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Media vs Reality - Being gay or unique in Japan

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Recently I've been pretty curious what it's like to be gay in Japan and how homosexuality is viewed there. I read a few articles and watched a few Youtube videos and this is basically what I gathered. From what I read/heard, it isn't unsafe to be gay or lesbian in Japan. It isn't considered a sin or anything, so if you were to come out, chances are people won't react with hatred or animosity. They'll probably just say "Oh, I see." and leave it at that. However, even though there's no hostility toward the LGBT, very few people understand them or make an effort to understand them. In a lot of media, gay people are portrayed in a very stereotypical fashion (effeminate) and many people just believe that to be what a gay man is; it'd be difficult for a Japanese person to be able to distinguish between a gay man and a trans person. To them, they're all just okama. Because of this and because of pressure from society to be a certain way, there are very very few openly gay or lesbian people in Japan. They're so rare that some people believe that homosexuality is just a fantasy that only exists in media. And because no one in Japan wants to talk about homosexuality and very few are openly homosexual, there's really no push for further gay rights in Japan. So basically, people in Japan won't be hostile towards homosexuals, but they won't view you as "normal" and automatically associate you with the stereotypical gays they see in media. This is what I gathered, but I could be very wrong. Feel free to correct me.

But my question is, if Japanese people only know about homosexuality based on what they see in the media, then why is their knowledge of it so limited? I know there are a lot of BL/Yaoi stories for example in manga, anime, and movies, and from the ones I've seen, the guys aren't portrayed in a super stereotypically feminine manner. There are a lot of stories where one guy plays the more submissive role, but he's still not overly feminine. There are even some where both guys in the relationship are on equal levels. And not all BL/Yaoi is just fantasy porn either, some actually do deal with the very real issues of being gay. So I'm just wondering, with stuff like this in Japan, why're so many Japanese people still so confused and think gay is just a woman in a man's body? Is it because BL/Yaoi isn't as wide spread or something?

This also made me think of something else, and that's being different in general in Japan. I've heard from many people that in Japan, being different from everyone isn't something to be celebrated. Unlike in America where people value their uniqueness and strive to be special, in Japan you're pressured to fit in with the rest of the crowd. "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." But if this is the case, then what's up with all the anime, manga, and video games I've seen where the main character, often the hero, is viewed as different, but their differences are celebrated? The main character usually doesn't change and instead the people around him/her value what makes them them. I've experienced many Japanese stories where the moral is to just be yourself, trust in your abilities, and form your own path instead of following the path someone or something laid out for you. Why're stories in a lot of Japanese anime, manga, video games, etc so contradictory to what the Japanese actually follow? Do Japanese people view these stories, but don't take their messages to heart or something?

I hope these aren't silly questions, but I just figured that what I see in Japanese media would also reflect toward their culture. And to a very big extent, it does, but in the examples I talked about, it sounds like it doesn't. Remember this is all stuff that I've heard and seen from articles and videos, so if I'm misinformed, please correct me.
 
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if Japanese people only know about homosexuality based on what they see in the media, then why is their knowledge of it so limited?
The question answers itself. If the image most people have of gay culture is over-the-top, flamboyant, cross-dressing artists, selected for their appearance and for their acquiescence in perpetuating stereotypical roles, how could the Japanese acquire anything but a severely restricted knowledge? The manga you mentioned are consumed by a limited sub-culture. They aren't used as reference material by the majority.

Regarding your second question: Japan is a place that values rules and conformity and harmony. Being unique for the sake of uniqueness, being a non-conformist for its own sake, isn't a trait that the Japanese find particularly charming. Being excellent in a certain field, being outstandingly talented in something (sport, music, art, business, etc...) is something that is valued (if not always openly encouraged). You mentioned that in America "people value their uniqueness". I would say that in Japan one's own values are often subordinated to the values of others and the values of society.

Both ways of thinking come with their own "costs" and benefits.
 

Mike Cash

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Various factors, including cultural and religious ones, no doubt combine to make the situation very different between Japan and the U.S.

While there is quiet activism for certain civil equalities (marriage) in Japan I think the community isn't as "out" or as organized as the one in America, and certainly doesn't seem to be taking the route of acting like some sort of oppressed ethnic minority as the more vocal/militant elements in America do. Perhaps it is due to a history less filled with religious oppression of homosexuality (and no ongoing religious oppression it seems) and lack of university Gender Studies / Women's Studies departments cranking out generations of bitter man-haters that there isn't a population that feels a need to engage in in-your-face angry backlash against the heterosexual community.

In other words, they're less politically active because they're less oppressed and are just generally getting along with their lives with most people not giving a damn about their sexual orientation, and at least to the degree that is true could be said to have advanced farther down the path of where American LGBT ostensibly would like to find themselves. Japan mainly lags on the civics side of things, and as you can see by the recent move by Shibuya, the first large crack has been made in that particular egg and it is only a matter of time before it goes Humpty-Dumpty.

Nice to see you posting again after a long absence. Nine years ago you were going to study Japanese and work toward being a manga artist. You've since gone from a young teen to being a young adult and I would be interested in an update on how things have gone for you in the interim.
 
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The previous posters explained it much better than I could have. I'll just add Japanese people seem to take a "don't ask, don't tell" attitude towards homosexuality. It seems sort of ironic, given the conformist tendency you see in the culture, you'd think that there would be a bit more bigotry towards folks who don't conform.
I think your comments on "uniqueness not being celebrated" and "nail that stick out" is right on in explaining that. It's sort of like the Japanese collective just shrugs and says, "As long as you don't make an issue of your uniqueness, eh, who care what you as an individual do or think or feel, you are nothing anyways."
On the other hand I know that there are all sorts of reports about gay/transgendered students being bullied. Maybe that should be "Japanese adults" take a don't ask don't tell attitude? Or maybe upon adulthood the discrimination takes on a refined, polite, subtlety? I don't know. I've never noticed the bullying at school (JHS English ALT here). I can't think of anyone I know here in Japan that's openly gay to ask about it.
 
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This also made me think of something else, and that's being different in general in Japan. I've heard from many people that in Japan, being different from everyone isn't something to be celebrated.
From the expression "the nail that sticks up gets pounded down", many/most Japanese take to heart a role in society. In other words, don't stand out in a crowd because it's embarrassing to the whole and upsetting to the harmony.

The younger generation is slowly drifting away from that, as evidenced by its fashions, cosplay, tattoos, etc., but even they have their limits within their own peer groups. Standing out also doesn't apply to people like TV talent, who are often recognized by their clearly unique/different appearance or key phrases or gestures. It's entertainment just like other human societies. But get them together off camera, and you'll see how much they respect the harmony.

Why're stories in a lot of Japanese anime, manga, video games, etc so contradictory to what the Japanese actually follow? Do Japanese people view these stories, but don't take their messages to heart or something?
Every culture has to have its own heroes and role models.

Being "different" in Japan as a foreigner starts immediately with your own nationality and ethnicity/race. You are by definition already different, and as such the rules don't apply as much. Are you concerned that they do? If so, how different do you think you might be over here, whether in actions or appearance?
 
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Thanks for the replies. I do have another curious question though. I watched this gay-themed Korean film called Rec. It was about a gay couple that's been together for 5 years and they're recording a night together on film because one of them (or both) has a feeling it'll be their last night together. In the end, they have to separate. I was confused why at first, but I read a explanation online. It basically said that at a certain age, society expects you to be married and you're looked down upon and less opportunities will be available to you if you're not. One of the characters was 30 and was being pressured to get married by his parents (I think) and they arranged a partner for him. Because he was being so pressured to marry and because gay marriage isn't legal, he was forced to separate from his boyfriend, with the idea that "5 years is a pretty good run for a gay couple, but it'd be impossible for it to last a lifetime here".
My question is, could something similar like this happen in Japan? Because I have heard that Japanese society has similar expectations for people entering adulthood.
 

Mike Cash

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Every society has expectations of people entering adulthood. In Japan people do have the freedom not to meet this expectations. I certainly don't think anyone would expect openly gay man to suddenly give it up and marry women just because they've reached a certain age.

I take it you choose not to answer my question?
 
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It could conceivably happen here (or anywhere people are closeted), but not all Japanese LGBTs live closeted lives defined by expectations and roles that were established in the last century.
 
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I take it you choose not to answer my question?
Oh, sorry about that. I'm actually surprised someone still remembers me. A lot's changed since then. I'm still very fascinated with Japan and it's culture and I'd love to visit someday, but I'm not 100% sure what I wanna do with my life right now. I'm currently going to university and taking classes in game design and animation. I'm close to graduating, but it seems like I always run into something that holds me back another semester or two.
 

Mike Cash

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Oh, sorry about that. I'm actually surprised someone still remembers me. A lot's changed since then. I'm still very fascinated with Japan and it's culture and I'd love to visit someday, but I'm not 100% sure what I wanna do with my life right now. I'm currently going to university and taking classes in game design and animation. I'm close to graduating, but it seems like I always run into something that holds me back another semester or two.
Well, you hang in there and graduate, no matter what.

It's nice to hear how things have gone because, as you can imagine, we get posts from kids and hear about their aspirations but never get to hear back from them as adults and learn what became of them.
 
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