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'Gayjin' find it tough going in Tohoku

52 Comments
By Jahrine Myles

I come from Cardiff, a city in Wales, with a very lively and popular gay scene. It isn’t a large city, but there are numerous bars and clubs that have the rainbow flag flying above the door, and there’s a gay and lesbian Mardi Gras each year which is attended by thousands of people; both gay and straight.

Three of my closest friends are gay, so whenever I’m home, the gay clubs and bars are usually where we go for a night out. I would say on a typical night out at a gay club, there is a 70/30 split, 70% being gay and 30% straight, and although I remember one incident where I was made to feel unwelcome by a fat lesbian with a lightning bolt shaved into the side of her head, said bars and clubs normally have no problem with straight people being there.

So it came as a bit of a shock, even though I knew Japan to be a very conservative country, to discover that there were no such bars or clubs in Sendai, the largest city in the Tohoku region. I understand why the gay bars frequented by friends of mine here in Sendai have a strict "no straights" policy; why make it any harder than it already is for gay men (and I mention only gay men because, as far as I know, there aren’t any "official" bars for gay women in the city) to meet one another? But then I wonder, how do gay men who come to live in Japan, and especially the Tohoku region, find living in a society where being gay seems to be something you should consider keeping a secret? And what are the general differences?

I spoke to Alex, a friend of mine who lives near Sendai and often visits the gay bars there. He is from a town right next to the city I’m from in the UK, so he is used to a more open and accepting attitude. When I asked him what general differences between the UK and Japan he has experienced so far, the first thing he mentioned was the use of, what we in the West perceive to be quite offensive terms like "homo," and mentioned how "They (the Japanese) would have no problem calling someone a homo because as far as Japan is concerned that’s what a gay person is, even though in the West, people might find the term to be more hostile."

He found this hard to get used to, but soon realized that there are aspects to the general attitude toward gay men in Japan that are better than at home. "On the plus side, Japanese people don’t see certain jobs or actions as being 'gay.' Some of my students tell me how much they love boy bands, or how they want to be a hairdresser after school and no one makes a joke or assumes anything about the kid. It’s quite refreshing in comparison to back home. One of my students was telling me the other week about his dad having gay friends; I couldn’t see a boy of 16 in Wales doing the same thing without someone making jokes about the father or the kid. It just doesn’t occur to them to make fun about it."

Having previously worked at two senior high schools myself, I too have witnessed this seemingly more accepting nature. A lot of my male students would be very touchy-feely with one another and nobody ever harassed them for it, as would most definitely have been the case if it were a high school in the UK. So why then, is there such a secretive attitude? Is it because Japan is a few steps behind the West in noticing homosexuality as a perfectly acceptable way of life and not a problem, something that can be "solved?"

A bisexual Japanese friend of mine once worked in a mental hospital so has experienced such attitudes firsthand. "Japan is a very conservative country. Lots of people think same sex relationships are 'abnormal,'" he said. "Besides, I used to work for a mental hospital as an office worker, and I noticed being gay or lesbian was (seen as) a serious mental disorder. Some people were sent to the hospital by their actual parents only because they were gay. That was so horrible."

This disturbing insight gives a clearer picture as to the reasoning behind gay Japanese men not wanting to come out. My friend Patrick lives in a small town in Iwate Prefecture, also in the Tohoku region. He knows a man who is living "in the closet" due to the death of his parents. "About 5 months ago, I met a 40-year-old Japanese guy living in a neighboring small town. He found me on one of the dating sites and we met up for coffee. He’s been gay since he can remember, but was only out of the closet when he was living and working in Sendai for 10 years. He also spent some time living in California to study English. His normal gay lifestyle was halted by the death of his parents, after which he moved back to live in his childhood home as is the custom for the oldest child in Japan.

"Since then, he has reverted back to living a closeted lifestyle. He doesn’t feel like there’s any way out of his situation. He’s bound by the traditions of Japanese culture and genuinely feels like the only way to cope is to be in the closet and maybe marry a woman in a 'friendship marriage.' So yeah, I do think that things are way way behind in Japan, especially out here in the country, but I can see limited progress in the bigger cities."

So, it seems that the strong sense of tradition ingrained within most Japanese, plays a huge part in the somewhat out of date general attitude toward gay men and women. I know that there is progression in the more accepting and open-minded cities of Tokyo, Osaka etc, with Tokyo even putting on an annual Tokyo Gay Pride event. But I think such progression will travel north to the Tohoku region at a snail’s pace; these things don’t happen overnight.

It’ll be interesting to see if there has been a significant change in say, 5 or so years. I’ll be sticking around, so I’ll hopefully see a difference. Maybe before my time here is through, I’ll be accosted in a gay bar in Sendai on a Saturday night, by a Japanese lesbian with a lightning bolt shaved into the side of her head. I hope she’s not as fat as the other one was; then maybe I’ll have a fighting chance.

© Japan Today

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52 Comments
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Your lack of knowledge and understanding of Japan is unbelievable.When you HAVE been here 5 years you will lok back at this and be totally ashamed.LOL

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The person who wrote this really has not much knowledge of Japan....

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isn't it nice being the only gay in the village?

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"Lots of people think same sex relationships are abnormal."

MOST people in the West think likewise. Since when is "homo" considered offensive?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The biggest mistake a Japanese noobie makes is assuming. Drop all exceptions and knowledge of Japan at the door, remember Japanese think with two sides of their brain.

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Why does it have to be a gay bar? Why do gays always expect special treatment? No one has anything against gays, so just live a normal life. If I go to a bar with my boyfriend, I never show anything about my sexual relationship with him. One goes to a bar to have fun and a drink.

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Dubya; Homo is very offensive love!!!! I wnet to Japan and walked around Roppongi on a summers day, conservatively dressed in a hawaian shirt, black short pants and pink crocs. I was stared at like an laien all day.

In Earls Court LOndon , nobody would bat an eyelid. I agree with the writer, very behind the times and homophobic.

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So the author and his mates move from their safe European homes to provincial Japan, criticize the place, and expect it to change for their benefit?

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Since when does your style of dress make you a homo? ChrisBiggins, you were probably stared at because you were a foreigner and you dressed loudly. You should try dressing in a suit and going to a small town. You would still get your fair share of stares from people, simply because you are a foreigner.

BTW Have people ever heard the words homodachi or oshiriai to describe homosexual friends or partners? Just curious.

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homodachi and oshiriai.. yes. the thing is that people in japan don't mean to discriminate when they use words like that, it's just that they think they are being "funny"... homodachi instead of tomodachi (friends), oshiriai means to put butts together... i think the problem is that those famous gay men on TV shows try to be funny (sometimes in disgusting ways) and many japanese people think that'd be the stereo-type gays..

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I wonder what the first few commenters actually think is so wrong or inaccurate about the article. Honest question.

Or is it just a rolling gag to say the author of any article like this is just a noob who doesn't know anything about Japan?

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I think Airion, that the people who comment so negatively on articles like these want us all to know how much more they know about Japan. Well done you, I'm in awe of your vast knowledge, so articulate and... oh wait, all you did was leave a snide comment.

Anything more to add to 'your lack of knowledge and understanding of Japan is unbelievable...' and 'The person who wrote this really has not much knowledge of Japan...'?

And 'homo' is massively offensive, at least where I'm from (Australia)

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warnsworth; I agree dear. Homo is offensive in my home in Britain. I haven'T heard it used much lately. It stopped around the late '70's, so possibly Japan is 3 decades behind our countries with how gays are treated.

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"Homosexuality as a perfectly acceptable way of life and not a problem" For some reason if my son came up to me and told me he was gay I would have a problem. Am I alone in this?

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Homo, generally, is not meant to be offensive in Japan. It has got nothing to do with whether or not Japan is backward in the acceptance of the gay culture. This is the same for the fact that there aren't as many gays here as where you may have come from. The number of gays in a community does not go to show the level of development (social or otherwise of that community). I believe I'm going to get some flak for saying this but it's almost the same as going to a foreign country, saying people don't speak your language and then screaming "discrimination", et al. No matter what is said about all of this relating to Japan, I do believe there's more discrimination and gay-bashing in Western countries. Imagine being a lone gay or two in a non-gay township in a Western country. It won't be a stretch to say that one would be living in fear more so than in a similar township in Japan. The author's own comments alluded to that.

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@BobbieWickham

Depends what you mean by problem. Most parents have expectations for their children.

The fact is that around 5% of mammals are born gay, and we have to deal with that.

SLM

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Problem like 'Do I shoot him?' or 'Will I just go to Chile?' Because 5%(?) are born that way doesn't take the problem away.

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"Homosexuality as a perfectly acceptable way of life and not a problem"

i definitely think it's a problem, and not an acceptable way of life. i do not agree with the lifestyle and hope that gay people would consider changing their sexuality.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Amongst the biggest problems a gay person can have are parents like the above posters.

As the article mentions, "Lots of [Japanese] people think same sex relationships are abnormal", when in fact it is well documented that in all animals studied it is common (5 to 100%) and natural, and therefore normal.

As a parent myself, I'll love my children regardless as long they're good people.

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Bobbie and Johnny. If my son were gay, it would not bother me too much. If we are making a scale of bad news from a son, I could think of a lot of 10s, and being gay might be about a 2 or 3, all other things being equal.

I would think that if people can have good manners and keep their sexuality to themselves, it would be hard to have a "problem" with it. Just for comparison, people who believe in freemasonry conspiracies are irritating, as are people who apparently believe that the South should rise again. But we all have to get along. You probably know some gay people where you work or live right now. Have you considered that?

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I would love it if my son was gay. I have heard from other gay friends that gay boys have great relationships with their Mums! Sorry - dont mean to be stereotypical! But it wouldnt bother me in the slightest. The only concern I would have is the same as if he were straight - that his partner would love and respect him.

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If I want to use the word homo, I'll use it... For me it don't sounds too offensive. I have some homo friends, no problem with saying it by themself in a jockin' way...

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Sorry. Didn't realise this was a PC discussion. Will be more careful in future.

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Wow, johnnyreb what exactly is so problematic about gay relationships? What difference does it make if two people who are in love with each other are of the same sex? I really cannot understand people like you.

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If the guy wants to meet some gay people he should ask around Misawa Air Base gates. Plenty of both J guys and GIs on the prowl. There are gay bars in Morioka and Hachinohe that I have been to, here in Hokkaido there are four I know of, three in Sapporo and one in Hakodate. Just like in any country if you want to find some action it's in the big cities. Rural areas are by nature more conservative, no matter the country. Is the writer having a whine of just an observation? I think if he were in the LGBT community instead of just going on hearsay he would learn a deeper understanding of gay culture in Japan and indeed be surprised how vibrant it is.Japanese are by nature more reserved in public displays of affection no matter it a homosexual or heterosexual relationship. Maybe it's just not the Asian way to effect change by getting in peoples faces. Likewise how many homobashings do you hear about in Japan. The last one I heard was a marine in Okinawa punched a guy to death cause he put his arm around him in a bar, drinking buddy like. Judeo-Christian lead Homophobia is not prevelent in Asia. Another reason for Christians to go home or keep a low profile.

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Dont whinge because Japan is different from your country. Not every country is the same, and there are alot more problems with japan than what you are complaining about.

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The term homo in Japan does not have the connotations it has elsewhere in this world, e.g. Australia, Europe, the US, where homos, gays get clubbed to death, which has not happened in Japan, AFAIK. You must be really blind or extremely ignorant for judging Japan backward. The biggest mistake one can make is judging a foreign culture or nation by one's own misguided, provincial preconceived notions.

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You need to work harder at being a Homo -Look what "Hard Gay" does -and he's married (to a woman). -Not even a true gay. Some jokes may help and you need to find yourself so people can identify you =right now it's more of a ?@_@? A man must be strong and have identity -Gay doesn't matter.

-You also just made my life harder. I must now correct everybody that calls me a gayjin. This may put the ? In their mind.

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Not sure what angle to take on all this as I am a lesbian trapped in a man's body...somebody help me please!!!

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If a person says that they have friends that are "homos", does that make them homodachis???

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Just because some animals display homosexuality does not by itself mean a darn thing and is a rather useless tidbit of information. Animals also experience depression, eat their young, and let the old be eaten by lions but that in itself does not mean a thing for humans.

Anyway it is none of my business what other people do or how they feel.

Not being gay, I really have no clue about the scene in Japan but I would hazard a guess that the percentage of foreigners in Japan that are gay is well above the average. I have met many gay foreigners, particularly Americans in Japan that seem to come here because they can be free here, come out of the closet and not have to hide their personality from their family and church. They are also free from the "fruity" gay scene. Most seem to be "manly" men that like to wear suits and are turned off by the "nutty" gays in the US.

Be free in Japan, every bar is a gay bar when you are in it!

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Interesting suggestion by proxy, that a relatively high percentage of foreigners in Japan are gay. Personally I was always of the impression that Japanese were less tolerant of gays than in the US, hence I wouldn't expect Japan to attract gays. That at least seems to be true if you consider the fact that some states in the US allow gay marriage and/or civil unions.

I would also agree that 5% of of animals being gay doesn't make it "normal" or somehow "natural." There's no need to prove it as such. Hell, getting away with cheating on a spouse is approved by nature. Doesn't make it morally right.

Is that just PC?

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I am a lesbian trapped in a man's body.

Damn it Sharky that's my line! lol

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I agree that gay bars/clubs should be open to everyone. Most American gay bars/clubs left that behind sometime ago. Many straights like going to gay clubs because the music is really great and if someone approaches you all you have to say is "Im sorry, but I'm straight" and they'll leave you alone. Dancing with gay guys is fun too. Chemically, they are attracted to the same sex and they cannot do anything about that so why criticze them.

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Most Japanese don't have any problems with gays. The author says it himself:

One of my students was telling me the other week about his dad having gay friends; I couldn’t see a boy of 16 in Wales doing the same thing without someone making jokes about the father or the kid. It just doesn’t occur to them to make fun about it.” Having previously worked at two senior high schools myself, I too have witnessed this seemingly more accepting nature.

He obviously has no problems in Japan working in a high school and talking about gays with his students. I know quite a few countries where the school administration and the parents would be up in arms. If you are discreet as in not creating a fuzz, people in this country don't care about your sexuality, religion or other private matters.

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@proxy and Airon:

I said 5 to 100% (the latter in Bononos). Let someone spell it out for you:

"One fundamental premise in social debates has been that homosexuality is unnatural. This premise is wrong. Homosexuality is both common and highly essential in the lives of a number of species". (Petter Boeckman of the Norwegian Natural History Museum, from an article titled "1,500 animal species practice homosexuality".)

Being present in so many animals (with whom we share many biological features) suggests a biological imperative for this behaviour which we share. Final cluestick, definition of natural: "existing in or in conformity with nature or the observable world".

Humans are just another species displaying this normal, natural behaviour.

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Doesn't make it morally right. Morality is a shifting variable social constraint. They used to say inter-racial marriage wasn't moral. Morality as an argument against homosexuality is homophobic piousness.

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bobbiewickham:

For some reason if my son came up to me and told me he was gay I would have a problem. Am I alone in this?

Yes, you would have a problem. But it'll be YOUR problem, not your son's. And be careful how you treat your children. They'll treat you the same way when you're old and an invalid.

Unfortunately, you're not alone.

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sicklittlemonkey Listen bub, your argument that just because animals do it holds no water. Infanticide occurs is far more species than homosexuality but if a human does it, it is a crime.

And let me state this firmly for you, I strongly believe that homosexuality is NOT a crime and is quite normal, I am just pointing out the absurd weakness in your argument. The argument that "insert conduct here" is normal because it occurs in animals does not hold up, will never hold up and would be laughed out of every court in the world.

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@sicklittlemonkey

I'm not denying it exists in other animals, I just feel that fact is irrelevant. Partly for the reasons that proxy stated, but more than basic rights and freedom from discrimination don't need scientific justification.

Moderator: Readers, back on topic please. References to animals are not relevant.

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Pukey2 The fact that he's going to spend a part of his life looking for partners in outside tiolets is HIS problem. The fact that 90% of people believe what he is doing is unnatural is a problem. I know that's not what statistics show but statistics are made up by trendy intellectuals bent on being PC.

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BobbieWickham, you really have no idea about anything, do you? Do you really think that gay men meet each other outside toilets? How many gay men do you actually know? Why is it a problem that people think it's unnatural, SO WHAT? I think it's unnatural for a person to be so hateful and stupid, but that isn't going to change either.

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Two consenting adults, whether male or female, engaging in a romantic relationship is hardly a problem. Who you sleep with has no relevance whatsoever in your moral fiber.

As for the post that says gay men meet only outside public toilets...well, I think the poster's ignorance and hatefulness speak for themselves and no one should take him seriously.

Moderator: Do not be impolite to other posters.

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Oh dear, oh dear, the truth hurts doesn't it? Otherwise why so angry? Maybe George Michael has coloured my vision somewhat but gays have to face up to the fact that there's isn't the only agenda in town. There are lots of sexual preferences. Some do more harm than others.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Is it because Japan is a few steps behind the West in noticing homosexuality as a perfectly acceptable way of life and not a problem, something that can be “solved?”

I laughed when I read this line. The author is of a different opinion of the vast majority of people, in that he feels it is a "perfectly acceptable" lifestyle, and somehow unlike other predispositions such as alcoholism etc, can't be "solved"

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Well, I guess it's a touchy subject, but my take has always been that it's hard enough to find happiness in this world, without putting limitations on things....

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I met an elderly, very-obviously openly Gay Japanese guy on the Airport train to Nagoya a few years ago. He wasn't making a spectacle of himself, nor was he hiding anything. No one seemed to give a darn. The other passengers weren't shooing their kids away or anything. Osaka supposedly has a bunch of gay bars north of Umeda. Maybe Tohoku is a lot different from the rest of the country.

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I understand why the gay bars frequented by friends of mine here in Sendai have a strict “no straights” policy

So much for gays being the self-proclaimed "champions of tolerance."

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I hope she’s not as fat as the other one was; then maybe I’ll have a fighting chance.

Is it just me? Or is the author who champions "acceptance" and "open-mindedness" displaying an intolerant attitude toward "fat" people?

I just love how pro-gay people demand tolerance from others, while refusing to extend it to others.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

If you don't like Japan's attitude toward homosexuality, you can always go home. It's an exercise in cultural arrogance to try to remake Japan into a Western image ... even when it comes to something "politically correct" like homosexuality.

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I think the problem isn't entirely rooted in conservative or "outdated" notions of sexuality. In Japanese culture, role fulfillment is emphasized heavily on many levels. From the oldest son caring for elderly parents to the office lady who has to serve tea to the husband who has to be a good earner and work hard for his family, there are a lot of roles that people are slotted into. While some flexibility and wiggle room is starting to loosen up attitudes toward "proper" roles, one issue with being gay is that that status has no set role in current Japanese society. In essence, there is no place for gay individuals or couples in the current cultural mindset.

If a married man gets a promotion and a raise and one who in turn has children gets more money, where does the gay man who has no family to support, cannot enter a partner in the social registry, and cannot claim his partner as a dependent fit? Japanese people simply don't know where you fit into the order of things so they'd rather you lied and pretended you fit into the preexisting order. They don't care what you do in your private life, but they don't want to have to deal with the complications of handling you otherwise.

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The Japanese are generally more closed than Westerners about all personal relationships whether heterosexual or homosexual. Gay relationships occurred amongst samurai a lot more than one might think. Sumo wrestlers too. Anyway, I agree that the writer does seem somewhat ignorant. That Tohoku doesn't have a large gay bar scene isn't really surprising. It's probably mostly due to the fact that such bars wouldn't have a large enough clientele to make enough profit. Comparing Tohoku to Kansai or Kanto is ridiculous when you look at the population difference.

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