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YCAPS Hosts Discussion on LGBT Issues in Japan: Another Case of Squeezing Japanese Realities into a Western Framework?

On Dec 12th, YCAPS invited Mr. Taggert Murphy to speak about LGBT Issues in Japan and Japanese realities compared to western frameworks. YCAPS was joined by an audience of fifteen members of the community, including LGBTQ+ and straight members of the community, both service members and local in an open, and inclusive environment. Following refreshments, Mr. Murphy began a wide ranging discussion, starting with how conventional wisdom sees Japan as a laggard in the struggle for LGBT rights. While there may have been some “progress,” same sex marriage is still prohibited and self-identified LGBT people face both institutional and cultural hurdles that their counterparts do not in places such as the United States, Britain, and Taiwan.

Murphy questioned this conventional wisdom. He contends that the way LGBT issues are discussed and understood represents an effort – only partly successful – to impose an American conceptual framework on a cultural and historical tradition of male homosexuality in Japan that differed radically from that in the United States. Among other things, wakashudo (若衆道) – the “way of youths” – occupied an honored position in Edo period culture in a manner that had no counterpart in the West at least since antiquity. In modern times, homosexual acts were never persecuted in Japan with the full force of police power the way they were until recently in the United States and Britain. No politician in Japan of right or left has ever made political hay out of such issues as gay marriage or trans rights that have become standard culture war fodder in the US.

Why not? Imposing an America-centric conceptual framework on such questions makes it difficult to see them clearly. Murphy reviewed the history of male homosexuality in Japan, the way the “discourse” over homosexuality was transformed in the modern world first by the Meiji government's efforts to make Japan look “respectable” to the West and then the force of American popular culture in the postwar period as well as radical shifts in expectations of (heterosexual) marriage. Murphy concluded by noting the persistence of the older understandings of male homosexuality in contemporary Japanese cultural forms such as manga, boy teen aidoru, and the popular yaoi (やおい) or “boizu rabu” (ボーイズ ラブ )genre. He tied his analysis to wider social and economic trends.

Given the lack of gayphobia (and general indifference) in Japan and the waning of the Moonies' influence over the LDP against passing any LGBT friendly bills, Japan may be on its way to achieving full equality for LGBT people in the foreseeable future, without provoking any kind of "culture war" as has happened in the US and parts of Europe.


Toshio Fukuhara for YCAPS


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