Queer Culture in Japan

When the nail sticks out, it gets hammered down. Although Japan continually leads as an innovative country, it is still a very traditional nation. While queer culture in Japan has been apparent since ancient times, it has always been overlooked. Even today, queer culture is almost entirely ignored in Japan.

In Japan today, most people in the queer community are not open about their sexuality. They will even marry someone of the opposite sex (if they are homosexual) to conceal their sexual identity. While there are currently no laws in Japan that completely prohibit homosexuality, there is one in place for ‘safety concerns’. This particular law regards to the age of consent, which is higher for homosexual adults than heterosexual adults.

Same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Japan. As of 2009 couples can now able to travel to countries where same-sex marriage is legal and get married there. However, these marriages still are not fully recognized in Japan. In modern Japan, there are a few individuals that are leading the way for a progressive queer community. 640_b86a7bfefcb2c094dbc129e4ccf2c0f3Aya Kamikawa was one of the first elected officials that was a part of the transgender community. Just two years later in 2005, Kanako Otsuji (who was an assembly woman) came out as lesbian. Today, legal rights in the queer community are mainly overlooked in Japan. They are a very minor topic in Japanese politics and national laws do not extend to sexual identity discrimination. Although there has been little progress, Tokyo is leading the way in a progressive queer community. The city has banned discrimination based on sexual identity.

In Japan’s popular culture, a handful of ‘idols’ have come out as homosexual. However, they have almost all been males. The comedian Ramon Sumitami uses homosexual stereotypes to gain popularity. Increasing in popularity is the anime/manga category Yaoi which typically features two masculine men in an equal relationship. While this may have helped spread awareness for the queer community, the Yaoi genre is almost entirely pornographic. The Yuri genre focuses on lesbian relationships. Some shows and stories in the Yuri category do contain pornographic plots, however, the majority of the time it does not contain that so it can easily market to straight and homosexual (mostly lesbian) viewers. The majority of homosexual identity that Japan has access to is often hypersexualized and thus is looked down upon by the real homosexual community.

Because of the progress Japan has made over the years, I believe they will slowly move towards a day where the queer community can openly exist. For now, as long as queer culture stays a minor political subject and homosexuality is seen as a pornographic tool in popular media, it will not be taken too seriously. In Women’s Studies 247, queer culture is often discussed and readings date back to time periods in America when homosexuality wasn’t part of the public scope. However, Japan is progressing today in very different ways than America. They focus on technological innovations rather than the individual. As long as Japanese culture still follows traditional gender roles, there will likely be no progress. However, like the rest of the world, growth and change is inevitable, especially when so many other countries have already begun to openly accept the queer community.


The Rockland Palace


Nowadays, we tend to think that gays were hidden until the 1960’s when the sexual revolution happened. People were protesting for women’s rights and gay rights. In 1973 psychology even removed homosexuality from the DSM’s list of mental disorders. This may lead people to conclude that before the 1960’s, non-heterosexually oriented people were secretive and hiding, right? Wrong! In the 1920’s until the early 1930’s, there were huge balls and parties that were very open about different types of sexuality. A very well-known place is the Rockland Palace in Harlem created by a black fraternal organization.

Historically, blacks migrated up north into urban area such as Harlem because they were transitioning from the slavery era to working up North at factories. Most of the African Americans moved to Harlem. Nowhere else in the country could you find an area so large and concentrated by African Americans. Harlem became known as the “new negro capital.” There was a variety of African American people ranging from black schoolteachers to black millionaires, giving life to Harlem with their youth, music, and openness. Harlem became very huge in their art and music styles, in particular, jazz and blues. Blues music was used by African Americans to express their sexual feelings and their hardships they had previously faced starting from the civil war when slavery was still present. African Americans accepted homosexuality and thus created a culture in the 1920’s-1930’s in which people could have fun and sexually express themselves.

The Rockland Palace was famous for throwing balls in which men would dress up as women. It was known as the “faggot’s ball” or costume balls. The palace attracted many people such as high class white men and women, it was a very diverse crowd. Not everyone there was homosexual, though it was very evident that there were gays, lesbians, and transsexuals, it was accepted. Some people just came there to observe the balls.

The Rockland Palace is related to queer culture because it represents how queer culture isn’t this new phenomenon that didn’t exist or was hidden until the 1960’s. Most people believe that homosexually orientated people didn’t exist or came into the public eye during the sexual revolution. The Rockland Palace proves that it is not true and that there were places where people overtly gay or transsexual would go and be themselves. Another way the Rockland Palace is related to queer culture is because it was created by a black fraternal organization. This is important because nowadays, people tend to think that African American culture is more homophobic than white culture but in reality, when Africans were first brought to America they were very sexually open. They believed that homosexuality is just a natural part of life.

In class we discussed Chauncey’s work. He pointed out how there was a “whole gay world” before World War II but multiple people don’t know that and believe in these myths. The three myths were: myth of isolation, myth of invisibility, and myth of internalization. Harlem and the Rockland Palace is an example that debunked all of the myths that Chauncey believed people had. The myth of isolation is not true because at the Rockland Palace, people were openly gay there and everyone knew that it was a place to go if you wanted to immerse yourself in queer culture. This also disproves that queer culture was invisible because people went there knowing that it was a spot where other gays, lesbians, and transsexuals hung out at. Lastly, Harlem clearly did not internalize the dominant culture. They used the Rockland Palace to express their differences in art and sexuality through jazz and blue music and the costume balls.

Gay Sex Clubs, Poz4Play, and Serosorting



Stigmatized Gay sex club culture is based on the idea that gay men are spreading diseases through the use of unprotected sex and drug use. While some of these stereotypes can ring true with some people, it seems that gay sex clubs and gay men fall under much more scrutiny then straight sex clubs and straight people in general, because of the higher frequency of gay men of any race being infected with HIV. Why such stigmatizations? In the clip linked above, Mark King, a gay man living with HIV, takes a tour of a gay sex club. He eludes to the fact that he chooses to no longer frequent gay sex clubs because of the way he affiliates the clubs with a drug he had previously been addicted too. The culture he felt was something that would strike up his drug use again, but he is very familiar with what actually goes on in the sex clubs, so he is not someone making opinions about something he is completely unfamiliar with. He takes a mostly unbiased tour of the sex club while seeming to be only rather critical of the fact that there is “bare backing” (sex without protection) that occurs in the club. The man giving him the tour explains that he provides protection at all the parties he hosts, however it is the own individuals choice as to whether they want to wear protection or not knowing that there is the potential for a partner to be infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.

This is where the idea of serosorting comes in. Serosorting is the idea that a person chooses to limit their sexual partners to someone whom is of the same HIV status as themselves. The Poz4Play party allows HIV gay men whom choose to participate in serosorting, to only interact with other men with the same HIV positive status as them. This in turn attempts to allow HIV positive men to experience the same type of sexual experience of a sex club while not infecting people who haven’t already tested positive with HIV. I think what concerned Mark King with the idea of serosorting is that this may encourage unprotected sex assuming that you are with a partner whom has the same HIV status as you. Other sexually transmitted diseases could potentially be more easily spread, and it may cause men who are not HIV positive to assume that those that are HIV positive are only attending these parties and not attending sex clubs regularly.


The idea of claiming your status and being proud of it is, in my opinion, a great one. I think that this topic directly relates to our class topic of sex, as it discusses and tries to come up with a way for HIV positive people to feel comfortable with their status and own it in a scene, the sex clubs that is, that most likely would not be welcoming to people on a regular basis who are openly HIV positive. HIV and sexually transmitted diseases is still a very tough topic in that no one is required to tell someone else if they are positive for anything. Hopefully with an outlet like a HIV positive party night at a gay sex club, it will open up a greater dialogue and comfortable level to make everyone comfortable to being open and honest with the partner they choose.

San Diego LBGT Pride

san diego LBGT Pride

The San Diego LBGT Pride is an organization that was founded in 1974. Initially the organization began as a sponsored program for The Center for Social Services. The original Social Services Center was founded by a group of gay men in San Diego out of a house located at 2250 B Street. By June of 1974, a gay pride event was hosted by the Center. The group organized a potluck dinner and a yard sale that was followed by an informal parade to Balboa Park in San Diego and back. The reason the parade was informal was due to the lack of a city permit forcing marchers to walk on the sidewalk. The following year (1985) the organization was able to obtain a permit and has held the parade every year since.

In 1982, the first Great Gay Music Festival was held in the Golden Hall in the Community Concourse in San Diego. Being the first of its kind, performances included many acts like the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles and the Great American Yankee Freedom Bank of Los Angeles. Funds raised from the Music Festival supports the San Diego Pride’s community philanthropy.LBGT

I chose this artifact to be included in our digital archive because it exemplifies queer culture to the fullest extent. The organization is run on one mission and that is

“Fostering pride in and respect for all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, locally, nationally, and globally.”

The San Diego LBGT Pride was founded by a group of gay men and is supported by the LBGT community. The group as a whole has one vision and that is to have “A world free of prejudice and bias.” They were the first to have a music festival solely focused on the acceptance of homosexuality. Today, they are now an organization that has an annual music festival, block party, rally, parade, and other various events. At the bottom of their website they state

“Everyone with an open heart and open mind is welcome to the San Diego Pride Music Festival!”

As an organization they have raised and distributed over $2 Million towards initiatives to improve the LBGT community and philanthropic work.

As well as events, they also urge individuals to raise awareness of the LBGT community. On their website they have a section titled “Activism and Awareness Programs” and there, multiple initiatives are listed and described. One example is during the month of July they encourage businesses and corporations countrywide to fly the Pride Flag.

This artifact relates to the concepts of our units in gender, sex, history, and the contemporary. The San Diego LBGT Pride organization allows and promotes the idea of expressing who you are and the sexuality you chose to embrace. They are not discriminatory of gender or race and encourage only individuals who are accepting of everyone to join them in their celebrations.  In an excerpt written by Les Feinberg it was stated that “each person should have the right to choose between pink or blue”.  The San Diego LBGT Pride organization does just that. They welcome individuals into their community and allow them to choose what gender they would like to be and whom they want to love without being judgmental. It took multiple decades for this organization to achieve what they have and be in the position they stand currently, but because of their strong background and history and persistent attitude to build an environment on equal rights, they have inspired and changed the lives of thousands of individuals who at one point did not feel accepted.  The LBGT community is still widely unaccepted and misjudged, but more now than ever in history individuals and organizations continue to raise awareness and try to help the misunderstood become more widely accepted and understood. parade


To learn more about the San Diego LBGT Pride organization and their annual events go to https://sdpride.org


BE THE CHANGE YOU WANT TO SEE. (n.d.). Retrieved February, 2015, from https://sdpride.org/