Masaki C. Matsumoto on the queer experience in Japan
December 14, 2016 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Maybe it’s cool to be accepting of queerness in your state. Or you may live in an area where it’s cool to call someone “faggot.” [...] like, do you identify as a “cool” ally or a “cool” bigot? [...]I think that’s a huge difference between Japan and the U.S. In Japan, LGBTQ+ people are a joke. It’s “fun” to act like a bigot. It’s “boring” to be accepting.
Anime Feminist [previously] interviews Masaki C. Matsumoto, Japanese vlogger and queer activist.
posted by Sokka shot first (16 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- Brandon Blatcher

This is exactly what I wanted from Anime Feminist, and I admit to erring on the somewhat uncharitable "REEEEE this is all Western Reception Studies about Free! REEEEE" in that previous thread. This is my first introduction to Masaki C. Matsumoto, which I'm sorry for -- I really need to start listening to conversations happening on YouTube and vlogs and stop being prehistoric -- as this is great. Absolutely solid interview, I will be passing it around, and it reminded me that Chin Nakamura's Gunjō is on my re-read list.

Top form, and also, well, gruesomely depressing. I wish he had felt more empowered to talk and make contrasts/connections with his time in New Zealand (especially if he'd spent time anywhere near our massive Southeast Asian communities and LGBQT+ intersection thereof), but excellent interview, glad this was posted.
posted by monster truck weekend at 8:53 AM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

This is a great interview! I really enjoyed how he situated things historically and the general political approach, especially the thread through the whole thing of "members of a group are different from one another for various reasons", which I think is something that it's easy to under-estimate on the internet.
posted by Frowner at 8:56 AM on December 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

This episode of Gaycation in Japan was eye opening. The part where a son goes to hire some "friends" to be with him when he comes out to his mother was heartbreaking. The entire show is a great view into different cultures and acceptance. Ninja edit just to find out that it's only available to stream if you login with a cable provider. Someone has thrown it on Dailymotion.
posted by msbutah at 8:58 AM on December 14, 2016

Nobody hires "friends" in Japan.
posted by My Dad at 9:16 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

This comment (see below) was interesting to me, because, as a "fat person" (I have a size-38 waist) people in Japan always make fun of my weight. There's nothing much else I can do except laugh it off; asking people to stop would result in awkwardness and hurt feelings. At the end of the day, being teased for being pudgy is, I imagine, nothing like being continuously teased for your sexual orientation. AFAIK it's okay to be gay in Japan, as long as you don't tell anyone about it:

It’s “fun” to act like a bigot. It’s “boring” to be accepting. It doesn’t matter how much of a bigot or an ally you may be underneath. Just act like a bigot, say “fags are kimoi,” have a man kiss another man for a batsu game, whatever. It’s “funny” and no one complains, because if you complain, you’re “boring.” Even no media company takes it seriously when they receive complaints about their homophobic and/or transphobic programs.

So, in my experience and observation, when you’re queer in Japan and want to be open about it, you’re gonna have to not just talk about it but laugh about it as well. As long as your sexuality or gender identity is a laughing matter, people will at least give you positive vibes. But as soon as you start talking about it in a more serious tone, you have to be really creative and find ways not to be mendokusai [a killjoy].

posted by My Dad at 9:45 AM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

This is a good interview that reaffirms most of my impressions, which is unfortunate (because thoroughly soaked-in patriarchy, homophobia and transphobia is never ideal) but I'm glad to see it and glad to've read it. I, too, hope Anime Feminist follows up with more in this vein. Discussing pop culture through a feminist/LGBT+ positive lens more broadly, giving a voice to Japanese activists and artists for a more global audience and so forth is much more interesting than beanplate reviews of mainstream anime series.

Thanks for sharing!
posted by byanyothername at 9:59 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey! That's my friend! Excited to see Masaki getting much deserved recognition.
posted by halonine at 10:58 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nobody hires "friends" in Japan.

There are a lot of "lol, in Japan you can hire friends" articles on cursory Google search, mostly from 2009-2014. Sounds mostly like LOLJAPAN orientalism but is it not a thing at all?

This article centers around Singapore but also mentions:

Companies offering rent-a-friend services are believed to have started in Japan in the 2000s and are also found in the United States.
posted by aydeejones at 11:58 AM on December 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think this hits on the same feeling my wife and I have had when discussing this. In the US, its very polarized --- some areas are very accepting, some are very homophobic. There is a strong religious-culture component to the bigotry. And most of all, there is a very real threat of violence in many places and a deep-seated cultural hatred underlying it (I grew up in the Bible Belt and was thoroughly immersed in this culture growing up, somehow managed to avoid being like that myself thankfully).

In Japan, there is less hatred and much less risk of violence. But you also won't see the positive depictions and acceptance you do in places like SF/LA/NY to any wide degree.

Of course, individuals vary and I know quite a few Japanese who are respectful and aware of LGBTQ people (including my wife and her family). But you won't see many positive depictions of them in Japanese media, or serious treatment of issues, etc. And few people will care enough to push back at the people who make jokes/etc.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:21 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Thanks for this post, it's fascinating to hear a local perspective.

On the hiring friends thing, the Gaycation Japan episode linked by msbutah above (thanks!) at 30:55 actually includes an interview with the owner of a company that rents people to pose as friends to, for example, attend a wedding or even to accompany them when they come out to their parents.
posted by Pfardentrott at 3:02 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

On re-reading my post, I realized I just restated what msbutah said in her post, but in any event it was a really fascinating and moving part of the episode.
posted by Pfardentrott at 3:08 PM on December 14, 2016

You can rent elephants (cite: in Los Angeles, but that doesn't mean it's a common thing Americans do.
posted by My Dad at 6:27 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I mean, you can rent a friend in Los Angeles too (a quick search shows numerous sites for this). But the article rednikki posted makes the weird jump that My Dad is complaining about ("do as the locals do: Rent a friend"). I don't see any evidence its a common thing anywhere in the world and have never seen or heard anything about it in Japan other than a couple English-language articles.

But that also doesn't mean that it never happens (I also remember a story sometime in the last year or so about a guy in LA you can rent to go on walks with you, for example, and he apparently had quite a few takers and was planning on starting a whole company to do that). The specific story about that in the Gaycation thing is quite plausible even though it is almost certainly an exceedingly rare thing in general.
posted by thefoxgod at 8:02 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I really want to see more of this kind of thing--bilingual and cross-cultural discussions of feminism and queer politics in a non-academic format. Until recently my only insights about queer culture and politics in Japan came from 2 things: when I went there as a kid on a foreign exchange student program for a few months, and trying to read between the lines in BL media, both of which I knew were unsatisfactory.

When I was a kid in that program, I tried asking one of the bilingual employees about the state of LGBT politics. But I could tell she was a little hesitant to talk about it with me and only went as far as to say it was similar to the US--some people are ok with it, but older and traditional people don't understand it, and it varies by region and subculture. This was back in 2000, I think.

Then, when I read BL manga I knew I wasn't reading queer men's stories (usually, anyway), but straight women's perceptions and fantasies about it. And a lot of BL manga will do things like create a fictional world where homophobia doesn't exist and it just reads like shoujo, only the weepy cute girl is replaced with a weepy cute boy. Then some will be similar only the characters will have this "I'm not a homo, I just really like this one guy" kind of attitude. Or they just refrain from being open about their relationship in public. But then some of them will put homophobia to the forefront and even use it as a plot point, or they'll have the characters hang out in ni-chome (japan's gay district) and discuss politics and identity in some form or another. And all I could do is think, I don't know which parts of these worlds are actually reflective of attitudes towards queerness, so I'll just take it all with a grain of salt and refrain from making too many assumptions, knowing that it would be like basing straight relationships off of trashy romance paperbacks.

Recently though, since I started watching (and obsessing over...) Yuri on Ice, I started skimming through Japanese twitter reactions to the show and it's been kind of interesting. I'm still not fluent but every once in a while I see someone discussing the show in the frame of LGBT politics and media representation. Some tweets echo what westerners say--like how it's important not to categorize Yuri on Ice as "BL" or for fujoshi, but see it as its own work of art that just happens to have gay characters. Further in that rabbit hole, I came across a JP twitter user who self-identified as an LGBT ally and was going on a brief twitter rant, exasperated with how Japanese media officials ignore complaints about homophobia/transphobia, saying something to the effect of "[you entertainers] know how to make people laugh, so you should also understand what makes us hurt."
posted by picklenickle at 10:54 PM on December 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

For sure, you're absolutely right. On the other hand, there has always been the tendency in the "foreign" media to portray and decontextualize outliers as "normal" in Japan, such as panty vending machines, ultra-minimalist living, you-name-it.

So "hiring a friend" or whatever Gaycation did, is just not a "normal" thing to do in Japan.
posted by My Dad at 9:37 AM on December 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

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