Maaya Kobayashi 「LGBT People in Japanese Mass Media」

Posted on November 26, 2013
The media coverage of LGBT people is increasing in contemporary Japanese society. Today, a variety of TV programs feature queer celebrities who grow in popularity among mainstream Japanese people. This seems to represent Japan’s reputation for its tolerant attitude towards diversity regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. However, some critics (e.g. Hoffart, 2008) complain that such sexual minorities in the media are overtly stereotyped to entertain straight public, creating a misunderstanding among the majority people. While there has been an increase in the number of media representation of gay and transgender individuals, it can cause a negative effect on Japanese people’s attitudes towards LGBT people. Therefore, it is important to have true representation of sexual minorities and to facilitate media education in order to mitigate the effects of media on the mainstream Japanese people.

There has been a significant increase in the coverage of LGBT people in Japanese media. Many of these popular celebrities who appear on television daily are known as “onee”, a loose term which encompasses all the groups of cross-dressers, transsexuals and gay individuals. Sanb1137 (2013) characterised onee by “very feminine way to act and talk, sexually aggressive and make many body touches, talkative and react hysterically when they are emotionally high, and often times they are in artistic and ‘feminine’ occupation such as hair artist, nail artist or dancer.” Examples of such gay personalities include Ai Haruna (male-to-female transsexual), Matsuko Deluxe (cross-dresser), and Tanoshingo (gay comedian) (Okelana, 2011). There are also some heterosexual entertainers who pretend to be homosexual to increase their profile. For example, Razor Ramon HG (Hard Gay) is a comedian who is dressed in leather outfit and always thrusting his hip to parody gay people (Watanabe, 2012).TV programs that are centred on gay individuals are increasing as well. For instance, a Nippon TV show 「Onee-Mans」 (Sister-men) casted only onee celebrities who shared their beauty techniques such as makeup, fashion and cooking to help women become a more attractive person (Hoffart, 2011; Yamamoto, 2013). This program was a turning point for many gay celebrities as they have gained more attention from the public, and the word onee has become a buzzword among the mainstream Japanese people (Goto, 2011). In this way, the number of queer celebrities, predominantly gay and transgender individuals, is increasing in the Japanese media.

The media representation of LGBT figures influences Japanese people’s attitude towards sexual minorities. Despite a growing number of queer celebrities seems to suggest Japan’s friendliness to a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities, most of these famous LGBT people are often limited to onee characters who are presented as overtly feminine in their behaviours and in the way they talk (Hongo, 2008). Furthermore, gay personalities, in many TV shows, are often portrayed as flamboyant and comical characters, who are constantly ridiculed by dominant heterosexual people (Makino, 2010; Shoushi, 2008). These images create a stereotype among Japanese people that all gay men act in the way that the media represent or ‘idealise’ sexual minorities (Watanabe, 2012). For example, a TV show 「Naruhodo High School」 (Akimoto, 2011) casted gay personalities whose reactions to several stimuli (e.g. electric-shock pen) were judged if they conformed to how ‘a real woman’ would respond. If they displayed any masculine demeanours, they were labelled as a ‘fake onee’, and thus, considered ‘non-gay’ individuals in Japanese definition (Brazor, 2012). This kind of TV programs which focus on a stereotype that the society tends to put on gays is abundant in Japanese media. Such portrayals reinforce a misunderstanding that gay people are generally one dimension: feminine, flamboyant, comical, weird, and deviant, thereby marginalising those who do not possess these personas into ‘invisibility’ (Mclleland, 2000; Nakagawa, 2010; Oklena, 2011; Shoushi, 2008;) . In fact, Kamikawa, a transgender politician, said “There is a huge gap between what people see in the media and what they hear from actual people... I don’t think those programs help to promote understandings of the diversity of sexuality” (Hoffart, 2011). This evidently suggests that although stereotypes may hold some truth in certain individuals of gay community, they cannot represent the whole gay population. For these reasons, the media portrayal of LGBT figures has an immense impact on how sexual minorities are viewed

There need to be changes in media portrayals and education in Japanese society to improve life for LGBT people. Such changes are necessary to minimize the negative influence of mass media on public perception of sexual minorities. First is to have accurate representation of LGBT people in media. Because many of gay celebrities are portrayed only as feminine and comical characters, it is necessary to have a media landscape that reflects diversity of gay communities to avoid stereotypes (Leach, 2012). Furthermore, there is a significant lack of lesbians and bisexual individuals presented on Japanese television (Larkin, 2006). Thus, media should play an educational role in raising public awareness of LGBT people in the mainstream Japanese society (Fukue, 2011). Second is to educate people about how media exploits gay men in a stereotypical fashion for its advertisement. As media tends to over-exaggerate queer identities to maintain viewer’s attention, they tend to feminize individuals to represent gay characters, which shapes people’s perception of LGBT people (Jones & Gelb, 2006). Thus, it is vital for the public to understand the unrealistic presentation of sexual minorities, and to become more critical about the messages generated by the Japanese mass media. In this way, accurate media presentation and education are important measures to lessen the media impact on the majority people.

In conclusion, there is a growing popularity of LGBT celebrities in Japanese mass media. Many of these famous people are often gay and transgender personalities who are portrayed as overtly feminine and comical individuals, solidifying a stereotype among the majority people that all gay men have this persona. Thus, it is important for the media to have true representation of LGBT people, and to facilitate media education in order to combat the media influence on public perception of sexual minorities. In this way, the mass media plays an important role in shaping people’s attitudes towards LGBT people in Japan.


Author: Maaya Kobayashi/Date: November 26, 2013/Source: