Hmmmmmm. People here just…. don’t talk about it. They really don’t.
Like, people talk about erasure in America, and yes it happens, but in Japan it’s so much worse– well at least it has been for me being here.
There is no religious persecution or long standing ideas of ‘gay people being evil’ the way there is in the Americas and Europe. But it’s also not something that is talked about. I mean, there are gay people here but the gay community is much more spread out and there isn’t a large gay community really anywhere in my area that I know of and I’ve tried to find them, believe me. I have to go to bigger places to find gay resources. There are some people that will be absolutely fine being around gay people though, and there are some people that are incredibly homophobic. These attitudes vary based on location.
Okay, now in recent years the push has been toward a cultural ideal – get married, have children. With emphasis on the having children part because the birthrate here is incredibly low. Traditionally, marriage here was arranged and it’s partly because that is falling/ has fallen out of fashion here and partly because women don’t have to marry to secure future happiness anymore. They can actually work. Marriage isn’t really necessary– though it is expected and I’ve already been asked questions about marriage at drinking parties an stuff.
Now, in this next little history I’m going to talk mostly about cis gay men and cis gay women because I haven’t studied much on Japanese treatment of the T– it’s talked about even less as far as I can tell– and I don’t want to misrepresent the situation. These are cis-gendered expectations. Also a lot of these examples, especially with women, are probably more true of women of higher classes and I’m not sure about peasant life. The people writing the books were of higher classes and that’s what the focus tends to be on.
Historically, gay men were acceptable– that is to say men could sleep with anyone. They could have their wives and have mistresses and men that they slept with. As long as they had a wife and were producing children that was okay. I mean this to the point that it is widely accepted that Nobunaga had a sexual relationship with his vassal Ranmaru Mori. There was an idea that men in the lower ranks would gain power from men in the higher ranks by sleeping with them. There was some pederasty going on here too.
Even in some (I emphasize some here because it wasn’t a wide spread practice) Buddhist temples in the past in Japan, older monks would sleep would younger monks to share some of their enlightenment. This is a practice only found in Japanese Buddhism– though like I said it probably wasn’t extremely widespread but the idea was out there. My professor actually said that until the late 80s in Japan there was still the idea that if a man paid for sex then it wasn’t really considered cheating. So that’s historical treatment of gay men, in a very very summarized quick look.
Historically the treatment of gay women was different in Japan. A woman was expected to only have one sexual partner– this being 'well respected’ women at least. It had a lot to do with being sure that children were biological because the oldest male tended to inherit. In Japanese literature you tend to see a dichotomy of how sexual women are presented– wives who exist to have children and mistresses who exist purely to be sexual fantasies that tend to get abandoned when they’re too old/lose their youthful beauty/get addicted to drugs/so on and so forth. These women are not usually depicted in an amazingly positive light since most of them tend to meet with tragic ends– tragic ends to the beautiful women who dedicate so much time to pleasing the married men that they’re having affairs with to keep themselves afloat. Wives fair worse– sometimes they aren’t seen at all or they’re not even given a name. Wives were almost not even sexual so much as…. functional in Japanese literature.
These are the two major representation of women that you see in a lot of especially older Japanese literature.
Now how this factors in to the view of gay women. If women can only have one partner in life, if they are with a woman, they can not make babies. They cannot fulfill the expectation of getting married and having children whereas men who prefer men can still get married and make babies because it was 'acceptable’ for him to have many lovers. So gay women necessarily got pushed into the category of 'lewd’ women– but 'lewd women’ can at least still have children and gay women can not. So that puts them in the position of very silent other that doesn’t have much of a voice in historical Japan– and sadly even today this is a big problem.
Japan doesn’t seem to have a lot of anti-gay/gay people are evil so much as it does just “If you’re going to be gay keep it to yourself.” Although, as you said, there is the off handed gay comedy. It’s part of my disappointment in the P4 anime: the game wasn’t like that. They treated Kanji better. And yes Yosuke was homophobic but the game didn’t really make that seem like a good thing– he came off as a dick.
I suppose that’s my spill. Yaoi and M/M relationships have some history of being romanticized– but in recent years with all the pushing to make babies, M/M pairs are stigmatized for not fulfilling their social role. And for F/F pairs, things are much the same. I find that there is more gay!yay! fanservice in Japan– more M/M but there is still F/F gay!yay! stuff too– than I think would happen in the US.
While there isn’t a lot of passionate speeches being made against homosexuality like in the United States, I feel there is definitely a sense here that sexuality is something that you keep to yourself and as long as you’re at least acting out your role– doing the things that society expects of you like going to work, helping the community, and so forth– you’re fine as long as you don’t advertise the ways that you deviate from the expectations of you. I suppose this idea adds into the fact that you mentioned- characters are sometimes not even explicitly lgbt, but they are merely implied to be. I feel most people in Japan would recognize the implications though, and accept it as gay. It’s okay to have gay characters even in children’s cartoons though even if there are homophobic comments here and there.
I would like to add as a final note that not talking about sexuality isn’t just confined to homosexual people. Straight people don’t even talking about dating in 'formal’ settings like work. At work I have never heard one person mention dating or their personal life at all. I’ve had men and women both go out of their way not to mention their spouses in a formal setting because talking about that kind of thing at work is really strange here. So homosexuality is the same only it is more heightened because you’re probably not going to talk about it a lot in less formal situation either. You’re probably only going to talk about it with people that you know are like minded individuals or people that you really really trust.
This is from my experience as being in a local small area though. If you were in a bigger place with a higher gay population it wouldn’t be as bad probably. Though, I know someone in a smaller area that has had the supervisor say that they’d reconsider renewing a contract with an employee if they were gay, so that kind of bigotry exists too.
Though I guess long story short, some people are bigots because they don’t like anyone that doesn’t fit societal norms and some people aren’t. And the media tends to not talk about it at all besides male celebrities doing fanservice, BL games, and AKB-48 making edgy lesbian stuff to appeal to a male audience (not so much to appeal to actual gay culture. It’s more fanservice-y type approach to homosexuality).
It’s a very interesting subject, how the Japanese treat homosexuality. It’s not really…. extremely vilified…. but it’s also not talked about either….