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social sciences

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Queen is closely associated with the Elizabeth chain of cross-dressing clubs and is primarily aimed at amateur cross-dressers who have little or no involvement with the entertainment world, and it avoids any association with prostitution or pornography. Other titles such as She Male (1992-present) and Newhalf Club (1995-present) cater to transgendered people working in the entertainment world and their admirers and are much more erotic in content, as are many newhalf sites on the Internet, which are basically fronts for transgender prostitution.

Lesbian publications have found it more difficult to find a niche in the marketplace and have tended to come and go rapidly. The first lesbian publication, EVE&EVE, appeared in 1981 and survived for only two issues. However, there has been a strong tradition of lesbian minikomi, and there is a large lesbian presence on the Internet.

Sponsor Message.

Japan's queer publications are niche-marketed, and there are no cross-over magazines that cater to a wider queer constituency. However, the important genre of boy-love manga, written by and for women, contains graphic representations of male homosexual love and appeals across gender and orientation boundaries. These magazines are enjoyed by many gay men and lesbians as well as by heterosexual women.

Queer Activism

Japan's first queer activist was Ken Togo who, in 1971, founded the Zatsumin no Kai, or Organization of Miscellaneous People, which fought for the rights of sexual minorities, including lesbians, gay men, and sex workers. He has repeatedly run for political office in the national Diet, Japan's parliament, but without success.

Togo is a colorful character, a gay bar owner who expresses himself through the effeminate mannerisms of the 1960s gay boy. He is also the editor of the magazine The Gay, first published in 1981 (and previously titled The Ken), which contains an interesting mixture of explicit pornography and gay-rights discourse. However, despite Togo's prominence on Tokyo's gay scene, his style of activism has had only limited success, and he has been marginalized by more recent western-style gay groups.

The 1970s saw the development of numerous small organizations, often centering on the clientele of specific bars. However, their activities were more social than political.

Japanese lesbian and gay liberation movements began to pick up pace in the mid-1980s, with the founding in Japan of a branch of the International Lesbian and Gay Association. Probably the best known group dating from this time is Ugoku Gei to Rezubian no Kai (Group of Moving Gays and Lesbians), also known as OCCUR, which, in 1988, became involved in a legal dispute with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, which had refused to allow them access to its residential meeting facilities. OCCUR took the relevant government body to court and won the case in 1994; it also won the appeal launched by the government in 1997.

In 1994, Tokyo saw its first lesbian and gay parade, which has since become an annual event. Other regional gay and lesbian parades are also held, particularly in Sapporo, the capital of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido.

When compared with many western nations, in Japan is less intense. Japan's legal system has taken a hands-off approach to the private sexual behavior of its citizens; neither of its two principal religions, Buddhism and Shinto, condemns homosexuality; and neither religious nor political figures have campaigned on an anti-gay platform.

So far, the increased visibility of Japan's sexual minorities has not been met with the same conservative backlash that has been apparent in the United States. However, gender norms remain rigid, and there is no legislation protecting lesbian and gay partnerships, insurance benefits, or inheritance rights.

Transsexuals, in particular, are disadvantaged since they cannot officially change their sex on identity documents. The late 1990s saw the launch of legal challenges to change this situation and, given the success of previous legal actions, it is hopeful that the situation will improve in the near future.

Mark McLelland

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social sciences >> Overview:  Buddhism

Buddhism is unusual among world religions in that it generally expresses neutrality on the issue of homosexuality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cross-Dressing

Cross-dressers have often been misunderstood and maligned, especially in societies with rigid gender roles.

arts >> Overview:  Japanese Art

Japanese art, from the prehistoric period onward, features images that can be given queer readings as well as a wide range of representations that contemporary viewers would understand to be homosexual.

arts >> Overview:  Japanese Film

Offering visions of sexual transgression divorced from Western political correctness and assimilationist civil rights ideals, Japanese queer cinema is unique.

literature >> Overview:  Japanese Literature

The trajectory of the treatment of same-sex love in Japanese literature differs radically from that in Western literatures, but offers many interesting texts that include male-male or female-female love.

social sciences >> Overview:  Tokyo

Tokyo is home to a vast entertainment world that supports hundreds of venues for individuals with diverse sexual and gender identities and interests.

social sciences >> International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)

The International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA) is a worldwide federation of local and national groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for glbtq people.

arts >> Kabuki

Kabuki, a classic Japanese theatrical form incorporating fantastical costumes, stylized gestures, music, and dance, originally showcased female and boy prostitutes, but now features all-male casts.

arts >> Manga

In Japan, manga--or comic books--are an important medium of cultural expression and frequently feature male and female homosexuality.

arts >> Takarazuka (All-Female Revues in Japan)

Takarazuka, all-female musical and theater companies, are popular entertainment in Japan, but they tellingly illustrate the construction of gender roles and inspire intense--often homoerotic--fan response.


Chalmers, Sharon. Emerging Lesbian Voices from Japan. Richmond, U.K.: Curzon, 2002.

Fushimi, Noriaki. Gei to Iu Keiken [The Experience Called Gay]. Tokyo: Potto Shuppan, 2002.

Leupp, Gary. Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Lunsing, Wim. Beyond Common Sense: Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Japan. London: Kegan Paul International, 2001.

McLelland, Mark. Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities. Richmond, U.K.: Curzon, 2000.


    Citation Information
    Author: McLelland, Mark  
    Entry Title: Japan  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated November 22, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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