Male Homosexuality in Japanese Media
Japan has a long history of homosexual relationships dating back to the Heian period. Homoerotic art illustrations from the era depicted noblemen and the warrior class adopting younger males as both disciples and lovers. There were no laws that prohibited same-sex love and the reigning religions had no word against it. Quite the contrary, they were also participants of this practice.
To this day Japan still has no laws against homosexual relationships aside from the age of consent being higher for same-sex intercourse. That, however, doesn’t mean that Japan is Mecca for homosexual love. In modern mainstream culture homosexuality still retains the same stigma as in most of the world. We need only look into the world of Japanese media which mirrors the public opinion.
To the general public homosexuality is seen as a way of comic relief. Picari no Teiri’s comedy skit Bibari to Rui is one of the best examples of this. In a stereotypical Japanese office, the boss, Bibari, is constantly seducing his assistant Rui. It always starts with one of the two finding some very random errand for the female assistant so that she leaves the office. That’s when Bibari-san pounces for the kill.
With its over the top performances this is certainly an extremely comical skit not to be taken seriously in any way. Similarly, there are popular variety show characters depicting stereotypical homosexual behavior that are widely loved by the masses but heavily criticized by the LGBT community, such as Hard Gay.
The transgender theme is also often depicted as comic relief in most mainstream media. This is a recurring theme that also dates back to the ancient times of Japanese history. Various dramas and manga base their plots on gender-benders where a male character (which might or might not be the male lead) falls in love with the cross-dressing female lead. In this instance, the male character is led to question his sexuality and might even come to accept that he has fallen in love with someone of the same sex. Eventually, he finds out his love interest is actually a female and all is right in the world.
One of the most notable examples of this is the manga-cum-drama series Hanazakari no Kimitachi e. I can say without a doubt that Nakatsu Shuichi’s character is the best part of the live-action drama. The way he rationalizes his new found sexual identity, depicted as charmingly comical monologues, is very sincere and overall sheds a positive light on the topic of homosexuality.
Even with as charming a character as Nakatsu is, the idea still remains that as long as you ‘grow out’ of loving someone of the same sex it’s OK. In this sense we could say Japan has an almost two-faced approach to the homosexual community. While the mainstream media likes to exploit it for comedy, there’s a whole other world where its depictions on love, sex and the human psyche take many forms.