My First Bi(cultural) Sexual Experience

Perhaps in an attempt to ease her guilt about being away from persuading folks to vote against Proposition 8, Alice Stanley chose to study homosexuality while studying abroad in Japan last fall.

Although everyone I asked assured me that they had no qualms with homosexuality, there was always a veil of secrecy about it. Clubs are hidden, I never saw a single same-sex couple holding hands, and few admitted to knowing any homosexuals.

It seemed like a conflict of interest to say being gay was not shameful, but that it should still be kept private. I figured it was hypocritical, too, because Japan has a rich history of homosexuality in its most popular cultural activities (see kabuki, sumo, Buddhist monasteries, and samurai). People would say, “that is just how it is.” After weeks of study, I finally got it: in Japan, privacy really is just how it is.

Seeing throngs of skinny metrosexual guys on the train or the sweet and petit ladies with humble grins bowing in stores never added up to a sexualized society in my mind. Then, suddenly, I’m at a karaoke place and can’t concentrate on the lyrics to “My Heart Will Go On” because a full-on porno has appeared behind the words. Or I’m walking down the street and I find a “love hotel”‚ a building that specializes in motel “naps,” completely legally and respectfully.

Or, I find out that the United States produces roughly 2,500 adult films annually whereas Japan produces 14,000. After having an extended conversation with students at Sophia University in Tokyo, I learned about all sorts of fetishes that made no one present (save me) even blush. But, see, you wouldn’t know if you didn’t know.

Basically, there is nothing wrong with any kind of sexuality to the Japanese. They seem to see sex as it makes sense to be seen: a part of average life. At the same time, it varies for everybody. Take the specific case of homosexuality. I was probably getting such a weird assortment of confused answers about gay marriage because homosexuality is not even easily defined. There are countless words for “gay” in Japanese: enjoying gay sex, preferring gay romantic relationships, being in monogamous gay relationships, being gay as a phase of youth, etc.

Since the beginning of its history, Japan has placed a high importance on being a homogeneous society. Being unique outwardly does not mesh in regular society, so unique personal aspects are best left as private.

The biggest mental block I had to overcome was Japanese privacy. In the West, we are so used to assuming that if someone keeps a secret it is because it has to be a secret. Turns out in Japan, sometimes people just keep things to themselves because they don’t care to share. The more people give out, the more others have to judge.

Truly, who can say which is healthier? In the West, it’s acceptable to see Susan is Grampa died last night : ( on Facebook. In Japan your personal turmoil is built up forever. As the homosexuality stands in Japan, though, something is going to have to happen. Westerners travel Japan and advocate the open expression of sexuality, and homosexuals are starting to agree. But, at the same time, no one in Japan is talking about their sexuality, so the homosexuals that want to speak out are seen as putting themselves on a pedestal of sorts.

As far as marriage is concerned, the Japanese have a lot more concerns about finding a logical mate for bearing children and sharing economic backgrounds than being wrapped up in romantic emotion. Many young people I spoke with said shared economic status or similar plans for children were more important criteria for marriage than love. Since being with “the one” is not an ideal for the average Japanese citizen, why would homosexuals insist on it? These philosophies are unfair, perhaps in Western eyes, but we cannot fully grasp the underpinnings of Japan. How could we ever say what true fairness is to them?

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the cut and dry information about homosexuality in Japan I originally sought. Of course, there are many more exceptions, facets, and questions about this topic than could ever be explained in a single essay. Regardless, I think I learned something more from my studies. While we may think we stand for certain things staunchly, hugely, internationally‚ ideas we take to be simple might be ferociously complicated to others.

An idea that isn’t complicated: deer run free in Nara, Japan. Deer are adorable. At least we can know that.

Alice Stanley is an MFA candidate in Dramatic Writing at Arizona State University. Follow her tweets or send her an email. She also has a website.