1 Japan refuses refugee status for gay Iranian 4/04 (see #6 of 2003 News & Reports)
April 12, 2004
Japan refuses refugee status for gay Iranian
Tokyo – A Japanese court yesterday rejected a request for refugee status from a gay Iranian man who claimed that his homosexuality would be grounds for the death penalty if he was sent back to his homeland. It was the first case taken by a Japanese court dealing with a person who had sought refugee status citing homosexuality.
The Tokyo District Court said the 40-year-old man’s sexual orientation was not grounds enough to grant refugee status. "In Iran, he has been concealing his homosexuality. Therefore, the possibility is slight that he would be persecuted at home," presiding judge Yosuke Ichimura said.
The man came to Japan in 1991 because of fears that he would be persecuted in his native country, according to court documents. The man was arrested by Japanese authorities in 2000 as an illegal immigrant, the documents said. Various international organisations, including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, have asked Japan to accept more refugees. Japan accepted 10,919 refugees between 1975 and 2000, according to foreign ministry figures, equivalent to less than 437 people a year.
September 22, 2004
Japan’s pioneer gay magazine giving way to cyber sites
Tokyo – Japan’s pioneer gay magazine "Barazoku (Rose Tribe)" is to close down after helping homosexual males come out of the closet over three decades, its editor said. "With the spread of Internet sites, they don’t need printed magazines like ours any longer," said Bungaku Ito, who launched the country’s first magazine for gay men in 1971 when homosexuality was a taboo subject. "We cannot sell it like we used to do," the 72-year-old editor said, adding that Barazoku’s circulation has plummeted to some 3,000 from its peak of 30,000. Some 1,000 people used to write personal advertisements in a special section every month but the number has dwindled to only 100 with the advent of matching services through the Internet and mobile phones, Ito said.
"We have also suffered from the arrival of copycat magazines. But what’s worse is that people don’t read printed words so much as they used to," he said. Ito said he had no plans to expand his crusade through other media. "But I have always counselled gay people that homosexuality is nothing abnormal or perverse and I will keep doing so," he said.
Japan in the Footsteps of Yukio Mishima-Yukio Mishima stands as a giant in gay literature, and his controversial legacy can still be explored in modern-day Japan
by Tom Baker
On November 25, 1970, paramilitary leader Yukio Mishima stripped to his loincloth and knelt on the floor of Gen. Kanetoshi Mashita’s office in Tokyo. This was not an act of supplication, as the general had been bound to a chair by Mishima’s followers. From the balcony of the office, Mishima had just made a speech exhorting members of Japan’s weakened postwar military to rise up and exercise real power. They had laughed.
Nonetheless, 45-year-old Mishima was where he wanted to be–at the center of attention. He had forced the nation to listen to his political views. His tanned and muscular body was on display and, with the help of his young lover and follower Masakatsu Morita, he was about to spill a great deal of blood. His favorite themes came together in this final moment. Using all his strength, Mishima drove a foot-long dagger into his side, slicing open his abdomen. That done, Morita was to behead his master with a sword. It took him several strokes. But the result was the same, and the younger man followed the older in death a few moments later.
With Mishima’s demise, Japan lost not only a controversial public figure but also a 20th-century literary giant. A prolific novelist, essayist, and playwright, he had been talked up as a likely candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Much of his work, including the autobiographical novel Confessions of a Mask, explored gay themes. Writing is usually a solitary pursuit, but Mishima was no pale inmate of the library. A gym bunny ahead of his time, he loved to pose for outrageously staged photos and appeared as an actor on stage and screen. Of course, his final act is the one that is best remembered.
The room where it happened is still there and can be viewed on public tours of the Japan Defense Agency headquarters. You can actually touch the notches Mishima’s sword left in the edge of a door frame during the initial takeover of the office.
Outside the room where he died, Tokyo–especially its gay side–has changed a great deal since the novelist walked the city’s streets. But some of Japan’s hills and forests are the same today as when he saw them and wrote about them decades ago. The intrepid queer traveler can delve into the Land of the Rising Sun with Mishima’s work and legacy as a guide. You may even find a state of Zen peace in Japan’s far corners that eluded the illustrious writer.
The city–especially his native Tokyo–is where Mishima was most at home. His best description of Tokyo, from a gay point of view, is the novel Forbidden Colors, written in the early 1950s. The story begins when Shunsuke, a rich old heterosexual misogynist bitterly disappointed in love, takes a beautiful young gay man named Yuichi under his wing. He trains Yuichi to be his instrument of revenge against womankind, a breaker of female hearts.
For the rest of the book we follow Yuichi on a series of adventures involving women in the open and men in secret. Gay life in Tokyo as depicted here was notable for cruising in parks on one hand and orgies in the homes of the rich on the other. In the space between those extremes Mishima depicted a few dreary bars. But Mishima knew a bit more than he revealed. His friend Henry Scott Stokes wrote in the 1974 biography The Life and Death of Yukio Mishima that around this time the novelist was frequenting a bar called Brunswick in Tokyo’s Ginza district, where he liked to dance with one of the resident female impersonators.
Ginza today is home to the most highly cultured gender-benders you’re ever likely to see–the onnagata, men who play women’s roles in the all-male world of Kabuki. The most popular place to take in a Kabuki show is at Ginza’s Kabuki-za Theater, where headphones providing an English commentary on the performance are available. To view the proceedings in an emotionally vulnerable state, be sure to first read Mishima’s abysmally cruel short story "Onnagata," the wrenching tale of a Kabuki actor whose gay backstage romance is viciously sabotaged by a jealous bystander.
Not far away you’ll find the genders re-reversed at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater, where an all-female troupe plays the male and female roles in stage productions known for costumes gaudy and glitzy enough to make Liberace emerald with envy.
Mishima described his own work in theater as "a jolly party" and delighted in the thought "that I, as a playwright, governed and manipulated all these theatrical worlds." Brought up by a doting aristocratic grandmother, Mishima was well aware of his genius. He agreed to an arranged marriage that appeared to work well, but as Scott Stokes describes him, Mishima "carried two swords."
He seemed to clearly prefer men who fell into "two very distinct types: the tender, elite school-type intellectual student with a taste for literature…and swarthy, hirsute men–gangster types." Mishima had an intense relationship with his deathmate, Morita, but in the end, as with many a great gay man of history, the real love of his life was most likely himself. Mishima’s worship of the physique and his own image was legendary. It’s no coincidence that he turns up as a flawless human statue at the end of the 1968 cult film Black Lizard.
Mishima’s old haunt Brunswick is long gone, and the gay scene has shifted elsewhere, notably to the Shinjuku Ni-chome area. The 2004 edition of the annual gay bar guide Otoko Machi Map lists 236 Shinjuku bars where like-minded men might share a drink. Walking through the area’s narrow streets, though, I am struck at how effectively this social wealth is hidden. Most of the bars are small places that can be cozy once you find them, but they tend to be tucked away in basements or on upper floors, with discreet signage out front. Now, as in Mishima’s day, the closet remains a major Japanese institution. Racism and sexism are two more institutions that have yet to be swept away, as most bars are limited to certain genders and infuriatingly polite notices such as please, foreigners refrain from entering still crop up here and there.
Scott Stokes informed me one afternoon, "Mishima worked like a reporter. He went to examine landscapes with a notebook in hand." It shows, especially on Kamishima, the remote fishing island Mishima renamed Utajima and made the setting for his sweet heterosexual romance novel The Sound of Waves. In the turbulent Pacific outside Ise Bay, Kamishima is reached by ferry from the port of Toba (about 45 minutes from Kyoto or four hours from Tokyo). Toba is the birthplace of Japan’s cultured pearl industry. The whole circumference of the island can be walked in a couple of hours, and the atmosphere is sunburned and callused old Japan, a far cry from designer-label Tokyo.
Mishima’s novel opens during octopus season, and stacks of octopus pots were the first thing I saw at the pier. I began my visit by washing the salt spray from my eyeglasses in the stream from the village spring where heroine Hatsue fought off an attack by the book’s villain. The shrine where hero Shinji offered his humble prayers was under renovation, but the lighthouse whose keeper he befriended looks much as it always has. Built in 1909, it is only 36 feet tall, but it stands atop a 340-foot cliff beside which hawks swoop near enough to show you the patterns on their feathers. In the woods on the far side of the island is the abandoned Imperial Army observation post where Shinji and Hatsue had their fateful tryst one stormy night. It is not as cozy as I had imagined, but it is definitely the place. I was literally walking in Mishima’s wake.
A less remote spot to appear in his work is Kamakura, Japan’s capital from 1185 to 1333 and an easy day trip from Tokyo. In his novel Spring Snow, two young men named Honda and Kiyoaki are hiking through the woods along a ridge above town when suddenly they catch sight of the bronze Great Buddha in the valley below. This 37-foot-tall, 750-year-old statue is a must-see for any Kamakura visitor. The precise view described by Mishima is hard to find–the forests may be thicker now than in the postwar decades when he knew this place–but you can still catch a glimpse of the back of the Buddha’s hairdo from the Great Buddha Hiking Trail, which starts near Kita-Kamakura train station and ends near the entrance to the Great Buddha’s temple.
One stop from the Great Buddha on the picturesque Enoden streetcar line, near Yuigahama Station, is the house where another queer Japanese trailblazer, Nobuko Yoshiya (1896-1973), lived. An author of lesbian romances, she resided for decades with her "secretary," Chiyo Monma. Their home is now a museum, open to the public only a few days a year. But the museum’s signage scarcely refers to Monma at all.
As for Honda and Kiyoaki, their relationship as friends appears to end with Kiyoaki’s untimely death. But then on the novel’s last page, he makes a deathbed prophecy: "I’ll see you again. I know it. Beneath the falls."
The falls are far to the south, near the even more ancient city of Nara, Japan’s capital from 710 to 794, and an easy day trip from Kyoto. Nara boasts a Great Buddha even older and larger than Kamakura’s. The more than 50-foot-tall, 1,250-year-old bronze figure is housed in Todaiji temple, billed as the world’s largest wooden building. Nara is also famous for sacred deer that wander at will and have a Hindu-cow-like ability to halt traffic. Mishima studied at Nara’s many religious sites, and in 1966 he stayed at Omiwa Shrine, 30 minutes south of town by train, where he practiced misogi (Shinto water meditation) beneath Sanko Falls. He then wrote a scene in the novel Runaway Horses, a sequel to Spring Snow in which an older Honda sees a youth bathing in the falls and becomes convinced he is the reincarnation of Kiyoaki.
Hidden hundreds of yards into the forest, the falls are reached via the Sai Shrine, one of several smaller shrines on Omiwa’s sprawling grounds. You pay a priest $3, leave your camera behind, and don a thin white Shinto robe. On the hike in I was enchanted to see dozens of tiny frogs, smaller than peas, hopping along the path. Later I would see half-dollar-size freshwater crabs scampering across the forest floor in search of refuge as heavy rain swelled the creek below the falls.
Sanko Falls is just as Runaway Horses describes it, except that now much of the flow from the top of a small cliff has been channeled through a dragon-head spout. Thanks to the rain, a torrent of latte-colored water was exploding from its mouth as I disrobed in a primitive hut and climbed the few remaining steps.
Formal misogi is done in a white loincloth or robe, but such garb is not strictly necessary. Honda did it in everyday underwear. The falls pummeled my scalp and shoulders with its muddy fists and ran its cool fingers down my back. With my eyes closed and my hands pressed together I prayed for a while as the earthy but clean-tasting water ran over my face. Then I turned around for a view of the quaintly dilapidated hut and the forest beyond. Finally I looked straight up into the rain coming down from a soft oval of sky amid the ancient trees and thanked whomever for this beautiful moment.
As a character in Runaway Horses explains, "When the falling water strikes a man, it clears his head. That’s what makes it a religious exercise." Feeling lighter, happier, and more awake, I naively wondered how Mishima could have such an experience and go on to commit gruesome suicide a few years later.
Of course, you can’t step into the same waterfall twice, and my own joy eroded as I returned to the city in wet clothes.
Baker is an editor at The Daily Yomiuri, an English-language newspaper published in Japan. He has lived in Tokyo since 1997.
There’s a scene in the Mishima novel Forbidden Colors where the elderly schemer Shunsuke invites his young protege Yuichi to examine some antique scrolls in his private library. They turn out to be gay sex manuals. Tufts University professor Gary P. Leupp has seen similar scrolls: In writing Male Colors, a study of homosexuality under the 1604-1868 rule of the Tokugawa shoguns, he found that "nearly 600 extant literary works of the period dealt with homoerotic topics, and that at least seven of the 15 Tokugawa shoguns…had well-documented, sometimes very conspicuous, homosexual involvements."
The shoguns sat at the pinnacle of a samurai culture in which male homosexuality was routine. Leupp traces this back to the Buddhist monasteries that dominated Japanese society before the rise of the samurai, places where "monk-acolyte sexual relationships [were considered] proper." Following that pattern, many powerful samurai also took young male proteges and attendants to bed.
Such relationships did not rule out heterosexual activity, as contemporary Japanese writer Shogo Oketani saw while doing research for a historical novel. "Bisexuality was in fact the norm for Japanese men from samurai to ordinary citizens," he wrote.
Westernization had much to do with the disappearance of this relaxed sexual attitude. Today, Oketani pointed out, even the popular samurai dramas on TV de-gay the past. They often include female prostitutes as characters, but almost never show the also-common male ones.
But for a quality slice of Japanese pop culture that does not shy away from such themes, rent the 1999 movie Taboo. Set in the twilight of the Tokugawa era, it’s a tragic love story among the ranks of the samurai. That the lovers are all male is a nonissue.
Move Over, Pokemon!
Two paranormal sleuths fall in love while battling vampires and a lecherous madman. A teenage boy turns into a girl when he comes into contact with cold water. A lesbian android develops a crush on a robot she calls "Big Sis."
Meet the queer denizens of anime (a term used outside Japan to describe Japanese animation). In a homogenous culture where sexuality is considered a very private matter, these characters–stars of Gravitation, Yami no Matsuei, Ranma, and Steel Angel Kurumi, respectively–hold exotic appeal for an ever-insatiable gay (and straight) audience.
Many anime films started life as manga (comic book serials). One of the most peculiar crazes among Japanese schoolgirls is yaoi (pronounced "yah-oh-ee") — manga that focuses on love between young men. Marketed to women, these titles cover a wide variety of genres, from giant robots to high school romance. Japan’s most successful yaoi magazine, June (pronounced "ju-nay"), sells twice as much as Japan’s top gay magazine, Badi.
You’ll find rows of yaoi at Tokyo’s Mandarake store (Beam Building, 31-2 Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku; 011-81-3-3477-0777), with a separate sections for yaoi (a.k.a. "boys love"). Staff often dress as manga characters and perform onstage.
(Dial 011 before all telephone numbers) Expensive: The characters in Lost in Translation didn’t seem to enjoy their stay at the Park Hyatt Tokyo (81-3-5322-1234, $426-$908), but if you’re not having an existential crisis you should find it comfortable. If you can’t afford to stay, stop in for English-style afternoon tea at the 41st-floor Peak Lounge. Moderate: The Shinjuku Washington Hotel (81-3-3343-3111, $109-$290) is a businessperson’s hotel with compact rooms a couple of blocks closer to JR Shinjuku Station.
Inexpensive: Get some tongue at Isshin (2-1-2 Koishikawa, Bunkyo-ku; 81-3-3815-7418; $6-$12), which serves this succulent beef part raw, boiled, fried, grilled, and in other ways. Moderate: Who’s Foods (1-3-16 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku; 81-3-5291-8352; $13–$36) boasts vaguely Balinese decor and a menu of mainly Southeast Asian and Mexican cuisine as interpreted in a Japanese kitchen. Expensive: The seafood restaurant Ikaya (1-4-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; 81-3-3344-0291, $25-$54) is worth visiting in the winter months just so you can brag about having eaten shirako (cod semen), served raw, grilled, or as tempura.
For a cultural experience involving minimal dress, check out Snack 24 (2-28-18 Asakusa, Taito-ku; 81-3-3843-4424), one of many gay establishments in the riverside Asakusa neighborhood. The dress code in the back room is fundoshi loincloths (the staff will be glad to instruct you on how to put them on). Tokyo’s largest gay district is Shinjuku 2-chome, home to the basement bar called GB (2-12-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; 81-3-3352-8972), the best-known gathering place for the city’s English-speaking gay male population. A quieter spot is Backdraft (2-10-10 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; 81-3-5269-8131), a cozy, rock-walled den. Inside Arty Farty (2-11-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku; 81-3-5362-9720) you’ll find dim lights, thumping music and decor that marries the tastes of Georgia O’Keeffe and Morticia Addams. The mint beer tastes rather like mouthwash, but surely you can see the benefit in that. Women should check out the English-speaking Chestnut and Squirrel (3-5-7 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku; 81-90-9834-4842), a Wednesday-night-only lesbian bar in Shibuya.
Take in a Kabuki show at Ginza’s Kabuki-za Theater (4-12-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku; 81-3-3541-3131), where headsets provide an English commentary. You’ll find the genders re-reversed at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater (1-1-3 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku; 81-3-5251-2001), where members of an all-female troupe play the male and female roles in productions known for Liberace-like costumes.
The new gay travel portal at Japan Airlines, one of Asia’s top carriers, features special fares to Japan and cities throughout Asia, and includes exclusive package tours for gay and lesbian travelers. Win a trip for two to Japan by completing a short survey, located on the homepage (through Jan 31, 2005). JAL offers direct flights to Tokyo from New York, Los Angeles, Honolulu, and Chicago. To make a reservation call (800) 525-3663.
18 April, 2005
Turning Japanese–the East Asian alternative gives an intriguing insight into a culture steeped in history and tradition
by Lotte Jeffs
27-year-old Chris, a graphic designer from London, spent a year discovering the joys of the Japanese gay scene in Osaka and Tokyo after studying the language for his degree course. Chris, a fan of Japan’s music, art, culture and people was the perfect person to fill me in on the finer points of the country’s gay-etiquette before I headed eastward-ho myself:
‘Homosexuality isn’t treated in a particularly negative way in Japan’, Chris explains. ‘For a start there’s not the same religious background as there is here, so you don’t get so much animosity generally. I think it’s more that the gay scene is quite hidden – it exists freely, it’s just not really talked about. You don’t tend to get mixed gay and lesbian dance clubs like you do here, partly because going out dancing is not as big an activity, but also because the men and women’s scenes are kept very separate.
Gay bars will have a specific purpose. People go out to eat or to karaoke if they want to meet friends. Gay bars are where you go to pick up; that’s why the idea of gay men and lesbians wanting to go out together doesn’t really make sense to them.
The gay sex industry works pretty much in the same way as it does here. There are male equivalents of geishas that can be hired as hosts, but saunas are the main thing – they’re everywhere!
I encountered a couple of what I presumed to be gay porn Manga comics when I was living in Osaka. But they were about men having relationships in a very romanticised way; a man comes and whisks another man off on a horse, they have long, flowing hair and sit and watch sunsets together. I found out that these comics are written for girls. Gay male porn for straight girls is a big industry in Japan.
I went to some great monthly gay nights in Osaka and Tokyo, which are worth looking out for, as a much greater variety of people turn up. They did this whole ‘shag tag’ thing, but it was really detailed – there were all these symbols you had to wear to indicate your type. And then, when you wanted to post a message to someone you had to fill out this questionnaire saying, ‘I came from this place… I’m wearing this today… I’d like to meet you here… I’d like to talk about this…’
Although I didn’t appear to meet anyone’s exact specifications that night, I was getting the kind of attention I had got used to. There are certain stereotypes about western guys having big dicks and I quite often got groped!
Some men are interested in western guys, but the majority are really only into other East Asians. In the UK we call white guys who go out with young Asian boys ‘rice queens’, in Japan they call guys who fancy English men ‘potato queens’."
According to Chris, a lot of what we know and expect from a western gay scene may be lost in translation, but the East Asian alternative gives an intriguing insight into a culture steeped in history and tradition while ever negotiating its reputation for progression and forward-thinking.
Homosexuality in Japan – the hidden gay and lesbian experience
Vagueness, blurring of lines, ambiguity, possibility: these are some of the clichés that tend to spring to the Western mind when addressing the topic of sexuality in Japan. How much of it is wishful and how much of it is cultivated by Japanese themselves is debatable. It is a fact that samurai were pederasts, that kabuki is a theater of cross dressing, that to Westerners many Japanese boys and men – physically and/or behaviorally – seem to exhibit typically ‘feminine’ traits: all leading to the common impression of outsiders that Japan must be a basically gay friendly society.
Unfortunately for gay Japanese men, little could be further from the truth. The issue on which gayness founders in Japan is marriage. Traditionally, getting married is seen not so much as the next step after falling in love, but more as a duty to maintain the family name. Any claim that sexual preference makes marriage impossible is seen as ‘selfish’ and is to be sacrificed to the demands of duty. Like most of Asia, Japan is a highly conformist society, and refusing to marry is a mark of egregious nonconformity. Being openly gay in Japan only rubs the fact of this nonconformity in, making for an environment where gay Japanese men rarely venture out of the closet – at least before night falls.
Being ‘out’ is an idea that has yet to come of age in Japan, and at present is a luxury allowed those only who support themselves or are in positions where ‘it doesn’t matter’. Conversely, however, sodomy is not a crime. (It was legislated against briefly at the beginning of the country’s Westernization process, but the law was quickly repealed). Also, as mentioned above, Japan has its own comparatively recent tradition of homosexual junior/senior relationships. One writer on the subject says:
‘one of the fundamental aspects of samurai life was the emotional and sexual bond cultivated between an older warrior and a younger apprentice, a love for which the Japanese have many names, as many perhaps as the Eskimo have for snow.’
(See the book ‘The Beautiful Way of the Samurai: Native Tradition and Hellenic Echo’, http://www.androphile.org/.
Also see the book ‘The Great Mirror Of Male Love’ (http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0804718954/soccerphileco-21/202-5228586-4001437)
Even today, a casual observation of Japanese males reveals a lot more touching, horseplay, bonding and open displays of male devotion and intimacy than are generally tolerated in English-speaking countries. While for men of equal status outright sex may nevertheless be taboo, tales abound of ritualized homosexual activity (often, admittedly on the knife edge of affection and abuse) between initiating older members of a group and receptive younger members – most notably in high school sports teams and the like.
Also, for all the lack of any concept of sin attached to sexuality, an uptight prudishness between men and women often prevails which makes homosexual relationships all the more likely. Furthermore, since the 1980s portrayals of sympathetic homosexual characters have been plentiful in popular entertainment – albeit for the sense of soppy, wistful ‘loneliness’ they are made to symbolize to an overwhelmingly female audience (especially comic books).
All the same, expressions of distaste of homosexuality are by no means absent. It seems that asking the tradition of pederasty in Japan to stamp its approval of modern ‘out’ gayness is still asking a little too much. Making an open lifestyle of a till now strictly in-group phase of a certain form of male social bonding may well be too close to the bone (so to speak!) It must be added, however, that any such distaste encountered does not go as deep as the morally tinged abhorrence often encountered in the West. The majority of Japanese are still fairly ignorant of things gay, and are probably more likely to respond to gayness with confusion, dismissal – or plain curiosity – than with blatant negativity. Generally, Japanese men do not feel constrained to prove their straightness in the kneejerk, homophobic way often encountered in other countries.
Make new friends
In the kind of environment where being gay is not considered 100% ‘real’, it is natural that a very large number of gay people do get married. But in a country where marriage is as much a business relationship as it is a personal one, this does not pose an insurmountable problem. The more anonymous areas of the male gay scene, (cruising, sauna, and internet), are full of gay and bisexual men locked into straight marriage.
For the casual gay visitor to Japan, however, all he or she will see of the gay scene is its minute tip-of-the-iceberg ‘out’ manifestation, i.e. the world of gay clubs and bars. The Tokyo scene (http://www.japanvisitor.com/index.php?cID=357&pID=306&cName=Japan%20City%20Guides&pName=city-guide-tokyo) is the exception to the adjective ‘minute’, but only because anything represented in a metropolis of such overwhelming size is, in absolute terms, bound to be big.
Tokyo’s gay center is Shinjuku 2-chome (pronounced ‘sheen-joo-koo-nee-cho-may’) and Osaka’s (http://www.japanvisitor.com/index.php?cID=357&pID=302&cName=Japan%20City%20Guides&pName=city-guide-osaka ) is Doyama-cho (‘doh-yama-cho’) in the Umeda district. But even here the gay scene is probably not what the Western visitor will be used to.
The vast majority of gay bars are – given the price of land – tiny holes in the wall with regular clientele. While they may be curious about a foreigner and ply him with questions, the group mechanics are such that, with everyone knowing each other, it can be very difficult to pick up. If you are looking to practice your Japanese and/or observe Japanese group behavior, you might try a small bar. Be advised, however, that even Japanese gay guys off the street are not usually welcome at hole-in-the-wall joints. With space at a premium they cater pretty much exclusively to the johren (i.e. ‘regulars’). Anyone looking for a hook up is advised to go to a bar, club – or sauna – that welcomes foreigners and where the atmosphere is freer and more anonymous.
An aspect of the gay scene in Japan that sets it apart from most others is the level of specialization. Japanese in general are very focused in their preferences and desires, and in the gay scene (as well as the straight scene) this translates into the word sen, an abbreviation of the Japanese word for ‘specialty’ (senmon), used as a suffix. For example, gaisen (into foreigners), debusen (into fat guys), garisen (into skinny guys), fukesen (into old guys), etc. Therefore it is likely that any bar you walk into will be devoted to a particular ‘sen’ (‘preference’ or ‘kink’), possibly compromising your chances – not to mention the fact that you could well be taking up one of the few seats in the place better meant for someone else. It is therefore a good idea to seek out the gaisen (‘foreigner friendly’) bars or dance clubs (see link below) if you’re looking to enjoy some intimacy.
A tip: if chatting up a man in Tokyo, one question to avoid is ‘What part of Japan are you from?‘ Almost anywhere outside Tokyo is considered irredeemably ‘hick’, and questions that might touch on it are like a bucket of cold water on a potentially blissful denouement.
Click here (http://www.japanvisitor.com/jc/gay_japan/gay-listings.html) for links to foreigner-friendly gay and lesbian bars and clubs in Japan, as well as useful Japan-related gay/lesbian web links.
10 August, 2005
Tokyo Pride relaunches for August 13-14; Asia sees gay resurgence
by Ben Townley
Tokyo’s Pride celebrations are to be resurrected, as countries across Asia push for more lesbian and gay events. Tokyo’s main celebrations have not taken place in the Japanese capital for three years, with organisers warning that the “logistical burden” of the event led to plans stalling at every opportunity, the Kyodo News agency reports.
However, they hope the new event will help unify the city’s lesbian and gay communities. "We haven’t set a unified slogan, but are expecting thousands of participants united in their common cause as sexual minorities and their supporters," Hideki Sunagawa said.
He added that the Pride event would also help raise awareness of lesbian and gay people.
Elsewhere in Asia, recent Pride successes have seen a flush of new events being launched. The continent’s first lesbian film festival launched last week in Taiwan, featuring 31 films from 10 countries.
Last month, Asia’s first LGBT conference was held in Thailand, featuring more than 160 delegates from across the globe. The meet was intended to help ease problems faced by LGBT people from across the region, but also featured delegates form the Middle East, North America and Europe. "By bringing together Asian and Western researchers and activists our aim is to work collaboratively to ensure dignity and equal opportunities for Asia’s homosexual and transgender peoples," Australian conference co-organiser Associate Professor Peter Jackson of the Australian National University in Canberra said at the time.
It’s not all plain sailing however. Despite playing host to one of Asia’s biggest gay parties, Singapore has recently faced government blocks to planned events, including a ban on a gay singing duo who were due to appear at a HIV benefits concert and a block to a gay Pride festival, which was transferred to Thailand. Tokyo’s Pride will take place this weekend.
August 16, 2005
Japanese politician says she is a lesbian
A Japanese politician came out at Tokyo’s first Gay Pride event in three years during the weekend, calling for more understanding of sexual diversity in the country. Kanako Otsuji chose to come out at the high-profile event because she said too many people had kept "silent" in the past, fearing "discrimination and prejudice."
" By declaring I’m homosexual, I would like to highlight the problems and put an end to a vicious circle of discrimination and prejudice," Otsuji said, according to the Kyodo news agency. Otsuji, 30, is a member of the Prefectural Assembly in Osaka, the country’s second-largest city. Tokyo’s event was the first after a three-year hiatus in Pride festivals.
Those behind the event said this year’s celebration would be a chance to celebrate Japan’s lesbian and gay community, as well as raise awareness among the nation’s mainstream population. More than 3,000 people attended Tokyo’s Pride events, which were centered in the city’s central shopping districts. Otsuji is due to publish her autobiography in Japan later this year, detailing more aspects of her sexuality and her coming out.
September 14, 2006
Japan city’s move to change pro-gay law draws ire
A Japanese city’s plan to amend a precedent-setting local law on gender equality and discrimination against homosexuals has set off protests by activists who say the law is being watered down. The plan coincides with growing concern among conservatives about a breakdown in traditional values, worries that prompted the government to include a caveat against trying to erase all sex-based differences in a gender equality plan last year.
The local assembly in Miyakonojo, a city of 171,000 some 900 km (560 miles) southwest of Tokyo, this week began debating a revision to a 2003 city law that explicitly bans discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation. Proposed changes to the law, called the "Law for a Gender Equal Society", would revise a sentence that reads: "In a gender-equal society, human rights should be respected for all people regardless of gender or sexual orientation."
The new phrasing would be: "In a gender-equal society, human rights should be respected for all people." City officials say the change would make the law, which comes to a vote on Sept. 22, easier to understand. " We feel that by saying ‘all people’ it’s understood that this includes everybody," said Meiko Kawasaki, who is in charge of gender equality. " As we see it, our position hasn’t changed," she said, adding that the city will issue a guidebook on enforcing the law saying there should be no discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
Activists, however, were outraged.
" We do not understand the reasons behind this at all," said Kanako Otsuji, a prefectural assembly member from the western city of Osaka and Japan’s first openly lesbian politician. " If it were clear that discrimination no longer existed, that would be one thing. But people are afraid of what they don’t understand," she said in a telephone interview from Miyakonojo, where she planned to meet city officials.
The international organisation Human Rights Watch issued a letter addressed to Miyakonojo mayor Makoto Nagamine on Thursday protesting the revision and urging the city to reconsider. " Language affirming equality on the basis of sexual orientation has been part of that ordinance since 2003," Scott Long, director of the group’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program, said in a statement from New York. " Its proposed removal … would send a damaging message that your community is regressing from the promise of equality."
Contentious from the start, the law was enacted late in 2003 by a vote of 13 to 12 after prolonged debate under a previous mayor, who was voted out the following year, media reports said.
After Miyakonojo merged this year with several neighboring towns, officials agreed to review all previous laws and held hearings to gain input from local citizens. No members of women’s groups or gay and lesbian groups were invited to take part in the hearings, Kawasaki said. " From the point of view of human rights, all people are included (under the law)," she said. "There’s no change in this."
A city official said no penalty is specified for breaking the law.
November 2, 2006
Drawn Together: The surging popularity of yaoi—graphic boy-on-boy comics—might be the genre’s downfall
by Eliza Strickland Village Voice
(Editor’s note: This article appeared originally in SF Weekly) http://www.villagev oice.com/ news/0645, weekly,74919, 2.html
The ponderous glass chandeliers dim in the hotel ballroom as the emcee takes the stage in front of a chattering crowd. It’s past 10 on a Saturday night, and time to give the attendees what they’ve been waiting for since the convention began on Friday afternoon: "fanservice. " "I know you’ve all been having fun so far, because there’s been a lot of discussion of DICK," the announcer says, with a grin for the crowd. "There’s also been some discussion of COCK. But the primary topic of discussion has been about . . . " — he holds the microphone out to the audience.
"BUTT SEX!" shriek almost 2,000 women, rearing up from their chairs. This isn’t a convention of wild, wanton sodomites, however; these women aren’t clamoring to perform the act themselves. Instead they want to see, read, and think about the man-on-man version. The event is Yaoi-Con 6, an annual gathering of those who live for yaoi — Japanese comics that tell stories of beautiful young men falling desperately, passionately in love, and often having enthusiastic butt sex. The twist is that the comics are created almost entirely by women artists and writers for an audience that’s primarily female, satisfying a craving that few knew existed. Each October, the most dedicated fans pay $60 for a weekend pass and often travel across the country to gather in a pair of bland hotels across from the San Francisco International Airport for "a celebration of male beauty and passion," as the convention’s Web site explains it.
The genre bubbled up in the United States as an Internet-fueled, underground fan phenomenon over the past decade, and began seeping into the mainstream only in the last three years, when importers and publishers of manga — the umbrella term for Japanese comics — realized that the market was there. Since 2003, at least five new publishing companies or imprints have launched to bring English- language yaoi to the fans, and they say they can’t publish quickly enough to keep up with demand. The books are also becoming increasingly popular with preteens and teenagers, creating an audible split in the fan base: The word yaoi is pronounced "yah-oi" by those with some knowledge of Japanese, and "yowee" by the legions of young girls who discover it on the Internet before they’ve ever tasted sushi. While some older fans who’ve come to Yaoi-Con since its beginning in 2001 are irritated by the infusion of giggly youth, they’re concerned about more than just the expansion of a previously exclusive club: Underage fans put the genre as a whole at risk. Since mainstream stores like Borders started stocking their shelves with yaoi, it’s become much easier for teenagers to bring home books that look like harmless comics to their parents, but which often feature graphic sex scenes. The proliferation of young fans has already led to the shutdown of a few beloved yaoi Web sites when outraged parents figured out what their kids were looking at and started making threats.
While one should never underestimate the anger of a cultural conservative forced to confront gay sex, yaoi can also push the buttons of people who consider themselves open-minded. The broad genre encompasses a number of titles that go no further than light romance, but others deal with unsettling themes like rape, incest, and bestiality. Add in the fact that many of the boys drawn in the manga style look like they’re about 12 or are identified as being under 18, and it begins to seem like yaoi is inviting lawsuits. The genre has reached that difficult passage where many subcultures have foundered, in which surging popularity makes old fans feel uncomfortably crowded. But yaoi has an especially tricky course to chart: The source of its appeal, the touch of sexual subversion, also has the capacity to destroy it. The American version of yaoi has two antecedents, one on each side of the Pacific Ocean. The word yaoi is a dismissive acronym from the Japanese phrase "no climax, no point, no meaning." In Japan, critics applied the term to the amateur comics created by fans in the 1970s who took two male characters from preexisting manga and threw them together. Some of those first comics may have been short on plot or depth, but as the genre proliferated and talented artists got involved, the quality quickly rose.
For many Japanese fans, yaoi was a way to escape the confining story lines of shojo, manga intended for girls. In those books, the male almost always took charge, and if the female had the bad fortune to fall in love, she quickly turned into a blathering idiot. As the first yaoi authors began to gather fans, Japanese publishers helped some of them turn pro, publishing their work in magazines and manga compilations. The new stories were angsty and romantic: Boys fell in love despite their best intentions, and, after brief struggles with their feelings, plunged into deep, soulful bliss. The word yaoi is pronounced "yah-oi" by those with some knowledge of Japanese, and "yowee" by the legions of young girls who discover it on the Internet before they’ve ever tasted sushi. Meanwhile, in the United States, women were playing with slash fiction — that is, stories in which male pop culture characters hooked up (for example, Star Trek’s Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock). Yet yaoi and slash involve little casual sex. When couples couple, it’s an emotional maelstrom; even after a rape scene, the two men lie tenderly in each other’s arms and profess their love. It’s a visual treat with an emotional payoff, a dynamite combination for the ladies.
Untranslated Japanese comics began to arrive in the U.S. in the 1980s and ’90s. With the arrival of the Internet came a new labor of love — the "scanlation, " for which die-hard fans scanned each page of a comic and painstakingly added translations. To avoid such toil, Americans began writing English-language slash based on their favorite characters from anime (Japan’s animated TV shows and films) and manga. "Then Gundam Wing happened," explains Eliza Cameron, whose manuscript on the history of yaoi is being considered by a Berkeley publisher. In 2000, the sci-fi anime series about a team of teenage fighter pilots began airing on the Cartoon Network, and thousands of new fans ventured online to look for pictures of the cute heroes. What they often found instead was a slash universe that dedicated yaoi fans had already created around the Gundam Wing characters. "It was the ‘gateway yaoi’ of my generation," Cameron says.
In 2001, a small group of Bay Area fans threw the first Yaoi-Con, and about 450 people showed up to swap photocopied fan fiction and buy Japanese books. "All these people who had been in the closet came out," remembers 32-year-old Anneke, a fan who doesn’t use her real name because her family doesn’t know about her yaoi fascination. "When the dealer’s room opened on the first day, people were three deep, waving money in the air." Anneke — wearing, on this last day of Yaoi-Con 6, a bright pink wig and a red-and-black military outfit, meant to evoke the anime character Revolutionary Girl — came to the first Yaoi-Con without fully understanding what it was all about, and promptly experienced a revelation. She says, "I thought, ‘OK, that makes my life make sense now. I’m not a fag hag, I’m a yaoi fan!’"
Many others at the convention report having felt relief and delight similar to Anneke’s when they first stumbled on a community of yaoi enthusiasts, and then found their way to the convention. "First I felt disbelief, and then a sense of celebration, " Cameron says. "It was like, ‘You mean we’re all into this?’" But now that American publishers have brought what Cameron calls a "revolution" to yaoi — that is, more books and more fans — the glee among older devotees has faded somewhat. "I’m still amazed when I walk into Borders," Cameron says. "How are they going to deal with this? That’s our next hurdle: How do we get this into the mainstream without a huge backlash?" The source of yaoi’s appeal, the touch of sexual subversion, also has the capacity to destroy it. Such worries are on the back burner at the convention’s Saturday- night auction, the highlight of the weekend. Bishounen — beautiful boys — climb onto the stage, elaborately costumed as their favorite characters from manga, anime, and literature. If a character doesn’t already have queer tendencies, he gets some via a skit or song. Audience members pool their money or make injudicious use of their credit cards, bidding wildly for a few hours of companionship. Those without serious cash reserves rush the stage and tip the fellows, strip club-style.
The next three hours are a riot of stripteases, dirty limericks, and S/M skits. A Slytherin — perhaps Draco Malfoy himself, from the Harry Potter books — strips off his schoolboy outfit, down to bright green briefs. "Show us the one-eyed snake!" screams a blowzy woman, but the boy just smiles demurely. A mob of women rushes the stage to slip dollar bills into his waistband, and a girl dressed as the luscious and swishy Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean locks lips with the schoolboy, to the most piercing screams yet. In the world of yaoi fandom, everyone and everything is potential subject matter: popular movies, Pokemon, and even Friends (with a long leap of imagination) .
It’s nearly 1 a.m. when the final two boys go up for auction. A tall, well-built young man dressed as the despotic President Shinra from the Final Fantasy videogames struts about the stage in a white suit, beckoning a delicate Asian boy with a white rose. When the boy reaches tentatively for the flower, Shinra tosses it away and grabs his young victim. They’re playing the typical yaoi roles of seme and uke, which can be translated as "predator" and "prey," "top" and "bottom," or, most commonly, "pitcher" and "catcher." The two go up to bid as a package deal; the lucky winners will have the pleasure of their company for the rest of the night. "You don’t need to eat tomorrow; you don’t need to pay rent!" exhorts the auctioneer, a plump woman bursting out of a black vinyl bustier. "Multiple credit cards welcome!" The two boys eventually go for $700 to a team of young girls in schoolboy outfits, who jump up and down, squealing with delight at their purchase.
How will they fulfill their desires, now that they’re in possession of two of the prettiest boys at the auction? As with most yaoi fans, the girls seem more practiced in fantasizing than in fulfillment. For all the wildness of the auction, and for all the innuendo about what the winners would do with their bishounen, "President Shinra," whose real name is Devon Jacobson, later says that they had a pretty tame night. They went to the dance organized by the convention, "but it was hot and they were playing pretty bad music," he explains. So the group of girls just took some pictures together, snapped a few shots of the boys embracing, and drove around looking for fast food at 6 in the morning. English-language manga is one of the fastest growing segments of the American publishing industry. Sales of that category amounted to about $175 million in North America last year, around triple the sales in 2002, according to Milton Griepp, who tracks the manga and anime industries on his trade news Web site, www.icv2.com. National chain bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble are scrambling to find more shelf space for these hot-ticket items, and are installing benches and couches at which readers can lounge. In that context, yaoi is the success story within the success story: According to Griepp, a light yaoi series called Loveless is No. 5 on his list of manga best-sellers in the United States.
Yaoi’s success with its target audience has surprised even comic industry insiders. "When it was first presented to us, we were very skeptical," says Joshua Hayes, associate director of sales and marketing for Diamond Book Distributors of Maryland, the largest U.S. distributor of graphic novels. "Even though everyone told us that it was going to be sold to female consumers of a certain age level, we just couldn’t believe that was true. I was looking at the first volume, untranslated, and thinking, ‘There’s no way; surely this would sell to a homosexual audience.’" In fact, yaoi has collected only a small contingent of gay fans in America. "Here’s a personal take on it: I don’t think most gay men find yaoi very hot," says Justin Hall, who curated a show on queer comics for San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum earlier this year. "At least for me, I tend to like more masculine men. Most of the yaoi men are very androgynous, and just not hot," he says. Beyond the visual element, Hall says the stories don’t resonate with many gay readers: While many queer comics deal with themes like gay identity and the struggle to come out, yaoi almost always ignores such knotty issues. "It’s more about titillation and fantasy than about cultural context," says Hall.
Meanwhile, the girlish impulse to gaze at pretty boys is an old and powerful one. Within the yaoi tradition, the ideal bishounen is usually slender and pale, with a heart-shaped face and enormous eyes, like two fishponds. His smooth pectoral muscles are hairless, but his head is covered by a tousled and feminine mop, with strands that fall fetchingly across his face when he’s feeling shy. The genre’s appeal to women and girls isn’t hard to fathom: Put two of these pretty boys together on the page, and it’s double the fun.
Plus, the female reader isn’t forced to compare herself with some idealized girl or woman, because there are none. "I know what I look like naked," says one San Francisco fan, who goes by the name Betsy Tea (she preferred not to give her real name to protect her privacy). "I don’t want to have competition. . . . I’d rather see a couple of beautiful boys." Yaoi, then, is the female equivalent of the girl-on-girl porn made for straight men.
If one does feel the need to psychoanalyze the phenomenon, however, academics have arrived at a standard interpretation.
"It’s a way for young women and girls to explore sexuality without it being too intimately connected to them," says Susan Napier, a professor of Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Without a female character in the book, readers can choose which male character to identify with, instead of feeling forced into one role. "They can enjoy seeing sexual situations with handsome young men, and can play out different sexual scenarios without having to put themselves into it, so it’s less intimidating or threatening, " Napier says. Publishers do release yaoi works without the graphic sex scenes, which are intended to be more appropriate for their younger readers. Those sweeter, fluffier books are generally classified in America as shounen-ai, or "boys love." At the Kinokuniya Bookstore in the Japantown mall, the yaoi books stacked under the "English Language Manga" sign run the gamut. There’s Little Butterfly (published by June, out of Gardena, Calif.), in which the high school characters keep it clean on the page, sharing some passionate kisses and snuggles in bed, but leaving the rest to the imagination. One shelf over is the collection called …But I’m Your Teacher, an offering from Kitty Media in New York City, which includes the title story about an aggressive 17-year-old who seduces his sexy substitute teacher, an affair shown in intimate detail: Orifices are probed, and juices fly.
Girls flitter into the bookstore after school hours, and hang out on the benches outside the store on weekends. Cellphones jangling, they compare notes on what they’ve heard about various titles, and sometimes stealthily strip the shrink-wrap off a book to thumb through the pages. The books are labeled in an effort to clarify who should and should not be reading them: Some use "parental advisory" stickers, like hip-hop albums, others put age ranges on the cover, and a few limit themselves to a discreet "mature content" label in a corner. Managers at the bookstore claim they check ID if the customer looks young, but the girls say it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. "I just put my hair down and have my debit card out," says one girl, who claims to be 16. "I don’t think they care that much about it." The proliferation of young fans has already led to the shutdown of a few beloved yaoi Web sites when outraged parents figured out what their kids were looking at and started making threats. The convention Web site has a note and link posted prominently: "Why is Yaoi-Con 18+? See the California Penal Code 313-313.5."
According to that section of California law, it’s a crime to sell or exhibit "harmful matter" to a minor — meaning material that appeals to prurient interests, which depicts or describes sexual conduct, and which "lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value." The punishment for doing so is a fine of up to $2,000 and up to a year in county jail. And while the staff of Yaoi- Con is happy to make the case for the genre’s literary and artistic merits, the convention’s organizers have apparently decided they would rather not have the discussion in court. Some material at the convention does push the boundaries not just of taste, but also of morality and legality. On Saturday afternoon, for example, a small knot of viewers gathers in the video room for the screening of a short anime film called Papa to Kiss in the Dark. The glamorous, movie star father pushes his 15-year-old son down on the couch in front of a fireplace, and lowers his face toward his son’s crotch. The boy’s protestations die away — he has already admitted his desire to be "papa’s bride." The animators don’t graphically depict the action: In the "sex scene" a few minutes later, the image of a rosebud dropping from its stem fills the screen, and the viewers in the video room giggle. The young protagonist has been deflowered.
Yaoi is certainly not the only type of manga or anime to knock down sexual taboos. If you’ve watched enough anime, you’ve probably encountered "tentacle rape," in which an alien creature forces itself upon a struggling woman. Rape and sadomasochism are common manga themes, and the genre called Lolicon gratifies men’s Lolita fantasies about underage girls. But yaoi is currently a hot topic of discussion in the comic and book publishing worlds, where outside observers are surprised to find that young girls can enjoy violent homoerotic fantasies, and where thoughtful fans explain that it can be empowering to see a man forced into a subservient position. (Those positions can get very subservient indeed: A notorious anime titled My Sexual Harassment includes a revenge scenario in which one man is tied down and anally raped with a corncob — a scene that’s the source of endless hilarity to yaoi admirers.) In the U.S., there have been a few legal cases regarding manga, but none yet specifically concerning yaoi. In 2000, a comic store owner in Houston, Texas, sold two sexual manga comics to an undercover police officer, and was promptly arrested on the charge of disseminating obscenity. The New York-based Comic Book Legal Defense Fund rushed in to help on behalf of the store owner, arguing in court that he had sold the comics to an adult, and that the books were properly shrink-wrapped and labeled to keep kids from getting into them. The Texas jury was not convinced. "The prosecution closed by saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we appeal to your common sense,’" recalls Charles Brownstein, the defense fund’s executive director. "They said, ‘Comics are for kids, they put this filth in this media that appeals to kids, and we can’t allow them to get away with this.’" The jury delivered a guilty verdict within a few hours.
Brownstein says he’s relieved that there haven’t been any cases related to yaoi, but that it may just be a matter of time. The genre’s characters are often high school boys, which in the U.S. makes the work subject to obscenity and child pornography laws. "It may be that prosecutors just aren’t aware of it yet," he says. The federal government got tangled up in the debate in 2003, when Congress passed the PROTECT Act ("PROTECT" stands for "Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to end the Exploitation of Children Today"). "It’s a frustrating law, because half of the law makes good sense," Brownstein says. It increases prison sentences for child molesters and establishes a national coordinator for the Amber Alert system used to broadcast information about abducted children. But it also outlaws computer-generated images, drawings, and sculptures that show a minor in an obscene position or engaged in a sex act. "I think the law goes too far when it criminalizes lines on paper," says Brownstein. "Child pornography is an indefensible, inexcusable crime that is evidence of the sexual exploitation of children. Anime, comics, and manga are ideas that exist nowhere except [in] the minds of the reader and the author." While it’s natural for people to respond strongly to images they find disturbing, he says, "to a certain degree, it becomes a battle between the legitimate protection of minors and thought crime."
But some child advocates say the images themselves can be dangerous. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a tip line that receives almost 2,000 reports each week about online evidence of the sexual exploitation of minors, which includes reports about manga and anime. "Any time you’re depicting children engaged in deviant sexual acts — drawings or stories about those acts — that’s a concern," says Adam Palmer, who directs the center’s legal office. "Many times people make the same arguments about Internet stories or fantasy chats, but the sad reality is that some of those fantasy chats lead into the temptation to go after an actual victim, or they perpetuate an idea that it’s OK to engage in those acts." In addition, Palmer says, the pictures can be used to groom potential victims. "It’s trying to normalize something that is not normal, it’s criminal," he says.
Yet Palmer couldn’t recall a case in which the authorities had gone after a purveyor of manga — in fact, he had to be reminded what manga is. The pursuit of those who victimize real children is more urgent, he says, and the number of complaints the center receives makes it unlikely that it will pursue reports of virtual exploitation. But the PROTECT Act has already been used as a legal tool: This past March, the first defendant was convicted under the new law. Manga fans are unlikely to adopt him as a martyr, however, since the middle-aged man was on parole for previous sex offenses, and was caught with a stack of child pornography that included both photographs and anime. Yaoi fans who run Web sites have been spooked by two shutdowns in recent years. In May 2005, a well-respected yaoi fan and writer of fan fiction who went by the name Sahari closed down her site, Yaoi Shrine, and deleted and purged her blog. According to an article about the incident on a site called Net Family News, the shutdown was spurred by an angry mother who had discovered her 12-year-old daughter’s fascination with the site. When the mom discovered that Sahari worked at a junior high school in real life, she contacted the police, the school board, and the PTA. The site vanished, and Sahari disappeared as a visible online presence.
"A lot of us are up in arms about minors coming into our Web pages," says Betsy Tea, the San Francisco fan who helped start the site Boys Next Door. After another site closed for similar reasons to those of Yaoi Shrine, says Tea, "I painstakingly went around and registered with Net Nanny and all those programs that parents can use to block sites with adult content." Boys Next Door’s splash page starts with a resigned disclaimer: "This is the part where we try in vain to cover our own asses," it reads, before admonishing the visitor to enter only if she is of legal age. The possibility of a conservative backlash is a looming X-factor in the business plans of the young yaoi publishers. Some, like the popular startup DramaQueen (based in Houston, Texas), expect fans to support their favorite companies and the First Amendment to protect them. "The great thing about America is that there are laws that allow for artistic expression," says Tran Nguyen, founder of the 1- year-old publisher. "These are women’s voices; these are our expressions of eroticism." Nguyen says she’s proud that her company has pushed the boundaries since its first publication: "We were really bold in our choice for our debut. There wasn’t any explicit sex on the market — you didn’t see any penises." DramaQueen’s first book, Brother, tells the story of two stepbrothers who quickly overcome the taboo inherent in their love and commence a book-long sex spree. The boys are hot, the sex is graphic, and the story is enough to keep readers interested. Fans ate it up, posting rapturous reviews on Web site forums about the "delectable man flesh."
Other publishers, however, are easing away from the hard-core yaoi market. Yaoi Press of Las Vegas, which has published some of the raunchiest material in the genre, plans to bring out more young- adult titles, with "cute" stories suitable for 13-year-olds. The editors say they’ll benefit from being able to advertise their titles in more mainstream magazines. Another company, Digital Manga, Inc. (based in Gardena, Calif.), has created different subsidiary companies to keep the audiences separate. "The June line is very romantic, very sweet," says Rachel Livingston, a company spokesperson. "It’s stuff you would find easily in any bookstore. Yaoi is kind of a controversial thing — so we sat down with a bunch of bookstores and asked them what the limit was." At Yaoi-Con 6, she announced the launch of a distinct company, 801 Media, that would cater to more adult tastes.
"It’s to make things easier — if it says ‘801 Media,’ you’ll know what you’re getting," Livingston explains. "Now if someone comes to us and says, ÔI bought this book for my 12-year-old daughter, and now I’m very upset,’ we can say, ‘We did everything in our power to warn you!’" Since flying under the radar has become less of an option with every book sale, each publishing company is feeling its way forward, looking for the combination of warnings and due diligence that will ward off lawsuits while satisfying fans clamoring for harder, edgier stuff. Meanwhile, the Yaoi-Con staff is scrupulous in its efforts to keep underage fans out of the event. In years past, there have been rumors of young girls trying to "ninja" their way in, so the convention’s security guards stake out back doors and staircases. Anneke, who has traveled to every convention with suitcases full of costumes, feels a bit resentful of the younger fans, whose high- pitched giggles echo through the hotel lobby. "We know we’re the core yaoi fans, as opposed to the fluff walking around," she says. But as she remembers how yaoi changed her own life, she feels she has no choice but to welcome the "fluff" into the fan base. "It’s becoming a rallying cry at anime conventions — all the girls scream, ‘Yaoi! Yaoi!’" she says. "It’s like burning your bra. It’s declaring your sexuality."
April 10, 2007
Big Spenders on Fashion, Travel
At 6.6 trillion yen, gay, lesbian market no small niche
by Shinichi Terada, Staff writer
Japan has an estimated 2.74 million people who are either lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and in terms of targeting a niche market, they have a combined purchasing power of 6.64 trillion yen — the equivalent of the nation’s liquor consumption. This is according to Tokyo-based marketer Pageanta Co., which sees many of the people in the so-called LGBT segment willing to spend vast sums on lifestyle-related items from fashion and art to travel.
"Their buying power is undeniable," said Yuko Hakoishi, founder and president of Pageanta, which operates a social networking site for its target clientele. Hakoishi encountered the gay and lesbian segment while researching niche markets at an advertisement agency. Counting on large market potential, she established Pageanta last August, calling it the first and only marketing firm in Japan specifically targeting such people. Because many nonheterosexuals refrain from starting families — same-sex marriages are not permitted by law — they have more disposable income, Hakoishi said.
"Many of them tend to enjoy the moment by spending for now rather than saving for the future." Despite overall sluggish consumer spending, Hakoishi’s company found that people in the gay and lesbian segment spend 1.2 times more than their straight counterparts. Hakoishi noted, for example, that straight people — women and men — spend 36,000 yen a year on average for cosmetics, while their gay and lesbian counterparts spend 46,000 yen. For overseas travel, the figure is 65,000 yen for straights and 82,000 yen for gays and lesbians, she said.
Akihiro, a 22-year-old gay man who asked that his full name not be published, said he spent 80,000 yen on clothing, shoes and accessories in March alone. "I love And A brand. It touches my heart," he said of a clothing line popular with gays. Like many other gay and lesbian consumers, Akihiro is a loyal customer to gay-friendly companies — and he spends without hesitation. The soft-spoken man with model-like looks spends not just for fashion items but strives to be "beautiful," because he sees women as his competitors. "I went to a big gay party with my female friend. A good-looking guy picked her up, but no one was interested in me. That made me feel that I need to look better to win," he said with a smile.
Yukiko, a 31-year-old lesbian who also asked that her last name not be used, said she travels overseas with her partner two or three times a year, where she does not have to worry about being stared at. She spends a lot on traveling and polishing her skills in various fields. "My generation is not afraid of staying single, so we don’t hesitate to invest money on skill development," she said.
In the case of a 32-year-old gay who goes to a gym three times a week, design, rather than function, is a priority when it comes to shopping. "I love the iPod. It feels good when you touch it," he said. "Softbank’s mobile phones that come in 20 different colors are cool, too."
Pageanta’s Hakoishi believes businesses can cultivate a potentially lucrative market by offering information about the purchasing trends of sexual minorities on her firm’s Web site. Companies trying to sell goods and services to gays and lesbians can make use of the information and also interact with them via the Net, she said. Many in this segment are heavy Internet users, as it allows some degree of anonymity and provides a forum for exchanging ideas and information, she said.
Foreign companies here already recognize the potential for this segment, as firms participate in various gay and AIDS-prevention events. Tower Records ran an ad in the brochures of the annual Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, while Denmark-based furniture store BoConcept has run ads in yes, a magazine featuring nonstraight lifestyles published by a subsidiary of Tower Records. "Gay-themed magazines are very limited here, so readers tend to read every page, unlike regular magazines that readers often leaf though," said Yukiko Konno, marketing coordinator of BoConcept Japan.
Employees of Body Shop outlets have participated in gay rights parades at different locations in Japan to offer giveaway goods. Levi Strauss gives out condoms with the firm’s logo printed on the package at events related to AIDS prevention, and is looking at the gay and lesbian segment as a marketing target. "The question is how these activities can translate into money. We need to study the possibility of appealing to gay and lesbian customers," said Atsushi Murohashi, human resources manager at Levi Strauss in Japan.
Lehman Brothers Japan Inc. meanwhile sees the lesbian and gay segment as a pool of resources instead of a marketing target, and holds job seminars specifically targeting nonstraight college students. To be sure, not all companies in the U.S. are gay-friendly and there is a deep divide of opinions over same-sex marriages and other issues involving homosexuality. Hakoishi said there is also a backlash against the growing gay market in the U.S., citing as an example calls by religious conservatives to refrain from buying cars made by Ford Motor Co., which is running advertisements targeting gay and lesbian groups.
In Japan, many firms worry about the possible damage to their corporate image if they are seen targeting the nonstraight market, she said. However, since the market itself is not widely recognized, willing businesses might be able to quietly cultivate the segment without worrying about a social backlash, she said. "I know there is an atmosphere of gay bashing in the U.S. But in Japan, I don’t think people care too much about them," said Midori Kyan, 27, a straight woman who is a regular customer at a trendy gay bar in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. "The Japanese gay scene may be described as gay-passing.
23rd May 2007
Lesbian candidate a first for Japan
by Tony Grew
Japan’s second largest political party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), announced that Kanako Otsuji, the first openly lesbian politician in Japan, will be one of the party’s official candidates for this summer’s National Diet (parliament) election. Ms Otsuji, 32, was elected as an Osaka Assembly Member in April 2003. In August 2005, she came out of the closet in her book Coming Out and marched in the Tokyo Pride Parade (formerly known as Tokyo Lesbian & Gay Parade) along with about 2,500 people.
In her book, Ms Otsuji said:
"I believe coming out (as a lesbian) is the best thing that I can do for society to encourage people. I want to establish a society where everybody can be who they really are." In May 2006 she worked with the organisers of Tokyo Pride, the Rainbow March In Sapporo and GayJapanNews for Act Against Homophobia. The following month, she visited Washington D.C. and San Francisco through the International Visitor Leadership Programme operated by the US State Department. Ms Otsuji has a good record of fighting for gay rights in Japan.
The major political parties in the country, including the DPJ, are reluctant to directly support gay rights, preferring instead to concentrate on wider discrimination issues. Homosexual male sexual conduct is not illegal, but some regions (prefectures) have an unequal age of consent. The age for heterosexual consent is 13.
In October 2005, Osaka Prefecture started the House Sharing System which allows gay couples and other forms of couples that are not legally recognised as family to live in residences managed and operated by Osaka Housing Supply Corporation. In 2005 and early 2007, Ms Otsuji submitted two statements about people with Gender Identity Disorder in cooperation with the New Komeito Party and other groups. These statements were adopted by the Osaka Assembly.
Ms Otsuji didn’t run in April’s local election because she had already decided to run for the upcoming national election. In the local election, one gay and three transgender candidates campaigned, but only one transgender candidate, Aya Kamikawa, was re-elected to her second term. Ms Otsuji says she thinks that she has to bring LGBT people’s voices to the National Diet and has made it her goal to seek a seat for that end. DPJ leaders said they decided to endorse Ms Otsuji as an official party candidate to "bring society’s attention to the discriminated people." If she wins, she’ll be the first openly LGBT national politician ever in Japan.
May 30, 2007
Press Release: Expanded and Updated Guides Explore Modern Gay Japan, South Korea and Taiwan
Utopia Guide to Japan (2nd Edition):
the Gay and Lesbian Scene in 27 Cities Including Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya
Utopia Guide to Taiwan (2nd Edition):
the Gay and Lesbian Scene in 12 Cities Including Taipei, Kaohsiung and Tainan
Utopia Guide to South Korea (2nd Edition):
the Gay and Lesbian Scene in 7 Cities Including Seoul, Pusan, Taegu and Taejon
The world’s first guidebooks to gay and lesbian life in East Asia have just been updated and expanded to include contemporary attractions and entertainment for homosexuals in 46 cities including Tokyo, Seoul, and Taipei.
While Japan has had gay guidebooks circulating since the 18th century (and even a modern guidebook to gay life designed for Japanese heterosexuals), it is only recently that the English-speaking international traveler has gained access to the Japan’s vibrant subculture.
The Utopia Guide to Japan (2nd Edition) blasts away popular misconceptions that Japan is prohibitively expensive and is unfriendly to foreigners. On the contrary, after suffering from more than a decade of economic flatlining, Japan is cheaper to visit than most major American cities. The current warm welcome for foreigners (and their loose change) is evidenced by English signage posted almost everywhere you go, including signs in Japanese saunas cautioning against "hair dyeing and gum chewing."
Where exactly is the shrine to the 2-ton wooden phallus? Do Love Motels allow same sex couples? Which lesbian bars welcome foreign women? The fascinating answers are to be found in the
128 page Utopia Guide to Japan, including photographs and maps.
South Korean men, with their natural machismo and easy-going metrosexuality, have recently become sex symbols around the region.
Their special brand of brotherly "skinship" appeals to both sexes.
Korea’s younger generation has cast off the conservative mentality of their parent’s generation.
There have never been laws proscribing homosexuality and any attempts to enact official discrimination have been overturned through the efforts of vocal gay and human rights activists.
"Korea is not a closed society as the world often imagines," says Ted Park, a passionate entrepreneur who opened Seoul’s first publicly promoted gay bar.
"Koreans are very open minded and friendly, yet quite conservative sexually, whether straight or gay. Legally we are well protected.
Children are taught about homosexuality in elementary school and we have laws against discrimination based on sexuality."
How to find the Erotic Art Museum in Seoul? Just what goes on at a Jjimjilbang? Which gay saunas do "don’t ask don’t tell" G.I.s occasion? Find out in the new edition of the Utopia Guide to South Korea.
Taiwan may have Asia’s most liberal society in spite of its Confucian underpinnings. It is also one of the most progressive Asian nations as far as LGBT rights are concerned. Not only does the government of Taipei print up its own free guide to the gay community, but children are taught about homosexuality and tolerance for sexual minorities in school.
Last year, Taipei’s mayor helped to fly a gay rainbow flag over City Hall during the annual 2006 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender festival.
The Utopia Guide to Taiwan celebrates the social advances being made and collects together all the varieties of Taiwan’s gay and lesbian life in one handy directory to a dozen cities.
All of Utopia’s guidebooks compile contact details for organizations and businesses that are popular with both local and visiting homosexuals, including accommodation, bars, discos, spas, and restaurants.
A special section of each book highlights groups, clubs, and spaces that are especially welcoming for women.
Best of all, each book contains dozens of tips and warnings from locals and travelers who, in their own words, provide first hand insights for both frequent visitors and armchair explorers.
The three books are available for sale now in print and E-book form at http://www.utopia-asia.com/utopiaguide/ and in bookstores internationally and from popular online book resellers.
For more information please contact:
5th June 2007
Lesbian politician in Japan gets hitched
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
Japan’s first openly lesbian politician celebrated her same-sex partnership on Sunday, a month before elections for Japan’s upper house. Kanako Otsuji, 32, is a candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan in next month’s election for the House of Councillors. She tied the knot with her partner of four years, Maki Kimura, 32.
Their wedding took place in Ikeda Park in Nagoya, the country’s third largest city, during an HIV/AIDS prevention festival called Nagoya Lesbian & Gay Revolution. Some 1,000 guests attended the wedding. The leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, Ichiro Ozawa, the Secretary General of the Party, Yukio Hatoyama, and Fusae Ota, the Governor of Osaka all sent congratulatory telegrams to Miss Otsuji.
Miss Otsuji said in her wedding speech that the wedding would be the most unforgettable memory of her life. After the wedding, Miss Otsuji told GayJapanNews: “Gays and lesbians are hiding themselves in society to protect themselves. "I want people to know that gays and lesbians exist in society by looking at us (Kanako and Maki).” The couple’s union is not legally recognised as Japan does not have same-sex marriage or civil partnerships.
The election for the Upper House is scheduled for 22 July. Miss Otsuji said that she and Miss Kimura would have to concentrate on the election for the coming month. She added she wanted to create a society where people live differently but can live together, and she would begin to think about her life with Maki after the election.
Only four countries allow same-sex marriage; the Netherlands, Canada, Spain, Belgium, and South Africa. The state of Massachusetts in the US also allows same-sex marriage.
30th July 2007
Lesbian candidate fails to win seat in Japan
by Tony Grew
A 32-year-old woman who brought the issue of gay rights to prominence in Japanese society has failed in her bid to be elected to the country’s parliament. Kanako Otsuji, 32, had conducted a colourful and positive campaign for office, at one stage holding a marriage ceremony with her partner. She generated intense interest from the national and international press. She was a candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan, who took control of the upper house in a crushing election defeat for Prime Minister Shinze Abe.
The coalition led by Mr Abe retains control of the lower house of the national Diet. He insisted he will stay in office to carry through reform programmes. Ryuhei Kawada, a 31-year-old HIV-positive activist who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion, won a seat. Conceding defeat to a room packed full of crying supporters, Ms Otsuji said:
"I hope to continue until I see the day that we look back and say, ‘This is a historic day in the history of sexual minorities.’ We will remember this day because it is the day we grew stronger."
Ms Otsuji was elected as an Osaka Assembly Member in April 2003. In August 2005, she came out of the closet in her book Coming Out and marched in the Tokyo Pride Parade along with about 2,500 people. In her book, Ms Otsuji said: "I believe coming out is the best thing that I can do for society to encourage people. I want to establish a society where everybody can be who they really are."
In May 2006 she worked with the organisers of Tokyo Pride, the Rainbow March In Sapporo and GayJapanNews for Act Against Homophobia. The major political parties in the country, including the Democrats, are reluctant to directly support gay rights, preferring instead to concentrate on wider discrimination issues. Homosexual male sexual conduct is not illegal, but some regions (prefectures) have an unequal age of consent. The age for heterosexual consent is 13. In October 2005, Osaka Prefecture started the House Sharing System which allows gay couples and other forms of couples that are not legally recognised as family to live in residences managed and operated by Osaka Housing Supply Corporation. In 2005 and early 2007, Ms Otsuji submitted two statements about people with Gender Identity Disorder in cooperation with the New Komeito Party and other groups.
These statements were adopted by the Osaka Assembly. Democrat leaders said they decided to endorse Ms Otsuji as an official party candidate to "bring society’s attention to the discriminated people."
August 2, 2007
Japanese political leader to join Pride parade
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
Japan’s Social Democratic Party leader, Mizuho Fukushima, will march with LGBT people and their supporters on 11th August in the Tokyo Pride Parade calling for equality and rights. The event, "Let’s go march with Mizuho Hukushima!" will allow gay Japanese people the chance to talk with the left-leaning politician over lunch and then march with her. The SDP were the main opposition party in Japan in the 1990s, but lost support to the Democratic Party of Japan in recent years. Of the 242 seats in the Upper House, the SDP held 3 seats before last month’s general election. The Party has a minority-friendly policy that includes sexual minorities. However, it retained only 2 seats.
Japan’s first ever out gay candidate failed to win a seat at the election. Kanako Otsuji, 32, was a candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan. Ms Fukushima said: "Life in Japan today isn’t easy, so let’s make society a better place by marching together and putting our energy together!" Other SDP local assembly members also plan to march with her. Daiga Ishikawa, a coordinator of the event and executive director of Peer Friends, an event for gay youth, has previous experiences working with the Party leader. "Walking with many friends in the Parade encourages not just LGBT people but also our supporters on the streets. We hope to enjoy this wonderful event with other marchers," said Ishikawa.
The event organisers are excited by this a rare chance to talk directly with Ms Fukushima over lunch and hope many people will walk with them. The "Let’s go march with Mizuho Hukushima!" event costs 1,000 yen (£4.15) and is limited to 30 people on a first-come-first served basis.
Detailed information on the event can be checked at this website.
The website is in Japanese only.
Azusa Yamashita, GayJapanNews
13th August 2007
Rise in HIV infections leads Japanese government to support Pride
by PinkNews.co.uk writer
A small but happy crowd of 3,000 people marched through the streets of Tokyo at the weekend as the city celebrated its sixth Pride event. For the first time, a Japanese government department took part alongside city officials and many colourful floats. The Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry took part to highlight the dangers of AIDS. The number of infections in Japan continues to rise, partly because being gay is still a taboo within society. 2005 saw the number of new infections rise to 914. The Pride event was also a call to LGBT people to come out of the closet to fight against discrimination.
More than 5,000 people gathered in a park after the march to continue the party, but in a city of 12.5 million it is clear that the majority of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people prefer to remain in the closet. Earlier this year the first ever out candidate for the country’s parliament failed to win a seat.
Kanako Otsuji, 32, had conducted a colourful and positive campaign for office, at one stage holding a marriage ceremony with her partner. She generated intense interest from the national and international press. She was a candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan, who took control of the upper house in a crushing election defeat for Prime Minister Shinze Abe. Ryuhei Kawada, a 31-year-old HIV-positive activist who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion, won a seat.
Homosexual male sexual conduct is not illegal, but some regions (prefectures) have an unequal age of consent. The age for heterosexual consent is 13.
30 October 2007
Diverse crowd champion kansai rainbow parade
by Justin Ellis
Over 1300 people participated in the 2nd annual Kansai Rainbow Parade in Osaka on Sunday, Oct 28. A one-and-a-half hour delay due to city government rescheduling didn’t deter the crowd, who enjoyed the sunshine of a cloudless autumn afternoon. Justin Ellis reports from Osaka. Osaka Prefectural Governor Fusae Ota gave her support to the LGBT community in a speech read on her behalf at the opening ceremony in Nakanoshima Park. Osaka mayor Junichi Seki declared Osaka the human rights capital of Japan in a speech read for him by transgender organising committee member Mie. School children and members of the public were encouraged to take Kansai Rainbow Parade 2007 balloons that furthered exposure of the event throughout the city.
Organising committee member Asami Ota said onlookers were bemused by the spectacle of the parade going down Midosuji-dori to announcements of ‘we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, straight; we are ourselves.’ The music played by the Brass Mix Band in the parade included western classics and Jpop, the most pertinent of which was SMAP’s Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana (You are the Only Flower in the World) – the super groups anthem to individuality. Former out Osaka assemblywoman Kanako Otsuji said seeing the LGBT community on the streets of Osaka was a defining moment in the quest for visibility of sexual minorities.
“The section of the parade where people did not want to be photographed has diminished since the inaugural 2006 march, underscoring the growing confidence of the participants,” she added. Numbers increased by almost half from 900 in 2006 to 1300 in 2007. Over 100 volunteers guided the two-hour parade smoothly along its course through the crammed streets of Shinsaibashi, Osaka’s densest shopping district. Yoshihiko Nagai, parade operations manager said the police had been particularly kind and helpful.
“On the merits of the peaceful parade last year, the police were more relaxed this year,” he said before the closing speeches in Motomachi-naka Park. Ota had hoped to stand on top of a float to mimic performers in the Electric Light Parade at Disneyland, familiar to most Japanese. The police, however, dissuaded her. The parade entered Motomachi-naka Park at sunset where Nakata Takashi from Tokyo Pride Parade, Yosuke Sato from Rainbow March Sapporo, Tatsuo Fujiura from Angel Life Nagoya and Kenzo Masuda from Kobe LGBTIQ Pride March gave their support to the growing national LGBT network.
Ota said the Kansai Rainbow Parade organising committee had been expanded in 2007 and that this was the first year an after party had been held. The party, at Explosion nightclub in Doyama, featured local and international DJs and drag queens from the parade.
November 1, 2007
An Ode to a Red-Light District
Three gay or gay-friendly filmmakers came together to make a film that celebrates Singapore’s red-light district of Geylang. Shot on a tiny budget, it managed to make it all to way to the hallowed screening halls of the Cannes Film Festival.
Contrary to Singapore’s image of being a conservative society – one that refuses to repeal the law against gay sex – heterosexual prostitution is legal and well regulated in the city. There are five or six government-approved designated red-light areas where some 400 brothels operate, each with about 10 to 20 prostitutes. “Licensed” sex workers must carry a health card, and undergo regular medical checks in order to ply their trade in a brothel.
Soliciting for sex on the street is illegal. But in Pleasure Factory, a new film about the red-light district of Geylang, moviegoers see prostitutes doing just that. Standing in line in the back alleys, they call out to potential clients and gently stroke their arms as they pass by.
Ironically, Pleasure Factory earned a spot at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year, bringing pride to city’s small film industry. It competed in the Un Certain Regard category, which is often reserved for bold and iconoclastic works. Shot in a freewheeling handheld style, Pleasure Factory doesn’t tell just one but three interweaving stories, each detailing the raw and intimate trysts between three prostitutes and their men. Shot over two weeks, it is the second effort by Thai-born Singapore-based Thai director Ekachai Uekrongtham. His debut picture Beautiful Boxer (2003) was a touching drama about a Thai kickboxing champ who longs to change to his gender and become a woman. It earned good reviews and several film festival awards.
Queer audiences in Singapore may also recall a sold-out stage play that Ekachai directed in 1999 called Autumn Tomyam, about a bittersweet romance between a middle-aged American man and a Thai boy. Written by gay playwright Desmond Sim, it managed to put a human heart into what was potentially an awkward affair. For Pleasure Factory, Ekachai had asked the talented Brian Gothong Tan – a gay artist whose multimedia works have graced many theater stages and exhibition venues – to be his director of photography. Though relatively new to cinematography, Brian successfully evokes the giddy sights and sounds of the twilight territory through his vivid montages.
In the lead role, Ekachai cast Loo Zihan, a budding actor-director who acted in and co-wrote the screenplay for Solos, Singapore’s first gay feature film that could not be shown at the last Singapore Film Festival because of its explicit sex scenes. Ekachai also cast Yang Kuei-Mei (a favourite of Tsai Ming-Liang) in a pivotal role of a prostitute. With a team that screamed pinker than pink, they shot the film in Geylang in a whirlwind period of two weeks. It was no mean feat, considering they had a tight budget and faced frequent run-ins with menacing gangsters who controlled various parts of the red-light district. But they survived the shoot long enough to bring the film to the hallowed screening rooms of Cannes in May.
Bringing the film back to Singapore, however, was another matter. The censors here insisted that they cut certain crucial scenes from the film – including an explicit gay scene of two men in bed with erect penises – before they could get the R21 rating for mature audiences. Director Ekachai insists, however, that message of the film has not been compromised.
Fridae met up with Pleasure Factory’s main men to talk about Geylang:
æ: What attracted you to Geylang?
Ekachai: Singapore is about fixed patterns and straight lines. Geylang, on the other hand, is like a unique labyrinth, one you couldn’t find in other parts of the country. Indeed, people keep asking me ask why I wish to show a dark side of Singapore to the rest of the world. But the truth is I don’t see Geylang as dark at all. It shines in a very interesting way, and it illuminates life and human behavior. You can tell a city not from the places that the tourism board wants you to see, but the places they don’t want you to see.
æ: You wanted to humanise Geylang and its denizens…
Ekachai Uekrongtham (Director): Yes, I’ve been accused of sentimentality and being too sympathetic to the plight of Geylang sex workers. But from what I’ve seen of the place, life in Geylang has a nice human side that isn’t all sordid, and that’s what I tried to portray here. Geylang may be something of a factory that produces pleasure, but I’m interested in showing the moments in between, the moments when it stops producing pleasure.
æ: Many of the images look raw and unembellished. Was that deliberate?
Brian Gothong Tan (Cinematographer): When we started out, we really wanted to shoot it guerilla style – that is, just go to the locations, shoot and run. There wasn’t really any time to set up the lights and make the shots look perfect because some of the back lanes are dangerous and controlled by brutal gangsters. We were also trying to be honest with the locations – we didn’t want to romanticise, embellish or art-direct it. The harshness and darkness of the images come across because that’s just how Geylang looks like.
æ: Cannes Film Festival screened the film in its entirety, of course. But the Singapore censors insisted on certain cuts before it could be shown here. Exactly what had to be removed?
Brian: There was a scene where Isabella Chen (an amateur actress and well-known local blogger) is performing fellatio on a man. There was also a lengthy scene involving Loo Zihan posing in the nude in front a mirror. He had an erection.
Then, there was a gay scene where two nude men were rolling in bed together. Both had erections. At first, the Singapore censors just wanted us to cut out the shots that showed the two men’s erections. But even after they saw the version of just the two men rolling around, they said, “No rolling around.” So that had to go too.
Ekachai: To me, censorship is like immigration. There are countries like Australia where you can’t bring bak kwa (a Chinese sweet grilled pork snack) or even apples through the customs. Singapore just has a different level of tolerance than the French. But I don’t think the audiences’ understanding of the film is really compromised by these cuts.
æ: Zihan, this is the second time you’ve gone nude for the camera. The first was for Solos, possibly the first gay feature made in Singapore. How do you feel about going full-frontal?
Loo Zihan (Actor): Of course there’s some nervousness but I really did it because I trusted the director and I wanted to learn from someone who’s been directing theatre for a long. (Ekachai has been directing theater plays in Singapore for over a decade.) I’m in the process of learning to be a film director as well, so I wanted to learn how an actor functions. After all, if I want my actors to bare their all for the camera – not just physically, but emotionally and intellectually too – I should be able to do it myself.
æ: What does your mother have to say about it? Does she even know?
Zihan: My mother follows the Chinese papers, so she knows. I’m very open with her and she’s been very supportive of my decision to pursue filmmaking. It has not been easy for her though, and her actions are rather contradictory. Sometimes, she says that she doesn’t want to hear anything about what I do, but then she goes and cuts out the newspaper articles to keep. So…
Pleasure Factory is now playing in cinemas in Singapore.
November 30, 2007
Aids prevention battle continues for japan’s sexual health pioneers
by Justin Ellis
As LGBT communities across the globe commemorate the 19th annual World AIDS Day on Dec 1, the Osaka sexual health community reflect on a decade of achievement. Good AIDS – bad AIDS was the mantra used by the Japanese media in the 1980s to discriminate between haemophiliacs who had contracted HIV through blood transfusions and those who had contracted the virus through sexual contact. As a result of the tainted blood scandal, acknowledgment of men who have sex with men (MSM) as a group vulnerable to HIV infection only began with urgency in the1990s. Until 1997 there was no official prevention work within the MSM community in Japan, however at that time bathhouse owners were distributing condoms and promoting AIDS awareness, says Tetsuro Onitsuka a founding member of MASHOsaka (Men and Sexual Health Osaka).
“The bathhouse owners were pioneers in AIDS prevention and a big stimulus for the sexual health community to do something for the AIDS cause. Japanese doctors estimate that 90 percent of people with HIV in Japan are MSM and statistics show that infection rates have been increasing since 1997. Somehow it’s understandable because society at large is not conscious of the epidemic and nor is the government, even though most of the MASHOsaka budget is from the Ministry Of Public Health and Labour under the auspices of HIV prevention research. MASHOsaka was established in April 1998 and it was slow going in the beginning as we didn’t know which kind of program would be the most beneficial. We started with small conferences with bathhouse owners and sexually transmitted infection (STI) workshops with gay contacts. We created posters in 1998 and conducted a baseline survey in 1999 which was a challenge because no one had done it here before. Subsequently, in 2000 we launched SWITCH; a testing service incorporated into a regular event. The co-ordination was extensive – 250 tests were done in the first year and 400 in the second,” says Onitsuka.
At that time government-run clinics conducted HIV tests but only during business hours. After the third SWITCH in 2002 MASHOsaka helped the Osaka City and Osaka Prefectural governments establish CHARM (Center for Health and Rights of Migrants) which provides HIV tests and counselling in various languages. The safe-sex message is one that extends to the sex-work industry in Japan. Osaka brothel manager Shusaku Nohara promotes safe-sex in his advertisements for clientele and staff. “The prospective staff will want to work here for the same reasons the customers will want to use our services,” he says. Traditionally the advertisements were in gay magazines – Barazoku, G-Men and Badi – but clients shifted to the Internet in around 2000.
In the early years of this decade, most MSM weren’t overly concerned about HIV as most infections were still associated with haemophiliacs in the media. “I knew of the protection afforded by condoms against transmission of HIV but was unaware of the necessity to use water-based lubricant,” says Nohara. “The industry bosses stressed not to talk about condoms. It implied we didn’t trust the customer.”
A knowledge of MSM demographics is integral to disseminating a relevant safe-sex message, says Nohara.
“The 50-60 year-old clients don’t care so much about anal sex. The clients coming to my shop recently though are younger – almost the same generation as the staff, who are mostly in their 20s. More clients are bottoms and condoms are used all the time but before it was the opposite. And the good thing is that the younger clients know more about HIV because of the Internet and as a result there is more anal sex, but it is safe-sex.”
In 2002 promoting safe-sex as a business strategy was a new concept that was lucrative as well as safeguarding sex workers’ health. However, as “early as 1998 Yukio Cho (Akira the Hustler) had proved it was possible to earn money from safe-sex,” says Nohara. “At an AKTA (an STI information center in Shinjuku-ni-chome, Tokyo) Safer Sex and Gay Business symposium we realised that without safe-sex there would be no sex, so safe-sex became inevitable. The next stage is oral sex. Clients think: ‘Why should I use a condom if the risk is low?’ but we managed condom use with anal sex so maybe we can do it with oral sex too. It’s still a grey area though,” Nohara says.
Apart from a desire to facilitate greater awareness of HIV/AIDS most of the prominent people working in sexual health in Japan were connected through a common friend – Teiji Furuhashi. Furuhashi was diagnosed with HIV in 1985 while living in New York City. In the mid-eighties treatment for HIV was not an option in Japan. A founding member of the avant-garde dance group Dumb Type, Furuhashi’s disclosure of his HIV+ status to a circle of close friends in 1992 galvanised the community into action. “From then on time passed more quickly and we started to rush. We knew time was short and anyone who knew Teiji started to do something,” says Izumi Kagita, MASHOsaka Community Space DISTA (Drop in Station) director.
It was just before that time, in 1991, that Tetsuro Onitsuka established the Japan HIV Centre with colleagues and friends. They went on to organise the International AIDS Conference in Yokohama in 1994 – a huge event for the sexual health community in Japan. By 1996 a class action filed by the HIV infected haemophiliacs had reached a resolution and PWA (People With AIDS) were receiving a variety of services from the Japanese Ministry of Public Health and Labour. The lawyer responsible for the class action fought for services for all people with HIV regardless of sexual orientation. He argued that the disease didn’t discriminate on the basis of sexual preference. He also knew that if he didn’t include all people that the partners of haemophiliacs wouldn’t get treatment.
“The last thing we can do is interventions in bathhouses,” says Onitsuka, and to that end MASHOsaka is translating into Japanese the ACON (AIDS Council of New South Wales’) Sex on Premises Code of Practice. We are in the process of scrutinising Japanese law to keep the code in adherence with legislation,” says Hiroyuki Tsuji, MASHOsaka program director. Legal aspects of the code will be localised, as will the health guidelines; in particular the drug use guidelines will probably be omitted as HIV transmission through intravenous drug use is minimal in Japan. Tsuji says there are about 30 sex on premises venues in Osaka, including saunas and video boxes with glory holes. “When we have finished translating the code we will hold a workshop with bathhouse owners to discuss implementation and feedback. We are also preparing a new poster for distribution next year,” says Tsuji.
Tetsuro Onitsuka says: “the big bathhouses are less willing to participate than the small ones but it depends on the owners. We want those bathhouses to provide condoms. In some smaller places there are condoms within arms reach but there isn’t a uniform policy.” Not showing barebacking in pornography is a guideline in the ACON Sex on Premises Code of Conduct, however as genitalia are blurred or blacked out in Japanese pornography it is less of an issue here than in some other countries. Many people in the gay community categorise manga as fiction and as such outside the parameters of regulation. However, conjecture on barebacking in pornography underscores the need for a code of practice for the gay pornography industry in Japan, which is essentially self-censored.
It has taken a decade to establish the sexual health network Osaka benefits from today. Without federal, Osaka city, and Osaka prefectural government funding this would have been impossible, which highlights the commitment the government has made to limiting the spread of HIV within the MSM community. In the future, however, the focus for MASHOsaka and sexual health organisations throughout Asia is to generate funding specific to the sexual health needs of MSM rather than being grouped under the auspices of general HIV prevention. This will allow sexual health organisations to educate those most vulnerable to HIV infection with outreach methods particular to the lifestyles of those concerned.
July 7, 2008
Japanese ban on gay magazines in jails is illegal say lawyers
by Phoebe Ferris-Rotman
A 30-year-old detainee in the Tokyo Detention House has been denied the right to read gay magazines. The Tokyo Bar Association has warned the jail that its decision to ban the material violates the freedom to read, which is guaranteed under the Constitution, association officials said Thursday. The detention house maintained that gay magazines contain explicit content that may corrupt discipline. The detainee told the association that the magazines were available to read at a detention centre in Yokohama where he was previously held.
While major political parties do not express much public support for LGBT issues, there are no laws against homosexual activity in Japan. Some of the country’s prefectures have set the age of consent for same-gender sexual relations at 18, much higher than that of heterosexual relations, which is set at 13. The prefectures claim that the unequal age of consent is legitimate on the grounds of protecting youth. The country’s first homosexual parliamentary candidate failed to win a seat in parliament in 2007 after conducting a colourful and positive campaign for office which attracted interest from national and international press and included a marriage ceremony with her partner.
August 25, 2008
Alarming AIDS statistics
The 17th International AIDS Conference, Aug. 3-8, in Mexico City serves as a reminder that the world cannot afford to lower its guard against this deadly disease. This applies especially to Japan where, according to the health ministry’s AIDS committee, a record number of new HIV infections were reported in 2007. The United Nations reported in June that an estimated 33.2 million people worldwide had HIV as of December 2007 and that an estimated 2.5 million people developed AIDS in 2007 — down from the 3.2 million reported 10 years earlier.
The U.N. warned that while the number of HIV infections worldwide is on the decline, China, Indonesia, Russia and Ukraine as well as Japan are seeing an increase. The AIDS committee reported in May that Japan saw a record 1,082 new HIV infections in 2007. The number of people who developed AIDS symptoms also reached a record 418. The January-March 2008 period saw 251 new HIV infections — the fourth worst record. Most of the new HIV carriers and patients are Japanese men. The primary infection route is male-to-male sexual contact. HIV is spreading mostly among people in their 20s, 30s and 40s.
The AIDS committee’s report indicates one new HIV infection per 100,000 people. But the Japanese Red Cross Society’s report in mid-July suggests that the actual number is higher. Among those who donated blood to the Red Cross nationwide in January-June 2008, 58 people tested positive for HIV antibodies. This indicates that 2.316 out of every 100,000 people were infected with HIV, topping the past record of 2.065 reported last year. These figures show that there is a need to strengthen AIDS prevention, tests and treatment. It is important to raise people’s awareness of the AIDS danger. Young people should be thoroughly educated about AIDS, including how to avoid HIV infection. The number of public health centers that provide HIV antibody checks at night and on holidays should be expanded and the number of doctors specializing in AIDS should be increased.
October 13, 2008
Trans woman gains acceptance as geisha in Japan
by Rachel Charman
A pre-op trans woman claims she became the first ever transsexual geisha after a visit to Kyoto. Mary Murdoch, 68, from Greenwich, said that it was her ambition to dress up as a geisha. She told News Shopper: "I was the first person to actually do this. They were very welcoming and put aside the normal rules for foreign tourists. Since then the Japanese government has a policy which says if there’s a female name on the passport then you may dress up as a geisha."
Mary began the gender realignment process to become a woman with hormone treatment four years ago at Charing Cross Hospital. She is currently waiting for the final operation to finish the process. There have been a number of positive steps for transgender people in Japan in recent years. In 2003, Aya Kamikawa was elected to Tokyo’s municipal assembly, becoming the first openly transgender politician to hold office in Japan. In July 2004, transgendered people in Japan were granted the right to change their gender on family registers under some circumstances.