The Gay Debate: Japan’s Comfy Closet, Part One


The Tokyo Gay Pride Parade in August of 2010.

TOKYO (majirox news) – There aren’t many Japanese people in the public eye who have announced they are gay. However, recently a small number of mainly male artists have started to speak out about being gay. They are on talk shows and other programs.

There are also some critics who complain that entertainers use gay stereotypes to increase their popularity.

According to Aya Kamikawa, a transgender assemblywoman in the Setagaya District of Tokyo, gender identity is highly progressive in Japan and the government implemented laws to protect them.

While Japan, she says, is ahead of most countries including Europe about gender identity, it is behind other Western countries about gay rights.

Five people with different backgrounds discussed with Majirox News how they viewed the gay situation in Japan. While they agreed that most people were not actively hostile to gays, they disagreed about the levels and forms of discrimination against them in society and the workplace.

Catherine Makino talked to them recently in Tokyo and published a two-part series of articles. The first one deals with the Japanese media.

Q: There are many popular entertainers on daily Japanese TV who are gay, transvestite, transgender, or nurture such a public persona, including transvestite Matsuko Deluxe and a transgender singer and personality named Haruna Ai.

How do you think these types of entertainers influence the public’s opinion of gays?

Hideki Sunagawa, a 40-year-old cultural anthropologist and president of Tokyo Gay Pride: It’s true that gay men are portrayed mainly as transgendered people. Even if they are not dressed like women, those who are on TV are very feminine in their behavior and in the way they talk.

Many Japanese people think that gay men are basically the same as transgender people and transvestites. They are extreme and there’s always one who plays a female role in gay couples.

Mariya Goya, a 22-year-old hairdresser in Tokyo: That’s exactly the point. TV portrays gays as overtly feminine, which creates these stereotypes that all gay men have this persona.

Miki Hamano: a middle-aged executive: Sunagawa-san makes a good point here. This is quite true. If Japanese TV is anything to judge by, he is 100% correct.

I involuntarily watch a lot of TV because my wife is addicted. I often glance up from whatever I’m reading and sometimes she’ll say that one of the women is a cross-dressing man. You’ll often see women dressing as men on TV and using male mannerisms. It’s not as frequent as men dressing as women, but it’s frequent enough.

Straight performers on Japanese TV seem to spend an enormous amount of time dressing as women, and some of the more outlandish comedians on TV dress as schoolgirls. Given that many of them are fat and ugly men nobody is going to mistake them for a woman or someone who is transgender.

Q: How about the Japanese entertainer Razor Ramon Hard Gay? In 2005, wearing a leather harness, hat and pants, he danced to the delight of his many Japanese fans. He built a career on using bizarre and extreme antics to parody gays.

Professor, a 30-year-old gay university professor who requested to remain anonymous: Most Japanese knew that Razor Ramon was not gay. We knew he was like most entertainers who wanted fame and to earn a lot of money.

Hamano: And people keep underestimating the sense of humor and the knack for parody that Japanese have. Cross-dressing seems to be nothing more than a cliché of Japanese comedy.

Everyone knows that competition in the performing world is so intense that you have to build a persona different from what any other performer has, and the weirder the better. You’re barking up the wrong tree here.

Q: According to a recent Yahoo News article O-ne-kei (sisterly types) are effeminate gays, transgender gays or drag queens on TV, and they are considered to be in the same group. They are popular because they say things women can relate to.

If they were really women, females would get jealous, but as long as it comes from a drag queen or a transgender person, it’s OK. Gays can get away with being spiteful and not being disliked, says the article.

Sunagawa: While some people realize that O-ne-kei people, who appear on TV, are different, this also enforces a stereotype

Charles Ayres, a media personality and openly gay 33-year-old American in Tokyo: In the United States they are called LGBT, which stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and people in each of these groups see themselves as separate entities.

And the Japanese public likes gays and transgendered performers as long as they don’t say anything political. I wish the ones in the spotlight would do a little more to focus on civil unions, HIV-infected people, drug abuse or any of the serious topics that affect the LGBT.

Hamano: No Japanese performers say a thing about this. Why should gay Japanese performers single themselves out to make an issue of it? I disagree strongly with his logic. It’s very American.

Ayres: It is their responsibility to bring up important issues to the attention of the public and it’s not an American thing. Japan doesn’t offer any legal recognition of same-sex relationships. There are civil unions in other countries, including South Africa, Brazil, Holland, France and Canada.

Q: Would you say that there is an increasingly realistic awareness about gays today in Japan, especially with the Internet and more information getting out?

Ayres: TV shows such as The L Word and Sex in the City, which were big hits in Japan, have helped in raising awareness in the media, even though some gays find the gay characters in these series overly stereotyped.

Sunagawa: As I mentioned earlier, there is confusion between gender identity and sexual orientation. Still, many people believe gay/lesbian people are immoral for choosing the same sex partners.

In the next part of the series the group discusses discrimination and whether being gay is an issue in Japan.
The link to Charles Ayres’ Web site, called Impossibly Glamourous, is

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4 Responses to The Gay Debate: Japan’s Comfy Closet, Part One

  1. Diva Divine on 01/06/2011 at 1:42 am

    Hey people! Fab article! — Diva

  2. [...] Recent CommentsDiva Divine on The Gay Debate: Japan’s Comfy Closet, Part OneAnime Uproar Threatens Gov Expo | Majirox News on Tokyo Will Censor Manga, AnimeNatsu on Tokyo Will [...]

  3. Gay Life in Tokyo : The Comfy Closet on 01/06/2011 at 4:00 pm

    [...] PART 1 then Read Part 2.  Kudos Catrina Diva. This entry was posted in Media Watch. Bookmark the [...]

  4. anna on 01/06/2011 at 4:39 pm

    Great article! I rarely see this topic in the news or discussed amongst Japanese.

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