My Interview on Feminism, Queer Activism, and Representation in Japanese Pop Culture Is Now Online at AniFem

Amelia Cook, Editor-in-chief at Anime Feminist, contacted me after I posted this video on YouTube.

Amelia said she wanted to interview me for the AniFem website, and I agreed, part of the reason being it’s a new website and yet they promise to pay all writers starting 2017. That should not be a big deal, but it kinda is when so many writers around the world are underpaid or not paid at all. That, and I just liked the idea of creating a sort of like an online hub where you can find lots of queer and feminist information, resources, critiques etc. about otaku cultures.

You can read the entire interview here:
[Interview] Masaki C. Matsumoto, queer and feminist activist

Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan

Edit (May 2): If you are using Google Translate or a similar service in order to read this, please do not trust the translation. If you think that Tokyo Rainbow Pride is the main topic of this article, that is not true. The main topic is English-language LGBT journalism.

Although this isn’t intended to be an exhaustive summary of history of LGBT politics in Japan, which I cannot possibly provide given my limited knowledge, I just couldn’t take anymore the shittiness of the news articles written about LGBT politics in Japan.

The most typical, all-too-common article written in English never fails to make the followings clear:

  • Japan lags behind the West. There’s nothing legal about gay partnerships, and people there are afraid to come out.
  • But things are changing. And such changes are welcomed with enthusiasm by all LGBTs in Japan.


I have no idea how authors of such articles could really think that the LGBT politics in Japan might be that simple. Japan is a former colonizer (and has not done much to take accountability, nor does it intend to). There has been a growing influx of immigrants as well as already-existing communities of non-citizens, and former citizens from Korea (whose citizenships were taken away in 1945). Japan has had movements like feminist movements, disability movements, anti-nuclear movements, anti-war movements, anti-racist movements etc. Some of them were radical. Some of them confronted each other and created a massive amount of dialogue about social justice and the complexity and intersectionality of different aspects of human life. The LGBT movement has its long history dating back to the 80s AIDS movement the 60s and possibly even earlier, as a friend of mine pointed out in private email – thanks, J! Japan is now excluding Korean school students from its tuition subsidies, and there are protests against that. And with the knowledge and truth that queer people exist everywhere, whether they call themselves ‘queer’ or not, it’s hard to overlook the diversity of queer people in Japan, who take up different social positions and have existed in every segment of society and thus every portion of movements. In short, the LGBT politics in Japan can NOT be simple.

Nonetheless, the authors of the English-language articles about LGBT politics in Japan just so gracefully ignore that simple fact, and just as gracefully and ignorantly believe that the feudal, conservative, lagged-behind culture is starting, only recently, to recognize the issues of LGBT the same way as the U.S., the U.K., etc. did.

The epitome of this is that the 2012 election’s gay winning candidate was celebrated as Japan’s first openly gay politician. That is simply erasure of contemporary lesbian politicians and older generations of gay political activists. This article or this more recent article has no mention of the transgender politician who has been elected multiple times.

The new pride parade, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, which only started last year, has been treated as if it were the very first pride parade in Japan. And that is not true at all. Tokyo has had pride for a decade (organized by a group separate from the recent one, which was disbanded a few days after the recent pride was held this year). Sapporo and Osaka have held pride multiple times. Nagoya joined the history of pride last year. Let me tell you——yes, the most recent pride, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, is the very first pride in Japan that is shamelessly commercialist, neoliberalism-friendly, war-friendly, and corporate-friendly. The list of booths who made presence at this year’s pride include Israeli Embassy, the U.S. Embassy, the U.K. Embassy, IBM, an insurance corporation, a wedding agency, Google, the city of Tokyo (its welfare branch), and Phillips Electronics. I saw a tweet during the pride saying the ambassadors’ from those embassies spoke on stage. Who were greeted with this:

No to Occupation, No to Osprey
“No to Occupation, No Osprey” – a tweet by @ r_i_m_y_o_n_g

The Israeli Embassy handed out hand-held fans. Which was used in protest against Israel in this way:

"No to Israel" - a tweet by @uokoba
“No to Israel”, “Against war” – a tweet by @uokoba

In Japanese-language Twittosphere (or Twittersphere, according to Oxford Dictionaries o_O), there were criticisms about the sponsoring of Tokyo Pride Parade (the one that got disbanded this year) by foreign-owned large corporations.

The Pinknews ran an article about the latest parade, strangely with the concluding sentence about the Walt Disney Company policy selling gay weddings and Tokyo Disney following suit. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, all three articles tagged with “Japan” on Pinknews are about the lesbian couple who did the wedding at Tokyo Disney.

All of 3 Pinknews articles about Japan.
All of 3 Pinknews articles about Japan.

Each of the articles has the following sentence.

In a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, their wedding was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay people and activists. – LINK

In a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, the wedding was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay people and activists. – LINK

However, in a country where homosexuality is still a taboo, and saw its first openly gay politician elected last year, the news was greeted with enthusiasm by local gay rights activists. – LINK

But if the authors had done some more research, they would have found out that in Japan, there is a huge number of people opposing the system of marriage, especially in conjunction with the family registry system (koseki), including queer and feminist individuals who show their opposition to marriage publicly. There are academic articles like this.

What I don’t understand is why these Western editors so much like to think of Japan as undoubtedly conservative, of its LGBT politics as undoubtedly so immature that everything that’s aligned with mainstream LGBT agenda would be appreciated and greeted with enthusiasm by local LGBT individuals who, in the authors’ dreams, have long waited to be liberated by the Western mainstream gay efforts. They are, in constructing LGBT politics in Japan as such, erasing local history and ignoring dialogues taking place among queers in Japan.

Look——I don’t even like Japan. It’s a country where I was born, and grew up until 16 years old. Still, that doesn’t matter, I don’t like it. I don’t like what it does to Korean residents, what it doesn’t do for queers, how they treat asylum-seekers, how they prioritize corporate interests over peoples’ interests, etc. etc. This country is full of shit. But there are people here struggling to change that. And the way some of them are trying to change it is way more complicated than waiting for a White savior to conquer and liberate the marginalized populations. And the change is taking place. It has always been taking place. Taiga Ishikawa isn’t the first openly gay politician. This year’s lesbian couple’s wedding was not entirely “greeted with enthusiasm.” The Tokyo Rainbow Pride is only new in terms of commercialism, affinity with corporate capitalism, and its indiscriminate teaming up with state violence and wars. Wake up, English-language journalists. For gods sake, do research.

ADD (May 13, 2013 Japan time)

Found a really annoying article about the pride march that took place in Tokyo earlier this year. Had to leave a comment. And here it is.

I’m a queer activist from Japan and here I’m talking to progressives only. I’m not gonna talk with anti-gay conservatives. I’m against gay marriage for a wholly different reason than theirs.

OK, I said it. Now to the main point of this comment – the “gay pride marchers with banners” at Tokyo Rainbow Pride were not “demanding marriage equality in the land of the rising sun.”

Okay, so, this phrase is annoying in many ways. First of all, what the hell is the “land of the rising sun”? What kind of ancient world does the author live in? For gods sake, New Zealand is the first country to see the sun rise in the beginning of the day. The rising sun rhetoric has been used by those in Japan with power in order to make the people proud of themselves so that manipulating them and fashioning them into soldiers and suicide weapons would be easier. So using the rhetoric today carries a lot of colonial connotations.

Second, marriage equality was not even the theme of the event. It was mentioned by some who spoke at the event, and I’m sure there were participants who wanted marriage equality. But the voices we heard at the event were much more diverse. A few years back, at pride, one participant had a sign that said, “F*** the imperial system.” Another participant’s sign said, “God bless no marriage.” Yet another, “Not marriage, we want visas.” There was also an internal protest against one of the floats themed “marriage [mar-riah-j]”, and the protesters had signs that said, “marriage is the gateway to poverty,” “We don’t need recognition through marriage,” “I am lesbian, married or alone,” “F*** the whole family system,” etc.

This year’s event also saw a multitude of voices and opinions, very diverse, very controversial. When the ambassadors’ from embassies of the U.S., Israel, etc. spoke on stage, they were greeted with signs that said, “No to Occupation,” and “No Osprey.” The Israeli Embassy handed out hand-held fans that said, “ISRAEL,” and someone added, “NO TO,” at the top, making it their political statement, NO TO ISRAEL. There was also someone who had a vertical flag that said, “I oppose war.” I wrote about those protests at (“Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan”) if you’re interested.

I am not only annoyed by the English-language LGBT journalism. I am also furious about the local media who don’t know shit about queer lives and experiences. But I am very aggravated by the English-language journalism because I know for sure that authors, editors, and whoever is responsible for contents must know that there is a diversity of opinions within any queer community. Queer activism in the US (and other English-speaking countries) has seen so much diversity, so many controversies, and battles so ugly. I sometimes wonder if those writers who write about LGBT politics in Japan simplifies it so that their fantasy of one united community of queers is protected. I say, f*** you. Japan isn’t your wonderland. It’s got a long history of rights-based movements, liberation movements, backlashes, and political lobbying. LGBT politics in Japan cannot be that simple. It cannot be as simple as English-speaking journalists want it to be.

ADD – 2:30PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I don’t know what’s going on. I first posted a comment on the Japan Times Today website. I had to edit it many times so the auto-foul words detector would accept it. And then a couple hours later I got an email from Japan Times Today saying they had removed my comment because it was “offensive/vulgar.” So I posted there the link to this blog post where I copy-and-pasted my original comment. And within an hour it was gone, too. So I left another comment (which looks like my first comment, which isn’t true), explaining the above, and said,

“I’m not trying to advertise my blog here, but if you want to hear a voice of a queer activist in Japan that has something to say about the rhetoric “the land of the rising sun,” and about the narrow definition of queer politics as a demand for marriage equality, you can do so by googling “read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan.””

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 14.34.11

ADD – 3:03PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I. Can’t. Believe. This. Japan Today edited my comment, and deleted the parts where I explained what happened to my previous comments. This is against all the values that journalism should embrace. This is not acceptable.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.03.49

ADD – 3:18PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I just left the following comment.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.18.06

ADD – 3:24PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

And they deleted my comment again.

スクリーンショット 2013-05-13 15.24.15

ADD – 10:00PM, May 13, 2013 Japan time

I finally decided that I didn’t want anything to do with Japan Today anymore, and so asked them to delete all my comments, including the half post that I had posted and they chopped up. Below is the last comment I left. A few minutes later, they took down the both two comments (EDIT: with one email notification about the deletion of the second one. Classification: Off Topic).

Screen Shot 2013-05-13 at 21.57.20

See, I do not care if what they did was in alignment with their “moderation policy.” I mean, first of all, they were not even following their “policy” when they deleted my 2nd and 4th comments and didn’t send me notification emails (I received their email regarding the deletion of my 1st comment). And, second, the policy sucks. It states the moderators can edit readers’ comments, and their decision is final, not negotiable. I mean, deleting someone else’s comment is one thing, but editing it brings in a whole different dimension. It takes parts of a comment out of context, puts them in a wrong (or at least, unintended) context, and betrays the ethics of journalism (which is, by the way, betrayed all too often). The policy also states that readers cannot post any comment discussing comment moderation. And that is fucked up, since there’s no other way a poster can complain about comment moderation when it seems wrong. And I’m not saying they violated their moderation rules. I’m saying their rules and enforcement are wrong.

On a related note

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Child Pornography and Feminism

This article appeared in CGS Newsletter, Issue 11, Center for Gender Studies, International Christian University. PDF

At the World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents on November 24, 2008, an international agreement was reached that all participating countries would undertake to criminalize the possession of child pornography including cartoons (animation, comics, 3DCG, etc.). Many countries prohibit the production and sale of child pornography to protect children from the exploitation and violence considered inherent in non-consensual acts in which, given the adult-child power relation, children inevitably engage as soon as any adult is involved in their sexual activities. This agreement extends the watch on child pornography and makes illegal even the possession of child pornography in cartoon form. They argue that, regardless of whether real children are involved or not, child pornography affects the ways people view children and its prevalence can lead to overtly and excessively sexualized images of children. That is, not only do the children involved suffer physical and psychological harm through non-consensual acts, but also the representation of children in pornography, though indirectly, increases the harm inflicted on real children.

C. McKinnon and A. Dworkin argued that pornography targeted at the heterosexual male population, which most pornography is, not only reflects societal gender power relations but also perpetuates and reinforces them by depicting women in degrading ways and, ultimately, creating what I would like to call “irrigation canals of desire.” As a queer feminist, I am tempted to say any kind of desire should be respected however deviant or condemned. But as a queer feminist, I am more concerned about the irrigation of desire that precedes and provides for the formation of desire into homosexuality, pedophilia, etc., and most likely, heterosexuality. Within the system of the irrigation of desire exist complex forms of representation of differences based on the existing power structures (e.g. gender, race, ethnicity, age, class, physical features and dis/abilities). This is not to say that a form of desire that (necessarily) depends on social injustice must be “wrong,” nor do I intend to attack those who have such desires—-in fact, marginalized desires such as homosexual and pedophilic desires are not any freer than heterosexual desire from the norms. My intention here is to suggest that desire is not independent of the social and cultural.

When these two feminists brought to the public the issue of male-targeted heterosexual pornography, most people, however, just laughed at them, saying pornographic representation of women was not harmful at all. Now, why shouldn’t they have been joined by as many supporters so quick and willing to use their resources to protect women as anti-child pornography advocates recently did to protect children? The only difference between them is that the two feminists cared about women, young and old, black and white, Asian and Jewish, disabled and able-bodied-why did the public think that women should be allowed for public display of any kind? And ultimately, is representation problematic or not?

“What exactly do you mean by pornography?” asked anti-feminist libertarians and some feminists in response to McKinnon and Dworkin, but the intention of the latter group was to shed light on the possibility of subversion from within the existing power relations. Pornographic or not, representation has no control over the ways an audience interprets the material. Isn’t a painting of naked angels child pornography when somebody masturbates to it? Judith Butler argues in Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative that although, or precisely because, desire is not independent of the social and cultural, quite the contrary, it is exactly within the normative codes of the representation of desire that subversion can take place. The demand for regulations such as censorship and lawsuit, which McKinnon and Dworkin held as their primary objective, is an appeal to state power that is to be granted monopoly over representation of the subject matter, now ready to redraw the acceptable/unacceptable line of sexualities (which has historically oppressed so-called ‘deviant’ sexualitites). That way, we will foreclose the possibility of seemingly (hetero)sexist pornography being received by the audience in unexpected, sometimes queer, ways that might rescue the residual complexities that have been filtered out during the process of representation which can never grasp that something in full. After Butler, many feminists now view anti-pornography arguments as somewhat still powerful yet highly questionable.

Now we must turn back to child-pornography and ask, is the anti-child pornography sentiment, shared by many today even globally, also as problematic as anti-pornography feminism? Why are we ignoring the long history of feminist debate on pornography and jumping on the bandwagon to search for a legal solution to child pornography? Why was the public so reluctant to acknowledge the issue of the degrading representation of women, resulting in abundant debate and the development of feminist discourses, while they are so quick to acknowledge the issue of the sexual representation of children without questioning even a tiny bit of it?

Child Pornography Law in Japan

(This is a repost of an old blog.)

Child pornography is one of the most controversial topics to blog about, especially when a blogger is openly “queer” like me. The long-standing stigma and (wrong) stereotype of homosexuality is that homosexuals are pedophiles. And today, I assume that anyone intellectual enough or marginalized enough can tell the difference between the two. But what I am concerned with right now isn’t the problem of stereotyping homosexuals as pedophilic. I am concerned with how anti-regulation sentiments against restrictive laws regarding child pornography could be both queer (in terms of protecting the right to privacy of queer people including pedophiles who may or may not act on their desire (of course, child molesters and abusers do and should receive legal penalty for their action)) and hetero-male centrism (in terms of only defending pedophilic male heterosexuals‘ right to assume spectatorship in the realm of sexual display). And I’m appalled at how hard it would be if I tried to make and keep it queer since mainstream anti-restrictionism usually goes with the flow while the “flow” is always invariably in favor of heterosexual males.

I must admit that I am against the laws that make it punishable to possess child pornography. There are so many things in what anti-child pornography activists say that I agree with; for example, I agree that as a society we need to protect children from harm, that child abuse and molestation are cruel crimes that occur at every site of creating live-action child pornography, and that producing, distributing, and earning money by selling child pornography should not be done and should be prevented by all means. Period. Production of child pornography is always accompanied by some kind of sexual activity between the child and the crew. Getting money out of such products is totally unethical and unacceptable, just like it is to sell a video specifically intended to entertain viewers in which real murder takes place. Also, distribution of child pornography without earning money from it is problematic because it violates children’s privacy and their right not to be publicly exposed without consent, the violation of which puts them in jeopardy in psychological terms and their social life ahead. But watching child pornography for excitement does not push such injustices any further. Yes, the gaze that they direct at children in pornography might be very twisted and disturbing to some people, but that does not and should not constitute a legal ground for punishing consumers of child pornography. Punishing them does not reduce the number of actual sexual abuse/molestation cases because for the most part, a child molester is the victim’s relative such as a father, uncle, and cousin or acquaintance such as a neighbor, sport team coach, and teacher–and they are usually the same people who make child pornography by videotaping their abusive activities.

So if child pornography is growing, spreading, circulating and ever increasingly easy to obtain and possess, especially because of the Internet, then what we should do is to enforce the laws prohibiting sexual abuse/molestation and distribution of child pornography (profit or nonprofit) in stricter ways, not to bust consumers totally uninvolved in the process of production or distribution of whatever pornographic product he or she may have and enjoy (if they are involved in production and/or distribution, then they must face penalty according to the laws prohibiting those actions, putting aside the fact that they possess child pornography). Gaze cannot be controlled by the state. History alarmingly tells us that when it comes to “fixing” or deflecting deviant sexualities, no attempt has been successful. So in order to protect children from harm, I would suggest the followings: (1) to make harsher the laws against production and distribution of child pornography, as well as, of course, child abuse/molestation where pornography is not produced, (2) to supply some kind of alternative–and I’m thinking about animation or 3DCG pornography–to people who have relied on child pornography for sexual satisfaction and would not be able to access it because of decrease in number of child pornography available in store or on the Internet because of the laws with (now) harsher punishment, and (3) to better educate children, parents, teachers and citizens on child abuse/molestation: for example, teaching protection tactics for children and offering prohibitive workshops for parents to help them understand that their child’s body belongs to no one but the child him/herself and that even if the child seems to enjoy it while having sexual interactions with them, it might leave deep scars in their mind for decades that sometimes cause flashbacks and emotional confusion.

Those things are what we need to do in order to really protect children from harm. In other words, as a society, they are the only ways that public administration can interfere in the matter of sexuality. Criminalizing possession of child pornography, or in other words, criminalizing possession of pedophilic gaze, should not be the answer. Such restriction on having certain desire would be based on the categories of sexuality, which has its history (remember the sodomy laws and spousal exemption in rape laws which honored and advantaged male sexuality within marriage). Instead, we need to focus on reducing real harm like child abuse, molestation and violation of children’s privacy.

(We, however, must not forget that what can be done legally is not all we can. Critique can play a significant role in opening up the ways that we critically interpret, evaluate, and judge child pornography in non-restrictive ways. It can produce many counter-arguments against the ways children are portrayed and represented in child pornography without appealing to state power that might enact censorship or criminalize possession of child pornography, which would give them monopoly over cultural representation of children’s sexuality.)

The above is the argument that I made in my other blog in response to the Japanese parliament’s reformative proposition of child pornography laws. The World Congress III Against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents (November 24, 2008) reached an international agreement that all participating countries would undertake to criminalize the possession of child pornography including cartoons (animation, comics, 3DCG, etc.). The parliament decided not to include bans on possession of animation/comic/3DCG child pornography in the bill but apparently they wanted to. Fortunately, though so for only a little while I guess, the parliament is going to be disbanded pretty soon and all the bills currently up will be turned down. But I’m sure the bill will come back on the table sometime soon if not immediately. So I made a Twitter account (LINK–requires Japanese language compatibility) specifically designed to deliver related news, articles, academic papers and blog entries that I think will bring some insight for people who find the bill dangerous.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, as I will explain later), there are so many people on the Internet that explicitly protest against the bill. Online forums are flooded with anti-reform comments including ones celebrating the disbandment of the parliament. This seems like a phenomenon that Cass Sanstein calls “cyber cascade”, creating echo chambers and accompanied by another phenomenon called group polarization. That means, for example, people first respond to something (like a news article) and search on the Internet using terms such as “problem child pornography reform” and “importance child pornography reform,” but putting words like “problem” and “importance” in the search box already reflects their initial response to the news, and websites that show up are the kind of websites that they wan
to read, allowing them indulgence and interactions with other people who also hold the same or similar views with them, which makes it more likely for them to agree with each other and believe that their opinion is flawless. And that sometime leads to extremism.

But there’s nothing one can do to prevent or stop a cyber cascade once it’s started. But several attempts have been made to slow down cyber cascades, among which the most relevant would be this. When anti-feminist backlash gained so much popularity and some influence on real politics between 2002 and 2005, a famous blogger and friend of mine, Chiki Ogiue, created a comprehensive web page (Japanese) where he provided correct information about feminism and what was called gender-free movement, the two of them being two different things while overlapping each other in some aspects. And the web page became good resource for Internet users to bring up in online forums and use for better understanding of what was going on. Chiki thinks that the decay of the online backlash in 2005 had nothing to do with the web page, but it definitely played a role.

But the question is, why is it that cyber cascades in Japan have never happened in favor of feminism or queer activism? Putting aside the problem of cyber cascades being misinformed and narrow-minded, how come we have never had a feminist or queer cyber cascade? It’s easy to imagine that such a thing would be similarly misinformed and narrow-minded, but let’s just say it’s okay for a moment and ask, why always conservative? Because it’s easier for the average person to be conservative? Because conservatism can be spoken about in everyday language and thus easy to jump onto? Maybe because many feminists and queer activists are not brave enough to take a definite stand but willing to take time to take into account more things than they can handle within the length of their life? Well, I don’t have any answer. In fact, it could be very dangerous in many ways when a cyber cascade of that kind (feminist/queer) occurs; for example, one particular feminist idea might be picked and celebrated in the cascade, whose opposing idea, also feminist, is completely discarded and disrespected by those flowing in the current of cascade. Or, perhaps more probable is that some feminist idea gets picked and all the queer ideas (even ones shared by many feminists) are ignored, or vice versa. So it might be a good thing that there’s no feminist or queer cascade.

But the Twitter account that I opened is my attempt to somehow create a queer cascade, or more precisely, make the anti-reform cascade currently going on into a queer one–or, if that’s just too optimistic, just put a little bit of queer twist into the cascade. And I am doing this because (1) now is one of those rare times that there is a huge flow of ideas that some (but not all, I know) feminists and queer activists can actually agree with and there are so many people who support the ideas, and because (2) without queer intervention, the anti-reform cascade would most likely end up being yet another heterosexist, male-centric defense against egalitarianism that attempts to protect marginalized people (women, children, foreigners, disabled people etc.) from erotic male gaze that has historically been by all means defended and even promoted by various cultural artwork, especially pornography. So what I want to do is to make people in the cascade realize that what they are doing is not, and should not be, only to protect male heterosexuals’ right to have pedophilic fantasies, but also part of a larger movement of queer and feminist nature and thus supported by queer and feminist theories, whether they like it or not.

I myself personally couldn’t care less about male heterosexual fantasies about young girls. I wouldn’t raise my voice and say I’m against the reform bill if that were the only thing we are going to defend. But I’ve gotten my ass up, thinking that this attempt, if successful, would create a society a little bit more inclusive of our queerness. In other words, what I am trying to do is to use the cascade for the sake of queer mobilization.

I don’t know if that’s gonna work. I don’t know if other queer activists and feminists will agree with the idea. So, yeah, wish me luck.