AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 543

[ Japan Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 543: Licit and Illicit Desires In and Through Japan

Organizer: Thiam Huat Kam, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA

What are the legitimate objects of desire and ways of desiring? How do people negotiate with these notions in their everyday life? This panel explores the above questions by examining people’s consumption practices and everyday discourses. Through the case studies of yaoi conventions, “otaku” labeling, media representations of “Filipina,” and the activities of Filipino Ladyboys and their customers, the panel will illustrate the similarities and differences in experience of constructing and negotiating with desire in and through Japan. The panel is designed with an awareness that notions of desire, and attendants ideals of gender and sexuality, are constantly constructed, and hence best revealed, vis-à-vis the Others – be it foreign women, adapted subculture, queer or the weirdoes within society. Kam and Fermin analyze the hegemonic notions of desire, in Japan and Philippines respectively. While Kam examines how these notions are reinforced and legislated on a mundane basis, Fermin shows how these notions are resisted and subverted through adapted practices. Zulueta and Okada, on the other hand, trace the contours of Japan’s desire for the Others – both ethnic and sexual. Drawing upon sociological and anthropological perspectives, the presentations will illustrate a complex picture of how individuals struggle with dominant and alternative modes of desire.

The Things Girls Do When the Lights are Out: Exploring Desire and Gender through Manila’s Lights Out Yaoi Convention
Tricia Abigail Fermin, Osaka University, Japan

Yaoi is a romantic genre of comics, animation and text-based fiction, the storyline of which mainly revolves around love relationships between beautiful boys. Though considered as an original and peculiarly Japanese genre and aesthetic expression, it has and continues to attract a considerable international fan base, especially in Asia. This paper is an ethnographic account of the Lights Out Convention, the main yaoi fan event in the Philippines, and will attempt to explore the ways in which non-hegemonic notions of desire, as well as that of gender and sexuality, are given a form and space through the Filipinos’ adaptation of this particular subcultural expression. Using data from key informant interviews and participant observation in Lights Out Convention activities in Manila from March 2009 – April 2010, I will argue that fandom in the yaoi genre primarily takes root among female Japanese popular culture fans in societies where women’s sexuality is strictly controlled, and who experience dissatisfaction with the gender and sexual ideals that they are expected to adhere. Then, from within James C. Scott’s framework of subcultural activities as “hidden transcripts of resistance,” I will analyze how the Lights Out Convention can be considered as a ritual of reversal, allowing them some time and a safe space away from the prying eyes of hegemonic groups not just to merely enjoy male homosexual erotica as a community, but also be able to explore, discuss and act upon their unsanctioned objects of desire and ideas about gender and sexuality in a carnivalesque setting.

Representing Desire, Desiring the Represented: Representations of the “Filipina” in Contemporary Japan
Johanna O. Zulueta, Soka University, Japan

Who is the “Filipina”? The feminized form of Filipino (i.e. a person from the Philippines), “Filipina” has become a nuanced term indicating the Filipino woman’s transformation from being a mere embodied subject to that of a racialized and sexualized one. Utilizing written texts (i.e. novels and magazines) about the “Filipina” in Japan, I look at existing images and representations of the “Filipina” in mainstream Japanese media. I argue that the representations of the “Filipina” in these texts speak of the existing and prevailing unequal power relations between these women and Japanese men. Moreover, these images also articulate what these men “desire” in a woman, said to be embodied in, and by a “Filipina”. In turn, male “desire” as represented in these images also evokes “desire” in those who consume these images, thus leading one to “desire the represented”. As the embodiment of “desire”, the “Filipina” has been subject to the gaze of the Japanese male which is reminiscent of the colonial gaze the Japanese had cast on the Philippines as well as on its other colonies in earlier years. The representations of the “Filipina” in these texts not only work to reproduce existing stereotypes and images but also enable the consumer (i.e. the reader) to experience the “Filipina” as she becomes the metaphor for these “desires”. Not only the sexual is represented; rather, these images reproduce what Robert Young (1995) calls the “colonial desire” of the Japanese man towards the Filipina, in turn producing the articulation of this desire.

The Desire that Makes the “Otaku”: Common Sense on Desiring in Contemporary Japan
Thiam Huat Kam, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, USA

Why are there “otaku?” The conventional approach to this question is to examine the actions of particular people, without explaining why they are called “otaku.” I propose to approach this question by looking at “otaku” as a label: people are called “otaku” because they are judged by themselves or others to fit or fail certain rules. There is thus a necessity to examine the people who use the label “otaku” and the rules they base their judgments on. This paper focuses on the labeling process undertaken by a group of Japanese university students and one rule they invoked. These students think that human desire should be channeled towards objects in reality or the three-dimensional world, especially the flesh of the body. Hence, they will label as “otaku” anyone who they perceive to have deviated from this common sense on desire, i.e. anyone who desires objections of the imagination or those unrelated to the flesh. This paper will attempt to comprehend this form of “otaku” labeling in terms of the institutionalization of reproductive heterosexuality and the particular way love and sex is commoditized in Japan, while also indicating that the invocation and application of this rule on desiring constitute a terrain under contest.