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.
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.
Not cool, Pretty fucking typically vicious. I guess that humans behaving badly is endemic to our condition. But then, so was lice.
Have some depressing manga:
Here are some highlights from the report:
(Tokyo) – The Japanese government has failed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students from school bullying, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Japan has a bullying prevention policy, which is up for review in 2016 amid a growing national debate on equal rights for LGBT people.
The 84-page report, “‘The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down’: LGBT Bullying and Exclusion in Japanese Schools,” examines the shortcomings in Japanese government policies that expose LGBT students to bullying and inhibit access to information and self-expression. Bullying is widespread and brutal in Japan’s schools, yet government policies addressing bullying do not specifically address LGBT students, who are among the most vulnerable to bullying. Instead, the national bullying prevention policy promotes social norms at the expense of basic rights. LGBT students told Human Rights Watch that teachers have told them that by being openly gay or transgender, they are being selfish and should expect not to succeed in school.
Full report in pdf form:
School bullying is notorious in Japan and has been for decades. For LGBT kids in particular, the harassment, threats, and even violence in schools can be unbearable. School policies don’t adequately protect these students. At best, teachers are confused about how to handle LGBT bullying; at worst, they take part in it. Although same-sex marriage is being debated in Japan, the shortage of real LGBT role models is so stark that kids turn to gay manga characters for inspiration and very basic information about gender and sexuality.
Looks like Fujoshi Rumi, Sasameki Koto and the Genshiken got at least one thing right. Folks with minority sexualities and/or gender expressions in Japan had best get good at Judo.
Where do LGBT kids find their information?
Most of them turn to the Internet and to comic book characters. The “Boys Love” genre of comics have gay characters, but they are mostly read by young girls, and the characters aren’t taken to be real. When kids came out to their classmates, their classmates said, “Oh, we thought this was something just in comic books.”
What the comic books captured was the isolation these kids felt. Many kids we spoke with said they knew the characters weren’t real, and that they wanted more real role models – not ones based on fashion.
So you had some created.
We took the stories of four people we interviewed and made them into comics. We hired the first openly gay manga artist, Taiji Utagawa, to do it.
The comics in this report tell the stories of specific individuals Human Rights Watch interviewed, using their own words to describe their experiences. In a few instances the artist added language to provide necessary context. © 2016 Taiji Utagawa
Of course, butt-insky activist NGOs have a habit of raking up problems all over the place and are professionally committed to wa-disturbing on a global scale.
Everyone knows that the harmony of the Japanese social is at best a polite fiction and at worst a horrendous lie but they also know the terror of the unknown that lies behind it is as real as sudden and catastrophic destruction. Perhaps the educational bureaucracy needs to throw a virgin into a volcano before enacting any changes, so petrified are they of any change.
Japanese schools continue to promote conformity and harmony over individualism and rights. The national bullying prevention policy calls bullying a human rights violation, but then promotes moral education on social norms as a bullying prevention measure. The concerns and needs of individual students get lost. “Bullying can happen to anyone” becomes bullying will happen to anyone as required to frighten everyone else into blind, strict obedience.
Geh! this smells like the Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors of the 1930’s. Ultra-nationalist pols are still fighting over getting supposedly lefty teachers to stand and sing the “Kimigayo“. Hooray for all marching together! “Duty is as heavy as a mountain, while death is as light as a feather“. Except when it comes to the duties and responsibilities of pols and bureaucrats.
Pity that all those neato fantasy Japanese high school manga and anime are now such an important part of your economy. How does your Cool Japan sell all those happy stories when the reality is proto-fascist violence and lethal neglect?
The manga testimonials were undoubtedly done as part of a communication strategy. They also read as an inadvertent grim rebuke to all those happy fantasy-inclusive manga and anime high school tales. I wonder if kicking the educational bureaucracy and the pols hard in their Cool Japan might provide some incremental benefit in any upcoming push to address their utter, criminal failure.
At least, all fans should see this and know this. It should be inescapable.
Such behavior from teachers left students in a vulnerable position. As Akemi N., an 18-year-old transgender male bisexual in Okinawa said, “If the teacher had any knowledge, I could have gained positive knowledge about myself instead of so many questions all of the time.” Instead, he said he learned about gender and sexuality mostly through comics he could find in local stores—an increasingly common medium where LGBT issues are discussed openly. A researcher studying the use of manga cartoons in lieu of comprehensive sex education observed that while “teen manga and magazines have taken up the slack and provide young people with a wide range of information about sex … those informal sources of sex education prove confusing rather than instructive.”
The point of all this relentless grimness is that our favourite manga and anime might be innocently abetting some powerful desperation and nasty behaviour, if only by accident and omission when it deploys its fantastic characters. Even Kio Shimoku, with his “sorry, I’m not either…” approach to Hato’s diffuse gender expression and desires might play a bit part in “fetishsizing” real minority gender expressions and sexualities. The author’s fujoshi collective are of course built to highlight this problem even as they try to edge around it. Kio-sensei has made it clear that he sought to avoid entanglement in real-world LGBTQ+ issues. Perhaps he needs to modify this approach and apply a small nod towards corrective realism or even idealism; as in the light rom-com hyper-shoujo teachable moments that Usotsuki Lily’s creator deployed when she dropped a slightly more “real” trans-girl character into her fantasy safe-space “crossdressing-lite” comedy.
Saki alone mentioning that the Genshiken fujoshis are unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable with real LGBTQ+ folk is no longer enough.
The point of calling out this kind of violent ignorance is not just touchy-feely “social justice”, it is an economic imperative. Violent stupidity and authoritarian notions of social conformity, like fraud and corruption are a drag on the economy and a wound to a modern, creative-capital driven mass culture. Crypto-authoritarianism provides short-term gain to a few well-placed individuals while it fools the rest into digging themselves deeper into unproductive holes. It produces nothing. It destroys everything it touches. If it worked, North Korea would be the richest county on the planet. Even the current Japanese government grudgingly admits as much, at least as they try to paper over a few overt manifestations of bigotry and hysteria in preparation for the 2020 Olympics.
What happens when the fujoshi project runs smack into the problem of complicity with the fetishization of real-world gay folks, especially vulnerable teens? Some accommodations are going to have to be worked out. Some western slash fen transpose their fantastic rapey gay fantasies further into fantasy-space. Make them all super-powered gay werewolves! Unfortunately this does nothing to de-mystify real-world folks who just so happen to… etc. Clearly there is a lot of work to be done.
Think of it as a market opportunity.