Homosexuality in Japan or discrimination against heterosexuality

Many people wonder why they do not have sex in Japan and what significance eroticism has in Japanese culture. In this article, we want to expand on the topic a little bit. Today we are going to talk about Japanese attitudes toward homosexuality.

Is homosexuality legal in Japan?

Homosexuality is legal in Japan, albeit with reservations. Although it is legal, there is still no law which allows people to get married in the same sex. Also, the law does not protect people of non-traditional orientation from discrimination in hiring, medical examinations and so on. In addition, homosexual couples cannot adopt children (except for residents of the city of Osaka, where adoption by same-sex couples was officially allowed in April 2017).

Anyway, there is a tremendous amount of work being done on all of this, and the legalization of same-sex marriage has been one of the most pressing topics in the political debate for several years now. In my opinion, there is no doubt that within the next 5-7 years Japan will fully legalize same-sex relationships. There are several openly gay and transgender people in the Japanese parliament. Tokyo officially hosts the annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride, an LGBT parade. Since 2009, same-sex marriages performed abroad began to be recognized, and since 2017, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology has included sexual orientation in a program to protect schoolchildren from discrimination and bullying.

However, the legalization of same-sex relationships is only a legal issue. What is more important is how society feels about it and how non-traditional people live their lives. I doubt that the legalization of same-sex marriage would make things easier for homosexuals in Russia because it would be unlikely to change the “popular attitude” (at least not right away). And here it is interesting that Japanese society, unlike Russian society, is ready for this legalization. And not for 10 or 20 years. But probably for at least 400-500 years. Which is much longer than all the “democratic leaders of the world. So how did it happen?

How did it all begin? A little about the era of samurai rule.

Buddhism was to blame. Though it appeared in Japan in the 7th century A.D., it reached its peak in the samurai period (until then, Shintoism was considered the main religion). Here are some of the main factors influencing Buddhism on attitudes toward sex in general and homosexuality in particular:

  1. Buddhism associated sex with desire, which any practitioner was obliged to overcome.
  2. Buddhist monks took a vow of celibacy.
  3. Buddhism saw the female being as evil, gradually inculcating in the minds of its followers the idea that women had only one function on earth: to procreate. Therefore, if any monk failed to endure celibacy, the punishment for homosexual intercourse was much more lenient than the punishment for heterosexual intercourse.

The development of Buddhism in Japan took place along with the growing influence of the shogunate (the government of the shogun, the supreme samurai, military dictator, commander-in-chief and de facto ruler of the country). Bushido, the samurai’s code of honor, finally took shape in the 16th century. Its main provisions prescribed that samurai remain unconditionally loyal to their lord and the shogun, devoting themselves and their thoughts entirely to the art of war in order to realize the great plans of the suzerain.

The combination of Buddhist and samurai tenets shaped the notion of “supreme love” in Japanese culture. The highest love was first and foremost loyalty and devotion to one’s suzerain, the realization of which in the sexual sense was, firstly, in most cases simply impossible and, secondly, contrary to honor. One had to love secretly, from afar, constantly exposing oneself to danger and taking risks (after all, samurai were military).

衆道 and medieval homosexual literature

衆道 (shudo) is a homosexual relationship between a young boy and an adult man. The concept emerged in medieval Japan against the background of what I wrote above: often only a fierce love for an elder in rank and wisdom of life was considered worthy of respect, and the culture of man’s love for women was increasingly on the wane in the meantime.
This may seem strange to you, since sexual orientation cannot be “chosen. I’m not a certified psychoanalyst to be able to say this with any certainty, but personally I am of the opinion that in many ways the choice of sexual orientation is the least related to natural attributes. This choice is due to a large number of social factors, and, although it is hard to believe, heterosexuality in medieval Japan was in the same crisis as homosexuality in Russia today.

Of course, this trend was reflected in literature. Ihara Saikaku was one of the most famous authors, including one who wrote on the subject of homosexuality. In 1687 he published his first short story collection, Nanseku Okagami (The Great Mirror of Men’s Love), which was entirely devoted to love between men. Women’s love also paid attention, but it is described by him more rarely. Although his works on same-sex love were not the first of their kind in Japan (before him, Japanese literature had had isolated stories about monks and their young novices), Saikaku was the first to make homosexuality one of the main motives, arguing that man-to-man love is the highest feeling.

His works influenced many Japanese writers of later times. For example, one of Japan’s most prominent literary figures of the 20th century, Yukio Mishima, devoted more than one work to this question. In particular, the famous novel 假面の告白 (Kamen no kokuhaku) or “Confessions of a Mask” describes the life of a young man who discovered homosexual tendencies in his childhood. This novel is considered autobiographical. The interesting thing here is that Mishima, who was no longer living in the Middle Ages, often said that, paradoxical as it may sound, the culture of love for women in Japan is not developed.

What’s the bottom line?

The issue of homosexuality in Japan is undergoing constant change, as everywhere else in the world. However, in the case of the Land of the Rising Sun, it is more heterosexual relationships that need to be saved. Still, the lack of a “culture of love for women” has left quite a serious imprint. For example, in Japanese heterosexual families, sexual intercourse is quite rare, and many young Japanese under 30 feel asexual at all (both men and women).

At the same time, homosexuality, which has not been fully legalized (from the state’s point of view), continues to develop in the culture. Only now it is not only homosexual literature, but also anime, cinema, and even advertising.

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