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.


A Caribbean Islander who wants to fly. Criminal Justice graduate with a lot to say about social injustice. An eternal scholar. I want to know everything. I blame Disney for making me a total dreamer. My head is mostly in the clouds and I have background music in real life.

4 Responses

  1. amy says:

    Though, I really have unspoken issues with Hard Gay. I’ll venture into saying that the depiction of gay seems to be played for comedies, because in Jdrama comedies… everything is played for comedy. I mean, we’re talking here that Chiaki hitting Nodame was played for laughs and them both end up being a couple.

    Then we have Chiaki in inner-mind wanders questioning his love for Nodame, who is the exact opposite of him.

    In full on dramas, though – I don’t think I’ve seen many gay characters, and this is why we don’t see many serious treatments of gay people. I mean, the only one that comes to mind was Ruka is Last Friends… but she’s a lesbian.

    I’d like to present you to Kenichi Mikawa, and Akihiro Miwa x) They’re some of my faves and they appear regularly on NHK!

  2. Roxanne says:

    Wah! Yeah Kenichi Mikawa!! I was trying to find out more about him ’cause I’ve seen him in TV but I didn’t get close >_> and I’ve also seen other gay and transgender personalities on TV.

    It’s true that in Jdrama everything is for the kicks but it’s actually a very Japanese thing to do for gay couples. Even back when the Samurai would have lovers and the wealthy noblemen would take on young kabuki actors as lovers they were expected to move on out of that relationship when the younger one was of age. So I feel like that still shows through manga and tv series where there’s even a hint of homosexuality. For example: Kill Me, Kiss Me. Same scenario as Hana Kimi. Boy falls in love with boy who is actually girl cross-dressing as boy. When boy finally accepts his new found sexuality poof ‘Oh you’re a girl. I’m saved! Banzai!’. That’s the part that bothers me.

    Also I didn’t mention Antique Bakery but there’s a bit more of sober depiction on homosexuality but still… nothing happens. It’s like “we know it happens, but we’re not talking about it. k?”

    • amy says:

      @Roxanne, I think that goes with the story of boy who is actually a girl dressed up as boy, though. The story is pretty known in Asia – wasn’t that The Butterfly Lovers? HK and Chinese films have done several depictions of it… they discuss many of the versions in Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema, to something in the extent that it isn’t about the story, but how long they extend the process of liking “a boy” until the actual reveal.

      I haven’t seen HanaKimi, really – it’s not my type of jdrama to watch xD but in the docu, they show one version where they apparently extent that “i don’t mind he’s a boy, I love him” arc as long as possible. I know, the HK/CN industry has nothing to do with this topic xD but I guess the development in Jdrama goes quick because everything goes quick.

      It might seem they just brush the subject off, because we – as the audience interested in LGBT themes – want to understand a LGBT character’s psyche, but there’s not much in-depht analysis in romantic comedic jdramas as a whole. xD

      And by the way, I also wanted to write a post on Kenichi Mikawa-san because he’s so important, but I couldn’t find enough material either.

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