Two Japanese Roundtable Conversations on Gay Life and Identity

 

Translations by Joseph Hawkins (c) All rights reserved; please contact for permission to use or distribute: JHaw496386@aol.com

 

Background:

The first piece, Fuuzoku zooshi, has been translated for some time. The second conversation, from Barazoku is more recent and is in the process of being cleaned up for a final translation now. Each "conversation" appeared in a Japanese homophile publication. The first appeared in Fuuzoku zooshi in the early 1950s, the second appeared in Barazoku in 1979.

In Japan, it is common practice to gather people together in round table conversations and to achieve a sense of common purpose or concensus on a particular topic. These conversations which are not in raw form but have already been edited for the magazines they appeared in, offer a rare view into the "popular" attitudes toward homosexuality and also provide a sense of the indicators of the changing attitudes of the times in which they appeared. My approach thus far has been to look to these conversations for changes in the identity construction of same sex men.

The Texts:

A portion of one conversation from Fuuzoku zoshi was reprinted in Barazoku in 1988.  This discussion was part of a larger ďconferenceĒ called the Sodomia Grand Conference held in 1953.  This particular meeting was entitled ďA Discussion of the Happinesses and Problems Associated with Homosexuality.Ē  The participants were:

Honshi- The voice of the bookís publisher
Shikagaya- a writer for Fuuzoku zoshi
Fuji- a bar boy, age 22
Sugita- a grocery clerk, age 32
Yamamoto- a sarariiman (office worker), age 23
Yoshimura- a bar owner 42

            While the disjointed nature of the comments leave many questions unanswered, as the participants jumped from one topic to another, this type of source is an extremely valuable window into the early gei world of Japan.  This text has never before been translated into English.

[From Fuuzuku zoshi, 1953, reprinted 1988]

 

Honshi- People were most affected by the Fuuzoku zoshi. Also there are so many readers in rural areas who are asking for letter services, introduction services and discussion services.  Today the owner of the coffee shop ďYakyoku,Ē which has the longest history in Tokyo, is our main guest.  Also boy Fuji, reader Sugita and Yamamoto are gathered here today.

            Iím going to ask Shikagaya san to be the moderator today, and please, donít be shy.

Shikagaya- We believe that same sex (doseiai) has increased after the war in every time and every place.  It is surprising that the number of homos is increasing after the World War II as far as I can tell.  It seems that people are considering it fashionable now even in rural areas.

Yoshimura- We have many customers coming to our place who are interested in young guys and people who like middle-aged and older guys going to Asakusa.  There are all these kinds of bars in Asakusa.  A person who likes young people generally goes to Shinjuku and then they drop by my shop.

Shikagaya- Are you a pederast?

Yoshimura- I like manly types in general.

Shikagaya- How about your customers?

Yoshimura- They also like the manly type with dispatch (teki paki). Those who like men are feminine, so their situations are very similar to those of the females.  They like the manly type.  So in this way they prefer also children that are like dolls rather than the ones that are feral children [like wild animals- yasei teki].

Shikagaya- When did you have your first homosexual experience?

Yoshimura- I think that it was an instinctual thing with me (senten teki).  There werenít many books that were written about the homosexual.[i]  However, there were some.  I used to read those books and I would get excited.  I felt I was a homo about the age of around 13-14 and I had my first experience at that time.

Sugita- Itís the same way as for me.  I have budded (mebae) since then.  However, I started to go out as of September of this year.

Yoshimura- Thatís a very slow case for someone who lives in Tokyo.

Sugita- No actually I grew up in the countryside and after the War[ii] we came to live in Tokyo.

Yoshimura- After the war this kind of stuff spread in a big way (hanabanashiku).

Sugita- My wife didnít have any interest in having sex with me.  Then, because of that I was dissatisfied.  During the time of my dissatisfaction I began to recognize that there was a place near me where people like me gathered.  I started to go to Shinjuku[iii] for the first time.  But when I first went there I was scared and I didnít do anything and I came right back home.

Honshi- What was the first experience for you then?

Sugita- I was in a movie theater.  I met a guy there and he told me there are some homo places in Hibiya and Ginza .

Shikagaya- But when did you have your first sexual experience? Was it in the movie theater?

Sugita- It was in the first week of September.

Shikagaya- There were many young people...but Iím not interested in younger people much.  Also older people came there but I felt something funny, so I came back home.

Honshi- When did you start being gei?

Yamamoto- Yes, It was about junior high school--second grade.  I was about 16 years old.  Around that time the teacher from my school did stuff like that (soyu koto) to me.  At that time I wasnít at all conscious about homosexuality and also I didnít understand, so that I just thought, ďHe is spoiling me (kawai garu).Ē  However, during the war, when I was going to work for a factory as a student, something also happened there.  It wasnít like it is nowadays with everybody being aware that this sort of thing goes on.  No one then spoke about it at all.

Shikagaya- Did you have experience with women Mr. Yoshimura?

Yoshimura- Yes.

 ĎA New Topic- Homosexuals and Marriageí

Shikagaya- Do you want to be a single man for the rest of your life?

Yoshimura- I donít think Iíll do that---

Shikagaya- How about you Mr. Yamamoto?

Yamamoto- Iím going to marry someone [a woman] just like ordinary people [men].

Shikagaya- Is that what you want to do?

Yamamoto- That is half of what I want to do.  The other half I think about my parents wishes.

Yoshimura- Mr. Sugita is supposed to become an adoptive son (goyoshi).  The customers who come to my shop, there are so many who are adopted.[iv]  But even though you get married with this wife for from five to eight years there are those men who leave her all alone.  The situation for the wives is really pitiful. 

Shikagaya- Mr. Yamamoto, are you hiding your sexuality in the office?

Yamamoto- Yes.  I donít think itís necessary to show that there.

Shikagaya- How about to your parents?

Yamamoto- I donít know.  They think Iím just hanging around with my [male] friend.

Shikagaya- Do you go out with your customers, Mr. Yoshimura?

Yoshimura- Iím trying to avoid doing that with my customers.  There are some people who try to get me but I believe that is not a good thing to do for the business.  So thatís why I havenít done it and I am being patient.  I get letters from customers after they return to the rural areas, and they ask me to use them as a bar boy so they can move to the city.  But I know how those people are so basically I havenít used them.

ĎNew Topic: Sodomy and Romanceí 

Shikagaya- Excuse me for asking so bluntly, but how do you do sex?  How about Abter [uses foreign word- perhaps Dutch] and masturbating [Onanie] each other?

Yoshimura- I prefer one at a time, when we are in love. Thatís how I want to have sex.  I know some people who go to hotels with 4 or 5 people.

Sugita- There are--in my case when someone asked me to have a three way [with two other males] I refused.

Honshi- How about the place?

Yamamoto- We usually go to hotels.

Shikagaya- When you go to those kinds of places, they think youíre funny donít they?

Yamamoto- Everybody these days knows about it.

Yoshimura- Recently, the maids know about this sort of thing.

Sugita- I just started to do this recently so Iím sort of embarrassed.  Even though they ask me I wonít go to someplace where I havenít been before.

Yoshimura- Recently lots of young people are going out with Americans.  They have very rich (noukou) sex, so much so that we traditional Japanese will be surprised. 

Shikagaya- So Mr. Yamamoto, are you passive?

Yamamoto- In my case I prefer older people, so that means passive, doesnít it? 

Shikagaya- So do you have anal sex?

Yamamoto- Thatís embarrassing (komaru).

Shikagaya- I get notes and often they write about the details of sex.  I find the vast majority participate in masturbation and fellatio.

Yoshimura- Yes, after the war the foreigners came and these days itís [sex is] getting more hard core.  Its strange, but foreigners lick (nameru) all over from the big toe to the groin.  The foreigner who comes to my bar took a young boy and went out with him.  Later the young boy came back and told me, ďMr. Yoshimura I was surprised.  The foreign guy asked me to pee into the glass.  I didnít want to do it but I did.Ē  Then he drank it.  And another person who was out with a foreigner told me that the foreigner asked him to defecate and then when he went to the toilet, the guy wouldnít let him close the door.  The guy got angry when the Japanese boy tried to wipe his bottom.  So the Japanese guy came out without wiping his butt and the foreigner licked and kept saying good good. (Barazoku February 1988,181:171-180)


i] This is, of course, not really true, as I have already shown that there were a substantial number of printed works which dealt with the subject of homosexuality.  However, Mr. Yoshimuraís statement does testify to their invisibility in everyday life for many Japanese people.

[ii] Mr. Sugita was born in 1922 and would have been 23 at the end of the war in 1945.

 [iii] This is the largest and most central gei area of Tokyo, Japan.

 [iv] This was, and is, a custom whereby adults, both male and female, are adopted into families to provide a continuation of the family line.  This was a common practice for instance in families where there was not a son or daughter to marry out.  This practice continues today but it is less common. 


From Barazoku, 1979.

We were so surprised in July when we invited some high school students to be interviewed by the magazine [Barazoku].  We were concerned that even if five people were to come they might be uneasy or refuse to talk. But as the day came, there were some twenty-five students gathered in the big entertainment room at our publishing headquarters.  In addition, they were very? Clear [monoji sezu] and sporty.  However as publishers and the studentsí hosts, we the publishers were uncertain of how to proceed.  Soon however, the young men revealed themselves not to be naÔve high school students at all, but truly wild boys.  In a word they did it!

            Most of them were seniors and a few were sophomores with only one freshman.  Not all of them were experienced.  A few of them had gone to homo bars [homo baazu], especially in Shinjuku.  Hino mori [Fire Forest] and Shiroi heya [The White Room] were popular places because young people congregate there.  Some of the other places were The Playboy, Aladdin, Kogen [Hill], George, Popeye, Bara no yabata [Rose House], Aka tombo [Red Dragonfly] and Tatsu [Dragon].

 [ In the conversation that follows: (B) stands for the editor and publisherís moderation and commentary.  In Japanese the subject is often ommitted from a sentence.  In this case care was also taken by the publisher to protect the identities of the participants in the conversation. This, coupled with the inability to construct exact translations, will make some areas somewhat difficult to follow. Additionally the editor has already edited out or excerpted some of the high school studentsí comments to provide more interest for the magazine's readers.  All editorial comments in my translation are contained in brackets.]

 

Iím surprised youíve gone out at all. My family is very very strict.

 From Monday to Friday if I were being a good boy, they would allow me to go out on Saturdays.

 In my case, my mother gave up. 

 (B) Half of the boys said they had to be home by 11:00 and they couldnít go out until midnight.

 Huh, Iím envious.

 I want to go out and see too

 Recently I havenít gone out much but I used to go in Junior High.

 (B) The boys who hadnít gone to bars yet were of the opinion that the bar staff would be drag queens and they would have to pay lots of money.  But after they found out the clerks would be in ordinary clothes and it was going to be enough to pay a thousand yen, then they seemed interested in going.  There were some boys who would try and stay in the bar for hours with just a glass of wine.

 In that case someone will buy me a drink, and I donít have to pay.

 (B) Itís a very easy and comfortable situation.

 Can I get free drinks?

 You seem Okay.

 If youíre Okay I could be too. 

 (B) Itís expected that from ShŰ gaku nen sei ?? [Sixth grade from ages 10-12] that boys will begin to masturbate.  A few started in Junior high and two boys even said they started in kindergarten. There werenít any difficulties caused from this.

 Itís not exciting to just be picked up [hanto].  There are some guys who want to have sex with a boy of his choice and they go to movie theaters to meet them [attaku suru- a very seventies expression].  There are also men on the train platform who catch your eye and stand close to touch you. The boys who do that sort of thing have short haircuts.  By comparison the boy who wants to be approached has long hair. 

 (B) The types the boys said they like look like Kato Tsunayoshi, Takewakei Muga, Watari Tetsuya, Ishizaka KŰji, JŰ Michiru, Noguchi Goro, GŰ Hiromi, and Mark Bolan.  More than half of those asked had no preference for type.

 The reason that we know about Barazoku is that a classmate in my senior high school, read about it in another weekly magazine, and he told the other guys about it. The reasons why he noticed his classmate was that both of them liked movies.  The classmate told him that he had gone to the Tokyu Meigaza and Zensenza [movie theaters infamous for cruising].  So the other classmate tried to make fun of him and tease him.  The other guy said ďHey, you know there are a lot of weird people down thereĒ [Hena hito ippai iru darŰ]. 

 Yeah arenít there?

 And then I told him,  ďI havenít been doneĒ [Havenít had sex, been fucked- yarareta].

 Me too, but I like men. 

 At high school, all we do is talk about men.

 Thatís good, but I play around more than he does.

 None of the other classmates know about this.  There are some pretty mysterious [fushigi] high schools around.

 Itís Okay to let the other high school students know about this because the teacher also knows and laughs.

 Why?

 I have done it with my teacher. I did it.  Itís not really like that exactly.  What happened was that when I was a second year student I made trouble [mondai].  The guy I used to go out with talked about it with the teacher.  Both of us were called before him and my boyfriend told the teacher everything.  The boyfriend wanted to keep me to himself.  I categorized him as a playmate and not a serious relationship. I hated being monopolized and thatís why the boyfriend consulted the teacher.  Then I left home for good.  After that, a bar master at the platform of the Shinjuku station recruited me.  By then everyone knew about me. And it seemed to me that there were many of them [probably gay people/homosexuals]. At the bar and at school I was given some letters. 

 [In answer to a question] Yes, they were only from males.  This had occurred since elementary school.  Up to now I have just thought of marrying someone [a female] and having children in the future.  Obviously, it seems that I will have to lie to myself and just make a life for myself.  It would be good to find a girl who is an ideal (   ), and if I loved her that would be the best way.  But if I really wanted to be honest with myself, itís only Okay for me to live with men.  Everybody in the school hates to use the word ďhomo.Ē Those who are in the literature club, they call me ďnyu labu pataanĒ [from the English new love pattern], or the ďnew love equationĒ (hŰteishiki).  This situation (jŰtai) is a good one isnít it? Itís not a bad sophomoric excuse, is it (kokŰsei dashi)?

 I want to be able not only to do it in the toilet or in a dark room but also in the light of day.  There isnít any trouble in the school so far and I think itís becoming publicly accepted (kŰnin) isnít it?

 It sounds funny that there are some people like this.

 (B) What about the letters you received?  Did you answer them?

 It depends on the person who sends it. But, in general, Iíll say ďthank youĒ even if the guy is not attractive to me.  I can include the guy I was talking about before in the list of my friends now.  I donít esteem appearances.  I donít know about a boyís good points at first.  I have to search for that.  Oh no, itís not really a search.  Itís just that I need some time and room [kikan ba] to understand the person more deeply.  I need the opportunity to see a partner.  I wonít be able to say I dislike you just like that.  I think that itís improper to use the word hate.

 (B) ItŰ Bungaku was listening to this dialogue. 

 ItŰ- You guys are smart.

 Somebody in the room said people donít become homosexuals.  Do they?

 (laughter)

 (B) There are an increasing number of high school students who are clear and concise like this. I asked their preferences. I asked them about the other males in the room from left to right.

 I like the fat guy sitting over there. 

 (B) How about you?

 I canít go out with him.

 (B) This boy answered unashamedly.  However, later those two became a couple. Still, everybody seemed like they had a strong longing for the Platonic aspects of a relationship and to give each other love.  They also say they wanted to have a partner who was also like that.  Having said this, there werenít any boys who had fallen love or had a serious relationship.

 Iím used to playing around with a lot of guys so I might be easily bored (akiru).

 Me too.  For me the feelings donít last long.  Iím bored easily too. 

 (B) Some of the boys asked what was the purpose of the others was in having come to this meeting.

 I thought I may have a friend who is my age and he can talk about everything to these guys.  So thatís why I came.

 Everyone says they want a lover and a best friend.

 (B) They also talked about Barazoku magazine.

 Wa, I thought sex led from a Platonic relationship naturally.  But when I read this magazine, Barazoku, it made it sound like it all happened so instantaneously [soku].  Iíd like the magazine to emphasize more of the spiritual side. But itís probable that that wonít please your audience will it?

 This magazine is right wing.  I think this because they show tattoos as a beautiful things and glorify them [bika].     

 It purports its ideology too strongly.

 The letters from readers? They exaggerate the reality of their writers.

 From the correspondence one gets the impression that every writer is really masculine.  But this doesnít match reality.  Iím not eager to write letters for this reason.  Those who exaggerate their self-descriptions in the letters want too much from their companions.  They mustnít receive many responses to their queries.

 There must be some very specific people whom they have in mind.

 (B) There was a sign that there was a discussion for high school students that had been posted in the morning on the ground floor of the Dainishi ShŰbŰ building [The publisher of Barazoku].  Even though there was a sign that said adults invited from 1:00 the high school students continued on until 1:30.  We got a report that there were many adults waiting outside the room in the third floor hall.  We led the students up the stairs.  They sat in a circle and quickly relaxed as they had already spent time talking together.  They spoke just as they liked.  Some of the boys who had come to the conversation seemed aggressive and took the lead in controlling the conversation.  The results reflect the ways that the world is changing.

 Well, itís gonna be very interesting if all of us flood a shop in Ni-chome.

 Letís go.  Letís go.

 When everybody sees us?  Everybody's eyes will flutter [me shiro kuro an expression of excitement]. 

 If we go around to a variety of places, little by little the group will diminish.

 Who will be the leftover [ure no koru]? (laughter)

 It will probably be you. (points to a boy dressed very flamboyantly [hade hade ruku] (laughter).

 Get outta here fat pants!

This is called baggy.  If you go to Roppongi youíll see this is the hottest thing.

 Peopleíd run away into the bar if they saw you.

 I donít think Iíd sell.

 Heís quitting before he even starts.

 Old men say, ď Thereís luck in the leftovers.Ē but thatís only true for them.

 No. No

 He seems like the one who will go the farthest in the group doesnít he? (points to a boy who has short hair and is in his junior year of high school. The boy is very butch [otoko poi] and he earlier said that he would be excited by tattoos.  Everyone stared at him as if he were very strange).

 Thatís great huh? [Ii ne]

 Weíre all envious.

 (B) A tumult followed and someone was sent from the floor below to tell us to be quiet.  The door to the stairs was closed.  The adults downstairs became excited even though they couldnít possibly have heard the words of the boys.

 I donít like hair on the chest.

 Iíve gone out with two people.  The first was very hairy. 

 Iíve gone out with multiple partners and it was difficult to keep my stories straight.  One of the parties was really serious. So it was difficult.

 The one Iím going out with now is the best so far (laughs). Good.  Really Good.  Hot Stuff [jŰtama].

 Seriously, I have three people who are sugar daddyís [patron].  I have talked them into giving me money and I was playing around every day.  (laughs).

 Eh? Thatís really good.

 Can you introduce me to one? (laughs)

 All of them are middle-aged.  So even though we donít have sex they give me money.

 Thatís good.  Thatís what I like.

 One of them is a member of the House of Representatives.

 Then you can have anything you want.

 Thatís not true.  Now theyíre doing elections and heís really busy so we can really see each other until thatís over.  Oh no.  I shouldnít have said that.  What if he reads this?

 It must be the best to read Barazoku in the House of Representatives. 

 Whereíd you find him.

 Yeah. Whereíd you find a guy like that?

 I donít need money if the manís good.

 Yes, itís still good if they donít have money too.  But they asked me how much to go out with you and then I said Okay.

 I know that itís naughty to be given money but itís also wasteful to reject it.

 He must be offering money with considerable trouble attached.

 For me the face has to be good.  Thatís the first qualification. 

 Of course, the face is the most important part.

 For me itís personality. 

 People say that for long term relationships itís important to have a good personality. But at first itís always the face and the style.

 Itís strange to think of having a long-term relationship.

 Yes thatís true.

 What?  Thatís dirty.

 Thereís no relationship to all that.  If the mood and ambience is good itís fine isnít it? Foreigners are big arenít they? 

 Me, Iíve seen some pornography and the blacks are really something arenít they?  Like this big (gestures to his knee).  I was surprised. 

 What?  What is? 

The thing. [are, the penis].

 The size of the penis doesnít have to do with the worth [kachi] of the man. 

No. No.

 If they are small itís cute.

 I donít like big too much.

 Itís grotesque.

 For me, the bigger the better.

 Wow.

 [Heart pounding sound effect] Doki Doki.

 Of course itís better to have a bigger thing but the question here is do you love him or not?

 Yes, Thatís it.

 But if the guy has a small dick then people who like doing it from the back [bakku yaru hito wa] will be bored.  But for a person who doesnít have anal sex, thatís of little importance.

 Well, when you first did it, didnít it hurt a lot?

 Iíve never let him do it.

 Iím keeping it like a special thing [daiji]. 

 Is it for when you meet the best guy some day?

 Are you still thinking that your Kato Tsuyoshi will appear?

 In my case, every time I go out Iíll do it [be fucked].

 Itís Okay to be fucked, to me, if the face is good.

 Itís gonna get better while youíre fucking.

 No, I donít like it.

 It gets old if you suck each other [shaburiko] off all of the time.

 Itís gonna get old if you donít change often.

 Itís true but I hate to let them do it [fuck me].

 Often when I read a novel or something like that, itís all exaggerated to sound like itís very good and when I finish reading it Iíll try the next time.  But painful is painful.

 However, itís gonna get better if youíre doing it all of the time.

 When I was fucked the first time it was very painful but nowÖ

 If you do it from the back itís better to do it with women.

 (B) (After this young man says this everyone seems at a loss for what to say.  Like ďThatís true.Ē)

  Itís good because weíre doing it with another male.

 (B) The Boy who says this wants to find the reason for using menís asses.  It a rhetoric thing.  We donít have to think about any answer.