“Don’t judge a book by its cover!” ; Japanese Drama ‘Gomen Ne Seishun’ Tackles Transgender Acceptance

This Autumn, I’ve been watching the TBS Drama 「ごめんね青春」(Gomen-ne Seishun), a drama about a teacher, Heisuke Hara (Kanjyani 8’s Nishikido Ryo), a man still filled with guilt over an incident from his high school days.

Unable to escape his hometown due to his guilt, he ended up becoming a teacher at his old high school, but due to the lack of students, his all boys high school is planning to merge with the next door all girl’s Catholic school. He is in charge of teaching a co-ed class and has to organize a cultural festival between the two schools to prove the students can cooperate. Hilarity ensues.

The series succeeds as an entertaining drama-comedy, but more interestingly, it had been building up an LGBT character in the background, and in the last episodes, his storyline was pushed front and center.

Murai Mamoru, a male student whom is affectionately nicknamed “Cosume” (Japanese for “Cosmetics”), was seen in previous episodes as a likeable, effeminate boy, occasionally openly crushing on the beefy student body president, but since the other characters didn’t make a big deal about it, I assumed that he would be another “background comic-relief gay”. These are the gay characters you seen in Japanese dramas that appear just to act silly from time to time, or worse, act flamboyant and over the top in a way that none of the other characters ever acknowledge but is obviously supposed to make the viewer laugh.

In episode 7, Mamoru began to wear the Catholic schoolgirl’s uniform. No one gave him a second look. Towards the end of the episode, as Hara-sensei was on the verge of telling his deep dark secret, Cosume was overwhelmed with his own emotion, stood up and shouted,

“I’m gay! I’m gay, but in my heart I feel as if I’m a girl. I’m attracted to boys”

Mamoru’s classmates all agreed it wasn’t a big deal and were wholeheartedly supportive, as were his teachers. However, by the end of the episode, his father catches his son in the girl’s uniform and promptly flips out. Cue episode 8, which just aired yesterday evening.

As expected, the next episode dealt with Gender Identity Disorder and Mamoru’s father’s attempt to understand and accept it.

Mamoru’s father happens to be the board chairman of his high school, and after seeing his son in the uniform, he calls off the school merger, making the ordeal everyone’s problem.

I think that the story was handled well for Japanese television. Mamoru’s Japanese teacher explained to his father that she believed Momoru had Gender Identity Disorder and explained it clearly. When the teachers gathered the class to explain what happened, Mamoru explained that while hanging out with his classmates and checking out the girl’s school students, instead of thinking “shes cute or sexy” he instead thought that their uniforms were cute and that he wanted to tie his hair back like them. He realized that he had always felt different, and that he had always felt like a woman. As such, he was really excited to be able to wear a girl’s uniform once the schools merged.

One teacher also said that “GID is not well known, so people from the older generations are still conservative about it”, while the students said things like “But if he’s comfortable that way that’s even more of a reason why the schools need to merge” and “He’s still Mamoru”.

Also explicitly shown was Mamoru’s father’s struggle.  When he finally agrees to talk to the teachers, we find him dressed in women’s clothing and his house filled with books about GID. He said that he read one hundred books about GID, but he still couldn’t understand. Then, he decided to go to the grocery store in women’s clothing, and after feeling the extreme discomfort and stress, he was finally able to understand what it felt like for his son. We see a softer side of the character, who has now gone from rage to grief. He reflects on his only son, whom he was so proud to raise “as a man”. Later, after seeing how much pain he is putting his child through, he comes to accept Mamoru.

Overall, I think this episode was a step forward. A Sunday night drama with a target teen demographic discussing a serious issue like this is uncommon in Japan. Queer characters are usually punch lines or fodder for laughter, the story being based around how gross they are or uncomfortable they make everyone feel. They are typically not respected the way that Mamoru’s story was. I also liked that Mamoru’s father got so much screen time depicting his struggle, from blind anger to eventual understanding.

I also had some additional commentary on the representation of the LGBT community on Japanese TV, but I think I’m going to end on a positive note and leave it for another time.

In closing, I hope that this drama will teach other shows how to incorporate these kinds of storylines, and I hope that more respectable LGBT characters show up on Japanese TV!

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  1. Hello! I really love you blog.. I’ve been reading it for quite sometime now and it really gives me an idea of how life in Japan is.. More entries to come..

    • Thanks for the kind words!
      I hope that we can continue to share our experiences for everyone’s benefit.

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