Japanese sexuality is starkly ironic. To an outsider consuming exported Japanese media, they’d probably expect Japanese society to be filled with crazy fetishes (#hentai #tentacle porn?) and a wide appreciation of gay/ transexual themes seen in popular manga/anime. An attraction to the later is probably why many foreigners I meet in Japan are gay or accept that culture.
However, my gay friends find that they have to hide their sexuality. The reason is because Japanese society is actually extremely traditional. An admission of gayness risks social respect and jeopardizes career ambitions. It’s just one of the contradictions within the Japanese sexual realm. Another contradiction is despite being notorious for kinky pornography, actual sex between a man and a woman is supposedly
lame tame. The girl is expected to lay lifeless like “maguro” aka tuna fish, not moving at all.
The biggest confusing contradiction Westerners face is determining who is a gay man. An American tourist walking down a busy Japanese urban area would probably spot a few “flamboyant” looking gentlemen and think, “surely these men aren’t hiding their sexuality…” But we must dispose of all preconceived Western notions about how gays behave. Because in Japan, you’ll be very mistaken.
Let’s apply two big western stereotypes of gays to Japanese society:
1. Gay men care about fashion
Well, in Japan most people try to dress well. Fashion is definitely more important here than in America because it caries a higher social value. Straight men enjoy shopping for the right style just as much as women do and style sub-cultures are also quite distinct. You see a lot of the same things seen in America, but Japanese people usually take it up a notch. For example, on hip-hop club nights, an outfit I keep seeing is: a snap-back cap, high-top sneakers, gold chains and sunglasses. Most men don’t dress this way, but accessories and the right sartorial aesthetic are definitely a bigger deal here.
2. Gay men are girly
When I said style sub-cultures are quite distinct, the most baffling style to American eyes is gyaro-o. “Gyaru” is the Japanese pronunciation of “girl” and “o” is for 男 (otoko), meaning male. In other words, this style features girly men. The typical Japanese guy doesn’t dress like this, but you’ll definitely see a few of them because they stand out with dyed hair, long bangs, flashy accessories and pointy shoes. An emulation of Japanese “host club” style, this is considered quite heterosexual. Honestly, I’ve never met a girl who was into that style, but a lot of girls pay money to hang out with these men.
Of course a lot of generalizations were made here. Plenty of men don’t apply to either stereotypes across the ocean. In both societies, I’ve met gay men who dress terribly and straight men who are feminine (female power!). Anyway, the sexual contradictions within Japan are just one of the many baffling things I find within this country. I can understand how kinky fetishes arose in such an overworked, repressed society. But gayness and gender sexuality will forever be a mystery within Japan.