The Gay Thing
Homosexuality and homosexual affectations have a certain prominent place in Japanese culture - pop culture as well as traditional culture - although the observation is fiercely denied by Japanese who seem to pretend a certain hypocrisy, or at least naiveté about this kind of sexuality in particular. It has been written about by prominent Western Japan scholars, and I have observed some of it myself. I have written about it only a little bit because my observations were never well met, or failed to spark discussion or feedback. It is said that Japanese culture is sexually shy. Interestingly, the same thing is said of Indian and Chinese cultures and yet the population figures deny it. Those cultures are anything but shy about sex.
First, there is the evidence of the popularity of “okama” television performers – undisguised transvestite and transsexual “talents” who appear on TV variety shows as game show contestants, hosts, singers, etc.
Next, there is the evidence of the comedic actor, Nao Oikawa, who became famous for his “Hard Gay” (HG) character on Japanese television in 2004 - an over-the-top accumulation of all the stereotypical gay costumes and manners once popular among Western heterosexuals. Of course, Oikawa is not homosexual. He was only playing a character, and his career effectively ended when he got married.
Next, traditional kabuki theater (in which all actors are male, as was the case in Western theater until modern times) features men playing women’s roles. That means donning female costumes and adopting (highly stylized) female affectations. In other words, revered, institutional transvestism. And, although transvestism alone does not translate into homosexuality can it or can it not be called a kind of barometer? Similarly in pop culture the famous Takarazuka musical theater company based in Osaka is an all-female troup and theatrical school. The most famous Takarazuka stars are young women cast in (usually romantic) male roles, donning male costumes and adopting (once again, highly stylized) male behaviors. In other words, more transvestism. And while Japanese proclaim (often correctly) that the actors and actresses are not gay but only playing a role in opposite sex costume, I feel that beyond a threshold the argument makes no difference.
The overwhelming majority of kabuki and Takarazuka fans are middle aged and elderly women. For some reason this segment of the Japanese population is mad for androgeny and they behave like young female groupies in New York or London clustering around Mick Jagger, Axel Rose or Leonardo DiCaprio. It could be a national fetish. This fan base has been dubbed the “auntie fans,” and they have sparked a “prince” phenomenon. Many middle aged and elderly women are captivated by the gentle, elegant, feminine demeanor of certain theater performers and athletes. Often they are quite young boys and men, such as 16-year old kabuki actor Taichi Saotome, nicknamed by his fans “Prince of Nagashime.” “Nagashime” means“sidelong glance.” There is also the case of Korean actor Bae Yong Joon, who is said to have started it all when his popular Korean daytime TV soap opera “Winter Sonata” became a sensation here. Then there is also the case of teenage golfer Ryo Ishikawa who has a large female following and whose fans’ attendance at professional Japanese golfing events has injected a lot of needed capital into that industry. And there is still the case of former high school pitching start Yuki Saito, who became famous two summers ago as the “handkerchief prince” because of his endearing habit of mopping his sweating brow with a small blue handkerchief given to him by his mother during the All Japan High School Baseball Championships, held at Osaka’s Koshien Stadium. Today Saito is a freshman pitcher with the Waseda Universitybaseball team. He keeps his hands in his pockets and no longer uses the blue handkerchief, but he is still known as the Handkerchief Prince and is credited with a measurable increase in spectator attendance.
Is it a sexual infatuation by mature women? Is it a yearning for the lack of sufficient children or grandchildren, or the lack of sufficient manners and grace among adult Japanese men? It may be an outgrowth of the combination of surplus cash, surplus time, and a paucity of affection from male partners and grandchildren. As I have written before, appearance is the single most important consideration in Things Japanese. That is why I call the opposite sex affectations of kabuki and Takarazuka theater “highly stylized.” They must be highly stylized - well beyond anything that passes as real in real life - because the reality of gender behavior does not satisfy either the expectations of the fans or the esthetic philosophy of the public. It’s a shame, really, that anything this much based on fantasy can thrive, but it does.