LGBTQ politics in Japan, gay marriage, and sex education

I was interviewed by a student in the UK and here are excerpts from my answers.

On recent changes in Japan regarding LGBTQ politics

First and foremost, the acronym LGBT has gotten currency in mainstream media. Many people now know what it means or at least have heard of it and have a vague idea of what it is. The downside to it is that the LGBT politics usually gets reduced to either an economic concept to identify a newly found market. or interpersonal mannerism that gives rise to shallow allyship. Second, Twitter has become widely popular in Japan especially among young people who want to stay anonymous, which means many queer people can talk about their sexualities and gender identities on Twitter. Especially these two years, as far as I know, there has been a surge of queer Twitter users who voice their opinions and share their experiences and feelings, not just activists or activisty folks but also ordinary queer people, giving diversity to the online queer community. Third, and this is a bit dangerous to the advancement of the LGBT politics but, conservative, neoliberal politicians are starting to make alliances with LGBT organizations and startup businesses. The force to co-opt queer causes by the right wing is creating a political fissure among queer communities.

On gay marriage

I strongly believe that marriage as a social institution is a diversion from all the flaws in other institutions such as the immigration system, medical guidelines, family laws, welfare/social security, etc. We have so many problems in those systems because they are made so that one is more likely to suffer from their flaws if they’re single. Instead of fixing those problems, which would cost a lot more money, the government has the institution of marriage in place, like a first-aid kit, or a band-aid. So basically, the more marginalized you are, the more attractive marriage becomes for you. Advocates of gay marriage and gay partnership recognition say that gay people should get the same benefits of marriage, but we must fight for those benefits so they go to all people, gay or straight, married or unmarried. Right now, the most privileged are not straight people. It’s those who don’t need to get married but can choose to, who don’t need to get divorced but can choose to. We need to demand changes in the systems other than marriage, so that the benefits of marriage as of today will be provided through those systems instead of through marriage, and that marriage now will have no meaning whatsoever, making it only a symbolic union of persons. Only then can we say we have achieved marriage equality.

On sex education and the lack of mention of LGBTQ

A government official earlier this year, or last year, publicly stated that the national curriculum should not include information about LGBT people because people were not educated enough. That doesn’t make any sense, because people not being educated enough about LGBT issues is exactly reason why they should be educated through school curricula. But for the Abe administration, not educating is the answer. I’m sure there are individual teachers and school nurses who independently create ways of teaching students about human sexual and gender diversity, but it will be years until we finally see anything LGBT-related in Japanese school curricula. One concern, on a side note, is that many non-profits and queer startups and entrepreneurs are dying to make money off of education through lectures, seminars, workshops, teaching materials, textbooks, and many other products. I will be very concerned, when LGBT issues go into the national curricula, that children might be taught an assimilationist view of LGBT politics, a scientifically-unproven statement (e.g. gay people were born that way), or any other misleading, dishonest, and/or state-favoring messages.

(This post was originally published on my Medium site.)

Related content

[Interview] Masaki C. Matsumoto, queer and feminist activist

Read before you write about LGBT politics in Japan

The Privilege To Say ‘I Don’t’

The Monologue of Shizuka Minamoto

An unofficial feminist sequel to Doraemon: Part 1

Well, it doesn’t bother me much any longer now, but when the series began, I felt a massive amount of fury deep inside and it rose from the bottom of my stomach up my heart and throat. I had never expected my name to be used that way. I had heard a rumor that Takeshi-san would write manga about his childhood, but the way he described our childhood memories gave me quite a shock. I immediately contacted Nobita-san and Suneo-san. Nobita-san sounded nothing but confused and at a loss. Suneo-san seemed to be trying very hard to suppress his anger toward Takeshi-san who hadn’t responded to his calls. I was just as sad and angry. Not knowing what else to do, I tried to call Takeshi-san, but to no avail.

A year passed by and I was hard hit by the news about Suneo-san’s death. He had killed himself. By that time, I was already single, and without a child, so all I had had to endure was rumors and gossips going around in the neighborhood and some residents of the condominium I lived in occasionally bringing them up in casual hallway chats with me. Attempted extraction in disguise of genuine concern. But that’s nothing compared to Suneo-san. He had a family. He was an office worker. I heard some of the stuff that he had gone through at work. Shortly after, his wife and kids changed their last name to her maiden name and moved somewhere in Tohoku, or so I heard.

Now it’s been thirty years. With Nobita-san gone now, his mother Tamako-san and Takeshi-san’s sister Christine Goda-san are the only people I still keep in touch with. After all, women are strong, aren’t they? Or, maybe we women are just used to being taken our names away and written about in unconvincing stories. Well, except Kanae-chan, I guess, who as a kid used to hang out with the boys just like I did yet never made a single appearance in Doraemon. About 20 years ago I heard that she’d moved to Shikoku where her relatives lived, but I’m not sure if that’s true anyway.

Kanae-chan never got to know what it feels like to be distorted and transformed into a character, a role that sits well in a storyline. I, on the other hand, never get to know what it feels to be erased from the past, not portrayed at all. But one thing is certain. Either she or I needed to be erased. The tragedy that would fall on us immediately following the days described in Doraemon was too complicated, too cruel. There is no doubt that’s why Takeshi-san didn’t want two women in his stories, especially Kanae-chan, who was in a sexual relationship with the old man whom we called Doraemon.

As soon as we started junior high school, Kanae-chan was pregnant. I only knew so much about childbirth and violence——I naturally thought the baby was Doraemon’s. Looking back now, it might have been Takeshi-san’s. Come to think of it, when helpless Kanae-chan talked to us, Takeshi-san was the most eager to offer help. You may think that I’m committing the same crime as Takeshi-san’s through all this speculating, but since Takeshi-san’s no longer, please bear with me and let me continue. You can call it my version of Doraemon. So we gathered at the empty lot at deep night——yes, the one you all remember from the manga——to discuss what to do with the baby. All we came up with was, however, a pile of irresponsible advice like “you should talk to your parents” and “why don’t you keep the baby?” Then from Takeshi-san came one realistic idea: to beat her in the stomach very hard over and over till the baby dies. Very primitive, but with Kanae-chan doing nothing but cry in front of us, no one had a better idea.

It all happened in those Pipes. Remember the Pipes? The ones sitting in the middle of the empty lot? Well, the place wasn’t as beautiful and idyllic as the manga made it out to be. In reality, it was full of overgrown weeds and had an uncanny wooden storage house in the back left corner, whose roof, walls, and windows were all wrecked. It housed five or six pipes, leaving no room for the other two lying on the ground just beside it. The pipes were actually bigger than you see in the manga, big enough for a child like us to enter just by crouching a bit. In the beginning, we all watched from outside Takeshi-san kicking Kanae-chan in the stomach in one of the two Pipes laid on the ground. I was the first to give up, went inside the other Pipe, shaking and cowering. Suneo-san and Nobita-san followed suit. The sounds of violence, low and thick, mixed with tightly suppressed shrieks of Kanae-chan every now and then, would stay in my ears for years to come.

Most readers and viewers of Doraemon probably think that what Takeshi-san did was typical of him, who they know as Gian, the violent, selfish kid with a bad temper. To tell the truth, Takeshi-san was always the quiet kind. He always cared about what other people thought, never expressed his opinions unless asked, and just simply never spoke very much. Suneo-san, on the other hand, had a relatively large body and quite a low voice for a boy his age, and while not living up to the same level, gave a similar impression to that of Gian’s. Nobita-san was kind of in his own world all the time, didn’t care much about what people thought about him, never letting anyone tell him what to do. Shizuka-chan, well that’s me, was quite far from the girl depicted in Doraemon. I was chubby, had slanted eyes, and always wore work pants instead of a skirt. I would always get in a fight with Suneo-san and go home with cuts and bruises, my mother used to tell me in her late years. The only resemblance to the character that I can recall about myself is that I had pigtails.

Now you can see how horrifying it must have been for us to watch Takeshi-san turning so violent in that Pipe that we couldn’t face it. I guess we were not afraid of the violence itself played out in the Pipe, but of the fact that Takeshi-san was capable of such violence. The sounds halted. It felt like forever but couldn’t have been longer than twenty minutes. Instead of the sound of flesh hitting flesh, we were suddenly left with the panting and grunting, the former being of Takeshi-san’s, and the latter Kanae-chan’s. We scarily peeped inside the Pipe, and saw Kanae-chan soaked in blood in the lower body, and Takeshi-san fallen on top of her upper body. Then it happened. It was so quick I couldn’t remember. I almost instinctively jumped at Takeshi-san’s back. Next thing I knew, I had been punching and elbowing the back of his head over and over, grabbing his hair and banging his head against the pipe wall. I knew the baby was Doraemon’s, or so I thought, and I was only mad at the old man. But I was terrified of Takeshi-san’s action, and all I could think was that I had to finish him while he was tired from hurting Kanae-chan for the past twenty minutes. I don’t know why. I just felt that I had to.

It went on for about five minutes, then I was calm suddenly. I had already been dragged out of the Pipe by Suneo-san, his hands tightly grabbing my both arms. As the dark air lit only by the fluorescent streetlight gradually grew deep blue, we knew the night was over. We stood up, in no significant order, and started cleaning up. Kanae-chan was at the water faucet washing her body and blood-soaked skirt and underwear. Takeshi-san, as if he had known all along what was going to happen, took out towels to clean the Pipe. Nobita-san was splashing water into the Pipe using the bucket he had found in the storage. Suneo-san was sitting next to me on the other Pipe, staring at the stars in the starless sky above us. I jumped and started off onto the street. Suneo-san followed me, until he realized I would keep walking regardless. In the corner of my eye I saw him go back to the Pipes.

That morning was the beginning of our silence. We would never spoke again. We certainly had at least two questions about the previous night. Why did Takeshi-san, the quiet boy, become so violent in the face of Kanae-chan’s pregnancy? And why did I, Shizuka-chan, suddenly jump at him who only had completed the task that we had already agreed to assign him? But, those mysteries were to remain, we decided unanimously, without words. A few days later, Doraemon died. Of a heart attack. Tamako-san found his dead body. At least, that’s what everyone decided to think is what happened.

Just one mistake, and we were suddenly children of destined violence and death. Or maybe it was not just one mistake. Perhaps the chain of violence and death, one ofter another, passed on through all human history, branched out and caught us somehow. I think Kanae-chan is everywhere, in the past, in the present, and in the future. In the bodies that are hurt, by gender, violence, and oblivion. I, on the other hand, was assigned a role in a pre-determined story that is Doraemon, as a girl who did not express anger or respond to violence by violence, who could not possibly done such a thing. But in the end, women are strong, aren’t they? We still are alive. Petty existences we may be, but we live. We live, trying to avoid the attacks of injustice that come our way from every direction, or even sometimes letting them reach our bodies and hurt us. On the other hand, Nobita-san will not be released while alive. Suneo-san is already gone. Takeshi-san was killed at his own apartment by someone who jumped out of his sister’s room that was supposed to be empty at that time.

Takeshi-san selfishly created a story to conceal our untouchable past. He probably wanted to rewrite our past to comfort himself with something more innocent, something we can finally call childhood. But by doing so, he removed the adhesive bandage off the secret wound and broke the promise that we all had silently agreed on not to lick the wound or rub salt in it but leave it as is. A past is multiple, and we should never pick one. A past is always a mystery, intangible and never reachable. That is exactly why we were able to live after what happened. Doraemon, to us, was a shadow. It was the shadow of the secret wound that we were so close to forgetting, that almost was a blur by now. Presented Doraemon before us, we were instantly drawn to negative theology——what truths are not written in Doraemon?——a question we had never dared to ask, but now desired an answer to very badly.

My eyes are not slanted. I’ve never been even close to being chubby my entire life. My parents bought me my first skirt at 3rd Grade and I was so happy I wore it to school every single day. But, I just so hated Shizuka-chan in Doraemon. She and I were so alike. Takeshi-san depicted me with near perfect accuracy. There are more to her, of course, outside the panels on the pages and the celluloids. But what you have all seen in the manga and anime is pretty much true. That’s why I cannot possibly forgive Takeshi-san. And that’s why I am speaking up now, after all these years. Not everything I said earlier today was a lie. Kanae-chan was real. Doraemon was an old man. I killed him.

Summer was over and school started, and I was wearing my very first skirt to school every day. The old man spoke to me on the street one day. He lived in Nobita-san’s house, but it was unclear, and still is unknown to date, what kind of relations he had with the family. But I assumed he was Nobita-san’s grandfather and followed him to the family’s house and into his room——or should I say, his closet. After six months of our “play” in the closet day after day after school, he suddenly stopped showing up on my way home from school. I found it strange and snuck into Nobita-san’s house from the back door to find out what was going on. Upstairs, Kanae-chan and the old man, was what was going on, in the same closet where he and I had been going on. I took a few steps back in shock, turned around quickly, ran downstairs and out the back door and more. That was it. The old man and I never spoke again.

That may sound like I was angry at the old man because I was jealous, or because I wanted to have him to myself but couldn’t. That is not true. For one, it astounded me that my existence, or more precisely my body parts, my crotch and breasts, were interchangeable with that of Kanae-chan’s. Another revelation was that, precisely because her body and mine were interchangeable, I suddenly experienced a feeling of my body becoming one with hers, existing in the same coordinates of the universe, a feeling of identification, where my pleasure was hers and hers mine. That totally changed the way I saw her. If my body and hers were identical, I thought, my body was hers, and hers mine.

So, when the old man was touching her body as he pleased, and when Takeshi-san was hurting her body in the Pipe, I was being violated, too. My body. My breasts. My sex organs. My womb. Those were the things I had to protect. Now I realize how arrogant I was. Kanae-chan’s body is hers and hers only. But I could not stop seeing it as one that I should protect. That was all I could think of. That was my desire. It’s the kind of desire that Doraemon never tells. It was my secret desire. It is far different from the wishes and hopes that Shizuka-chan should and could have had. Didn’t it, however, once explode, when I kept hitting Takeshi-san? Didn’t everyone, however, see that?

Like I said earlier, it was either Kanae-chan or me who would have been erased anyway. Why was it Kanae-chan, then? Well, that’s perhaps not because she was sexually assaulted by the old man or experienced unwanted pregnancy and had to terminate it. It was because she represented my desire. What was erased is not just her, but my desire. A woman nowadays is not erased from a story just because she is desired, abused, impregnated, forced to terminate pregnancy, or in other words, deprived of control over her own body. Easily erased is a woman who desires, a woman who abuses, a woman who impregnates, and a woman who forces another to abort. Doraemonerased my desire, my violence, and my possession of Kanae-chan’s body, by erasing Kanae-chan altogether.

(This post was first published on my Medium site.)

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

Compilation of Negative Responses to Akie Abe’s Participation in Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2014

(Ms. Akie Abe on the right. Photo source.)

The Tokyo Rainbow Pride, which I talked about last year on this blog, marked its 3rd anniversary on April 27, 2014. Its commercialization and increasingly neoliberal, militarist, and conservative crystallization of LGBT politics have become almost intolerably, grotesquely obvious. I could go on and on about sponsorships and participation of embassies and corporations at the Pride, but today I am so devastated by the participation of Prime Minister Abe’s wife, Ms. Akie Abe at the Pride, that I am almost in a shock state.

Of course, many individuals responded positively, affirming Ms. Abe’s action despite Prime Minister Abe’s right-wing inclinations. But there are quite a few tweets responding negatively. And it’s important for us to reassure ourselves that not all of us are happy with LGBTQ politics becoming a conservative cause.

So, here’s some of the comments posted on Twitter by those who take issues with Ms. Abe’s appearance at the Pride. And I’ll provide translations along the way. (Note: LDP is short for the Liberal Democratic Party, headed by PM Abe.)

They say the wife of Prime Minister Abe joined the Rainbow Pride parade. I think this shows the true nature of the issues regarding how the policies of the LDP and Prime Minister Abe are “tricky and troublesome” (yakkai) and why the principles of neoliberalism entail such “solicitude” (kizukai) for minority individuals. It is not the case that the wife is better than the husband.

It seems that Prime Minister’s wife came to the Rainbow Pride. This shows how much the LDP knows its every move. No wonder they are the semipermanent ruling party. An academic says they want the wife to be Prime Minister instead, but that’s a naive view that I can not agree with.

So even Akie Abe and Hirotada Ototake joined yesterday’s Rainbow parade? The event seems more festive than ones about nuclear power, but I would feel very awkward marching in a demonstration with people like them.

Learn what? RT @gonoi: Members and supporters of #LDP have a lot to learn from the attitude of Ms. Akie Abe, the wife of Prime Minister, who joined the Rainbow Pride. RT @TOKYO_DEMOCRACY Rainbow Pride AIDS …”

From this, it seems like the LDP’s double standard is tolerated… well, they seem to be ok with Israel, so. RT Tokyo, la first lady Akie Abe … #TRP2014

I wish they had asked, “Do you think your husband will someday come to pride?” RT @rekopekopako At Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, we interviewed Ms. Akie Abe!! #TRW2014 #lgbt #lgbtq

Add (April 30)

Since some people just can’t stop nitpicking, here’s my tweets regarding this post.

The Privilege To Say ‘I Don’t’

As I was going through the daily routine of browsing Facebook & Twitter, I found a NYT article, Gay Couples, Choosing to Say ‘I Don’t’, the title of which caught my eye, as I oppose the institution of marriage, and the like-minded people who shared the link in FB/TW seemed content with anti-marriage opinions circulating at last in the mainstream media. Excited, I read on, only to be disappointed, but in a way that was quite unexpected, by the elitist tone of the article.

Whose reality?

The article captures a variety of anti-marriage voices from lesbian, gay, and transgender individuals, most of which I agree with. Yes, the arguments made there are quite convincing and reality-based. But I wonder, whose reality are they based on, really?

The voices quoted in the article are coming from these people: restaurant owners (Brian Blatz and Dan Davis), an artist in New York (Sean Fader), a couple living in Brooklyn (Stephanie Schroeder and Lisa Haas), current and former university professors (Jack Halberstam & his partner, Catharine Stimpson, John D’Emilio, and Mary Bernstein), a retiree (Jim Oleson), a filmmaker (John Waters), a singer-songwriter (Erin McKeown), an East Villager (John Carroll), a New York Medical College student (Eric Routen), and two persons whose backgrounds aren’t disclosed to the reader.

Except the couple in Brooklyn and possibly the artists, the persons/couples quoted/mentioned in the article are mostly on the affluent side of the entire queer population. This socioeconomic bias is especially appalling when you think about the massive activist work that has been done by organizations like Queers for Economic Justice who have maintained close connections to the working-class and homeless people.

I don’t need it, but you may need it

What was most striking about the article for me is, I think, the lack of empathy, or some sort of attentiveness, expressed by the interviewees or the editor for those who do need to use the institution of marriage.

John D’Emilio “sees no need” to marry. Brian Blatz and Dan Davis “[see] little point in marrying.” Jack Halberstam doesn’t “feel the pressure to marry.” Mary Bernstein and Nancy Naples “see little tangible benefit in marrying.”

As someone who has witnessed marriages and divorces in the family, neighborhoods, and friend circles, I know for sure that people get married for various reasons and that there is so much risk-management going on in their minds. And for many people, there does exist a little need, benefit, or point in marrying, and it is a little more complicated than just “the need for external validation” that Mary Bernstein says people wishing to marry have.

The institution of marriage, in complicity with other social institutions such as border control, healthcare systems, social security, etc., is made so that it creates such need, benefit, and point in marrying. Marriage is a package product of the government-owned minority-targeted business in which the flaws and failures in other governmental systems are covered up and kept intact, preventing radical transformations in them and thus saving money.

In the article, Stephanie Schroeder says, “I don’t want to deny anybody the right to marriage,” but marriage is not, and has never been, a personal matter of choice. As opposed to Catharine Stimpson’s idea that “[h]aving the choice doesn’t meant [sic] you have to do it,” having the choice really makes you and almost everybody around you feel that you have to do it.

So basically, the more marginalized you are by the multitude of social institutions, the more point you see in marrying. In the institution of marriage, the most privileged are not married people or heterosexual people, but those who do not see much of either gain or loss from marrying or divorcing, and thus can choose or choose not to marry and divorce when they want to.

The interviewees having or seeing no need, benefit, point, or pressure to marry, therefore, is itself a privilege, the privilege to say “I don’t.” And what’s puzzling is that, these people seem like the kind of people who care about equality, liberation, and stuff like that, and yet they do not sound ashamed or humble at all about this privilege of theirs.

John Waters is quoted to say, “I always thought the privilege of being gay is that we don’t have to get married,” which sort of resonates with what I think about marriage to some degree. But instead of treasuring or protecting that privilege of not having to get married, we must extend that insight to an actual distribution of the privilege to those who do not have it.

Again, marriage is not an issue of personal choice. We must abolish marriage, or at least the form of marriage as we know it today, and by that I mean, abolish the entire social system that creates the need, benefit, and point so that marriage will have no meaning at all.

Queer Anti-Marriage Movement vs. LGBT Alternative Marriages

Another thing I noticed is that, not only are the voices in the article overlooking other realities, the realities of people who do or can marry, the overall tone of the article gave me the impression that the history of feminism is being simplified, and that the roles of women, feminist and married or divorced, in it are simply erased.

Mary Bernstein is quoted in the article to say

For people in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, there was a feeling that L.GB.T. [sic] people can do better than marriage, that relationships can be more egalitarian” when built around untraditional families

Is our queer anti-marriage movement based on the idea that non-LGBT people’s opposite-sex marriages are traditional and thus less egalitarian than that of LGBTs?

So many women, married or single, have fought for women’s rights, for both married and single women. We also know that many of the feminist efforts, including anti-marriage ones, that have existed have been made or joined by a huge number of married women.

If relationships built around untraditional families are going to be more egalitarian, and that is considered better than marriage, what does that make married couples? Are they fools who once felt “the need for external validation”? Were they so weak that they gave in to the social pressure? Or, are they just unlucky to have that bit of need, benefit, or point because they are marginalized in this society the way they are, unlike the people interviewed in the article?

No. Our movement must have at its core, along with our queer voices, the voices of heterosexual and bisexual individuals whose life has been, is, or can be greatly affected by the fact that they can choose to marry. And that means, we are looking to make a large-scale social transformation, the scope of which must include immigration, prison, poverty, sexism, disability, health, aging, taxes, labor, and many other things that affect our lives every day. And that is not just for queer people. Not just for single people. Not just for legal citizens. And not just for people waiting to say, “I don’t.”

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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I don’t have the right to consume the misfortune of people in Japan

(This post was originally written as a response to a friend of mine’s Facebook post. Minor modifications have been made.)

Japan tsunami and earthquake: 30 children sit silent in classroom after parents vanish | Mail Online.

Ok. I almost cried. I almost cried not because of the devastation that those people in those stories and photos are experiencing, but because they are now a target of the Western pornographic gaze. I mean, look at that picture of ‘an old Asian woman standing in the rain’ – how photographically well-crafted it is! Oh my god, it surely provokes some emotional, sympathetic, um, hard-on (figuratively).

Those things (stories and photos) may be authentic, but if we stumble upon this kind of article and spend a few minutes actually reading and looking at such photos, we need to ask, why do I ‘want’ to know? What is this desire that I have that drives me to look at these horrible photos?

Oh, and “the Japanese are too proud to ask” is just beyond laughable. There are numerous organizations and rescue teams, including those from outside Japan, working in evacuation centers and helping those stuck in places get out, etc. I’m sure there needs to be international cooperation, but people in Japan don’t need that Ken guy to speak for them.

And to assume that those affected by the disaster are all ‘Japanese’? The NGOs in Japan already started (and finished some) translating resources into Spanish, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, etc. because they know that foreign-born residents are also facing the same tragedy and in need of resources and support. And some NGOs are affiliated with international organizations. Ethnocentric, Orientalist people like Ken and nationalist Japanese right-wingers are the only ones who don’t acknowledge/approve the diversity of people who live in Japan.

I want to say to those reporters, don’t sell photos and stories——what does that do anyway? it’ll just please the global audience who want to see ‘other’ peoples’ tragedies so much that they pay for the Western media. The only thing people outside of Japan who cannot physically go help them can do is to make donations and tell friends to do the same. I myself cannot afford to go back to Japan. So I made donations (here and here).

And I refrain from watching or looking at any kind of photography or videos that portray just how much ‘Japanese people’ have suffered because I don’t have the right to consume their misfortune.


When the first earthquakes hit, I also looked up info about how many people died, how massive the tsunami were, and even looked for videos of tsunami totally eating up the sea shore. And, to be perfectly honest with you, I was fascinated. And the moment I caught myself being fascinated by looking at those things, I realized I was part of the Western, pornographic gaze that consumes the Other. And I decided to distance myself from it, at least as much as I could.

It’s pretty much the same situation in Tokyo, actually. The mainstream media have been mostly focused on portraying the tragedies of ‘the local farmers, poor children, and hardcore survivors’ as something unreal and cinematic. Fascination seems to be the primary driving force of the mass media, wherever you go, I guess….

A Talk with Prof. Chalidaporn Songsamphan

This article appeared in CGS Newsletter, Issue 12, Center for Gender Studies, International Christian University. HTML / PDF


Chico Masak (CGS staff, CM)

What would you say your stand on pornography is?

Prof. Chalidaporn (SC)

I think we should look at pornography as a form of sexual fantasy, which each individual should have the right in their private time to enjoy. But the problem is, when you look at pornography in detail, you’ll see complex relationships between pornography and so many other things. And pornography itself is so diverse. So it is very difficult to have a stand on it. Instead, you have to look at particular cases and details. You’ll probably have a different stand on each one. We tend to want some kind of theory or explanation to which all similar cases can be reduced. But it doesn’t work that way. We have to be very specific with everything.


Do you think there should be any difference between the way we see pornography and its problems and the way we see other forms of art like painting?


For me, there should be no difference. But the problem is, sex has a very special meaning in our culture. Pornography is looked at very differently, and I don’t think that’s a good idea. Remember Foucault’s example of punching someone in the face and inserting a penis into a vagina. These two acts have totally different meanings because of the position of sexuality in our cultural consciousness.

Defining Pornography?


But pornography itself can be quite fuzzy in definition. For instance, it is not clear if the comic genre, boys love a.k.a. BL or what’s called slash, is pornography or not. It certainly serves that function for some people. So there’s always this demarcation problem of what’s porn and what’s not.


The line, constituted through our understanding and interpretation, is actually moving all the time. Whether something is pornographic or not totally depends on how you look at it. Anything could be pornographic.


But how do we negotiate with other views on pornography?


We should acknowledge that various different interpretations exist. People like Catherine McKinnon and Andrea Dworkin tend to prescribe certain beliefs, saying, this is good and this should be like this. We should stop being judgmental and recognize the differences first, and then, the question is, how are we going to live with those differences?

State Power v. Critique


Legally speaking, do you think there should be any state intervention in the distribution of pornography?


The problem is, the state would need a very clear definition of what is porn and a strong idea about what we should do about it. When you have this kind of clarity, it closes the doors to other possible interpretations. That’s the problem with law. No debate. No negotiation. What a dangerous society! People should be able to talk about sex as a social activity. We should leave room for argument and discussion.


Then what can we do as individuals to fight such representational injustices?


I think the most important thing is to express your opinion and disagreement with the particular phenomenon. Just because you respect freedom of speech, it doesn’t mean you cannot say anything against pornography. You probably want to take an element or two from the work in question and express your discomfort with them. As for child pornography, some people say they don’t agree with the element of forced sex. And if someone disagrees with you, then they have to come up with their own argument, some reason, against you.

Child Pornography and Feminism


I wonder what difference there is between the anti-child pornography that’s going around today and the anti-heterosexual pornography movement by MacKinnon and Dworkin. When I wrote the article, “Child Pornography and Feminism” (CGS Newsletter 011), I said that we were sort of jumping on the bandwagon to search for a quick, legal solution to child pornography. And there’s not as much opposition to it as there was to Dworkin and MacKinnon when people thought that there was no problem in pornography. Today, when it comes to child pornography, we sort of assume that it’s something inherently bad and we don’t really question our thinking. We should ask ourselves, is representation problematic or not?


Yes, but you have to look at this issue very carefully. The existence of child pornography aggravates many middle-class people because the middle-class sexuality believes in the category of “children” as sexless, so pure and sexually innocent that they need to be protected in order to mature–and that’s a myth. Many laws have been passed because they were allegedly for the purpose of protecting children from sexual abuse by adults. The problem is, no one really cares about how we define the category. Feminists have been questioned numerous times to the extent that the identity category of “woman” itself has ceased to be convincing. We should question the category of children, too, asking, how do we differentiate between children and adults? There is no clear-cut definition or indicator that we could agree on. So when you talk about child pornography or child sexual abuse, people at the same table most likely disagree on many points. They probably have totally different images of children. Going into details like this can be a very threatening experience for the middle-class, and that is why it is so easy to put forth policies and laws “for the good of children” because you’ll most likely convince the middle-class.


Yeah, like Megan’s Law and Jessica’s Law in California. By the way, when I think of child abuse, I always think of the law in the U.S. back in the 1890s, which said that a wife had to serve their husband sexually whenever they were required to. I think the motivation for working towards the prohibition of child pornography is the concern for the power relation between adults and children. Then, why shouldn’t it have been illegal for men to have sex with women when there was a huge difference between what men had and what women had in terms of power…


I think, to them, consent is the most important indicator for differentiating forced sex from consensual sex.


But if we accept that children cannot consent because of adult-child power relations, women must also have had no ability to consent due to harsh gender inequality.


Actually, liberal thinkers and philosophers did not really think that women could consent. John Locke, for example, said women and children did not have the ability to reason, and that they must be represented by the male head of the household. It must not even have been a tiny problem for those liberal thinkers because they were not looking at women as the right bearers in the first place.


It’s very interesting because now we understand that children and women are both put into the same category as immature, deprived of rights, and nonconsensual, but…

What Kind of Sexual Diversity Are You For?

Naomi Suzuki (CGS staff, NS)

But women have no protection from the middle-class. What could be the difference…?


What you said is another concrete example of the diversity of the ways people look at sexuality, because many people can accept many things that may contradict the hegemonic sexuality, but there are so many other things that they are still upholding. So when people say they are for sexual diversity, you should ask them what kind of diversity they’re talking about. People say heterosexual pornography is a form of sexual fantasy, and that we should allow individuals in our society to have the right to freedom of expression and freedom to consume it. But as soon as those individuals start to prefer child pornography, they are denied the same right. Many of us fail to see the contradiction here.

Activism of Our Time


To me, it seems like you two have very similar takes on this issue. What would you say is the difference between both your approaches? Like when you actually take action…


If we have to decide to take action, our stands might be different or very similar–it depends on the specific case. The point I’ve tried to make today is that we can be inconsistent because when you look at pornography in a very specific way, each case has its own meaning since each case has its own details. You cannot use the same theory to explain them all. You can be anti-censorship AND disagree with the acts you see in child pornography. I think that’s one of the strengths of social movements of our time–people can work together when they agree with each other, but when they don’t, they don’t have to, or they can still agree to disagree. Given such flexibility, we have to think carefully, define what we are talking about, and ask other people what they mean by, let’s say, “child pornography” because they might be thinking of different things when they seem to be talking about the same thing.


The World Congress III and advocate groups seem strongly united with one another. But each member of these groups must have different opinions and definitions of child pornography, right?


When they do political activism, they may suppress different ideas within themselves. But if you just let them work on that and draft a certain law, the differences will come up anyway. When their ideas become concrete about the issue, they will start fighting because drafting a law creates lots of debates. And at that stage, people cannot overlook the obvious disagreement among them.


Well, it’s been very fun talking to you, Dr. Chalidaporn.


It’s been fun. Thank you!

Notes on Haruki Murakami’s “Honey Pie”

Yesterday I was invited to Prof. Miho Matsugu’s class at DePaul University entitled “Queer Japan” to discuss with the class as well as Prof. Yuki Miyamoto “Honey Pie”, a Haruki Murakami short story. The class was composed of students with various backgrounds and motivations for study of Japan, and the discussion turned out to be quite an opportunity for me (and for Yuki, as she later told me) to explore many other possible readings of the story than ours. Since the class session didn’t last long enough for all of us to fully share our interpretations of the story, I’m sure some of the students had a lot more to say than we got to hear. I myself left out some of the points that I had in my notes.

My expertise is queer theory and feminist critique (although that’s got more to do with literature, not my official discipline sociology). Queer theory and feminist critique are, you know, things that some people like, some others loathe; some people need them to make sense of the gendered/heterosexualized world, some people don’t need them because the world already makes sense to them. So here I am, trying to share my reading of “Honey Pie,” so that some of the class who may find this example of queer reading interesting——or at least worth-thinking about——can get a glimpse of what is queer about queer-reading.

Queer Reading

Before I get to my own reading of the story, I want to say a bit more about the very act of reading. There are many, many ways to read a story. In the world of literary criticism, it is one of today’s dominant views of authorship that the author is dead. Authors’ intentions, his or her subjectivity in controlling the plot, and their originality (as in, they control the language, not the other way around) have been for quite a few decades dismissed from the status of primary concerns of literary critics. Now it is considered that each reader creates, or recreates, the story as she or he reads it. Having multiple meanings is, as opposed to the conventional view on literature that it is a sign of incoherent and thus crappy work, a great asset to literature since, in the post-author’s-death literary criticism world, through differences between interpretations we readers expose ourselves, our own views of the story, and our own views of the world around us. The author’s interpretation of her or his story does not outdo any of his or her reader’s.

Then why do many people read any given story pretty much, quite often in almost the same way? This is called dominant reading, a practice that is in accordance with the social structure and dominant ideologies of the time and place of reading. “In accordance” here can be a good thing; it is easy to read stories this way. If you are the kind of person who never questions how the world/society works, then your most relaxed way of reading is dominant reading. But “in accordance” can also be a bad thing; it perpetuates, reproduces, and sometimes even further advances the social structure and dominant ideologies that are, to some of the members of the society, unfair. Each reading precipitates in your mind——readers’ minds——which keeps your worldview in a particular shape, a shape that is convenient for the powerful people (because, of course, the powerful people are powerful because the currently dominant ideologies and social structure are convenient for them; otherwise they would not be powerful).

Alternative readings are less popular, and sometimes dismissed as nonsensical. You probably have experience of sharing your thoughts on a story——be it a novel, an anime episode, or a Lady Gaga song——and being told by your friend, “that’s ridiculous!” Alternative readings may be practiced involuntarily, meaning you don’t realize it is alternative since it’s your natural way of reading, until the very moment someone tells you you’re a freak. Now, whenever that happens, take it as a compliment. You’re a freak and that’s a good thing because it means your mindset is not entirely composed of things “in accordance” with the existing social structure and dominant ideologies. Note, however, that no one is entirely free from them. A person’s mindset is always already composed of languages that have precipitated in her or his mind, hence sedimentation of discourse in the human mind, which means your position in the social world has led you to read the way you read, just like for most people their positions in this world have led them to read the (dominant) way they read.

Now there’s something called resistant reading, or reading against the grain. This is oftentimes practiced voluntarily. And the reason why some people practice this voluntary act of reading against the grain is because of their humble acknowledgment that, as just mentioned above, no one is free from the dominant ideologies and social structure and any given reading is a mixture of dominant reading and alternative reading. Take for example, you think the Evangelion movie (the final one of the older series) is a story of the defeat of the patriarch (Gendou) finally taken over by his younger generation that Hope (Rei Ayanami) chooses over him. This is not the dominant view of the movie, but still makes some sense. But what about Kaworu? In this view of yours, how do we make sense of Kaworu, the other half of Shinji’s Hope (the other being Rei)? Or, what about the series of deaths of female characters, from Shinji’s mother to Asuka’s mother who are both dead in the first place, from Rei whose death repeats over and over to Asuka who becomes half-dead toward the end until she eventually gets killed? Isn’t it possible to do a feminist reading of Evangelion? And let’s say someone does a feminist reading of it. Now that’s only going to be yet another reading that is incomplete. And we should humbly admit that there is no complete, absolute reading of a text. That’s where the power of resistant reading comes in. In resistant reading, you consciously makes an effort to read a text in a way that doesn’t make sense to most others but to you yourself. Try it sometime, especially with your old favorite book or something. You will start questioning many parts of the story, wondering why the heck you never questioned them back in the days when you were even more obsessed with the book than today. For example, in our class yesterday I was thinking about the bra game in “Honey Pie”, to which I hadn’t given much thought, and I wondered if the mother-child relation between Sayoko and Sala could be considered sexual, or at least a bond that’s got something to do with desire, which is to be betrayed by the following scene of sex between Sayoko and Junpei (which is, of course, to be interrupted by Sala who takes hold of Sayoko and kicks Junpei out of the bedroom). This is a really, really minority reading, I think. But if you read the whole story again with this in mind, some other parts start to make sense.

Queer reading is primarily, but not limited to, readings of stories with attention to homosexual desire, transgender identity, bisexual subjectivity, and queer lifestyles that on the face of the story do not come to surface. For example, the critique of homosociality, the term Prof. Matsugu explained in yesterday’s discussion, is that a bond between two men competing for a woman that they are both (allegedly) in love with is stronger than either of the two heterosexual affective bonds between the woman and the two men. This has something to do with the discussion of Desire (with the capital D) that Hegel laid out a long time ago. According to Hegel, Desire is different from animal needs in that it is a desire for recognition from a similarly recognizable subject with desires. A desire for food is not human but remains on the animal level because the object of the desire here is food that is not a subject with its own desires, and thus does not require recognition. Desire is only human if and only if its object is capable of desiring. In this understanding, for example, a desire for a medal (like in the Olympics) is a desire whose object is not the medal but your competitors’ desire for the medal. The object of your Desire is your competitors’ desire. If no one wanted to get the medal like you do, would the medal still hold the same value to you? Absolutely not. By extending this Hegelian argument, we can say that in a love triangle, the object of Desire is the other man’s desire for the woman, and the other man’s desire for the woman is in fact also a Desire for the first man’s desire for the woman, where the woman is not desired by either of the men but only used as a tool to generate the hypothetical assumption that both men desire her so that the men’s desires for each other’s desire can emerge.

Eve K. Sedgwick argues that the separation (or the purging out) of homosexual desire from homosocial relations was one of the primary modernization projects in the Western world. Homosociality and homosexuality, if you look at ancient (or even as close as pre-modern) history, are not mutually exclusive. In those ancient times, misogyny was already in place. But the modern Western world, by separating out homosexuality from homosociality, began to see homosexuality as an identity, subjectivity, something that can be attributed to a person, not to an act or behavior, and can be discarded as inauthentic masculinity, hence modern homophobia based on human identity. By excavating the residue of homosexual/homosocial erotic relations in today’s seemingly heterosexual literature, this type of queer reading (or in this case, gay reading) sheds light on what today’s social structure and dominant ideologies tell us about masculinity, homosexuality, and women.

Binary Oppositions in “Honey Pie”

There are many binary oppositions in “Honey Pie”. In fact, the entire story is about things that are two. One example is the mountain where bears reside and the town where humans reside. The former is depicted as rural and organized based on group politics rather than personal talents. The latter is urban, a place for personal flourishing, division of labor and capitalism. By going back and forth between the mountain and the town, Masakichi the bear finds more and more home in the town where his individual talents get recognized and exchanged for money. Now this is parallel to the urban gay myths that gays in the rural regions suffer the pains of being in the closet and being the target of homophobia that’s prevalent in rural areas, that urban settings create much more opportunities for gays who have talents (not in honey-making, but fashion), and that a gay man with talents can enjoy his life to the fullest if he migrates to an urban city because that’s where all his previously unrecognized talents get recognized. (Tonkichi, on the other hand, has no talent when he leaves the mountain, hence his unsuccessful migration. When he finds his talent, he’s back on the market.) On page 117, Junpei tells Sala that the mountain is too steep and people leave their stuff on the way to the top so they can keep climbing up and survive. Now, what does a gay urbanite do when he visits his parents’ house in a rural town? He leaves his gay identity, desire, and lifestyle behind so that he can survive.

The mountain-town binary opposition is also temporal, for denial of descent is playing a huge role in Junpei’s life. To Masakichi, the mountain is the past to be discarded, just like Kobe is for Junpei. The earthquake, however, reminds Junpei of his past, and he hates it. He has not been in contact with his family since graduation from college. But then his temporarity, as Takatsuki suggests, is still stuck in the college times. Junpei in this state, as well as Masakichi who still resides in the mountain, is not living the present time that is between past and future, but they’re outside time.

Temporarity has become one of the popular topics in queer theory ever since Prof. Judith “Jack” Halberstam (USC) wrote “In a Queer Time and Place” (2005). You probably remember that Prof. Miyamoto yesterday said she didn’t want to read “Honey Pie” as a coming-of-age story. Coming-of-age stories are about growing, entering into adulthood. And what does adulthood mean? Halberstam writes:

queer subcultures afford us a perfect opportunity to depart from a normative model of youth cultures as stages on the way to adulthood: this allows us to map out different forms of adulthood, or the refusal of adulthood and new modes of deliberate deviance. Queers participate in subcultures for far longer than their heterosexual counterparts. At a time when heterosexual men and women are spending their weekends, their extra cash, and all their freetime shuttling back and forth between the weddings of friends and family, urban queers tend to spend their leisure time and money on subcultural involvement. This may take the form of intense weekend clubbing, playing in small music bands, going to drag balls, participating in slam poetry events, or seeing performances of one kind or another in cramped and poorly ventilated spaces. […] For queers the separation between youth and adulthood quite simply does not hold, and queer adolescence can extend far beyond one’s twenties. I want to raise here the notion of “queer time,” a different mode of temporality that might arise out of an immersion in club cultures or queer sex cultures. While obviously heterosexual people also go to clubs and some involve themselves in sex cultures, queer urbanites, lacking the pacing and schedules that inhere to family life and reproduction, might visit clubs and particupate in sex cultures well into their forties or fifties on a regular basis. (pp.44-45, Halberstam, J. “What’s That Smell?” in Driver S. (eds) Queer Youth Cultures. 2008.)

Queer time is not only related to clubbing and queer sex cultures but, as you can see, it’s invariably un-related to family life. Urban-rural opposition also plays a role here, because urbanites, expecially queer ones, typically do not live with their parents (remember, denial of descent is a huge theme of “Honey Pie”).

The binary oppositions between the mountain and the town, or the past and the present, are to be resolved in the future. And this is exactly what Prof. Matsugu said yesterday about the mythical aspect of this Murakami piece being a story of post-disaster recovery/rebuild. The state of non-decision, state of being outside of time, is to be resolved. The resolution here is triggered by the earthquake, an utmost brutal destruction of all boundaries (of buildings, of roads, and of collective sense of community). After Fukushima, by the way, many in Japan immediately responded to the earthquake and the reactor troubles by creating a sense of national collectivity through their expressions of nationalistic sentiments (see Hiroki Azuma’s piece by googling his name and “earthquake”, for example). What boundaries get rebuilt, what boundaries are left destroyed, and what boundaries get created anew are some of the things we need to carefully observe, for they reflect the existing social structure and dominant ideologies that tell us what kind of society is ideal.

The Box

The future, or the kind of adulthood, into which Junpei enters is heterosexual union, hence my own terminology “bandaid heterosexuality” (I would also say the same thing about the movie, “GO” with Yosuke Kubotsuka in it, if you have seen it). This is understandable for he is a heterosexual subject. But what accompanies this decision creates repercussions for Sayoko and Sala, too. To understand Sala, we already know that she has been traumatized by the earthquake news on TV and has been reacting to the fear by dreaming of the Earthquake Man and waking up to do a complete inspection of the house to make sure the Man is gone. The Man here, in her dreams, tries to forcefully put her into a tiny box.
Later toward the end, the Earthquake Man reappears in her dream saying he’s got a box ready and big enough for everyone. And she does not seem to be afraid anymore.

Let’s think about what all these signify in terms of boundaries:
-the earthquake = destruction of boundaries,
-the Earthquake Man = boundary maker, whose boxes encapsulate a person or persons in a enclosed area,
-the box for Sala = an individual boundary, the boundary between Sala and everything non-Sala, and
-the box for everyone = a family boundary, the boundary between the newly-formed nuclear family and those outside the family (including Takatsuki).

Boundaries, in linguistics, exist so that object A is recognizable as such, as different from non-object A (everything that’s not object A). The definition of a man, a male human being, for example, always requires in itself a mention of “woman”, the non-man. The same holds true for every single word, hence creating boundaries between things. Different languages have different boundaries. For example, in Japan many old people call both green and blue “blue.” The green traffic light is still called “blue light” by most Japanese-speaking people. When I dyed my hair light brown at twelve, my grandmother said, “did you dye your hair red?!” But these seemingly “wrong” color names still make sense in the contexts of conversation, because the green light is still relatively more “blue” than the red or yellow lights, and because my light brown hair, that had been black, was now relatively more red than before. Aside from these casual instances, the world of linguistics tells us that a language is a system composed of “differences” between signs, not composed of signs freely floating around that have meanings in themselves. Meanings of things are created in the course of social life (i.e. boundaries are created so that we can recognize things), to which we create labels to attach, according to which new generations learn about the named things and their meanings (what to call them doesn’t really matter, because anything that sounds new in the existing lexicon can be recognizable as different from other names).

In psychoanalysis, an infant cannot recognize the boundaries between I and non-I. Without the felt contours of itself, the infant’s body is continuous into everything non-I, including the mother, a table before her- or himself, the house, and the universe (this state is called the realm of the Imaginary). The mirror stage kicks in when the infant looks into a mirror and starts recognizing the contours of its body. But at this stage, the infant, knowing nothing about human anatomy, thinks, “oh, so that thing right there is me!” and enjoys the movement of the mirror reflection of itself, knowing nothing about mirror reflection. That is, to this infant, the mirror image is “me” not the mirror reflection of “me.” Now, the realm of language, full of differences and boundaries, is awaiting the infant (this is called the realm of the Symbolic), so that the infant can recognize and identify itself correctly. Many psychoanalysts like Lacan called this a “jubilant” process, but recent theorists have argued that it is not necessarily pleasurable because to some infants, the boundaries (set up in a language system that differentiates things) are violent (e.g. terms that differentiate human races, genders, sexualities, etc.). Then, following the mirror stage comes in the phallic intervention of the Father that breaks apart the primary mother-child relation, at which point the infant is given the status of Subject, a recognizable human being, an I (there is much more to this phallic process, so if you’re interested try reading Sigmund Freud, Jacque Lacan, Luce Irigaray, Julia Kristeva, or any books that explain their theories). And at this point, everything that is not recognized in the language system of the society gets lost, crammed into the realm of the Real, inaccessible by language except for when one makes a mistake in word choice, grammars, etc. (this is what is called a Freudian slip!) and when the listener/reader misinterprets language. (There is no way someone can intentionally create this crack of the language system. Like I said, the author is dead.)

The earthquake is destruction of boundaries, as said above, a collapse of what people have believed to be the functional, systematic society composed of bits and pieces that are namable, recognizable through language. The quake, by creating massive affective reactions, most of which probably unprecedented, undermines the assumption that the realm of the Symbolic describes the world fully. This realization immediately calls for explanation, something that makes sense, a language that describes what things are in the midst of disaster; hence the need for rebuilt boundaries and new boundaries.

For Junpei (and probably Sayoko, too), it is the nuclear family boundary that they resort to. And the author of that boundary (who draws the line) is Junpei, as has always been since he named the infant “Sala.” But to Sala, is Junpei the author by which she wishes to be written? She apparently is not ready to be an independent, individual subject in this world, as she refuses to be put into the individual box that the Earthquake Man tries to push her into, the box that the Earthquake man has written for her. But we don’t know if Sala would be happy to be put within the nuclear family boundary set up by Junpei, do we?

As I said in the above, Sala is not afraid of the Earthquake Man with the box for everyone. She seems to be spacing out, but remember, before this scene, she has always reacted to a dream with the Man in it by jumping out of the bed and running around the house. Why not, this time? She is surprisingly calm, and, unknowingly, prevents the ejaculatory process that has been on its way. Writing is ejaculatory, as you can see the similarities between a pen with ink seeping out and a pen-is with semen seeping out. By interrupting the ejaculatory process, Sala prevents Junpei from writing, or authoring the family boundary, possibly implying that she would be better off written (put into the box boundaries set up) by the Earthquake Man than by Junpei. Junpei, at the end of the story, after Sala and Sayoko went to bed together, says, “They were inside there. They were waiting with the box open” (145). Why it is not “he” but “they” that Junpei sees as his rival authors of boundaries is that Sala could be in fact written by many others, in various possible ways that do not require Junpei’s writing. Here, the Earthquake Man is Sala’s alternative author, in fact created by Sala herself.

Sala stopping Junpei’s ejaculation can also be read as refusal of reproduction, and thus refusal of family descent, refusal of mortality, for sex signifies the past (parents), temporariness (pleasure of this mortal body, not parents’ or children’s), and timelessness (continuous genealogy). Sala is the refusing, resisting, and timeless queer in this sense, something that Junpei stops being by applying bandaid heterosexuality on his earthquake(past)-inflicted scar. Sala becomes a resistant queer out of necessity since otherwise the boundaries being rapidly rebuilt and forming after the earthquake would force her to enter the realm of the Symbolic governed by the symbolic father or the phallus of Junpei.

Queer Readings in the Plural

Queer reading often looks too ridiculous, too far-fetched to the extent that it distorts the story. But it nevertheless sheds light on things that are not easily recognized in the dominant ideologies and social structure. This, to people who are marginalized, especially those who are sexually marginalized or marginalized in gendered ways, brings hope to their eyes and creates a resistant force that can be used by them to resist the existing social structure and dominant ideologies. My reading of “Honey Pie” in the above may not make sense to you, but there are many, many other ways to do q
ueer reading because every queer subject (not necessarily LGBTs) is queer in different ways. Find your own way, or multiple ways in fact, to get the most queer of stories you read!