Hey guys! People have been asking like crazy
about what it’s like for LGBT (or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people) in
Japan. But since neither Jun nor I are in any way qualified to talk about it on our
own we asked our Japanese viewers for their opinions in an earlier video, and today I’m
going to tell you what they said. コメントしてくださった皆さん、本当にありがとうございました。
And just a quick disclaimer: we did our best to translate the comments but there were some
areas that we couldn’t understand well, or other areas where I wasn’t able to make the
translation sound graceful in English. First of all, a number of people brought up
the point that Japan has a history of homosexuality. Japan’s never had a religious basis for disliking
homosexuality, and a lot of famous military commanders and samurai are well-known for
having had homosexual relationships. A few people mentioned that there wasn’t really
an issue with homosexuality in Japan until it opened up to the West.
In Japan there’s no religion that denies homosexuality so it’s not a sin. Homosexuality was never
a sin or a vice–it was just something that was always naturally there. So why should
people have to say they’re gay? I’m straight but I’ve never made a declaration out of it.
Until the Edo period there were gay samurai. Sengoku era military commanders such as Oda
Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, who are very famous, swung their swords both ways. So for
Japanese people gay love shouldn’t be that hard to accept. But I think that changed in
the Meiji era when we started importing Western ideology.
How Japanese people view gay people nowadays really depends on the person so you can’t
really say one way or the other. However, Japanese people who know a lot of history
are more tolerant of gay people than others because in Japanese history there are a lot
of gay people who accomplished important things. Like Fujiwara no Yorinaga who established
the imperial system, and military commanders in the Sengoku period like Takeda Shingen,
Oda Nobunaga, and Date Masamune. We don’t have a religious taboo or historical
prejudice against being gay. We’re a country where famous daimyos wrote love letters to
their pages, so… And genres like yaoi and yuri are well-established now, too.
It was customary for some samurai to have gay lovers. Oda Nobunaga was well-known for
that. It seems like 400 years ago he has a relationship with a black male. The 3rd Shogun
Tokugawa Iemitsu liked good-looking boys more than women.
It seems like there used to be male gay people in Japan and they were accepted before Western
culture came into Japan. But after Western culture came, they disappeared. In general it seems like a lot of people said
that gay people tend to hide themselves in Japan. Knowledge about the differences between
gay and transgender, and especially the varying types of transgender seems to be pretty low.
Konostack-san had the most highly upvoted comment, and said:
I’m gay. The first thing I want to say is that in Japan
I’ve received almost no violence or verbal abuse. Most people tolerate, or at the very
least are polite to gay people, so I think anyone can live happily in Japan.
But understanding of gay and transgender people is still pretty low, and there’s a fair amount
of prejudice. For example, TV producers lump the various
sexual minorities together in a category called “Onee” to drive up views, so you don’t see
Onee people who wear clothes, talk, or express themselves emotionally in a way that’s considered
to be heterosexually male. So if I come out as gay people will assume
that I’m female on the inside, and they’ll assume I’m interested in cross-dressing or
a sex change, like those entertainers who speak like Onee. So gay people don’t come
out because if they do that storm of prejudice pours down on them.
But if you’re just visiting, I believe there’s absolutely no problem and Japan is a safe
country. There are two traditional words for Onee-san
in Japanese. The first means older sister, but it can also refer to young, polite, feminine
women, and the second refers to young (like in their 20s) women, like the word “miss”
and is something you would use to call over a waitress, for example. And if you remove
the “san” and write it as katakana, it becomes Onee, which means gay men who talk effeminately
but don’t wear women’s clothes or anything. However, over the years the meaning has been
distorted and now some people use it to refer to all transgender and gay men. It’s a somewhat
controversial term, and while it seems okay to say it about entertainers on TV, a lot
of people would be upset if you used it to refer to them in person. People who look like men but on the inside
are women are called Onee on TV. They’re popular entertainers. It seems like every TV program
has an Onee. But in general society outside of a special place called Shinjuku 2-chome,
gay people hide themselves. After all, it’s not common to have gay friends in Japan. They
might be there, but they’re not “out” because of the atmosphere in our society.
When I imagine gay people in Western countries they’re sexy, macho guys. But I don’t think
there are very many gay people like that in Japan. You have even less of a chance of seeing
lesbians on TV. Of course I’m sure they’re there, but they’re not “out” publicly. Onee
people are popular at Shinjuku 2-Chome. So I think gay people in Japan are completely
different from gay people in Western countries. Shinjuku 2-Chome is a district in Shinjuku,
Tokyo, that’s famous for being a gay neighborhood with tons of gay bars and other businesses
catering to the gay population. According to Wikipedia in Shinjuku 2-Chome there are
291 gay bars, and 402 total businesses catering to gay people, like host clubs, bath houses,
massage parlors, video stores, etc. Midori Komatsuzaki-san also mentioned it’s
not common to see lesbians on TV, and from a lot of the comments we got it seems like
lesbians are even more uncommon than gay people. But, there were several people who said they
have lesbian friends and co-workers who came out and were accepted. I have a female colleague who is a lesbian,
and she’s just a normal employee. She works fine without any problems. My other colleagues
and I planned a wedding ceremony for her. In Japan young people don’t really have a
problem with gay people. Maybe it’s thanks to the media? By the way, in Japan we have
onsen where you take a bath naked with others. One of my straight friends has a hard time
going to an onsen with my lesbian colleague because she said it’s like taking a bath with
her male friends and it’s embarrassing for her. One of my friends is a lesbian, and when she
told me about it I was really surprised but I don’t mind anymore. Even if someone is lesbian
or gay, that doesn’t mean they like EVERYONE of that gender. I came to understand that
she’s not interested in dating me, and so I don’t mind. They also fall in love with
people like us–it’s just that they fall in love with the same sex. Some people wouldn’t
understand that, though, and might break off a friendship if their friend came out. Especially
Christian people. And I think this doesn’t only happen in Japan. And of course, some people in Japan view homosexuality
the same way that some people in America view it. In general it seems like outside of TV most
LGBT people tend to stay hidden, and because of that a lot of people said they don’t know
anyone who’s gay. I think there are a lot of LGBT in Japan,
but in the present condition they don’t come out. So like Jun, I don’t personally know
any gay people. When I studied abroad in America and found out how many sexual minorities there
are, after returning to Japan I realized that they were certainly there, too, but because
of today’s state of affairs they hide themselves. I don’t know how it is for people from other
countries, but I get the feeling that knowledge of things like the differences between gay
and transgender people in Japan is shallow. It would be nice if they would teach us that
in school… I don’t have any gay friends. I don’t even
have to think about it. I just think there are fewer gay people in
Japan than there are in America and other Western countries.
I think there are a lot of hidden gay people in Japan. But I hear a lot of stories about
gay people attacking other people, so I think that’s why they’re not accepted.
There may not be much prejudice about people coming out or appearing as the opposite sex,
though, because we’re used to seeing them on TV. But because we don’t see them that
often in real life, I think it’s difficult to know how to communicate with them. Some people felt like coming out was mainly
an issue with your workplace. I’m a 40 year old straight, married man.
I don’t have gay friends or acquaintances, nor do I know anyone at work who is gay. In
my opinion, even if they were gay they wouldn’t tell people because in Japanese work culture
it’s very important how you’re seen. Japanese companies don’t think it’s a good idea to
have a gay salesman. They might think it’s a little bad because customers might complain
or it could be disadvantageous. Frankly speaking, this is common sense in Japanese companies
today. Including me, I don’t think individuals are prejudiced against gay people, but as
a company or community gay people are abnormal so that’s how they’re seen. I think this might
be unique to Japan. It’s very normal to have foreign people around
us in Japan now, but I think it’ll still take a little while to accept gay people the same
way we accept foreigners. But I think there were just as many people
who said they knew someone at their work who came out and didn’t have problems. There was
one comment I found really interesting, that suggested a lot of gay men in Japan just end
up ignoring their sexuality and living a typical heterosexual life. I don’t have any gay acquaintances, so I’m
just guessing… Compared to America, knowledge about the LGBT category isn’t very widespread.
So because of that, I think there are some Japanese people who are actually gay but don’t
realize it and feel a little odd about being straight, but end up getting married to the
opposite sex. And so, I heard that once Japanese people get married and have kids, there are
a lot of people who stop being a man and woman, or lovers anymore, and then become housemates
or best friends, and then become sexless. There is statistical data that says Japanese
people tend to be less interested in sex than people in other countries. So in marriage,
if you just want to be with a housemate or a best friend, then it doesn’t matter what
sex they are. So I think people who are actually gay don’t really feel uncomfortable getting
married to someone who’s the opposite sex. And as a result I think that makes gay Japanese
people less noticeable. I don’t think there’s discrimination against gay people in Japan. And a number of people made points that in
Japan it’s not really common to loudly assert yourself and demand equality: I’ve had gay and lesbian friends, but I didn’t
think anything special about them, and my other coworkers and friends didn’t dislike
them. But in Japan people who are overly self-assertive are somewhat kept at a distance from normal
people, so I think you should avoid saying things loudly like, “I’m gay! I’m the same
as everyone else!” Japanese culture puts a lot of pressure on
assimilating, so I imagine that even if you’re a little bit different it’s difficult. As
for foreigners, most people view them as completely differently from Japanese people so I don’t
think people care if they’re gay. Japan isn’t a country where you assert your rights. We’re
a society where without saying anything people can guess your thoughts, or you can indirectly
show your feelings through your expressions, so if you demand rights then people consider
you a nuisance. So if you say things like, “I’m gay! I have the same rights as everyone
else!” people might end up putting you at a distance. Fortunately there were a lot of people who
felt like coming out isn’t a huge deal among young people anymore, and that the typical
reaction is either being temporarily surprised, or just saying, “Oh, really? I don’t think there are many young people
who would view gay people negatively. Twice before I’ve heard rumors about people
around me being gay, but almost no one was shocked or spoke badly about them. It must
be very difficult and take courage to come out for gay people, so I think a lot of people
would respect that and welcome them warmly. These days you see yaoi and yuri in manga
all over the place so I think the younger generation doesn’t really mind. When I hear that someone I don’t know is gay
I don’t care–I would be like, “Oh, really? Hmmm…” So in my opinion most Japanese people
wouldn’t mind, they would be like, “Just go ahead, as long as you guys don’t trouble anyone
it will be fine.” But if they do lovey-dovey things right in front of you then I think
it would bother people. It’s the same as a normal couple doing lovey-dovey things.
There are gay people in Japan but I don’t think many of them are open about it. So for
how gay people are viewed–basically Japanese people are not interested in anyone but themselves
and religion isn’t widespread, so I don’t think there’s much prejudice against gay people.
However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand gay people. So people’s reactions
would be something like, “Oh, you’re gay? Huh.” I think there are some people who don’t
accept gay people, but most Japanese people don’t mind and will welcome you without changing
their attitude. And many people seemed to think that LGBT
foreigners shouldn’t need to worry at all, since they get grouped into a category of
outsiders, just like with entertainers on TV. Frankly speaking, I think most Japanese people
would warmly welcome foreign gay couples who are visiting Japan.
I think Japanese people are lenient, so as long you don’t completely ignore Japanese
customs and do what you want then I think Japanese people will respect your individuality.
So if you’re just visiting it should be fine, but if you’re working in a Japanese company
and you come out then there are some people who would find that troublesome.
Unless being gay or another minority can be a selling a point I don’t think you should
strongly support controversial subjects. To me, if it’s a gay foreigner I don’t mind
at all. But if it’s another Japanese person it makes me a little uncomfortable. Compared
to us Europe is relatively open when it comes to that sort of personal nature and love,
so I think it’s easy to accept foreigners who are gay. But in Japan we’re still somewhat
conservative and closed, so I think accepting gay Japanese people is difficult.
On the other hand I have a question for you. America still has strict Catholics, right?
If you’re a strict Catholic and you’re gay, what do you do? And of course many people said it really depends
on the person. Like in America a lot of the people who said they felt uncomfortable with
gay people seemed worried about being hit on. But there were also a lot of people who
felt that because of TV and anime and manga LGBT is becoming more widely accepted. Overall
we have 20 pages of comments from 66 different Japanese people. They say a lot of really
important things and we left out a lot of great comments so if you want to read through
the entire collection of translated comments, we’ve posted them on our blog: http://rachelandjun.blogspot.com/.- There aren’t many people who come out in Japan. It might be difficult for Japanese people
to understand gay people’s feelings, but I don’t think there’s much prejudice or discrimination
against them. If those people are still in high school then they might feel out of place,
but I don’t think adults care as much. Japan has a history of homosexuality, and in today’s
Japan I think gay people in Japan have a lot of civil rights. We have transgender, cross-dressing,
and even sailor uniform wearing old men so when it comes to gay or lesbian people I think
most people are just like, “Oh, really?” Well, I don’t want to say there’s zero prejudice.
If one of my friends came out I think I would be surprised, but I would want to help him
and sincerely give him advice. And I think gay foreigners are accepted even more! Please
overcome any discrimination and keep on living on your way! I am supporting you! So you and
your family can live peacefully!