men%E2%80%9D-interwar-japan-iwata%E2%80%99s-history-homo

Unfortunately, there were not that many academic journals available to social anthropologists in inter-war Japan, so…

“Edogawa Rampo relates that Iwata spent a great deal of time searching in old book stores for sources and meticulously taking notes on his material before he ever wrote anything for publication. It was apparently at Edogawa’s urging that he published the series of essays called Honcho Nanshoku Ko, “Reflections on Love Between Men in Our Country,” in Hanzai Kagak, “Criminal Science [Magazine],” starting in June of Showa 5 (1930). This first series proceeded chronologically from the beginning of recorded Japanese history—citing the Nihon Shoki (c. 720) and the Shoku Nihon Gi (c. 797)—up to through the Kamakura era (1185-1333). Other essays, published mostly in the in the same journal, also covered the Muromachi era (1333-1573). He went on to publish, less systematically, work that dealt with the Tokugawa (1603-1868), but he tended to focus more and more on the literature of nanshoku, through collections of stories. His final work, never published in his lifetime, was Nanshoku Bunken Shoshi (男色文献書誌), “An Annotated Bibliography of Male Love.” The manuscript was finished in 1943, but it was not published until Showa 31 (1956). Nanshoku Bunken Shoshi is a 370 page long carefully annotated bibliography of all references to nanshoku in Japanese literature from the Manyoshu and early chronicles through the literature of the Edo period. Considering even just the scope and form of his project, it seems that a great deal of rhetorical force is collected behind an assertion that, as something that pervades the history and literature of Japan from the earliest time, nanshoku is thoroughly Japanese.” – Ibid Borovitz

Flying rodents ripped my flesh

Other vernacular publications at the time included “Sex-Customs Storybook Magazine”, “Sex-Customs Science Magazine” “The Grotesque Magazine” and “Hallucinatory Literature Magazine” (per,Jeffrey Angles, Index, Ibid, passim.) Rampo made his living writing demi-monde thrillers and critics argue that he went from cerebral detective fiction to straight pulp sensationalism very quickly.

“The prescriptive literature of Habuto, Sawada and other experts who offered their counsel to the officials of law enforcement and education, found another audience in the bored urban middle class. Valued for their ability to titillate with descriptions of deviant sexuality, these works became part of a growing underground culture of sexology, part of the era’s popular fascination with ero-guro-nansensu (エロルロナンセンス), erotic-grotesque-nonsense. Iwata’s work, published as it was mainly in crime magazines, may teeter on the line between these genres of academic sexological discourse and popular erotic interest.” – Ibid Borovitz

See also this short passage from Nippon Modern: Japanese Cinema of the 1920s and 1930s by Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano

Lets see if I can get the embed to work for Google Books:
http://books.google.ca/books?id=dIc0RBYMs9kC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA33

…Nope, darn.

Despite his “fall” the move proved popular and ultimately secured his place in the popular imagination. A flanneur detective who can slip through the seedy underbelly of Tokyo proved to be a durable creation.

http://www.zerochan.net/1721588#full

Recall as well from an earlier post how 1950’s discourse on minority sexualities ended up in pulp magazines:

“The second characteristic of the genre was the animated exchange that took place between specialist researchers, amateur researchers and the readers themselves. The hentai magazines frequently organised round-table talks where medical doctors, writers, readers and editors came together.[4] Here the discourse of modern medicine which categorised perverse sexual desires as ‘abnormal’ stood alongside testimony from people who themselves had interest in these marginal sexualities. This queer space of the hentai magazines, then, allowed the official scientific discourse of the sexologists to interact with personal testimony from people designated ‘abu’ [abnormal]. That is, these magazines themselves functioned as a type of ‘contact zone,'[5] in which hegemonic and subaltern representations encountered and interacted with each other. Hentai magazines like Kitan kurabu created readers’ columns that stimulated discussion about articles and encouraged exchanges between their readers. Such readers’ columns not only functioned as personal advertisements which offered people with the same interests the opportunity to meet, but also they enabled readers with different sexual interests to engage in dialogue together.” – ‘The Process of Divergence between ‘Men who Love Men’ and ‘Feminised Men’ in Postwar Japanese Media’ by Ishida Hitoshi and Murakami Takanori, translated by Wim Lunsing http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue12/ishida.html

The point of this excursion into pulp fiction is that like “Pulp Fiction” or better, “Blue Velvet” anything that did not lead a salaryman and a mom to raise normal offspring had one foot already into a strange and probably lethally dangerous hentai demi-monde.

So put aside this childish stuff, shape up, marry and reproduce!

The feminization of men and the masculinization of women and the neutered gender that results is a modernistic tendency that makes it impossible for the individual, the society, or the nation to achieve great progress. Accordingly, since the manliness of man and the femininity of woman must forever be preserved, it is imperative that we not allow the rise of neutered people who defy nature’s grace.
– General Ugaki Kazushige [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazushige_Ugaki], per Borovitz, Ibid

If you want more ero-guro nonsense in updated form, hunt out a copy of the 1968 film Black Lizard, directed by Kinji Fukasaku:

” The movie was adapted from Rampo’s novel of the same name by noted author Yukio Mishima, who also appears briefly in the film. The story pits the detective against a female mastermind, known as the Black Lizard, who is played by transvestite actor Akihiro Miwa. The film is considered high camp with its bizarre conventions and over-the-top performances but has a loyal following among fans and critics alike.” — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kogoro_Akechi

Yukio Mishima and his transvestite lover ??? Laplace’s cheesecake derivative is a pale shadow! Many years later this Black Lizard will re-appear as the voice of the witch in Howl’s moving Castle. Miwa is alive and well today and still getting TV gigs. The soundtrack was composed by the now-famous composer Isao Tomita [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isao_Tomita] who would later go on to score a slew of renown anime classics and collaborate with an orchestral composition for Hatsune Miku  [http://www.crunchyroll.com/anime-news/2012/08/27-1/hatsune-miku-to-collaborate-with-japan-philharmonic-orchestra]. Mishima’s  cameo in the film was as an embalmed corpse.

With Eng subs – https://youtu.be/5S1k9Uq-Zaw (hope it stays up for a while)

A little more digging turns up a bit more info on Rampo’s original Akechi character:

“Kogoro Akechi is a tall, handsome man with heavy eyebrows who dresses well. He is married to a woman named Fumiyo (文代) and lives with Yoshio Kobayashi, the leader of the Boy Detectives Club. Kobayashi often plays an important part in solving cases. Like his mentor, he is an expert at disguise and is especially adept at posing as a young woman. Aside from these relationships little is known of the detective’s personal life, which always takes a back seat to the mystery in his adventures.
[…]
Modern references to him can also be found in Gosho Aoyama’s popular and long-running manga series, Detective Conan. One of the characters, Detective Kogoro Mori is a persistent and courageous yet highly flawed and lecherous private detective—almost a parody of Kogoro Akechi. He has his cases solved for him by the youthful main character, Conan Edogawa. The name of young Conan’s elementary school detective club is the “Detective Boys”. Akechi himself is highlighted in volume 2 of the manga, in “Gosho Aoyama’s Mystery Library, a section of the graphic novels (usually the last page) where the author introduces a different detective (or occasionally, a villain) from literature. Further Akechi references can be seen in Aoyama’s other series, Magic Kaito, where a master thief who steals high-profile items for recognition.

Both Akechi and the Black Lizard are referenced in the Sakura Taisen series of video games and anime. One of the musicals performed by the Teikoku Kagekidan is Benitokage (“Crimson Lizard”) and features the title character, a criminal femme fatale, along with a handsome young detective named Akechi Kojiro. The manga and anime Nijū Mensō no Musume, or the Daughter of Twenty Faces, focuses heavily on Akechi’s arch-rival. Akechi himself is featured as well, but as a much more minor character. Akechi is also referenced in the character of Police Superintendent Akechi Kengo in Kindaichi Case Files, a popular detective manga series. In the media franchise, Tantei Opera Milky Holmes, Akechi is represented by a girl police detective named Kokoro Akechi.

Recently, a new Anime series entitled Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace has been created, based off the Mystery novels of Edogawa Ranpo, and in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of his death. The story follows Kobayashi (a reference to the leader of the Boy Detectives) who becomes assistant to eccentric 17 year old Akechi. In this Anime Twenty Faces also makes an appearance as a vigilante serial killer.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kogoro_Akechi

Back to Laplace and Kobayashi. Like the second iteration of the Genshiken, the point of view shifts to the otokonoko character; Akechi, the nominal hero is a grumpy cypher. Unlike Kenjiro Hato though, Kobayashi is a far more problematic character. Wake up in a pool of blood holding a hacksaw to find the dismembered body of your home room teacher nearby? “Wow! Neato, school was beginning to bore me!” When the case resolves, it turns out that the murder victim was himself a murderous pervert who in turn was killed by a jealous complicit almost-victim who suddenly was tossed over as the dead perv began to fixate on the beautiful but emotionally vacant Kobayashi.

What follows after this is a sad parade of child murderers, vigilante killers, sex crazed female criminal masterminds, industrial magnate sex cultists and other assorted freaks.

One wishes that this Akechi gets a Fumiyo to calm the whole mess down a bit.

Aside from Akechi and Laplace, the weird circumstances of the study in Japan of minority sexuality and gender expressions in the twentieth century remains. The first and for a long period thereafter, the sole comprehensive examination of historical Japanese homosexuality was midwifed/ or mid-husbanded by the formost pulp detective writer of 20th century Japan. The Legendary Professor Munakata also makes an appearance. There is a strong feeling that he is modelled on the famous Japanese folklorist/ biologist Minakata Kumagusu[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minakata_Kumagusu] [The Legendary Musings of Professor Munakata http://myanimelist.net/manga/24090/Munakata_Kyouju_Denkikou]

“The well know biologist and folklorist Minakata Kumagusu initiated a correspondence with Iwata about nanshoku after reading Honcho Nanshoku Ko in Hanzai Kagaku. The fact that Minakata read Hanzai Kagaku, and took Iwata’s work seriously enough to engage him in dialogue shows the degree to which popular and high culture were integrated and the extent to which ero-guro-nansensu was part of both. The correspondence lasted from 1931 through 1934, a total of 58 letters that take up over a hundred of pages in Minakata’s collected works. ” — Ibid Borovitz

The odd circumstance of the evolution of early Japanese sexology as topic for popular discussion was that it was often soaked in “Japan-ness vs foreign-ness”, the discourse of nihon-jinron. Faced with Western research that pathologized minority sexualities and/or wrote them as a symptom of societal breakdown, the historicist approach held the possibility of rebutting at least some of the wild claims that were beginning to wash up on Japanese shores. From the inescapable historic fact that throughout human existence some folks experienced same-sex desire and others felt that they don’t quite fit into how their genders were supposed to behave, all manner of mapping and other-ings can be invented to fit the whims of the moment. Years later, in the West, some theorists will throw up their hands as well and look warily at nature/ nurture, convinced that either or both approaches can and have been too often refashioned into crude cudgels to be turned upon the subjects of their speculations. A historicist approach instead normalizes, with a message of “it has always thus so been”. Only the tales that the nosy neighbours tell change.

What we are left with is a curious and long-standing tradition in Japan of using vernacular cultural spaces, normally the locus of cheesy stories, as contested space (or spaces) for competing views, interests and arguments over sexuality, gender and therefore identity. That this practice continues today, in the myriad spaces of Contemporary Japanese Visual Culture is part of a long running dialogue, and inseparable from the larger project of modernity. (1)

In this wider context, the common complaints levelled at otaku and fujoshi seem beside the point. We must wait to see what larger projects emerge from these hobbies.

The Genshiken lacks an ero-guro otaku, though I suspect that Rika is written as knowing most of the historical materials. The lack of guro even if there is sufficient ero is curious.

Bonus: Ero-Guro nonsense – with Yakuza!

Track down Branded to Kill and its over-the-top sexploitation yuri remake Pistol Opera
A video review:


[youtu.be/AvwBZQmRtKE]

 

(1) LATER: The approach taken in this post risks trivialising and sensationalising in a way that mirrors the tone of the pulp magazines that ended up serving as the informal channel for important social discourse. The point should not be lost that without these discussions and the localised historicist approach taken by Iwata et al., Japan might have been even more open to the extreme pathologizing impulses that characterized ‘western’ approaches. Pulps may sound cheesy, but there are far worse ways of discussing the lives of others and then putting them into little boxes.
Once more I must position myself; this is not my battle, I see only small parts of it and I will make clumsy mistakes. One would be to give the impression that ‘the west‘ pursued a more enlightened or scientific or principled approach to understanding and ensuring the rights of those with minority sexuality and or gender expressions. No. No we didn’t. We fucked up. We let the discussion be led by barbarians, idiots, bullies, thugs and charlatans, as we usually do in our ‘other-ings‘. For some reason, I tend to get annoyed, even worried when I find that the life-support systems on my section of the planet are being tampered with, or worse run by barbarians, idiots, bullies, thugs and charlatans. You would not want your airline pilot or surgeon to suddenly start announcing their ideas about how ‘those people’ are somehow ‘a problem’ and need to be ‘dealt with’ in mid-flight or mid-operation, but sadly this is too often the condition of past and current social discussion in my neck of the woods. A reminder of this effect popped up in a recent book review in Slate: A 750-Page Journey Through Gay American History (Review of Lillian Faderman’s The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle) by Victoria A. Brownworth
http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2015/10/02/the_gay_revolution_by_lillian_faderman_reviewed.html
I also suspect that the aforementioned barbarians, idiots, bullies, thugs and charlatans made good, well paid careers out of their mischief, as the current crop is doing. We live in a democracy, so we must liek it this way. Reading the review saddened but did not surprise me.

Outlander must save the Japans! pt2

Repent Alien Jones!

they-live-we-sleep3
.. But do you know WHY we sleep? (0)

.
Comiket is this weekend, I haven’t done up my review of the Spring 2015 mini-international-comiket that I managed to attend back in March. I was looking at my pictures and they are all kind of meh! I wanted to follow the rules and was too flustered at being completely unable to function in Japanese to sign-language-annoy table folk and volunteers for permission to photograph more than a couple of them up close. Almost all the pix are sweeping wide crowd shots of folk’s backs. Boring! I barely got to talk with anyone, because I suck speaking Japanese, didn’t push my luck and demand a minder/ interpreter (I wangled a press pass) and ended up completely overwhelmed. I also overloaded myself with gear and managed to get a mild scolding for plopping myself down on the grass out in back next to the garbage bins and sneaking a smoke. Gomen! How embarrassing. (there were plenty of Japanese style pariah pits in the front of the convention halls, but I was too bagged to trudge back to them, gehh! Outlanders, can’t trust us with anything… )

The critical anthology Fandom Unbound has an interesting chapter on Comiket and it could be integrated into a post…

There are also chapters on cosplay and rotten girls, and something that is hanging un-mentioned in the Genshiken-verse that needs some poking with a stick. Nidaime OVA #4; there I said it. No yuri here, no way, nope, not in the Genshiken. Lets change the subject fast. Quick, nudge Hato into a fugue-out, whew! 

But these will have to wait because…

I HAVE TO SAVE THE JAPANS !!!
(again)

Ah, is that so Commander? I really have to run...
…Ah, is that so Commander? I really have to run!

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Normally I would try to drop the idea onto some of the more well-known English-language blogs about life in Japan, something like the bitingly funny Japanese Rule of Seven, and hope they pick up on it but this is far too serious a matter. Comiket is upon us again, tourism to Japan is picking up, the Olympics are only a few years away and yet…

A specter is haunting Japan

www.youtube.com/watch?v=39MILG4txBk&index=1&list=PL4F3C1016A2216AB3

The specter of disappointing, weak canned vending machine coffee!

I’m serious! You can’t fool me, Alien Jones. Your coffee sucks! All Japanese vending machine canned coffee is piss-ant weak, tragically, disgustingly unsatisfying, homeopathic, cheap-ass, zero strength useless brown-ish dishwater water. (perhaps there are a few perc-into-a-cup style machines left somewhere in Japan, but mostly its canned coffe if you want coffee) Sometimes it smells coffee-like, but don’t let that fool you, your disappointment will only be greater. And I sooooo wanted to believe! Sure it comes in nifty heated metal cans. Sure it has coffee-looking pictures on the cans. Sure you can get a can for Y100-Y140 almost anywhere. Sure they have the world’s kewlest commercials for it: none of it matters if the coffee is weak swill.

Where I come from, we call it KITTEN COFFEE

…Where I come from, we call it Kitten Coffee

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This coffee is not acceptable and must be denounced! 
(4)

The crying shame of it is that Japan rally really knows coffee – almost in a biblical sense. They are very, very, very good at coffee – except when they put it in a can in a vending machine. They make coffee to die for; to die, have some dribbled on your cold corpse lips and resurrect for. Coffee at their Starbucks is better than coffee at your Starbucks and Japanese Starbucks coffee is middling good on the scale of what you can get in Japan. Sure you might end up paying Y500-Y800 a cuppa, but it will be a wonderful experience. I recommend the little chocolate cakee thing too, even if it runs you another Y1000.

13-FOB-FOOD-SPAN-articleLarge

More on this at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/magazine/13Food-t-000.html (also from whence the alluring pic above came from)

On the low-end of the scale 7-Eleven is pushing out brewed coffee in a big take-out cup for Y100, and all their stores have nice clean restrooms as well. No reports yet as to whether that Y100 cuppa has any guts though!

And we need to talk guts here.

Too_Much_Coffee_Man web600

Weak coffee is the world’s number one cause of salaryman burnout, falling productivity, depression and even suicide. The reason all those Japanese companies make their employees work 12-14 hour shifts is because everyone is so burned out and zombie-fied that they are getting nothing done. And when they need a lift? Hah! Nothing but a cruel disappointment! The entire breakdown of the Japanese family, the hellish hours, the absent breadwinner, the alienation and despair can all be attributed to weak canned coffee!

pain doesnt go away w600

Oh sure, weak coffee has its place; some folks have delicate innards or get the shakes after 10 or 12 real cups and might need to take it easy for the rest of the night. A few tormented souls may even find that coffee is not their cup of tea, but since this is Japan, we pretty well have the tea thing covered, neh? I will mention one more thing: every single co-worker or boss that I have worked with that made a fuss and insisted on weak-ass coffee in the workplace coffee-maker has turned around and stabbed me in the back. I shit you not. So it is not as if I am equating a preference for thin insipid pseudo-coffee with personal moral bankruptcy or psychopathic behavior but the coincidence leaves me cautious. Fool me once…

guess why you have a headache tag web600

I blame Coke!

Per, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/06/13/business/economy-business/suntory-gains-ground-battle-machines/#.Vcq8yOyrTdV

“”Back in the ’70s, one of Coca-Cola Japan’s regional distributors came out with one of the first canned coffees, Max, and when it tried to expand the brand, Coca-Cola in America wouldn’t subsidize it because it couldn’t understand the concept of coffee in a can. But when Max took off, the parent gave in and Georgia was born, as well as the whole canned coffee culture in Japan.

Boss, which Suntory launched in 1992, is now the second-biggest-selling line, and the company has invested a lot in trying to overtake Coca-Cola. In 2000, Boss sales were about a third of Georgia’s. Now they’re about two-thirds.”

Anyone old enough to remember American restaurant coffee from the 1970’s? It was just as miserable and weak as the Japanese canned stuff is now. Back then, unless you got lucky and found a pot of joe that had been slowly turning to tar on the truck-stop Bunn-o-matic all night (Ah! Heaven! 100-mile coffee!), a cuppa at the lunch counter would probably be a weak and foolish insult to the coffee gods, even if it came with free refills. This grievous bit of culinary malpractice must have traveled across the seas and settled in as a tradition in the Japanese market when Coke Japan started putting the joe in a can. While the Japanese are world-class at mastering whatever strikes their fancy, they are also sticklers for authenticity and tradition. Japanese vending-machine coffee perfectly recreates weak 1970’s mid-America lunch counter coffee. The very horror that brought about the 1980’s retail revolution in North American coffee consumption, launched a thousand Starbucks and infested entire inner cities with hipsters in its blowback still lives in every Japanese vending machine that dispenses canned coffee.

You can see how desperate a situation this is.

theylive2

Not that I have not been warned about the futility of using an English language outlander blog to gripe about Japanese practices, and not that I don’t take Matt Thorn’s heartfelt admonitions seriously (1) but what else can I do? The country I love to visit, the country of manga, anime, yummy food and she-who-up-with-me-puts is in peril! Dare I stand quietly by?

I am not suggesting that they destroy what some might now consider a Japanese tradition. The Japanese rebuild their temples every 40 years or so and they have been drinking weak-assed canned coffee for that long, so by now weak-assed canned coffee is probably as traditional as mikos piloting giant robots. But innovation lives side by side with tradition in Japan! Red Bull and native Japanese taurine energy drinks (that 3000 stuff is freaking amazing, but it ain’t coffee) are all over the shelves of their every-8th-storefront drug stores. (Drug stores in Japan; there are probably more of them than combinis) You just need to present decent coffee in a can as something new, possibly with a nifty manga or anime tie-in to give the market a long-withheld and well-deserved caffeinated boost. Our hero Too Much Coffee Man probably won’t work for Japan.  The traditional tough-guy manly man who prefers deeds rather than words is already maxed out. Boy-band members are wimpy. Wimpy we got too much of already.

A pro wrestler might be a good choice, or Murcielago, or both! Otherwise Japan is going to get desperate and start drinking the great lukewarm sticky evil: US-style Mountain Dew (2)

The Horror! The Horror!

Immediate stopgaps are possible: Alcohol free coffee liqueur in a can; Kaluha Free Zero (or would it be Zero Free?). Something built on the idea of espresso (although real espresso is strong on flavor and aroma, but curiously easy on the caffeine). Where is Starbucks when you need them? Given the “pedigree” of their name in Japan they would probably avoid rocking the boat and would make any canned coffee just as pathetically weak as everybody else’s. That’s the way things are done in Japan. You show respect for tradition.

Well screw that. Japan makes awesome coffee, in a cup. The best minds of the planet must be mobilized into cajoling the big Japanese beverage companies into sticking it into a thin little cans and putting it into their vending machines, hopefully by yesterday.

bebop coffee gif

There! I’ve done my duty. Hopefully the call will spread and the forces of righteous coffee enjoyment will prevail. We can all look forward to the dawning of a new age in Japan, and then slowly, inexorably across the planet as strong, tasty canned coffee becomes as well-know a Japanese innovation as cup-o-noodles.

For Great Justice!

Holy Shit! it’s almost 6am. How the &^%$& did I manage to stay up all night on this stupid post?

(0) Grrrr! Just noticed the ad-blocker and privacy plugins are suppressing WordPress photo captions and some of the embedded videos. So now I have to put the captions in the text and hope the formatting makes sense. Oh Lord give me strength!

(1) Matt Thorn’s blog is curiously down/ and/ or looks like it has been grabbed by a troll trying to sell foreign exchange trading tips. See this Japan Times post for a precis of his argument: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2015/01/11/voices/need-talk-japan-english/   So I might be outlander-complaining. No way, I am trying to SAVE Japan from the scourge of fake weak coffee that is at best a misapprehension of an American mistake, at worse a furreign corporate plot!

(2) Mountain Dew is made by a special process that absorbs ambient room heat so that it is always tepid. The Canadian version is not jacked with extra caffeine.

(3) redacted

(4) The tagline from a legendary story from around these parts. An old woman of apparent Eastern European extraction and somewhat military airs enters a hippy-ish coffee shop, sits down at a table, pulls out a thick commie book and notebook and pencil and then asks the server in a loud voice: “Is the coffee here acceptable, or must it be denounced?”

Much Later: Well, that will learn me!
Replying with a link to this post to a tweet by a famous Japan blogger and… got one of my worknyms banned from his twitter feed. I feel like… WhatdidIdo? WhatdidIdo? Jeesh, I really respect his work too. All I can figure is that it looks like he is having troll trouble and he may have mistaken me for??? Or, he really likes “mild” canned coffee of the Japanese vending machine variety and took umbrage. Or he has one that is strong andI inadvertently slandered it? Poor reporting on my part? What? I should develop a thicker skin, but i still feel weird the way it happened.
It cannot be helped.

 

Hic sunt dracones

If the Genshiken is a shadow or reflection of the contested approaches surrounding expressions of minority sexuality and gender in Japan, would we recognize it as such?
Or are these shadows fraught with their own problems?

Fantasy is fantasy and reality is reality intone the Genshiken characters as they dance to Kio Shimoku’s pen-strokes. When some of his readers and fans take his characters or his treatment of them as having real-world resonance it is easy to pull back and exclaim “only a character”. Too easy perhaps. I try to mitigate some of my impulses towards repeatedly raising the cardboard flag by harping on aspects of the internal story limits that Shimoku-sensei has deployed to keep things fuzzy enough that the story keeps rolling along. I use the term “liminality” a lot, perhaps a bit too much, especially with reference to Kenjiro Hato, the de-facto focus of the second generation of the Genshiken.

And then there is the whole “It’s different in Japan”, “No it’s not” argument.

Too bad I haven’t really done my homework regarding the real-world conditions for gay, lesbian, trans, queer and related folks in Japan. It’s undoubtedly complicated there, at least as much as it is complicated here. Their complications are undoubtedly different, but not too different. Anyways, why should I care? Not really my problem. Ok, I could glance at the cheat sheet…

The wiki for Homosexuality in Japan will only get you so far: Monks, Samurai, Kabuki, Takarazuka, Mishima, a local politician, whatever…

From the simple fact that some folks desire members of their sex or know that creation made a slip-up and that they don’t quite fit the gender that they were assigned at birth by virtue of the conventional view of their body bits, things get complicated. Kio Shimoku’s Hato, as all fictional queer characters that go beyond one-dimensional cliché serve an important role. We can displace some of our curiosity onto a cartoon character.

Dammit Kio Shimoku! When are we going to get to eavesdrop on a good long talk between Hato and …. someone(!), anyone… so that we can figure out where in the Hato continuum Hato-ness falls? This is important to us. Unless Shimoku-sensei has an even more ambitious project in mind; to gently nudge us towards the notion that whatever is not really that important: mind one’s own business, behave civilly, respect, and if inclined befriend and support the person, not the tag. Once they decide to clue us in on any personal stuff about sexuality and gender we can then recognise that they don’t eat kittens and that life is better, more interesting and more fun if everybody gets a fair shake, because folks is folks.

That might be a bit too hearts and flowers to fly very far, but it’s as good a place as any to start.

Speaking of flowers; no full-page floral background chara portrait yet! Sadness…

Why anyone would think a cartoon character can give us any insight into real lives is another question. Oh they do; it’s just that the life they give us insight into ain’t the one we thought we were reading about.

This is going to take some shovel-work…

“”The perspectives held by straight people and gay people on straight people’s “reactions” to gay people will be significantly different. Many straight people (not just in Japan) have a reaction that goes something like this: “I don’t mind the idea but don’t really want to have to think about it.” Whereas actual gay people (not just in Japan) would very much like to see others like themselves represented in media, in the public sphere, and in business.””

‘How Does Japan Treat Gay People?’ Quora Answer by Erica Friedman reprinted in Slate. http://www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2015/05/28/how_does_japan_treat_gay_people.html (1)

Allow me to further muddy the waters: I have a sneaky suspicion that few advanced late modernist cultures have “gay spaces” so “colonized” by straight desire as Japan has.

Plenty of straight boys and girls in Japan “really want to have to think about it”, but their ideas are a bit…. odd. Why they feel the need to make up fantastic versions of queer desire for their comic books and cartoons is at least three of the seven mysteries of this high school. Aside from the usual pervy guys who think that “lesbians r hawt!” – either for old-school pr0n exploitation or upgraded Loser Fan Boy/ Yuri Danshi interest; nothing new there to us Westerners – there is also the pervasive effects of 30+ years of fujoshi fantasies, which are now an established pop culture niche market. Western slash fans have nowhere near that kind of commercial influence. Then one can add the entire hobby crossdressing thing, plus the otokonoko/ jousou game genre to annoy anyone with meatspace gender fluidity concerns. A simpler term for the effect; one that carries a whiff of admonition is fetishization:

“Slash is usually written by straight women, yes, and I think it appeals to straight women in the same way lesbian sequences in commercial pornography appeal to straight men. I always say that if gay men and women didn’t exist, straight men and women would have had to invent us.”
Samuel R Delany

All of this makes for an elaborate, complex and fantastic queer-space of straight imagination that overlays the situation of real-life folks who are trying to find happiness, dignity, hawt fun and warm fuzzies in their lives. I suspect that western queer folks are going to get a whole lot more of this, now that many of the old prejudices are falling, to be replaced by cable networks sticking their ideas of queer into every new property they can think of.

Since this is all about “how they do it”, curiosity remains at a constant level across cultures. However western societal proscriptions against same-sex love and non-conforming gender identities must have until recently served to somewhat suppress representation and interest. In Japan, western categories of gay and queer identities were just so much more exoticism; like nuns in mini-skirts, Santa Claus, vampires and elaborate German layer cakes. Of course Japan had its own folks who liked folks of the same sex and folks who felt not quite comfy with the usual roles that came with their genitalia, but when you start trying to – categorize – ’em according to appropriated nifty outlander notions, things got… interesting.

So what has this to do with the Genshiken?

Kio Shimoku decided to play the Genshiken as a somewhat realistic ensemble story, albeit with light comedy and a few jabs towards fannish excesses. A fujoshi second generation Genshiken may have moved the goal posts a bit, but once Hato was dropped in, the story is now planted at the edge of much larger IRL concerns. At first it was all pervy straight boys, then pervy straight girls but now same-sex desire and gender identity are popping up in the Genshiken’s 3D (in-story “real) world, mostly because Hato, kun and chan wants to try on all kinds of neat ideas. That these ideas are a mish-mosh formed from the weird little stories that everyone was fanning out over can only lead to confusion. Thank the goddess that the rest of the club is not into fan-fiction about Morris dancing.

Is 3D queer desire going to destroy the Genshiken? Are happy endings or evenly distributed unhappy-but liveable endings possible? The first two Genshiken pairings were too easy, almost fated. The next one took a bit of work. This time there will be harem fallout and the possibility of circle queens or kings that could destroy the club. Can Otaku and fujoshi navigate complex personal politics of desire, sexuality and gender in contemporary Japan? Do they, as cartoon characters have to? How much preachy-ness and aspirational story line-ing will we get?

Will we as outlander fans be able to recognize it?

Time for a quick survey of the literature:

“…expressions of male-male sexuality in Japan, coupled with the fact that same-sex desire had multiple forms of expression in homo-erotic sub-cultures during the late 1940s and 1950s, prompts McLelland’s reflection that it is ironic for Western gay liberation activists to assume that all foreign locales have followed the same historical trajectory as they have, or that they alone can provide lessons on how future activism should unfold. While it is true that systematic processes of stigmatisation of same-sex love operated in Japanese society from Meiji on, one does not find an equation of homosexuality with evil in the same way as often occurs in Anglo-Saxon or Judaeo-Christian social and cultural contexts. The work of McLelland (2005), Lunsing (2003), Kazama and Kawaguchi (2003), and others remind us, then, that the foundational concepts of modern discourses of Western sexuality (“homosexual,” “gay,” “coming out,” “lesbian,” etc) evoke very different schemata and connotations in Japanese contexts; they bear new and originary meanings in translations and re-conceptualisations in Japanese language texts, and they exist alongside a wide range of “organic” conceptual categories of non-normative sexuality which can be drawn upon by participants within diverse textual and cultural forms in Japan. This historical overview can also serve as a reminder that “homophobia,” however we define it, exists in Japan in a way that is different from other locales, including those of Western cultural contexts. LGBT identifying individuals in Japan will evaluate the extent to which they want to employ or modify “Western” tactics to challenge inequalities wrought by homophobia, and to what extent they will draw on “organic” historical resources for the same purpose.””

‘Coming out in Japan A survey of attitudes among university students’ by Robert Ó’Móchain   http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/ejcjs/vol15/iss1/omochain.html

At least weird admonitions from the Book of Leviticus play little part in policy debates about public norms surrounding sexuality and gender in Japan. Japan worries more about a diffuse sense of Japanese-ness. Japan is at least as hung up on sex and intimacy as euroethnic societies but it expresses in slightly different ways. What is allowed in vernacular media by law and tradition is different enough to have spawned global commercial and gift-exchange networks to spread an ephemeral, local pop culture across the globe. Japan, as a non-judeo-christian late high modernist culture is our fave post-lacanian “Big Other” They are our “Rimmer from the double-double universe” with a few more doubles added. The are us, but not us, but they could have been us, and we might have been them. The urge to pick over their stuff for ideas we can swipe is irresistible.

Hit the search box up top for Adrian Piper again if you need more on this.

Normal variations in sexual preference go back through Japanese history as they go back through all human history. Similarly, whatever small statistical range of folks who felt themselves to be not exactly how society told them to be according to the private parts they were born with has probably been a constant all over the world since the paleolithic, but who cared what self-reproducing farm equipment felt? Plant and harvest or die. The few who could avoid agricultural servitude made up whatever they could get away with and if they were good at it, founded traditions. Or the survivors who mourned them did.

Japanese same-sex desire has adapted its public social manifestations to Japanese societal imperatives at least since Meiji times. Mercantilism? Colonialism? Militarism? We got a gay for that! Koha and Nampa stand out as examples on the male side. And then there is all of those outlander concepts to try out, appropriate and adapt. Some losses (or gains?) in translation are inevitable.

“Omit the reference to the unspeakable vice of the Greeks!”

‘Out Gays” or “Shameless Gays”? What Gets Lost, and What is Gained, when U.S. Queer Theory is Translated into Japanese?’ video of lecture by J. Keith Vincent at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=ko8-FFARvhw

Here is a consideration of the evolution of the public construction of identities surrounding female:female desire that touches on the western imports:

“From the groundbreaking 1894 translation of Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s
Psychopathia Sexualis, translation has played a key role in leading Japanese to reexamine, redefine and reconstruct their sexualities, making possible the establishment of Japanese queer identities and communities in their current form. That is, using borrowed but quickly localized words, concepts, and ideologies, some Japanese have constructed their ownidentity, whether rezubian, gei [gay], baisekushuaru [bisexual], toransusekushuaru [transsexual], toransujendâ [transgender], kuia [queer], or heterosekushuaru [heterosexual]. Even seemingly indigenous words for homosexuality such as dôseiai [same-sex love], and earlier variants, including dôsei no ai, dôsei no koi [both also meaning same-sex love] and dôsei seiyoku [same-sex sexual desire], are in fact translation words that—based on imported notions of sexual perversion (Furukawa 1994, 1995)—represent a shift from seeing (male) sexual desire in terms of “color”, joshoku [female color], desire for women, and nanshoku [male color], desire for men. Perhaps due to the number of loanwords or the distinctions that are often confused in public discourse about gender, sex and sexuality, many queer publications, including every issue of Anîsu, contain lists of queer vocabulary.35 These lists also serve to inculcate prescribed (imported) forms of queer discourse, deepening a sense of community. The words most commonly used today related to female-female sexuality in Japanese are rezubian and rezu, both of which retain pornographic nuances based on their use at least since the 1960s in Japanese pornography (McLelland, forthcoming). Chalmers (2002: 39) remarks that “[t]he connection of lesbianism with pornography is so strong that most women on first hearing or seeing the word rezu (lezzo) associate it with pornography […] denying lesbians a psycho-sexual identity in which to claim a social space in which to move.”
– ‘Telling Her Story: Narrating a Japanese Lesbian Community’ by James Welker http://www.dijtokyo.org/doc/dij-jb16-welker.pdf

More for the reading list:

The previously referenced, ‘Yaoi: Redrawing Male Love’ by Mark McHarry has a quick roundup of historical reference to same-sex desire in Japan, along with its early (2003) survey of the yaoi genre. Note also the footnotes at the end of the essay and appendix, see: http://archive.guidemag.com/temp/yaoi/a/mcharry_yaoi.html

‘The role of the ‘tojisha’ in current debates about sexual minority rights in Japan’ by Mark J. McLelland http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1213&context=artspapers

‘Death of the “Legendary Okama” Togo Ken: challenging commonsense lifestyles in postwar Japan’ by Mark J. McLelland http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2551&context=artspapers

‘The Process of Divergence between ‘Men who Love Men’ and ‘Feminised Men’ in Postwar Japanese Media’ by Ishida Hitoshi and Murakami Takanori, translated by Wim Lunsing http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue12/ishida.html

Wow, didn’t know the history of the term Hentai as applied to pop culture. Fake pop psychology noodie magazines after the war?

“The second characteristic of the genre was the animated exchange that took place between specialist researchers, amateur researchers and the readers themselves. The hentai magazines frequently organised round-table talks where medical doctors, writers, readers and editors came together.[4] Here the discourse of modern medicine which categorised perverse sexual desires as ‘abnormal’ stood alongside testimony from people who themselves had interest in these marginal sexualities. This queer space of the hentai magazines, then, allowed the official scientific discourse of the sexologists to interact with personal testimony from people designated ‘abu’ [abnormal]. That is, these magazines themselves functioned as a type of ‘contact zone,'[5] in which hegemonic and subaltern representations encountered and interacted with each other. Hentai magazines like Kitan kurabu created readers’ columns that stimulated discussion about articles and encouraged exchanges between their readers. Such readers’ columns not only functioned as personal advertisements which offered people with the same interests the opportunity to meet, but also they enabled readers with different sexual interests to engage in dialogue together.” – Ishida , ibid.

A policy prescription approach:

‘JAPAN: Discrimination against Lesbians, Bisexual Women and Transgender Persons; A Shadow Report, May 2009’
http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/ngos/Japan_LBT_May09_japan_cedaw44.pdf

A critical view of the Japanese situation from a blogger who regularly posts a roundup of gender and sexuality issue coverage, mostly but not exclusively concerning Japan and fandom:

“Here’s what this should say:

The Japanese don’t oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds in the same way conservative factions of religions do in other countries. This, of course, just goes to show how heterosexual-identified cisgender people of all nations use religion as a front for their own bigotry, because by removing the “cause” of the queerphobia (religion), we are left with nothing but small-mindedness and fear. Change has come slowly for LGBT measures in Japan partly because queer individuals are terrified of being fired or disowned and have basically no legal recourse other than adopting each other for inheritance purposes. While there isn’t a history of police raids or sodomy laws (which lasted 1872-[19? -moi]80) as in the US and the UK, the school bullying crisis shows that, while violence against adults isn’t to the same level, violence amongst children and bullying to the point of suicide are. So, while one might claim that the Japanese value harmony so much that the LGBT community hasn’t faced overt discrimination, the lack of legal recourse for individuals whose jobs, housing, children, and property are threatened by institutionalized queerphobia are still huge national issues that must be addressed. Shibuya has taken a huge step in the right direction, hopefully one that will spur the national government to action.””

– ‘Japan Gender Reader: April/May 2015’ from The Lobster Dance (blog); http://odorunara.com/2015/05/16/japan-gender-reader-aprilmay-2015/

What of transgendered people in Japan? On the surface it looks like contemporary Japan dealt with the legal accommodation of transgendered individuals quite simply and dispassionately, as a medical condition. Reports however indicate that social acceptance of transgendered people is still extremely problematic. Closer examination reveals that “legally transitioned” can only occur after complete SR surgery, a point that is often glossed over in popular discourse (that one caught me too, looks like I will be going back and fixing a few older posts) At least some schools are accommodating some youth, in some ways, if they get a doctor’s note, sometimes, because the central government suggests that they should, if they need to, and anyway they don’t want any more messy bullying-suicide scandals than they already have.

The first time I saw this, it looked like edgy comedy.

Dammit!

Here is PBS Frontline taking a serious look at transgender teens in the USA: ‘Growing Up Trans’;
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/growing-up-trans/
No idea what it is like in Japan, but it is good that this is available. It might help some young folks.

More:

‘The Stonewall Transgender Guide to Japan, Section 6: Trans-Pacific:
Differences between Japan and the West’ http://stonewall.ajet.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Transgender-guide-final-1.pdf A chatty informative intro to transgender issues in Japan as a resource to visitors, with an emphasis on community. Sections 1-5 are more of a what to do if you are, and in Japan.

More LGBTQIA info for outlander English teachers and other Japan neophytes here: http://stonewall.ajet.net/start-here/
More not-so-recent academic papers (ca. 2006), here:
http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue12_contents.html
The difficulties of research into “lesbian” communities in Japan,
some 15 or 20 years ago, A Pilgrim’s Tale:
My Queer Career: Coming Out as a ‘Researcher’ in Japan
by Sharon Chalmers, March 2002, Intersections.
http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue7/chalmers.html

UPDATE: (much later) The City-Cost blog, in a round-up of LGBTQ issues in Japan provided a link to
Takurei’s Room: LGBT experiences, resources and news from Japan
http://takureinoroom.com/
Informative,  tojisha, aware, looks like a valuable go-to.

Wow, that’s more than enough research at least for me, for now. Not even an undergraduate first year survey course reading list, but at least enough to get the beginnings of some idea of what is going on in Japan. Enough to squeeze past any initial “whoaah; don’t need to know any of this, it weirds me out”. “Weirds me out” as an excuse is kind of lame, embarrassing  even.

As the above point out, queer folks in Japan are working things through, while trying to get the gummint to smarten up and while working on ways to cajole everyone else into realising that the sky won’t fall if a kid gets two wise mothers, or fathers.

A few things work in favor of a Japanese “best practice” solution: Not only is there not much nonsense about the Thang o Leviticus, but big science seems to still carry some weight, or at least offer ammunition for pissing contests by blustering old guys in Japanese political debates. It looks good to be on the side of doing the scientifically right thing. As well, some writers have suggested that outcome in Japanese social forms are at least as important as the characteristics of the individual practice, so while much needs to be adapted and tested out, adaptation is possible. Disneyland is all well and fine; what will it take to get a Shinto shrine to innovate?

Finally, when looking to the rest of the world, there is the unexpected benefit of the United States as negative example (in the way that social issues become fodder for the culture wars). This effect works nearly all over the industrialized world. I don’t think Canada would have ever moved its slow sorry ass on marriage equality if not for the ugly negative examples set south of the border.

Fiat judicia et sniff at those crazy yanks.

Maybe the old guy pols who run Japan are so far behind that they won’t off-their-ass on legal rights until they see how the recent US Supreme Court ruling shakes out. Could they be waiting for a USA example? Does the sky fall? How comprador! The Canadian political elite used to wait until they could tell how the stateside winds were blowing, but they gradually dropped “wait and see” for “get it over with painlessly” from the 1980’s onward. One way to find out would be to scornfully ask…

Here’s the current American “best practice” consideration of gay identity – “sanctified” in a Supreme Court Justice argument:

” Immutability. Kennedy tosses this into his opinion, bizarrely, as a side comment. Referring to gays who seek matrimony, he says, “[T]heir immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is their only real path to this profound commitment.” Later, he speaks of “new insights” that have transformed society, including this one: “Only in more recent years have psychiatrists and others recognized that sexual orientation is both a normal expression of human sexuality and immutable.” Kennedy doesn’t elaborate on these remarks, but they’re huge. Immutability is the biggest difference between homosexuality and polyamory. Even the pro-polyamory law review article cited by Roberts in his dissent acknowledges that immutability is a crucial factor in identifying unjust discrimination against classes of people—and that “polygamists are not born that way.””

– ‘Chief Justice John Roberts says the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling paves the way for plural unions. He’s wrong’ by William Saletan
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/06/is_polygamy_next_after_gay_marriage_chief_justice_roberts_obergefell_dissent.2.html

Meanwhile “don’t rock the boat”, “Don’t disturb the Wa” Don’t frighten the horses”, keep it at home or for the weekend and for the rest of the time pay ritual obeisance to the ideals of public Japanese-ness. You might live with your same-sex life mate, date same-sex lovers, participate in various queer socials, do a marriage-looking thing at Disneyland, you may even be in transition or have transitioned legally to your current gender, but the threat always looms that at any time you will be stuck in the misfit sack. Not quite a member of an untouchable caste, but not quite up to all the demands and responsibilities of being a fully Japanese person who does being Japanese, the properly Japanese way. Something like a Halfu, a returnee or a third generation Japanese “resident” of Korean heritage. And your employer and your landlord can then jack you around because of this too. How convenient for them.

“”Japan is a society where you can easily live a ‘typical’ lifestyle, But Japanese don’t respect our real choice, our real personalities. As long as you are ordinary, you are safe in this society.” –Aya Kamikawa
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/05/02/1051382096188.html

Plenty of straight folks can no longer live up to that Japanese ideal of “ordinary” either. Plenty of everyone are falling through the cracks. The economy can no longer support the dream. The whole Japanese family and social law thing needs a massive overhaul otherwise there wont be anyone left to work the kombinis, rent apartments, pay taxes and take care of the grandparents. In the end, Japanese social obligations and the customs they spawned are pragmatic. The “do it this way” for having and raising a family is failing massively. Start with marriage equality or better, sex and gender neutrality for marriage and family law. Who gives a rats ass who’s a member of the family. If you have more married folks of whatever genres you have a better chance that someone will do the grunt work of raising kids.

Single-motherhood in Japan is a near-guaranteed trip to the poor house. Revising the anti-war constitution, making teachers worship the Emperor and dreaming of everybody marching around like good little 1930’s army cadets might make some wrinkled old boy pols feel really really happy, but it won’t stop the demographic crash.

Clean up or abolish the family register system. Legitimize in law some financially viable alternative to the salaryman-for-life and stay-at-home good-wife wise-mother fantasy. Fix the damn labour code so that folks can afford to raise kids and that kids can actually spend a few hours per week with their parents. Overtime, parent leave, wage and medical/ pension payment benefit floor levels with no sneaky part-time, training, contract and/or subcontractor weasel outs. The works.

This is not me blowing hot air. Folks in Japan who give a rats’ ass over social policy have been pointing this stuff out for the last 20 years.

I hope someone is working on it, even if they will probably have to work on it for free.

UPDATE:  ‘Japan LGBT group files human rights complaint in bid for same-sex marriages’  by Tomohiro Osaki
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/07/07/national/social-issues/lawyer-lobby-handed-lgbt-rights-relief-request-pursuit-legal-sex-marriages/   Note how a legalistic approach is being persued, with the request to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (JFBA) the nation’s biggest bar association to investigate the allegation and, if necessary, issue a warning to the central government to review its legislation.

Can we consider aspirational pop fiction like the Genshiken as part of the Japanese debate?

Quietly culturally appropriate emerging gender non-conforming and sexuality diffuse fujoshi Hato! So what if Hato gets or doesn’t get Mada. As long as no blood is shed, no one jumps off a roof, no quack therapists or religious nutters try to drag Hato (or the rest of the fujoshi members) off to “fix” them, no one tries to beat Hato to a pulp or screams at Hato and the rotten girls that GOD HATES FAGS, we can call it a win. The Japanese otaku social way, as exemplar of uneasy Japanese conformity that sometimes looks like civility and common sense, can be good.

Dont’cha just love a happy ending? I wonder how Takemiya Jin would write such a story?

Maybe Kio Shimoku will make things even more complicated.

He sure took a chance when he wrote Hato into the Genshiken. Did he have any idea he would get in this deep? Beyond the few guarded paragraphs in his latest interview, we can only speculate. Surprisingly enough, the more research I do on meatspace conditions surrounding sexuality and gender issues in Japan, the more I am struck by what a reasonable job he has done…

That sneaky so and so…

And he is aware of larger issues. A quick recap: a fujoshi membership doesn’t know any “real” out gay folk, as Saki chides. The echoes of the Yaoi Ronso debates, “it’s only you” and other mid-aughts pop theory surrounding fujoshi practice and queer issues. “Reading this stuff has to have some effect” (or does it?). Hato Hato Hato. What did I miss?

For all the embarrassed curiosity about queer-ish desire, one must acknowledge the fundamental straight-ness, the uneasy, yet pervasive heteronormativity of the Genshiken tale and its ‘tourism’ approach to Japanese queer concerns. Of course the characters are all nominally straight fujoshi and otaku boys and girls, as (I’m guessing) are most of the readers. If you poke Hato with a stick, both variants will embarrassingly mumble a straight-ish disclaimer. But the problem isn’t gay-straight or cis-trans, so much as fantasies of gay-ness and gender non-conformity. Everybody, when they bother has fantastic ideas about “the other”. The Genshiken runs on the play of how these are so important to the heart, but at the same time, so prone to clumsy misapprehension.

At the core of fujoshi fantasy is the idea that all males, because of innate male-ness are subject to the madness of uncontrollable lust and could at any moment, maybe, perhaps, suddenly go wild and pair off into seme and uke roles. And that by doing so they might finally, finally express some manner of dramatic, romantic displays of love, desire and longing and negotiated inter-dependency; what they are too effing lazy, privileged and thick to offer towards women.  “Gay” seems to be secondary to an essentialist view of males and their propensity to go berserk in interesting ways when confronted by strong feelings. If either or both of them were already gay, it would be somewhat less interesting. (but could still be ok if the drawings were hawt). A crit-speak way of putting this is “erasure of gay identity” but queer concerns are secondary to the curiosities and frustrations of the nerdy fangirls. Meanwhile the loser fanboy brigade has plenty of ideas about why and how “lesbians are hawt” and all of them are constructed for our entertainment. So all Japanese lesbians are either amazingly sexy cartoon fanservice babes, butch and femme and/or so emotionally wise and caring as to be able to work out any painful conflicts and disappointments that pop up. Except for the cheerfully psycho lesbian version of the BFG!

Even with a such a starting point, lookie where the Genshiken has dragged them, as it has dragged me.

Shimoku-sensei has been both skillful and lucky; he has not yet created a ridiculous, insulting or overly fantastic character. Some minor bits of Hato rankle, some are tiny plot contrivances and fancies (the Stands), but all in all the design and engineering is sound and durable. Not flashy, not revolutionary; good quality workmanship. The Nidaime anime could have blown it all by losing the nuance with too much otokonoko hijinx & Stands vibe, but it squeaked by. Fans continue to get sucked in and keep reading. Above all, there is tension in the Hato character, between the fantasy space of the Genshiken and the in-‘verse real world and between approaches to “resolving” Hato and within the self of the character that, if taken too much further would tear the character apart in an analogous ritually performative echo of the very tensions within the contested spaces of minority gender and sexuality identities in Japan. (whew!)

Hato is no simple ototkonoko joke chara, or a fantastic crossdressing heroic lead. Hato chan and kun are not tragic or despairing, Hato has interests and works towards them. Folks try to work things out, hard won personal growth occurs. There will be some conflicts and disappointments and mistakes ‘o plenty, but joining the Genshiken was a good thing for Hato Kenjiro. And Hato is good for the Genshiken, by in-‘verse measures alone.(2)

I wonder if Japanese fans who seek to advance the rights, status and acceptance of gay and trans folks are writing fan letters to Shimoku-sensei, praising him for what he gets right, gently offering suggestions that would improve the product and, most importantly, refraining from sanding him over some small quibbling point of imported political correctness. Be gentle with the mangakas – don’t scare them, they can be useful.

Lets see if he can do more.

Keiko seems to be itching to take a few pokes at Hato. I hope that it just won’t be a jealous girls’ competition.

Perhaps Keiko should take Hato to an okama bar.

If “the adversary” won’t highlight the contradictions, who will?

.

(1) Once again Erica-sensei nails it with deft economy. “Icon” !!!  No escaping it now. Congratulations on your acclamation!!!
Also interesting from the essay page: ‘Persuasion and Opinion in Pop Culture Fandom – Are We the Cart or the Horse? The Persuasive Power of Popularity’ http://www.yuricon.com/essays/persuasion-and-opinion-in-fandom/

(2) It is a wonder that the Genshiken isn’t swamped with new membership applicants, the loser club rep is now stretched thin. One pro mangaka, another one or two soon to follow, an acclaimed semi-pro cosplay cadre, very interesting members, solid alumni support (one recent sempai a rising talent at a game studio). Not too shoddy.

Off Topic:

‘Sherlock and the British Actor Boom: ‘Regifting’ Female Fandom in Japan’ by Lori Hitchcock Morimoto
https://www.academia.edu/13126858/Sherlock_and_the_British_Actor_Boom_Regifting_Female_Fandom_in_Japan?auto=download

More Off Topic:

Thomas Baudinette has recently been doing interesting research on the premise that Japan’s diffuse gay communities have begun to make a grudging peace with some aspects of fujoshi fantasies. Whether as “gateway drug”, “emergency substitute” or even quick “feels” fix. The last of these is probably the sneakiest, because guys have a limited range of strategies available to deal with the recognition of their own weaknesses: Ignore, do research or go Liddy (as in G. Gordon, who was famously so afraid of rats that he set out to conquer his fears in various over-the-top ways). Oooops, going overboard here, in any case some folks who happen to be guys who like guys, in Japan, are beginning to find BL and yaoi not too annoying. A short presentation:
‘Gay manga” in Japanese Gay Men’s Life Stories: Bara, BL and the Problem of Genre‘ by Thomas Baudinette. (you may have to reg yourself at Academia.edu as an “independent researcher” to access/ save the full paper – Do it, it is free and there’s lots of good stuff there).
https://www.academia.edu/11591779/_Gay_manga_in_Japanese_Gay_Men_s_Life_Stories_Bara_BL_and_the_Problem_of_Genre

Even More Off Topic:

Another neat thing: the blog post; ‘The Homoerotic Requirement’ by Lori Hitchcock Morimoto in her blog ‘Some of us are looking at the stars’ points out a key POV shift in Japanese reception of the “Potter-verse” as opposed to that of Western slash fans. In simple terms, western fen-written slash fanfiction sees Hogwarts as a private high school. Japanese fen see ‘The Heart of Thomas’ and a long tradition of fantasy European boarding schools settings for pining and bullied bishie boys.
https://lorimorimoto.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/the-homoerotic-requirement/#more-205

Insight: if the above effect carries over to tales of soulful friendship between young women, then Anne of Green Gables must have just blown Japanese minds because the spunky girl heroine did NOT meet a tragic end.