Sexual Minorities in Japan - Modern Japanese Reaction To Queer Life

Modern Japanese Reaction To Queer Life

Dating back to the Edo Period (1603-1857), various literary and artistic depictions of sexual acts between men and young boys exist. Homosexuality in the western sense began during the Meiji period (1858-1912) and later in the Taishō period (1912-1925). In the Meiji period, same-sex practices were considered personal preferences. However, documentation and case studies only go back to the 1900s, leaving little room for analysts to distinguish homosexuality as an ‘obscene sexuality.’

There are various opinions on how far the society has come in dealing with Queer people in Japan. McClelland’s article, ‘The Social Situation Facing Gays in Japan’ presents a well rounded discussion on how the society reacts to Queer people. It discusses the social structure of Japanese society and how well it accommodates the sexual minority. For instance, the sexual minority has now become a very important part of the Human Rights policies constructed by the “Tokyo City Human Rights Policy Directive Manual released in 2000”. Gay people were originally dropped during the first draft of the policy, but after facing pressure from the public, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Queer activist groups, the council eventually pledged to safeguard the human rights of gay people.

Furthermore, awareness and education amongst Japanese people, specifically pertaining to Queer issues has improved and information is now readily available. In the past, society often ignored Queer lifestyles, thus interpreting their sexual and gender expressions as a disease. Now, with the influx of Queer magazines, research, interviews, case studies, auto-biographies, journals and activism, more people have a relatively accepting and respectful attitude towards Queers, their life-styles and choices. The availability of literature, information and formal representation of Queer voices has helped many young Japanese to identify themselves with sexual minority groups. More importantly, awareness has opened a mode of communication between mainstream Japanese society and Queer people in Japan.

It would be incorrect to say that Japanese Queer people do not face difficulties and that they only enjoy a life of comfort without any societal prejudice or discrimination. For instance, many men in contemporary Japanese society express their sexual attraction for other men; however they do so with a low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. The excessive information on Queer life-styles has helped to change this and now gays are more comfortable with their sexual orientation.

Still, many Queer people are aware of the negative perception that much of Japanese society has about Queer lifestyles. Many Queer people do not feel comfortable discussing their problems with their families. University students who openly discuss their problems with fellow students categorize themselves as ‘straight’ to avoid uncomfortable situations when seeking employment. McClelland’s article talks about how gay men in the provincial areas face oppressive and condescending remarks. While awareness amongst Japanese society has helped Queer people to express their identities, societal restrictions prevent Queer people from living freely and contently in regards to employment and public accommodations. Furthermore, the lack of clinical psychologists versed in understanding Queer identities does not help the advancement for social acceptance.

Additional problems arise as awareness spreads. Issues such as old-age, same-sex partnership laws, marriage, adoption and welfare systems are all challenges that sexual-minority groups now face. Such challenges will need to be acknowledged by Japanese leaders before any positive societal changes can successfully occur.

The “western modes of promoting activism and visibility, such as Queer organizations, film festivals and parades in Japanese society have been taken by some as evidence of a ‘global queering.’ In the realm of sexuality, globalization results in creative indigenization and cultural admixture more than it does in any unilateral imposition of western sexual identities.” Thus, “Japan is home to an alternative sexual modernity, a modernity produced by hybrid globalizing processes as much as by the continuation of identities, practices and mentalities inherited from the past.”

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