Lonely Just Like You: The Logic of Distance in Japanese Diversity Guidebooks.

Anya Benson, Doshisha University [About | Email]

Volume 22, Issue 3 (Article 8 in 2022). First published in ejcjs on 17 December 2022.


As diversity has increasingly become a central topic in Japanese political discourses, a spate of media releases contribute to those discourses by attempting to teach diversity to general audiences. Through analysis of five books focused on LGBTQ awareness, this article demonstrates that these diversity guidebooks typically emphasise the authoritative presentation of information while employing a tone of passive longing. LGBTQ awareness is positioned as a form of foreign knowledge made legible through a focus on the social alienation of LGBTQ people. Inequalities are thus portrayed as misunderstandings caused by the sudden appearance of an unknown group, and resolvable through the spread of facts and rules that will enable the benevolent treatment of LGBTQ subjects as outsiders within Japanese society. The close-but-distant framing invites the reader to feel compassion towards LGBTQ people, while also understanding LGBTQ rights as matters of individual emotion disconnected from the potential for social change.

Keywords: Diversity, transmedia education, LGBTQ rights, diversity training, social exclusion

Diversity for the self and the nation

The back cover obi wrapped around the book Manga de Wakaru LGBTQ+ (Palettalk, 2021) invites the attention of casual browsers through a simple quiz. ‘How many can you answer?’, it calls. The questions following, however, are far from the factual trivia one might expect from a quiz. They are instead personal and polysemous indicators of social awareness:

You can explain what the “T” in LGBTQ+ is. Yes / No
You’ve thought about what you should do if a friend comes out to you. Yes / No
You understand the problem with the questions, “Don’t you have a boyfriend? Don’t you have a girlfriend?” Yes / No [1]

The language used in these questions does not suggest any bias to be combated or prejudice ingrained in the reader. ‘Explain’, ‘thought about’ and ‘understand’ (‘setsumei’, ‘kangaeta’ and ‘wakaru’): these are words implying only a lack of awareness, accompanied by the implication that such awareness can easily be gained. Indeed, the front of the obi says as much in large black letters: ‘Let’s put an end to the days when we hurt people with the excuse of, “I didn’t know”’.
It is knowledge promised by this marketing pitch, knowledge based on an assumption of good intent and self-driven desire to learn new patterns of behaviour. The words are at once stern and soothing, reminding readers of the pain they may cause while promising easy evasion of such pain. There are no accusations and no complications.
For those uninterested in buying the published book, however, answers to all the above questions can also be found on a Ministry of Justice Web page entitled, ‘Let’s Think About Gender/Sexual Diversity!’ (n.d.). The Web page contains a series of charts and illustrations asking viewers to consider a variety of LGBTQ-related situations, including a friend coming out as gay or the assumption that the word ‘lover’ (‘koibito’) refers to an opposite-sex partner. There is no obvious connection between the Ministry of Justice Web page and Manga de Wakaru LGBTQ+; rather, the information included in the latter draws on a set of diversity awareness norms prevalent in Japan today, made discoverable through governmental Web sites, school handouts, social media accounts, and published books. This article aims to explore the rhetorical presentation of those norms, which can be summarised as a focus on definitive information that positions LGBTQ people as simultaneously close to and distant from Japanese society.

Diversity as policy and principle

 While this article focuses on publications that aim to foster awareness of LGBTQ issues amongst the general populace, that goal is inextricable from broader initiatives aiming to promote diversity in contemporary Japan. I use the word ‘diversity’ to refer to public discourse on both the terms ‘tayōsei’ and the loan word ‘daibāshiti’, as I have not found substantial differences in their usage. In some cases, ‘tayōsei’ is provided as a synonym for ‘daibāshiti’ or the English ‘diversity’, such as in the titles for the works Daibāshiti de Shinjidai o Kachinuku: Tayōsei o Ikashite Soshikiryoku Appu (Yamaoka, 2014) or Tayōsei ga Nihon o Kaeru: Japan’s Future Through Diversity (Suzuki, 2021). Iwabuchi Koichi’s recent edited volume on the topic uses the combined term ‘tayōsei/daibāshiti’ (2021). In the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s (METI) Web page on diverse management policies, the Web page title ‘Daibāshiti Keiei no Suishin’ is defined as relating to ‘tayō na jinzai’, or ‘diverse human resources’ (2018). Despite this overlap, it is worth bearing in mind that the term comes laden with cultural connotations that do not map easily onto the understanding of diversity in an English-language context. Most obviously, ‘diversity’ as the term is used in Japanese publications and media outlets today is not primarily (or even necessarily) related to race. The term typically refers to participation from women, non-Japanese nationals, and increasingly, sexual and gender minorities. There are also, however, differences in the moral positioning of the term.
METI’s deployment of the term above is perhaps less indicative of its current usage than causative, as diversity in Japan today is often connected to labour policies in general, and governmental policies specifically. ‘Diversity’ is a pervasive buzzword in the contemporary Japanese cultural sphere, propelled in part by governmental policies to develop more inclusive workplaces in light of a rapidly declining labour force (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, 2018; Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, 2020). The understanding of diversity as based on labour alone, and as removed from human rights, has been critiqued by numerous scholars. Iwabuchi contrasts the feel-good diversity prevalent in Japan, which operates without acknowledgement of existing inequalities, to the political impulse driving Black Lives Matter (2021, pp. 12–18). In the same volume, Shingae Akitomo relates this apolitical diversity to LGBT issues directly (2021). To Shingae, diversity only became widely accepted in Japan due to its association with economic benefits, and it remains seen as simply necessary rather than right (Ibid., pp. 37–40). Japan’s friendly, marketable version of LGBT rights ultimately prioritises allies, and while it has some potential at raising awareness, its marketability might also ‘diminish and trivialise grappling with human rights issues’ (Ibid., p. 51). Shingae is critical of this branding-based form of LGBT rights, then, because it is not driven by a moral framework, potentially compromising its applicability to less consumer-friendly issues.
That fear of diversity stripped of human rights connotations is echoed by feminist writer Minashita Kiriu (2021, pp. 38 and 46). Minashita’s work directly references the foreignness of ‘daibāshiti’, labelling the term (along with its often attendant ‘konpuraiansu’, or ‘compliance’) as ‘still about halfway “black ship words” [“kurofunego”]’ (Ibid., p. 3). She explains that while these katakana terms have permeated Japanese society, and are generally thought of as good, they remain felt as foreign and unfamiliar (Ibid., pp. 3–4). This understanding of diversity may be clarified by a brief contrast with that detailed by Sara Ahmed in her study of diversity workers in U.K. institutions (2012). While Ahmed describes a context in which diversity is generally understood as positive and an intrinsic part of the nation, Minashita and Shingae describe a context in which diversity is generally understood as positive but bearing traces of unfamiliarity to the nation. This diversity replicates Ahmed’s description of ‘respectable differences’ focused on ‘welcoming’ the excluded (Ibid., pp. 43 and 151), but such respectability and positivity may be amplified given that diversity’s promoters must also work to make the term appear desirable and relevant to a Japanese context. The unthreatening palatability of ‘diversity’ therefore becomes the very basis by which the concept is justified.
In this environment, discussions of diversity often take on a nationalistic flavour. While treated as something foreign to Japan, labour-oriented framing repeatedly emphasises its necessity to national success. Business executive Suzuki Yūji’s 2021 monograph calling for a more diverse Japan makes the coincidence of these ideas clear, beginning with the reasoning that diversity is necessary ‘in order to be respected by many nations and lead the world’ (p. 6). To make the claim that greater love for Japan will result in greater respect for other countries, the work references numerous Japanese cultural stereotypes, from the beauty of Japan’s four seasons to its temples, onsen, human kindness and hygiene (Ibid., p. 128). Interestingly, Japan’s lack of political demonstrations or strikes is included as evidence of its peacefulness (Ibid.), differentiating diversity from political difference or engagement. Diversity becomes fully integrated into existing power structures, a method of increasing Japan’s global status and preserving a homogenised vision of Japanese culture.
Suzuki’s work may be considered one example of an extensive collection of publications aiming to explain how (and why) to diversify business environments. But while diversity awareness is most often marketed as a business management tool, a flurry of more recent works are marketed to unspecified audiences. Reliant on self-driven learning, these works treat diversity as a moral goal, and they do so by both providing concrete advice on creating inclusive environments and justifying the need for such inclusivity. These diversity awareness manuals are made to teach, and what they teach are a set of expectations: who diversity is meant to include, what policies it may entail, and how it would ideally function. This article outlines and explores those expectations through analysis of publications on LGBTQ issues. This article does not aim to discuss actual present conditions of LGBTQ people in Japanese society, but instead to examine the way those conditions are taught in the public cultural sphere—for they are increasingly taught, in part by the presumed desire of individuals to engage compassionately in their communities through consumption of issue-based media works. In many ways, these works complement the understandings of diversity outlined above in their framing of LGBTQ as friendly, unchallenging, societally non-disruptive and foreign. These placating apologetics, however, sit alongside an atmosphere of intimacy and sadness that carries the reader into the listless sentiment of social exclusion.

The LGBTQ diversity guidebook

At the time of writing, sexual and gender minorities lack legal protections in Japan; while same-sex sexual activities are not criminalised, LGBTQ people face substantial barriers in Japanese society. Discrimination remains legal (which, for example, leads to difficulties in securing accommodation for same-sex couples), and pathways to same-sex parenting remain unrecognised or disallowed. Official sex changes involve prohibitive requirements (such as surgery and having no non-adult children). Same-sex marriage rights, while broadly supported by the Japanese public, have been stymied by political opposition and backlash within the leading Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP (‘Dōseikon’, 2021; McCurry, 2022; Okada, 2021). Marriage equality is, however, a topic of intense national debate, often addressed in political campaigns and news programming. This discourse often references the need for public ‘understanding’ (rikai) of LGBTQ issues, a goal coinciding with the proposal and subsequent abandonment of a bill aiming to promote LGBT ‘understanding’ (Okuno, 2022; Shioiri, 2021).

The goal of ‘understanding’ is met in part today by a cottage industry of books, manga, TV shows, social media accounts, and public lectures that promise to teach LGBTQ issues to the public. These works mainly explain relevant terms, highlight inequalities, and outline non-discriminatory policies and treatment of LGBTQ people. The prevalence of these works may be seen in at least four ways: they draw on media-fuelled interest in a hot-button issue; they enter into the political debate by advocating for pro-LGBTQ legislation; they capitalise on recent diversity initiatives by helping readers comply with new standards; and they use newfound space for public discussion of LGBTQ identities to narrate experiences and/or perform outreach. The intense public focus on LGBTQ issues, combined with the rapid implementation of diversity initiatives, may create room for new narratives—but also cause for those narratives to adhere to the standards currently thought to be most politically efficacious.
This article is based on analyses of the structure and narrative trends of five books aiming to inform the general public about LGBTQ issues, all released from 2019–2021: Boku wa Seibetsu Moratoriamu (Karatachi, 2020; hereafter Moratoriamu), a first-person manga memoir detailing the protagonist’s non-binary gender and asexual orientation; Hajimete Manabu LGBT: Kiso kara Torendo made (Ishida, 2019; hereafter Hajimete Manabu), a textbook-style work presented as a teacher’s explanation of LGBT-related information to his students; Minna Jibun-rashiku Iru tame no Hajimete no LGBT (Endō, 2021; hereafter Hajimete no LGBT), a non-fiction book that uses hypothetical characters and anecdotes to appeal for greater understanding of non-normative identities; Manga de Wakaru LGBTQ+ (Palettalk, 2021; hereafter Manga de Wakaru), which uses manga narratives to counter common stereotypes and highlight societal hurdles; and Zukai de Wakaru: 14-sai kara no LGBTQ+ (Shakai Ōen Network, 2021; hereafter Zukai de Wakaru), which presents information about LGBTQ+ rights in Japan and abroad through illustrations and short explanations. The works selected for inclusion were published in book form, focused on introducing LGBTQ identities, did not explicitly declare an intended audience (such as managers or educators), and were originally published in Japanese. Numerous similar published works on minority issues in Japan, as well as related social media, fictional media texts and government-issued documents, were also surveyed. These works were used to ensure that the analysis draws on predominant currents in rhetoric regarding LGBTQ issues in Japan today.
It is important to note that the patterns analysed here cannot always be seen in similar works originally published in English and translated into Japanese, such as Ashley Mardell’s The ABC’s of LGBT+ (2017). While translated works are widely available and comprise part of the cultural sphere in which the works surveyed circulate, the differences observed in their tone and emphases suggest that LGBTQ-awareness works produced in a Japanese-language context utilise a distinct rhetorical style. The Japanese-language works do not represent one unified vision of LGBTQ activism in Japan, and differences between works will be stated where applicable. Yet while the five works studied vary in terms of focus and style, they bear strong similarities in structure, visual and narrative modes of representation, and issues discussed. It is worth bearing in mind, however, that the patterns analysed do not reflect the totality of the information about LGBTQ issues easily accessible to Japanese-speaking audiences.
All five works explicitly apply the acronyms ‘LGBT’, ‘LGBTQ’ or ‘LGBTQ+’ to their content. The terms are defined in the works through brief, simple explanations (for example, that ‘gay’ refers to men who like men). As the texts often include English translations of the identity labels, this article uses those English terms instead of their Japanese renderings (i.e., ‘gay’ instead of ‘gei’) to avoid exoticisation. While these terms are (and have long been) sites of political contention, the texts rarely address such debates. Indeed, with the exception of Hajimete Manabu, terminology is detached from politics. Politicised and destabilising understandings of lesbian and gay identities were theorised in Japan in the 1990s, and further entered Japanese-language discourse through later translations of western Queer Theory works (Suganuma, 2006), but the texts typically treat identity labels as stable descriptors.
Interest in challenging societal norms—and the queer politics that might attend such challenge—is nominally present in the diversity guidebook. Most of the works denounce the idea of ‘normal’, asking readers to reconsider what ‘normal’ is or why it matters. Yet the works also use hegemonic social codes in a way that demands alignment with the ‘normal’ even as the works question its validity. Alignment with conventional power dynamics is conveyed most strongly through the hierarchical organisation of the works, which use the promise of knowledge to encourage readers to uncritically accept received guidelines from authority figures (namely, the authors and/or their illustrated avatars). These works do not use ‘queer’ to indicate political disruption; they are uninterested in queer pedagogy as ‘the imagining of a sociality unhinged from the dominant conceptual order’ (Britzman, 1995, p. 165). They trade instead in already culturally dominant imagery of knowledge-possessing teachers and knowledge-absorbing students. This gap between explicit statements of anti-normative inclusivity and their normative, hierarchical presentation could be interpreted through the demands of public activism: the replication of hegemonic norms helps to secure attention, sales, and social media shares. In this light, the works may be read as a form of ‘commodity activism’ (Mukherjee and Banet-Weiser, 2012), developing palatable and easily transmissible characterisations as strategic campaigns that require visibility for success.
Japan-origin works that ‘teach’ about LGBTQ are resolutely practical and solution-driven. They provide concrete advice on topics including how to react when a friend comes out to you, make sure schools are safe environments for transgender students, and avoid making discriminatory comments at work. This solution-driven approach largely avoids societal critiques or calls for reflexivity, framing LGBTQ awareness as a matter of learnable etiquette. I will refer to these works, which present minority groups as objects of study for the betterment of the self/nation, as ‘diversity guidebooks’. The typical diversity guidebook:

a) works from a premise of exclusive inclusivity, with the issues faced by certain LGBTQ subjects treated as normative, while others are omitted, brushed over, or mentioned only as negative stereotypes;
b) prioritises respectability, with those issues most relatable to broader hegemonic social norms (for example, marriage and school bullying) highlighted, while issues that may be equally common—and even equally relatable to contemporary non-LGBTQ readers—but less obviously coincident with social norms (for example, sexual activity and online dating) are avoided;
c) treats LGBTQ marginalisation as a set of essentially simplistic problems based on a lack of awareness, which can be rectified through memorisation of social scripts; and
d) primarily utilises a pleading tone to evoke pity, usually through language and examples that evoke hegemonic norms (for example, grief at being alienated from family or unable to partake in common cultural traditions).

None of these points are critiques of specific works, nor even critiques of the body of works. Instead, I believe these characteristics to be essential to the form of the Japanese diversity guidebook.
In order to create an easy-to-understand manual for readers to deal respectfully with LGBTQ people, one must first form a stereotyped image of what those people are like and what respect towards them entails. The full diversity of LGBTQ communities cannot be included in such guidebooks, as that would prevent them from providing instructions. LGBTQ issues are accordingly presented as simplistic and unambiguous. Sentimental pleas for understanding provide the moral impetus to awareness, thus framing the guidebook as not only useful but an ethical product. While respectability is not necessarily required in this formula, it deepens the sentimental plea through appeal to normative desires (and separation from any more militant or demanding forms of activism), constructing a relationship of care and closeness to the reader. This article seeks further to piece together this logic of distance, a logic dependent on the interrelated tenets of intimate sympathy, pitiable isolation, and actionable truth claims.

Manga de Wakaru LGBTQ+: Gentle hurt as transmedia activism

While all five works will be referenced throughout this article, I will focus on Manga de Wakaru. Manga de Wakaru is a book compilation from the Web-based content group Palettalk, which (at the time of writing) continues to spread new content primarily over Twitter and Instagram. Manga de Wakaru’s transmedia distribution provides a useful example of how the simplified, etiquette-based form of the diversity guidebook has the potential widely to disseminate a moral vision—even to transnational audiences, despite the works’ frequent references to Japanese laws or social conditions. The online dissemination of these ideas complicates any analysis of those ideas as simply for a Japanese audience. While some of the ethical positions and communication styles used could be read as expressions of common mores in contemporary Japanese society, such readings are of limited usefulness, as they provide no pathway to imagining how the narratives might operate in a transnational media environment. For this reason, I have chosen to discuss the work as an expression of a certain national vision that may be read and used in a variety of other contexts.
Manga de Wakaru presents a non-confrontational, soft tone that never veers from its mission of helping non-LGBTQ+ readers sympathise with the plight of LGBTQ+ individuals. [2] The work combines instructional ‘Everyone’s FAQs’ sections (avatar images of the work’s creators using speech bubbles to explain respectful ways to interact with LGBTQ+ people) with a series of short comic stories (usually four pages in length). These comics adhere to a common plot: a variety of LGBTQ+ characters narrate short scenarios, framed as remembered events from the narrator’s past, which illustrate the troubles they face and/or unease they feel. The comics are didactic, typically concluding with verb endings ‘—shitehoshii’ or ‘—tai’ that convey a want or desire for other people, or society in general, to change. In other words, they function as fables, with morals not only made clear by the content but also stated directly at the end. The ‘FAQs’ elaborate on that moral. For example, one comic depicts a gay male character who felt unable to come out to his now deceased father, concluding: ‘Not being held back by being gay when I talk about myself... That’s the kind of society I want’ (Palettalk, 2021, p. 46). This expressed longing is followed by an FAQ explaining that no one should feel obligated to come out (Ibid., p. 47).
The narrative pattern of these comics emphasises concrete problems in LGBTQ+ individuals’ lives. Its focus on longings leaves little room for joyful scenarios or community histories. Instead, the LGBTQ+ subject’s solitude is highlighted. In Manga de Wakaru, the LGBTQ+ subjects are consistently placed within non-LGBTQ+ communities, detached from culture or pleasure related to their marginal identities—making them both fully graspable through hegemonic social norms and in desperate need of heterosexual, cisgender (not transgender) understanding. The isolated vision of LGBTQ+ lifestyles, and the absence of LGBTQ+ histories or cultures, creates the potential for simplified acceptance into contemporary Japanese society. To serve as a warning against discriminatory words or actions, the readers are carried into the protagonists’ emotional world. They are asked to feel the hurtfulness of comments similar to those they themselves may have made, asked even to empathise with the overarching loneliness of LGBTQ+ people’s exclusion. In this sense, the works are predicated on personal connection to LGBTQ+ people. Yet they are also predicated on a pervasive sense of disconnection, with characters often shown alone or misunderstood. Their stories are built from lack, distanced from their families, friends, colleagues, and even lovers through unspoken histories of hurt. This toggling between intimacy and distance, present in all the works surveyed but best exemplified by Manga de Wakaru, forms the subject of this analysis.

Get the facts straight

The information in these works is positioned as unambiguously true, achieved through references to factuality and LGBTQ people’s lived experiences. Zukai de Wakaru suggests in the introduction that it can be read like a ‘dictionary’ based on what readers want to know, and recommends using the work to ‘deepen your study of LGBTQ+’ (Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, p. 5). Manga de Wakaru reminds readers that BL (a genre of male-male romance stories) are fiction and warns not to ‘push images drawn in BL onto real gay couples’ (Palettalk, 2021, p. 63). This wording distinguishes the romance genre from Palettalk’s own stories, which are positioned as legitimate and believable by comparison. Hajimete no LGBT takes care to mention that, even when discussing a hypothetical fictional character, ‘I’ve heard similar stories from many LGBT comrades’ (Endō, 2021, p. 20), and begins the book with an introduction to the author’s own experiences growing up as a transgender man (Ibid., pp. 10–11).
The diversity guidebook is written by tōjisha and/or references experiences of tōjisha, creating an atmosphere of infallibility around the ideas described. Tōjisha, a term roughly translatable as ‘the individuals concerned’, refers here to those who identify as LGBTQ. The usage of the term is perhaps clearest in Zukai de Wakaru, which claims that as the word ‘LGBTQ+’ has become more known, ‘little by little, light has been shed on the troubling and confusing things confronted by tōjisha in their daily lives’ (Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, p. 29). This both positions the experiences of tōjisha as central and provides a negative framing of those experiences. In Manga de Wakaru, all characters are classified by both identity labels and charts depicting their gender assigned at birth, gender identification, and sexual/romantic orientation. The categorisation ensures that the characters’ tōjisha statuses (or lack thereof) are immediately visible, highlighting authenticity through proximity. Through diagrammed classification, each character simultaneously becomes equivalent to an entry into the encyclopedia of definitive knowledge promised by the work.
There are two apparent contradictions in the deployment of knowledge through the eyes of tōjisha as a method of establishing proper LGBTQ treatment. One is the same problem that has bogged generations of identity-related movements: LGBTQ people are not monolithic enough to share a single interpretation of what constitutes non-hurtful treatment, or even who counts as a tōjisha to begin with, and any definitive information presented about LGBTQ experiences or desires will inevitably find dissenters. Mark McLelland details this issue at length by tracing the emergence of the term in the Japanese sexual minority rights movement, noting that invocations of tōjisha experience have regularly created disputes (2009). The second contradiction, however, is of more interest to this project: the simple storytelling and/or textbook style of diversity manuals does not sit well with claims to realism. Excepting Moratoriamu’s lengthy and often nuanced memoir style, the diversity manuals surveyed present the experiences of tōjisha in short comics, hypothetical stories, and/or textbook-style illustrations. Such brief and didactic works can hardly be expected to provide a realistic perspective on complex issues of identity. In other words, the framing of the diversity guidebooks as Truth is both a necessary element of their primary goal—the simplification of diversity into actionable etiquette—and incompatible with that goal.

Glossarisation: Making change through definition

The diversity guidebook works from a focus on categorisation and Truth that constructs the LGBTQ subject as distant and exotic. That exoticism can be seen most clearly in the guidebook’s definitional focus, which I will refer to as ‘glossarisation’. The books surveyed begin with a short introduction to the different English-origin terms encapsulated in the acronym LGBT or LGBTQ+, with some also including definitions of the term ‘SOGI’ or other labels for gender and sexual minorities (Endō, 2021, p. 13; Palettalk, 2021, pp. 10–15; Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, pp. 12–15; Ishida, 2019, pp. 3–4 and 14–15; Moratoriamu includes the explanation later in the work [Karatachi, 2020, p. 60]). Glossaries can also sometimes be found in the back of the books, as a kind of reference index (see: Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, pp. 90–93 and Palletalk, 2021, pp. 168–171; similar indexes can also be found in Kasai, 2019, pp. 201–203 and Endō, 2016, pp. 216–217).
The index format is confusing if considered solely from the perspective of practical usability. It is hard to imagine a situation in which someone would rush to the bookshelf quickly to look up the meaning of ‘bisexual’, or one in which studious readers would suddenly forget the meaning and flip to the back of the book to refresh their memory. What the index format does, however, is reinforce the works’ prevailing claim that LGBTQ identities are a subject of active study. It is the same format often used for supplementary textbooks aiming to help students succeed in exams, in which important dates or terms may be found in visually distinctive text boxes or indices for quick reference. The glossary helps to establish LGBTQ identities as a legitimate study topic, equivalent to chemistry or history, with key pieces of knowledge not only stated in the text but also emphasised as essential through collection and display in a reference space. The glossarisation of identity creates an atmosphere of factual truth that positions diversity as a form of learnable knowledge, undebatable and removed from values or politics.
While establishing LGBTQ identities as learnable knowledge, its glossarisation makes that knowledge categorised, explainable, and remote from the very human sympathy it seeks to evoke. By de-emphasising questions of personal ethics, collective responsibility, self-reflection and moral uncertainty, Otherness is made manageable. Learning LGBTQ becomes akin to a qualification, easily achieved by study, requiring no disruption to other beliefs or practices. Glossarisation treats LGBTQ identities as distant points of difference that can be contained by reassuring processes of memorisation and classification. Yet a simultaneous usage of humanising examples and emotive stories combats that classification impulse, creating the familiar/distant juxtaposition at the heart of the diversity guidebook.
As the focus on classification and glossary creates an image of factuality and legitimacy that may affirm LGBTQ identities, it also reinforces (or perhaps leads to) the works’ lack of engagement with queer cultures and histories. It is notable that, with the exception of Hajimete Manabu (Ishida, 2019, pp. 16–19, 100, and 196–197), all of the works surveyed present definitions of terms as ahistorical and unambiguous. While occasional references are made to derogatory terms (Manga de Wakaru mentions that there ‘is a history in which the terms “homo” and “les” were used with discriminatory meanings’, and advises, ‘because it gives some people an unpleasant feeling, I think it would be good to rephrase “homo” to “gay”, and “les” to “lesbian”’ [Palettalk, 2021, p. 16]), such references are rare, and do not come accompanied by any description of the oppressive histories or movements for change that ultimately resulted in the words on the page. They are words divorced from origin, arriving as memorisable vocabulary that both codifies LGBTQ identities as Truth and detaches them from living communities and political engagement.
The foreignness of the terms exacerbates this atmosphere of disconnection; the etymology of the words is not mentioned, creating an impression that LGBTQ identities are primarily a list of sounds. Readers are asked to learn that list of sounds as an element of learning LGBTQ, but the sounds are not positioned as personally meaningful or subject to change. This is not to suggest some theoretical prizing of ‘indigeneous’ naming practices; as Shimizu Akiko has discussed, the usage of English loanwords such as ‘rezubian’ for ‘lesbian’ may create radical potential precisely because of their destabilising implications (2007). Shimizu’s argument, however, is explicitly about self-naming, and centres on the role of wilfulness in that practice. It focuses on an artist’s ‘performance of “coming out” that willingly takes up the doubly scandalized sign of rezubian and yet refuses to observe its expected meanings and line of demarcation’ (Ibid., p. 510). The terms ‘willingly’, ‘takes up’ and ‘refuses’ stress deliberate choice. In the diversity guidebook, however, self-naming has become reified in didactic texts, not as a method of examining identity but instead authoritative instruction in the ‘correct’ way to address others. In these processes of establishing inclusion, the foreignness of the words rings loudly, an audible framing of these identities as apart from a Japanese society that would otherwise be understandable without instruction booklets and training courses. There is no suggestion that LGBTQ individuals might develop new terms, nor resist terms that take on discriminatory or unhelpful meanings. As the diversity guidebook is definitional and ahistorical, it presents LGBTQ identities as apolitical objects that have already been discovered and classified, and now need only have that classification known.

LGBTQ as newcomer

In asking readers to learn LGBTQ, these works assume that personal bias invariably comes only from a place of misunderstanding. ‘Tolerance’ is not stressed in these works, at least in as much as ‘tolerance’ presupposes an attitude of intolerance to which it is opposed. These works carefully omit portrayals of disgust or hatred that may result in calls for ‘tolerance’. Instead, the assumption is of well-meaning but misinformed readers, those who are willing to change their actions the moment they see the personal hurt they can cause. As Hajimete no LGBT explains, using the hypothetical example of a gay high school student teased for not having a girlfriend: ‘[His friends] were not thinking they’d discriminate against LGBT out of malice. They’d just never thought that they might have a friend who liked members of the same sex, and they hadn’t even dreamed that Haruki was suffering’ (Endō, 2021, p. 29). The general benevolence of others is not questioned. While suffering may be caused by social conditions, or even individual bullies, the diversity guidebook assigns no blame. It focuses unswervingly on personal pain and its incomplete resolution through others’ understanding.
The diversity guidebook cites the benevolence of its readership in part by emphasising the information’s newfound relevance to the reader and/or Japan, consequently positioning LGBTQ as a foreign phenomenon. All the books surveyed included some variation of the claim that the reader may have trouble understanding all the sudden talk about ‘LGBTQ’ or may have only recently encountered the term (Endō, 2021, p. 13; Ishida, 2019, p. 14; Karatachi, 2020, pp. 58 and 60; Palettalk, 2021, pp. 6 and 10; Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, p. 9). The term itself, then, is discussed as a newcomer—but perhaps more significantly, no subsequent explanations clarify that the term is merely a descriptor for a long-standing reality. Instead, the discussion moves on to explanations and behavioural recommendations. LGBTQ is here treated as a social phenomenon that requires adaptation, with the assumption that it is new to the reader; while it is never stated to be a new social phenomenon per se, there are only rare indications that it comes attendant with a history. [3]
The prioritisation of newness is highlighted through its disengagement with queer histories, particularly those from a Japanese context. Queer cultures and art are rarely referenced in these works, and the occasional references that can be found are focused on non-Japanese nationals (Zukai de Wakaru has page-long spreads on Harvey Milk, Freddie Mercury and other non-Japanese LGBTQ+ icons [Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, pp. 48 and 69]). Hajimete no LGBT contains segments on Terayama Shūji and Utada Hikaru (Endō, 2021, pp. 176–189), who may be popular in queer communities but did not openly identify as LGBT (Utada Hikaru came out as non-binary shortly after the book’s publication). These figures are not used in the book as subjects of a queer reading; they are held up instead as examples of people with poor familial relations, to suggest that many people, LGBT and non-LGBT alike, suffer from toxic parents.
In these works, LGBTQ subjects are most frequently shown without communities of their own. They are either alone or encountering trouble as they navigate a heteronormative society. They are known through foreign words, words that sometimes come with the English spelling printed beside their definition (Palletalk, 2021, p. 11; Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, p. 15). When placed in any communal context, it is through reference to individuals or events in foreign countries (for example, Zukai de Wakaru discusses Pride parades and the rainbow flag in an exclusively international context, referencing their U.S. origin and depicting a parade in Brazil [Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, pp. 74–75]; while Hajimete Manabu LGBT begins with a reference to a Japanese Pride parade, it is used to show first the confusion and later spectatorship of Japanese characters who do not understand what it is [Ishida, 2019, pp. 1–3 and 192–193]). Calls for acceptance in these works, then, are calls for Japanese society to adapt to a foreign and seemingly new phenomenon.
The diversity guidebook’s emphasis on newness highlights the foreignness of the LGBTQ subject, and it also depicts loneliness as the state of that subjectivity. ‘Foreignness’ becomes constructed through the regular referencing of non-Japanese histories and terms that imply LGBTQ literally entered Japan from abroad, but also metaphorically through portrayal of LGBTQ people’s isolation and exclusion from Japanese society. Both the metaphorical and literal evocations of foreignness position the LGBTQ subject as without a place in Japanese society; when taken together, they figure the LGBTQ subject as one who only exists outside the boundaries of Japanese society.

Lonely stories and factual guides

The characters of Manga de Wakaru are lonely subjects, shown mainly in stories conveying their hurt. This hurt is invariably interpersonal and unresolvable. One character explains to her girlfriend why she dreads going back to visit her family for obon every year, showing scenes surrounded by family members asking why she has yet to marry—with the implication that she has struggled through the experience alone for several years (the character is introduced as a 21-year-old university student, which might suggest that this situation is relatively new, yet the phrase ‘every year’ is used four times in as many pages [Palettalk, 2021, pp. 142–145]). The manga concludes with the main character wondering how long her family will continue to think of her as heterosexual; her girlfriend then comforts her as she says, ‘Someday, it would be nice if the day would come when they would accept happiness as it is for me, not as it is for the world’ (Ibid., p. 145). While the character is shown being cared for by her girlfriend, her problem is not resolved or even clarified. Her family has not indicated that they would reject her if they knew she had a girlfriend, and the character has stated that she will continue to visit her family as usual. The only way to confirm whether that ‘someday’ will arrive is for the character to come out, but the comic contains no indication that she might take this step, nor that she has considered the option and rejected or postponed it. She is confined to longing, trapped by a ‘someday’ requiring personal action in a narrative that will not acknowledge its possibility. In another story, a trans male character expresses his desire for a society where legally changing gender would be less difficult and expensive, a desire he is shown to carry in apparent isolation from high school through to university life (Palettalk, 2021, pp. 131–134). While his own difficulties remain unresolved, he is shown reading a news article stating that high school students are now allowed to choose either male or female uniforms, and expresses hope for a more welcoming environment for transgender youth in the future (Ibid., p. 134). Like most of Manga de Wakaru’s characters, his contribution is restricted to narration of detached observation, conveying yearnings for a world where understanding has wrought now unattainable goals.
While Manga de Wakaru provides the most unrelenting fixation on loneliness, an emphasis on characters removed from Japanese communities could be seen in all the works surveyed. Zukai de Wakaru associates LGBTQ+ primarily with foreign countries (see above), with references to LGBTQ+ people in Japan used to discuss problems or unachieved goals such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Hajimete Manabu is structured around the figure of a teacher providing interesting factoids, framing LGBT-related knowledge as a specialist topic removed from everyday life. Moratoriamu visually suggests isolation through its sheer lack of supplementary characters; references are made throughout to friends and family members, but they are rarely shown (or shown only without faces). The protagonist is most often depicted alone, typing on the computer, and even conversations with friends appear as speech bubbles on the screen. It is above all a personal story, placing the protagonist’s identity in the sphere of individual experience and avoiding mention of broader societal consequence.
Hajimete no LGBT elevates this isolated perspective to something approaching despair, scattering throughout the work references to emotional alienation as a universal constant. An early section reads:

People want to be understood, they want to connect to others, they pray to not be alone, they fear isolation. No person tells a lie about their own valuable feelings and is fine with it.
And yet, for reasons they cannot control, there are moments when people become isolated. (Endō, 2021, p. 30.)

LGBT people’s fear of coming out is here expressed as one element of humanity, stressing similarity to non-LGBT readers. That similarity connecting LGBT and non-LGBT, however, is isolation. Later, love too is characterised as universal in its loneliness: ‘In truth, even most lovers want different things. Okamoto Tarō said that love is fundamentally unreciprocated. I think he made a very shrewd point’ (Ibid., pp. 131–132). An extended section on a hypothetical trans man repeats the character’s wish, ‘“if only I was a normal man”’ (Ibid., pp. 168–170 and 198–201). This section is used to make the point that ‘normality’ is an unhelpful category, and yet unspecified waiting remains the character’s only reprieve: ‘To Jun, with all those things weighing on him, he can’t help but think, “it’s because I’m not a normal boy”, but the world’s laws and “common sense” will change when they change’ (Ibid., p. 200). As with Manga de Wakaru, emotional pain is not attached to individual or collective action. The characters’ pain leads only to depoliticised loneliness; their moments of happiness are experienced silently and usually in isolation. In the diversity guidebook, LGBTQ subjects are characterised through distance from those around them and society at large, made sympathetic through calls to an incurable alienation.
These repeated expressions of discomfort and dissatisfaction form an atmosphere of longing. By ‘longing’, I am referring to the language of loss-filled desire with which the stories are relayed. They relate sad scenarios, and then speak of a better world that might be. These are hopeful works, constituting political activism through their publication and circulation. They are efforts to change hearts and minds, and so they necessarily work from the belief that hearts and minds can be changed. That the chosen strategy relies on the portrayal of LGBTQ people as helpless, pitiable characters should not necessarily be seen as a dehumanising tactic in the context of contemporary Japan, where cute aesthetics can be used as a method of evoking emotions and humanising what might otherwise be discomfiting (Hjorth, 2005; Yano, 2013, p. 62). Four of the five works are illustrated with manga characters in a rounded, simple style typical of cute aesthetics. This reinforces the positive associations forged for LGBTQ pity: characters are presented as endearing innocents in need of care from others, potentially creating a sense of intimacy with the reader. One is meant to empathise with them, to adore them, to treat them as family and self at once (Merish, 1996, pp. 186–187). Sympathy is the primary connection formed in these works, a sad-sweet relationship that portrays LGBTQ people as pitiful but relatable (or relatable because they are pitiful) characters who ask for the bonds of compassion. The tone of distant sadness, together with the portrayal of pitiful characters, constructs the LGBTQ subject as personally connected to the reader. They are close and familiar, displaying honest vulnerability to an audience they pray will care. Yet even as we are reminded of their closeness, the LGBTQ subject is structured through exclusion from Japanese society. The desire to be normal is not only positioned as definitive of LGBTQ identity but also as the root of potential empathy, a rhetorical tactic connecting LGBTQ to non-LGBTQ subjects.

The respectability of sadness

These works are formed of human stories, and those stories take for granted the alienation and loneliness of LGBTQ people. The sad tone in these works, however, does not encompass dramatic or shocking tragedy. These are not stories of youth cast out of their homes, homophobic attacks, or loved ones dying alone. While the prevalence of suicide in Japanese LGBTQ populations is mentioned in two works (Ishida, 2019, pp. 80–83; Palettalk, 2021, p. 53), it is only discussed through the distance of statistics; no personal stories reference suicide or even suicidal ideation. This may seem counterintuitive, as narrating horrific traumas might be an obvious way to evoke compassion. But quiet sadness suits a sentiment of pity more than tragic tales, which could be used to imply societal wrongs (Berlant, 2008). The very portrayal of tragedy could be read as accusatory or confrontational, jeopardising the guidebooks’ compliance with societal structures. For LGBTQ to remain a nondisruptive topic of study, LGBTQ individuals must experience no worse than individual distance from a benevolent society.
Severe tragedy could also cast an Othering light on the LGBTQ protagonists, showing their experiences as irrevocably different from the lives of non-LGBTQ audiences. Instead, what comes across is a gentle loneliness, fully relatable and even mundane in its portrayal. A lesbian woman congratulates a straight friend who married after a six-month relationship, and then wonders why she is unable to marry her partner of seven years (Palettalk, 2021, pp. 113–116); a non-binary character feels frustrated when their given name is called at a hospital, revealing their sex assigned at birth (Karatachi, 2020, p. 19); a popular girl grows alienated from her peers because of her male friends’ desire and female friends’ jealousy (Endō, 2021, pp. 115–117). No real threat hangs over these works, nor any impulse to change. They are tales of exclusion and passive longing.
Of course, they are not passive in form, as the act of publishing such stories online and in print, complete with specific morals stating how the tellers would like people to change their actions, is an inherently political effort to reshape society. Yet the characters within the works seem removed from the political activism the works themselves represent. Because the change desired is invariably figured as a matter of understanding from others, passivity becomes critical to the agenda. In this construction, LGBTQ rights are framed as achievable through non-LGBTQ awareness alone. This is evidenced by Manga de Wakaru’s single two-page spread on activism, which encourages readers to take steps in support of same-sex marriage. The main suggestions given, however, involve gaining more knowledge and spreading that knowledge: ‘Try doing a search for “same-sex marriage litigation”’, reads the first recommendation, followed by suggestions to talk to friends and family members, share your opinions on social media, share your ideas with classmates, sign online petitions and attend courtroom hearings (Palettalk, 2021, pp. 136–137). These suggestions sit alongside a peculiarly self-referential series of ideas, which include ‘try looking at pages 123–125’, ‘refer to Palettalk’s manga about same-sex marriage litigation’ (text positioned beside a QR code), and a final suggestion that ‘it’s also okay to share Palettalk’s manga’ (Ibid.). While the latter two suggestions may be seen as simple self-promotion, they also match the other forms of activism promoted, all of which figure non-LGBTQ+ people’s self-driven quest for awareness as the end-goal of realising a more LGBTQ+-friendly society. By figuring LGBTQ+ people as inactive, non-LGBTQ+ are called on to know them and spread that knowledge to others. Palettalk’s self-promotion encourages the circulation of socially palatable awareness amongst allies, potentially increasing sympathy while allowing for the LGBTQ+ subject’s distance from political participation.
Moratoriamu, as a first-person narrative, provides an even more personal detachment from politics. The work includes numerous incisive critiques against sexism in Japan today but positions these as unique to the protagonist, whose inability to match gendered expectations is presented as a personal issue and evidence of their non-binary gender identity. After detailing their dislike of the social requirement that women must wear makeup, the protagonist concludes: ‘Luckily, I’ve found a job where makeup isn’t necessary, but I think it would be good if someday, it became that “people who want to wear makeup wear it”’ (Karatachi, 2020, p. 31). A broader societal critique is made here, but without reference to sexism or connection to action apart from individual removal. Echoing the language used by Manga de Wakaru, hopes for social change are articulated without any indication that such change could be realised; no blame is placed and no path forward is implied, creating an impression of passive LGBTQ subjects safely removed from activism or even social participation.
The myriad characters that appear in Manga de Wakaru illustrate this goal of compassion through distance regularly, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than in the book’s final comic. The last chapter of the work shows how hurtful situations can be remedied by growing awareness. The chapter concludes with a comic showing a male boss claiming that LGBTQ+ diversity training is unnecessary, as their company has no LGBTQ+ employees—a scene watched with vague irritation by the narrator, a closeted lesbian employee. A colleague informs the boss that this may not be the case, and another takes the opportunity to remind the boss of a gay employee who changed jobs due to stress, as well as a homophobic comment that recently resulted in a claim made against the boss. The boss agrees to undergo diversity training. Later, at a company nomikai, the boss uses his newfound awareness to rebuke an employee who has asked the narrator what sort of man she finds attractive, earning praise from his employees and unspoken thankfulness from the narrator, whose closing reflection ends the book: ‘I had despaired that nothing would change, but bit by bit, the company is changing. Everyone just doesn’t know, and because they could get by before now without thinking, there were just not many opportunities to think. I haven’t come out yet, but that night, I could think that maybe I’ll try to open up to those around me’ (Palettalk, 2021, pp. 155–162).
In this scenario, standard workplace hierarchies are reified, even glorified. A well-meaning boss is shown caring for his underlings, who in turn express gratitude for his kindness. While some self-reflexivity is shown as the boss confronts his past behaviour, no repercussions, apologies, or even behavioural changes are correlated to this portrayal. The narrator is an observer of this change, which emanates from her boss’s self-driven learning and the awareness of two colleagues. Importantly, the change enacted is one less of inclusion than of continued distancing: the narrator’s colleague learns to use gender-neutral language, allowing the narrator to answer the question honestly while remaining closeted. In this scenario, the change hoped for is fully achievable by acquiring knowledge, requires only the compassion of those in charge, and remains predicated on the maintenance of distance.
These works make their LGBTQ characters fully familiar, with the experience of marginalisation shown as unspecific emotions of loneliness and desire for belonging. The scenarios and desires expressed, too, are notable for their resolute ordinariness. A gay man speaks of wanting to use his partner as an emergency contact when hospitalised (Palettalk, 2021, pp. 108–111); a bisexual woman wants her mother to sit down and have dinner with her female partner (Ibid., pp. 48–51). The diversity guidebook’s apologetics often require a normative, non-LGBTQ Japanese perspective, for example by countering the belief that no one close to the reader is LGBTQ or the worry that someone might come out to them (which would make little sense to LGBTQ readers or those well-versed in LGBTQ issues),[4] and copious references to Japanese school systems and holidays (which would make little sense to readers from other cultural contexts).
One significant component of this normative portrayal is the conspicuous elision of queer experiences involving desires not easily mappable onto societal norms. A gay male character speaks of unwanted pressure to act feminine (when a masculine gender performance comes more naturally to him), and a lesbian character speaks of unwanted pressure to dress like a man (when she longs to dress like other women), but in no scenes do we see queer characters who feel unwanted pressure to act like their assigned gender (Palettalk, 2021, pp. 59–62 and 84–87). We also see little mention of sexual desire (Manga de Wakaru and Moratoriumu only discuss sexuality through its lack in asexual identities [Palettalk, 2021, pp. 92–95; Karatachi, 2020, pp. 118–125], Zukai avoids the subject, Hajimete no LGBT focuses on unsuccessful or undesired romances, and Hajimete Manabu discusses gay bars but in an objective, explanatory style paired with pictures of solitary individuals [Ishida, 2019, pp. 200–209]). When coupled with the characters’ experiences of misfortune-but-not-tragedy, this content becomes immediately transferable to straight, cisgender readers who ascribe to hegemonic social values. Hajimete no LGBT even uses such transferability as its primary structure: the book is based on hypothetical characters, many of whom are not LGBT but face comparable situations (i.e., a boy who is uncomfortable taking off his shirt in front of others). Sympathy for LGBT people is sought, then, by asking readers to empathise with the feelings motivating non-LGBT characters. While unwillingness or inability to match societal norms drives many of these stories, they are presented in ways obviously relatable to non-LGBT audiences—in short, that LGBT people’s inability to fit in is what makes them just like everyone else.
Amidst the normative longings of the diversity guidebook, one hegemonic social value remains absent. LGBTQ childbirth and child-rearing is brushed over in all the works surveyed, mentioned only in brief and impersonal terms. Hajimete Manabu includes a two-page segment on one transgender man / cisgender woman couple that managed to have their parental rights recognised by law (Ishida, 2019, pp. 128–129), but otherwise mentions LGBT child-rearing only in a portion of one sentence listing various refutations of a politician’s claim that LGBT people are unproductive (Ibid., p. 254). Hajimete no LGBT notes that there are few LGBT families with children in Japan, but as many exist overseas, the situation in Japan is likely to change (Endō, 2021, p. 198); Zukai de Wakaru dedicates half a sentence to gay families, mentioning that countries where same-sex marriage is legal usually also allow gay adoption (Shakai Ōen Network, 2021, p. 55).[5] Manga de Wakaru distances the question of childbirth from LGBTQ+ subjects entirely by advocating for opposite-sex couples who are unable to conceive (Palettalk, 2021, pp. 126–129). The topic is given more explanation in the following FAQ section, which answers the question, ‘Can same-sex couples raise children?’ with a bright, ‘There are lots of same-sex couples raising children in Japan and the rest of the world even now!’ (Ibid., p. 130). Despite this positivity, same-sex parenting is still reduced to a one-page section with no visual representation or emotive storytelling. None of the works surveyed directly confront readers with stories about same-sex parents.[6] They are mentioned in short comments, as people who exist theoretically—or in other countries—but remain far from the lonely characters that constitute the diversity guidebook’s appeal for LGBTQ rights.
As the diversity guidebook elides the potential for queer creation through social and political participation, then, it also elides the potential for queer procreation. The LGBTQ subject is shown as one who cannot add to or alter the world they inhabit, and as in need of benevolence precisely because of that incapacity. They are shown to harbour non-disruptive longings, but those longings never reach full societal inclusion.

The Othering of diversity

In the diversity guidebook, LGBTQ identities are made knowable. Through that knowability, they become inescapably human, attached to normative narratives and located within the everyday spaces of contemporary Japanese society. The diversity guidebook is a practical work, designed for earnest allies, and as such it is neither accusatory nor even historical in orientation. Its goal is twofold: to make LGBTQ people seem sympathetic, and to teach methods of avoiding offence. But because of those goals, the diversity guidebook must construct the LGBTQ subject through difference, as a kind of exotic tribe to which a guide is needed. Its terms are translated in glossary form; the ordinary customs and manners that might unwittingly cause offence are delineated; tips for intercultural communication are presented with reassurances that an unexpected encounter need not cause panic. The ability of the LGBTQ individual to participate in their society or even seek out alternative communities is downplayed, while sad yearning is valorised. Production is removed from the LGBTQ subject’s toolkit, as the creation of new communities, social structures or even terms is dissociated from the normative characters. LGBTQ subjects therefore become positioned as both embedded in Japanese society and impenetrably separate from its workings. In keeping with the descriptions of diversity policies in Japan cited earlier, LGBTQ remains a foreign entity made friendly and non-threatening. Yet it is also made a moral obligation, and that obligation is justified through loneliness.
In these works, LGBTQ has arrived in Japan by means unknown and must be understood by study. The possibility that readers, or even the readers’ gay friends or relatives, might themselves shape understandings of LGBTQ identities—that these are living things that can be revised according to contemporary conditions, adapted based on local needs, or evolved through the contributions of different perspectives—is absent from these works. Instead, the LGBTQ subject appears as an ahistorical artifact defined through their status of lonely exclusion. That artifact, it is suggested, can be dealt with satisfactorily through the memorisation of information. It becomes the responsibility of non-LGBTQ people actively to learn about LGBTQ identities, and those identities are narrated through personal stories designed to evoke sympathy.
The LGBTQ subject is constructed in the diversity guidebook as a distant Other, but also as undeniably familiar and human. Readers are told that LGBTQ people are all around us, but unseen and unrecognised. They are told that LGBTQ people are no different from other members of society, and yet cannot be comprehended without study. The diversity guidebook is, in essence, a guide to foreign peoples who are constructed as disconnected from the structures of Japanese society. It is also a narrative of human loneliness as the structuring point of empathy within that society, an often macabre reflection on an unrealisable desire to ease isolation. It speaks of a world in which oppression is resolved through knowledge alone, but social change comes only from external forces unaffected by human actions. All we can do, suggests the guide, is learn how to behave.


[1] All primary source texts used in this survey were published in Japanese, and all translations are my own. 

[2] The books surveyed use different terms to refer to LGBT and queer issues, including LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, ‘sekumai’ (an abbreviation of ‘sexual minorities’), and ‘SOGI’ (an abbreviation of ‘sexual orientation and gender identity’). As each term has different nuances, I have chosen to use the term preferred by each work when discussing that work.

[3]  Hajimete Manabu is the sole exception to this trend, as well as to the overall focus on hegemonic social norms discussed in this article. The book includes a section on gay culture that describes the historical development of the gay bar scene and dating apps (Ishida, 2019, pp. 198–209). Solitude still pervades this history: cartoon male characters are shown smiling or looking alarmed at the developments, but they are almost always alone. While a solitary vision of gay culture, however, it is shot through with political critique. A 4-sentence section contrasts the visually-based apps of today with magazine and bulletin posts of previous eras, arguing that it has become ‘harder to see diversity’ and that it is ‘the spread of a world like science fiction in reality’ (Ibid., pp. 206–207). It also contains extended discussion of the tense relationship between gay cultures and BL (Ibid., pp. 218–221). These sections show a politicised engagement with Japanese gay cultures and histories that differs from the other works surveyed.

[4] This is often described in passive form, ‘kamingu-auto saretara’, implying that coming out is a thing done to the unsuspecting friend, family member or educator.

[5] Another page shows an image of an androgynous couple holding a baby, but makes no mention of parenting on the page where the picture is shown, and a page describing the benefits of same-sex marriage does not discuss parenting (Ibid., pp. 61 and 63).

[6] It is also notable that LGBTQ guides for educators do not provide information pertaining to children of same-sex parents (Endō, 2016; Kasai, 2019).



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About the Author

Anya Benson is currently an Associate Professor in the Center for Global Education at Doshisha University. Her research examines the marketing and merchandising strategies used in contemporary youth media franchises.

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