February 28, 2016
Viceland, 44 minutes
Many of you have no doubt heard that VICELAND has launched the first episode of the documentary series GAYCATION, where Ellen Page and Ian Daniel embark on a journey to learn about and explore LGBT culture in different countries. In the first episode, GAYCATION Japan, the hosts bar crawled through Ni-Chome, interviewed individuals working for a more accepting Japan, and learned first-hand the struggles of LGBT people here.
I have to be honest, having been scarred by the poor representation and understanding of the Japanese LGBT community in circles abroad, I feared that the program could potentially fall into the same tired stereotypes repeated time and time again, such as but not limited to:
“A lot of samurai practiced wakashudo, so it’s always been accepted”
“Japan isn’t a Christian nation, so there’s no homophobia”
“Japan is the nation that invented yaoi manga, so of course no one cares if you’re gay”
..and so on.
Ready to count the stereotypes, I began watching the episode, only to be impressed by how accurate it turned out to be. Here are some of my favorite parts:
■When the duo hung out with the fujoshi, the program finally put to rest the “but Japan invented yaoi” misunderstanding. “Boy’s Love” comics are made by straight women, for straight women, and are about creating a fetishized fantasy version of gay sex, which has nothing to do with the reality for gay men in Japan. Period.
■When Ellen asked if Satsuki, as a transperson, might feel offended that dressing as a women has become trendy among some straight men in Japan. Satsuki answered that it was “absolutely positive”, and hoped that it lead to the cross-dressing and drag scene becoming bigger. It was nice to see that Satsuki was all for inclusion and saw it as an opportunity to educate others and strengthen the community.
■When the hosts spoke with Mr. X about his “friendship marriage”, where he married a lesbian so that both of them could keep up appearances for the sake of their families and to fit in with Japanese society.
One line that really stuck with me was Mr. X’s response when Ellen asked if he would live an open life if more LGBT rights were granted in Japan: “…I know this is very Japanese of me, but this body doesn’t just belong to me. My actions have many consequences. Even if the world changes drastically, I’ll probably still choose my friendship marriage.”
■”Homophobia is invisible here and we have to fight this silent avoidance” -Assemblywoman Kanako Otsuji
The only thing about the episode that felt out of place was when Ellen and Ian “helped” a young man come out to his mother. It was bad enough that the poor guy had to hire a “rent-a-friend” to to be there as support, but then we had Ellen and Ian, two non-Japanese individuals who can’t speak a lick of Japanese, the cameraman, and I assume a translator was there too. Way to put mom on the spot. The scene was cringeworthy, and felt very “We’re gay foreigners here to teach you a moral lesson.”
I know that it wasn’t meant to feel that way, that the young man invited them to come, and that it’s actually not uncommon in Japan for TV programs to film these kinds of revealing family moments (I remember a certain tarento came out to his mom on a variety program a while back), but part of me feels they might have had a much better conversation without a camera and two nervous non-Japanese people sitting doe-eyed in the corner.
That being said, the program was still wonderfully comprehensive and should prove to be eye opening for those who are unaware of what it’s really like for LGBT people in Japan.
Gaycation is available for download via Amazon Video.