Gays and Lesbians in Japanese Subcultures

gays and lesbians in Japanese subculture Situations

“BL” is one of the established and established genres through Japanese comics. More on that later, it’s about a romance between men. There is also a genre called “Yuri”, which describes relationships between women, though not as major as BL. These have transcended the boundaries of manga and anime, and have become increasingly mainstream since they were depicted in dramas.

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Gay in literature

There are many works depicting male homosexuality in Japan from ancient times to the present day. Among them, Yukio Mishima’s “Confessions of a Mask” and “Forbidden Colors” are considered the gold standard. Yukio Mishima was a novelist and playwright in the Showa period. His sensational end is well known, but he has left a number of outstanding literary works. In modern times, he may be bisexual. His work has been translated into a variety of languages, so be sure to read it if you’re interested.


The Boys’ Love, or BL, manga genre, which originated around 1990, depicts romance between men. In most cases, both the writer and the reader are female. The content ranges from those similar to Western bromance to those set in a fantasy-like setting. Rather than depicting realistic gay men, many of the works had unrealistic settings that reflected the tastes of the readers (or writers).

gay couple

It is undeniable that the genre has grown due to the creation of secondary works that add their own interpretations of characters in existing works that are not BL.

In the past, BL works were only noted for their peculiarities, and were strongly perceived as being read by a small group of geek women(They are called “Fujoshi”).

From geek to a Major Genre

BL, once the preserve of “Fujoshi,” is now established as a major genre.

It is said that the turning point was the hit drama “Ossan’s Love,” which aired in 2018. It is an excellent romantic comedy, but its gentle worldview that does not deny homosexuals is probably the reason for its wide acceptance. This drama was followed by hits such as “What Did You Eat Yesterday?” (2019) and “Cherry Magic! Can a 30-year virgin become a wizard?” (2020), which established BL as a major genre.

The Leap from “BL”

The success of these BL dramas has led to many films depicting sexual minorities, not only gays. Of course, the fact that more dramas and movies have been produced on the subject of sexual minorities does not directly translate into a greater understanding and cohabitation with them. While they have been widely accepted by people, they may also become a passing fad. Many of the films depicted stories of gay men and other male homosexuals, emphasizing only entertainment value and being superficial. Even if it is only a fad, I think it is good if it makes viewers think about sexual minorities and themselves.

This trend has led to an increase in the appearance of homosexuals as subplots in dramas and movies. Although there are those who do not welcome this trend, I am glad that it is finally being treated as such in Japanese dramas. Dramas made in the West usually feature sexual minorities, and this is felt to be an everyday occurrence. The fact that there is some rejection in Japan means that for those people, it is not yet a part of their daily lives.

The Origin of GL “Yuri”

On the other hand, there is also a genre called girls’ love (GL). In fact, the term “yuri” is used more often than GL. The word “yuri” is the Japanese word for the lily of the valley, and is thought to have originated as a synonym for the word “rose,” which is used to refer to BL.

“Yuri” refers to a lighter form of female homosexuality rather than lesbianism, a relationship that lies on the border between romance and friendship.

girls by the sea at sunrise

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The genre has its origins in the girls’ novels of the 1920s. They depicted special relationships in girls’ schools and were a big boom at the time. After the war, similar works continued to be published without interruption. However, it declined with the generalization of free love between men and women.

A Turning Point for Yuri Works

Yuri works published even after the war were often portrayed with taboos and guilt. The turning point came with the publication of “Sailor Moon” in the early 1990s. The appearance of a lesbian couple in this work is said to have brightened the way lesbians were portrayed.

The fact that they were treated in a major work helped to attract male support for the yuri genre.

In the 2000s, secondary works further popularized yuri, and the trend spread overseas as well. In works with multiple female characters, the composition of a woman falling in love with a woman has become a staple.

The Future of Yuri

The yuri genre is a form of what might happen between women. The relationships depicted in it are often more fantastical and “temporary” than actual lesbianism.

This raises more fundamental issues (lesbianism is temporary) than BL, and may hinder our understanding of lesbianism. However, like BL, this may change as works diversify and become more major.

In any case, both BL and Yuri can still be enjoyed as entertainment.