YUKANA INOUE WRITES – Boys Love — also known as the Yaoi, or BL — is one of the most popular genres of fictional media in Japan. From manga to live action shows, BL stories that previously had just a niche following have evolved into mainstream fare.
“Ossan’s Love,” for example, is a television show produced by TV Asahi that follows the story of a romantically unsuccessful office worker whose male roommate suddenly confesses to him. It gained mass popularity and received multiple awards.
Yet when it comes to politics, Japan is not quite there yet with same sex relationships.
Early last month, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida fired his close aide, Masayoshi Arai, for homophobic remarks. It was disclosed that the aide told reporters in an off-record briefing that he would “hate even to see” a same sex couple and would “not want to live next door” to them. Although Arai retracted his statements and Kishida has apologized, saying that his aide’s remarks were “totally inconsistent with government policy,” this anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric is not unusual in Japan.
To begin with, Japan is one of the few developed countries around the world, and the only country in the Group of Seven (G7), that has yet to legalize same sex marriage.
Efforts in the past to achieve equality for LGBTQ communities have consistently been extinguished, most recently in 2021 when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party abandoned proposed legislation that would have achieved better support for the community. Lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition parties were working together to pass a bill that would promote public understanding of LGBTQ+ people. This seemed especially important, ahead of the postponed Tokyo Olympics, so that Japan would be seen as adhering to the Olympic charter, which prohibits all forms of discrimination. With strong resistance from LDP’s right wing, though, the bill was dropped.
Following this, in 2022 a court in Osaka prefecture — the third-most populous city in Japan — ruled that the country’s ban on same-sex marriage does not violate the constitution. This was a major setback for the LGBTQ+ community, reinforcing the idea that freedom of marriage applied only to male-female couples.
The reason Japan is so reluctant to accept same sex marriages lies largely in its native conservatism. The country’s traditional values and family structure, rooted centuries ago, would be broken if same-sex marriage were sanctioned. Others have argued that it is not “productive” to support same-sex marriages in a country with a severely declining birthrate.
The 2023 G7 summit, which will be held in Kishida’s hometown of Hiroshima this May, is fast approaching. Although Kishida himself has exhibited cautious attitudes towards legalizing same-sex marriage in Japan, he is under political pressure to revive and pass the bill that was shelved in 2021. Members of LDP have expressed interest in passing the “LGBT understanding promotion bill” in the current Diet, but for many LGBTQ+ members in Japan, this is not enough. With the timing of the G7 summit, all eyes are on Japan, both globally and domestically, to reconsider its reluctance to legalize same-sex marriages.
We know that “Boys Love” makes for good entertainment. When will life imitate art and that same level of approval infiltrate the reality of Japan?