Japanese sexuality and recalibrating your gay-dar

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.

Remember Sailor Moon? The lesbian relationship between Sailor Neptune and Sailor Uranus was censored in America. Also, the show never finished because of transsexuality in the later seasons.

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.

Hosts from this fascinating documentary, “The Great Happiness Space.” This was 2006, but you’ll still see a lot of the same things – hair and accessories.

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.

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2 responses to “Japanese sexuality and recalibrating your gay-dar

  1. I heard the same in an Eastern Studies class I took. Japan is very traditional, and still a bit xenophobic towards other asian nationalities. There’s also a trend of kids/teens who lock themselves up in their room permanently, due to school pressures or problems with social integration.

    • Japan’s culture is really multi-faceted. It’s the most convenient, safe and technologically advanced place I’ve ever experienced, but there are so many issues foreign to other cultures. Yeah, one of my coworkers used to do social work specifically for re-adjusting these really “otaku” kids/teens who turn into adults who don’t even know how to take money out of the bank… and other mundane things. As for being a xenophobic nation, I find that on an individual level, they aren’t. They’re just used to stereotypes so they make assumptions based on that, but they really are the most gentle, polite people. On a national level, they still fear integration that threatens their precious homogeneity. However, they need to get over that because they need younger workers to immigrate.

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