Masaki C. Matsumoto

A queer writer and YouTuber in Japan

Masaki C. Matsumoto

When Rainbow Flags Make It To National Television #Japan #LGBTQ #MISIA

Singer MISIA singing on stage

When I started college, there already existed prides and rainbow flags. I didn’t have to create queer spaces to join or queer symbols to identify with. They were there, and I’d join rainbow-filled events and groups. And I was constantly disappointed with how those events were trans-indifferent, gay men-centered, obsessed with money and reputation, anti-intersectional, ethnocentric, disability-unfriendly, male-dominated, etc. etc. 

For me, rainbow has always been a symbol of the ideal that we collectively aim at, something we go back to when lost in direction and imagination. It’s a symbol that reminds us of who we might leave behind if we stop caring for the entire community but those who are like “us.” That’s what it should be, and that’s why many of us queers work hard to make/keep rainbow spaces inclusive and try to stay humble when confronted with criticisms, and hold accountable those who do not live up to what the symbol represents. 

Most queers do not automatically identify with rainbow flags. Identifying with them requires constant work. The sense of community is hard to achieve and many of us try hard to make rainbow feel like “ours” by joining events and groups imperfect but *close enough*. It precisely feels like fitting in at school and you know what I mean if you were neither one of the “cool kids” nor one of the happy outsiders. If you were like me, you probably did the background color paint on the cardboard so the cool kids could do cool painting on it for a school project. You were there, but you could’ve been anyone. For me, queer events always feel like that school project that I was invisibly part of, that I could not ditch and go home because I was not happy enough an outsider. 

That’s why, that’s why we should not place rainbow flags in a nationalistic TV program that celebrates Japan’s Imperial family & the Olympics. NHK’s annual end-of-the-year music program, Kouhaku Utagassen, where musicians are divided into two competing teams of red (women) and white (men), did just that on New Year’s eve, 2019. 

MISIA, the singer who performed with drag queens and numerous rainbow symbols on the stage, is a gay icon and a long-time ally who has helped raise awareness about sexual diversity through music, performance, and collaboration with gay men. That, I don’t have a problem with (I just hope that she’ll start doing the same with the lesbian, bi, and trans communities). 

But the underlying theme of the entire program is national unity, with the utterances of words like Reiwa (Japan’s new imperial reign period that started earlier last year) and the Olympics recurring throughout the program. MISIA’s rainbow-filled performance, in such a nationalistic context, might be understood as a call for queers to join the “diverse Japanese nationals” bandwagon, or in other words, it can be understood as the formerly government-owned broadcasting company’s homonationalist tactics. 

Not the singer’s fault, obviously, but as someone who needs to work hard to identify with the rainbow symbol, someone who stayed after school only to paint the background so I could be part of the project, I was almost compelled to applaud. I still feel like I should feel happy to see rainbow symbols in Kouhaku because it’s such a big event and by feeling happy about it, I could announce to the world that I am part of the queer community, a legitimate member of it, indeed. 

But that would have meant I’d have to forget, at least for a moment, about my family and friends who are not welcomed members of the Japanese society. 

That’s why, that’s why rainbow symbols, which supposedly represent all queers and their diverse lives, should not be used like this. We should not use them in a way that tempt queers, especially ones who already feel alienated within the community, to identify with them in contexts of injustices. 

I wrote an article about this in Japanese for Wezzy. If you read Japanese, here’s the link. 
#NHK #Kohaku #Kouhaku #MISIA #LGBTQ #LGBT

*If you believe that nationalism is just, this post isn’t for you. Don’t even think.

*Cover photo has been taken off of MISIA’s official website.

Social Justice English#001: marginalized, prejudice, problematic, unacceptable

One of the reasons I started this channel was because I had activist/scholar friends who struggled with English when communicating with fellow activists, researchers, scholars etc. from other cultures. I wanted to help them. Some of my past videos are directly catered to that kind of audience, but here’s my serious attempt to create a repository of social justice vocabulary for them to learn. Also, if you’re learning Japanese, I translate each key word/phrase and example sentence into Japanese following English explanations.

Sexist Anime Is Japanese Culture?

How do we talk about sexism, heterosexism, and ciscentrism in anime/manga when it’s part of “their culture”? Can we criticize misogynous, homophobic and transphobic anime/manga without being ethnocentric and arrogant? What’s the best way to address them? Or should we all shut our mouths and let them be? Would that make us anti-feminist and anti-queer?

Introduction to Logic: Is lawmaker Mio Sugita’s homophobic argument VALID or SOUND?

In this English lesson video, I explain to ESL learners the meaning of the word “sound” in the sense of an argument being logical and based on truth, then move on to explain validity and soundness using one of the homophobic arguments recently made by Japanese lawmaker Mio Sugita where she argues that students should not be taught about LGBT issues in school.

Language, culture, and identity——a translation tip that I learned after watching a lot of Doctor Who

Language is a weird thing. It’s external but also integral to our human psyche. By the time you’ve learned to speak, you become situated, recognizably to all including yourself, in the world. But if language has such a formational functionality, it must mean that when we learn a second language, we are to some extent repeating a similar process of becoming situated——or re-situated——in the world through the new language.

Many bilingual people experience a certain disparity or disconnect between the person they are when speaking one language and the person they become when they speak the other. The degree to which they switch over depends, they say, on things like whether they are talking to a group of people who only understand one of the languages they speak, which country they are currently in, and how much time they’ve just spent speaking just one of the languages continuously.

That probably is the reason why translation and interpreting require a completely different skillsets and brain energy than simply being able to speak more than one language.

I’m fluent in both English and Japanese but I grew up speaking the latter language for the first 16 years of my life. Naturally, I have a much larger vocabulary in Japanese. At the same time, I have a lisp in Japanese and not in English. So there certainly is a difference in fluency but it’s more complicated than just first language versus second language, and I don’t feel particularly more comfortable speaking one over the other.

Because I speak two languages, sometimes I get asked by friends to translate things, like an essay, an academic abstract, an email correspondence, a short film, a Facebook post, a government-issued document, etc. At work and events, I often volunteer to interpret for those who do not speak the same language. But I am seriously, tremendously bad at doing those things.

When I was in college I got a job as a translator for one of the university’s research centers. Every time I submitted my translation, the leader of the translation team, who was working as a professional translator outside school, would say, “your translation is so unique and creative.” In other words, my translation may not have necessarily been bad but not professional. The way I translate things is, I read the original text, take it in, and say it in the target language, maybe paragraph by paragraph. I’ve tried other methods but none of them worked for me.

So basically, I may speak two languages well enough for most everyday tasks, but my mind feels sort of split in half where I have to digest what comes to one of them and visualize or experience it so it can be transferred to the other. It takes a bit of time and energy, and when I have to interpret for others continuously for a long time, like 2-3 hours straight, I get really exhausted.

But reading about other bilingual people’s experiences, I realized I was not alone, and it’s pretty common to have as many, um, multiple personalities, if you will, as the number of languages they speak, because language and culture are one package and you can’t separate a language from its cultural background. You can easily find, for instance, the most politically correct English-speaking person who is full of slips of the tongue in the other language they speak.

What’s really interesting about this linguistic disconnect is that, in my case, it doesn’t happen when I try to speak English with British accent (at which I’m terrible, by the way). I noticed this when I was interpreting for my colleagues after spending all night watching British TV show Doctor Who. When it comes to accents, I get easily affected by the accent with which people surrounding me speak. When I’m in Osaka, I start to develop an Osaka accent within half a day. So that day, after quite an overdose of Docteh Who, I caught myself speaking with a slight British accent.

And it was way easier to translate, especially from Japanese to English, perhaps because British English is not part of who I am, has never really contributed in any way to the formation of my identity——it’s just a tool, no cultures attached. While North American English is my second language, British English is a foreign language. Foreign, but I know its words and grammars. I can just mechanically translate between Japanese and English, preserving the cultural weight of the Japanese, without any interference of American culture I am familiar with.

I wish I had known this trick when I started doing translation work. It works for me so well that I’d recommend that all translators and interpreters of English and Japanese should try it i.e. speak (orally or silently) with a foreign accent, no matter how bad it is. It might also work with any language combination where the cultural difference between the languages is huge.

Language and culture are inseparable. I knew that. I’d always known that because I studied Cultural Anthropology and Sociology and the like. But it wasn’t until I noticed that British English, for me, could be detached from culture and used solely as a speech tool, that I came to understand firsthand that, for me, North American English carried a heavy cultural weight, from which the language could not be separated.

Now, what languages do you think have affected your identity? Do you speak any language fluently that, however, has nothing to do with your identity, how you behave, or how you think?

I make music and this is a song I wrote – “Intersect”

Music has always been my passion since I started taking piano lessons at 10. I got my first Mac (the rounded, classic CRT iMac!) at 14 in 1999 and started making music on it. I was once in a surf music band playing tenor sax. Now I’m mostly back to computer music and creating J-Pop- and kayokyoku-influenced music. This song, Intersect, is about social labels and how we’re all human being, like how we minority people walk among the rest of the society.

Why You Need To “Unlearn” Your English (or any second language)

How do I say “bless you” in Japanese when someone sneezes? Why do Japanese people say “itadakimasu” (I shall take/eat it) before eating something? Well, language and culture are closely tied to each other. And to really speak a second language naturally, you need to learn the culture as well. But, what if that second culture contains something bad, like discrimination?

Debunking myths about LGBTQ politics & cultures in Japan

“Hate crime is nonexistent in Japan,” “Japan only recently started having pride marches,” “homosexuality is accepted in Japan because of the traditional male-male shudo sexual/romantic culture,” “Japanese media are LGBT-friendly,” and “Taiga Ishikawa is the first openly gay politician in Japan” are all false!