Queer Desire in Japanese TV Series

Jasmin Rückert


This article provides an analysis of representations of sexual minorities in Japanese TV series. It outlines how homosexual and queer desire is depicted and how stereotypes and tropes are used in the construction of queer characters in this media format. The article also illuminates the ways in which TV series differentiate between depictions of same-sex romance and opposite-sex romance. The corpus of analysed TV series spans a period of twenty-five years. Thus, the analysis also sheds light on changes in the representation of sexual minorities over time. Examples from recent TV series point to a more positive and sometimes didactic approach towards the topic of homosexuality in Japanese mainstream media.

If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.

  • Dobbins, Jeffrey. 2000. “Becoming Imaginable: Japanese Gay Male Identity as Mediated through Popular Culture.” Master thesis, McGill University, Canada.

  • Freedman, Alisa and Kristina Iwata-Weickgenannt. 2012. “‘Count What You Have Now. Don’t Count What You Don’t Have’: The Japanese Television Drama Around 40 and the Politics of Women’s Happiness.” Asian Studies Review, 35 (3), pp. 295–313.

  • Görlach, Fauve. 2011. “‘Unter der Maske der Liebe’. Häusliche Gewalt in Last Friends.” In Michiko Mae and Elisabeth Scherer, eds., Japan-Pop-Revolution: Neue Trends der japanischen Gesellschaft reflektiert in der Popkultur Düsseldorf: Düsseldorf University Press, pp. 123–143.

  • Gössmann, Hilaria. 1997. “Neue Rollenmuster für Frau und Mann? Kontinuität und Wandel der Familie in den japanischen Fernsehdramen der Gegenwart.” In Michiko Mae and Ilse Lenz, eds., Getrennte Welten, gemeinsame Moderne? Geschlechterverhältnisse in Japan. Opladen: Leske and Budrich, pp. 96–122.

  • Gössmann, Hilaria. 2016. “Kontinuität und Wandel weiblicher und männlicher Lebensentwürfe in japanischen Fernsehserien (terebi dorama) seit der Jahrtausendwende.” In Michiko Mae, Elisabeth Scherer and Katharina Hülsmann, eds., Japanische Populärkultur und Gender. Wiesbaden: Springer, pp. 127–148.

  • Gōtō, Keiko. 2008. “Nihon no L dorama jijō 日本の L ドラマ事情 [Situation of L-Drama in Japan].” Online: http://www.tokyowrestling.com/articles/2008/03/japanese_l_drama_1.html (accessed: March 25, 2017).

  • Kanemoto, Emi and Kristie Collins. 2017. “‘It’s a Wonderful Single Life’: Constructions and Representations of Female Singleness in Japan’s Contemporary Josei Dorama.” In Toyosaki Satoshi and Eguchi Shinsuke, eds., Intercultural Communication in Japan: Theorizing Homogenizing Discourse. Oxon: Routledge, pp.41–54.

  • Keiser, Yuki カイザ 雪. 2008. “‘Rasuto furenzu’ no kyakuhonka Asano Taeko-san no intabyū 『ラ スト・フレンズ 』の脚本家・浅野妙子さんのインタビュー [Interview with the Screenwriter of Rasuto furenzu, Taeko Asano].” Online: http://www.tokyowrestling.com/articles_eg/2008/07/last_friends_1.html (accessed: May 14, 2017).

  • Khor, Diana. 2005. “The Foreign Gaze? A Critical Look at Claims about Same-Sex Sexuality in Japan in the English Language Literature.” Gender and Sexuality, 6, pp. 45–60.

  • Maree, Claire. 2013. “Writing Onê: Deviant Orthography and Heternormativity in Contemporary Japanese Lifestyle Culture.” Media International Australia, 147, pp. 98–110.

  • Maree, Claire. 2015. “Queer Women’s Culture and History in Japan.” In Mark McLelland and Vera Mackie, eds., Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia. Oxon: Routledge, pp. 230–243.

  • Maser, Verena. 2015. “Beautiful and Innocent: Female Same-Sex Intimacy in the Japanese Yuri Genre.” Ph.D. thesis, University of Trier, Germany.

  • McCormick, Joseph. 2015. “Japan’s First Ever Lesbian Drama Accused of Being ‘Out-Of-Date’.” Online: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/10/23/japans-first-ever-lesbian-drama-accused-of-being-out-of-date/ (accessed: March 3, 2018).

  • McKirdy, Andrew. 2015. “Fuji TV Announces Japan-First Lesbian Drama, but Attracts Criticism for ‘Outdated’ Portrayal:” Japan Times, October 22, 2015; online: http://www.japan-times.co.jp/news/2015/10/22/national/social-issues/fuji-tv-announces-japan-first-lesbian-drama-heels-advances-lgbtrights/#.WV4bio5pw1g (accessed: March 20, 2018).

  • McLelland, Mark. 2015. Boys Love Manga and Beyond. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

  • McLelland, Mark and Vera Mackie. 2015. Routledge Handbook of Sexuality Studies in East Asia. Oxon: Routledge.

  • Mesquita, Sushila. 2008. “Heteronormativität und Sichtbarkeit.” In Rainer Bartel, Ilona Horwath, Waltraud Kannonier-Finster, Maria Mesner, Erik Pfefferkorn, and Meinrad Ziegler, eds., Heteronormativität und Homosexualität Innsbruck: Studienverlag, pp. 129–148.

  • Mikos, Lothar. 2008. Film- und Fernsehanalyse. Konstanz: UVK Verlagsgesellschaft.

  • Miller, Stephen. 2000. “The (Temporary?) Queering of Japanese TV.” Journal of Homosexuality, 39 (3), pp. 83–109.

  • Mithani Forum. 2014. “New Heroines for a New Era? Single Mothers in Contemporary Japanese Television Drama.” Acta Asiativa Varsoviensia, 27, pp. 1–19.

  • Mitsuhashi, Junko. 2006. “The Transgender World in Contemporary Japan: The Male to Female Cross-Dressers’ Community in Shinjuku.” Translated by Hasegawa Kazumi. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 7 (2), pp. 202–227.

  • Mitsuhashi, Junko 三橋順子. 2009. “Terebi no naka no seiteki mainoritī テレビの中の性的マイノ リティー [Sexual Minorities in Television].” Kinyōbi 金曜日 [Friday], 17 (22), pp. 22–23.

  • Mitsuhashi, Junko 三橋順子. 2016. “Nihon ni okeru rezubian no inpei to sono eikyō 日本におけるレズビアンの隠蔽とその影響 [The Concealment of Lesbians in Japan and Its Influences].” Seishakai/bunkashi kenkyūsha Mitsuhashi Junko no ākaibu. 性社会・文化史研究者 三橋順子 のアーカイブ [Archive of Gender Studies and Cultural Studies Scholar Mitsuhashi Junko]. Online: http://zoku-tasogare-2.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2016-08-11 (accessed: May 14, 2017).

  • Mitsunari, Miho 三成美保. 2015. Dōseiai o meguru rekishi to hō: Songen toshite no sekushuariti. Shohan. 同性愛をめぐる歴史と法 : 尊厳としてのセクシュアリティ [History and Law of Same-Sex Love, the Sexuality of Respect]. TMkyM 東京: Akashi Shoten 明石書店.

  • Neves, Mauro. 1998. “Reflecting Society, TV Dramas in Japan and Brazil.” Thesis paper, Centre for Iberian and Latin American Studies, University of California San Diego, United States.

  • News Team. 2015. “Fuji TV Announces First Lesbian Drama for Japan.” Pridelife, October 22, 2015; online: https://pridelife.com/fuji-tv-announces-first-lesbian-drama-for-japan/ (accessed: June 22, 2019).

  • Nishino, Kenji-Thomas. 2016. “Genderbending – Grenzgänge in Mainstream-Anime und Manga.” In Mae Michiko, Elisabeth Scherer and Katharina Hülsmann eds., Japanische Populärkultur und Gender. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien, pp. 97–126.

  • Ōta, Tōru. 2004. “Producing (Post-)Trendy Japanese TV Dramas.” In Iwabuchi Koichi, ed., Feeling Asian Modernities: Transnational Consumption of Japanese TV Dramas. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, pp. 69–86.

  • Ōtsuka, Takashi 大塚隆史 and Kido Kentarō 城戸健太郎. 2017. LGBT no hiroba LGBT のひろば [The Space of LGBT]. Tōkyō 東京: Nihon Hyōronsha 日本評論社.

  • Park, Jin-Hyung. 2008. “Representation, Politics, Ethics: Rethinking Homosexuality in Contemporary Korean Cinema and Discourses.” In Fran Martin, Peter Jackson, Mark McLelland, and Audrey Yue, eds., AsiaPacifiQueer: Rethinking Genders and Sexualities. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, pp 197–216.

  • Rückert, Jasmin. 2017. “Transit Girls.” In Barbara Metzler, Andreas Riedl, Diotima Bertel, Julia Himmelsbach, and Lara Möller, eds., Von der Reflexion zur Dekonstruktion? Kategorien, Typen und Stereotype als Gegenstand junger Forschung. Wien: danzig & unfried.

  • Saitō, Shinichi. 2007. “Television and the Cultivation of Gender-Role Attitudes in Japan: Does Television Contribute to the Maintenance of the Status Quo?” Journal of Communication, 57, pp. 511–531.

  • Schaffer, Johanna. 2008. Ambivalenzen der Sichtbarkeit. Über die Visuellen Strukturen der Anerkennung. Bielefeld: transcript.

  • Scherer, Elisabeth. 2016. “Alternative Lebensmodelle von der Stange? Konstruktion und Rezeption von Geschlechteridentität in japanischen Fernsehserien (terebi dorama).” In Mae Michiko, Elisabeth Scherer, and Katharina Hülsmann, eds., Japanische Populärkultur und Gender. Wiesbaden: Springer Fachmedien, pp. 149–175.

  • Shimizu, Akiko. 2007. “Scandalous Equivocation: A Note on the Politics of Queer Self-Naming:” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 8 (4), pp. 503–516.

  • Suganuma, Katsuhiko. 2006. “Enduring Voices: Fushimi Noriaki and Kakefuda Hiroko’s Continuing Relevance to Japanese Lesbian and Gay Studies and Activism.” Intersections, 14. Online: http://intersections.anu.edu.au/issue14/suganuma.htm (accessed: May 14, 2017).

  • Suganuma, Katsuhiko. 2007. “Associative Identity Politics: Unmasking the Multilayered Formation of Queer Male Selves in 1990s Japan.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 8 (4), pp. 485–502.

  • Sugiura, Ikuko. 2006. “Lesbian Discourses in Mainstream Magazines of Post-War Japan: Is Onabe Distinct from Rezubian?” Journal of Lesbian Studies; 10 (3/4), pp. 127–144.

  • Tamagawa, Masami. 2016. “Same-Sex Marriage in Japan.” Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 12 (2), pp. 160–187.

  • Taniguchi, Hiroyuki 谷口洋幸. 2015. “Dōseikon wa kokka no gimu ka 「同性婚」は国家の義務か [Is Same-Sex Marriage the State’s Responsibility?]” In LGBT - Nihon to sekai no riaru gendai shisō LGBT -日本と世界のリアル-現代思想 [LGBT – The Real Japan and World in Contemporary Philosophy]. Tōkyō 東京: Seidosha 青土社, pp. 46–60.

  • Tomoe, Kentarō 巴健太郎. 2014. “Terebi dorama kara miru dansei dōseiaisha no egakarekata – shakaigaku mediakenkyū kara miru dōseiai テレビドラマから見る男性同性愛者の描かれ方 — 社会学・メディア研究から見る同性愛 [How Male Homosexuals are Shown in TV Series: Homosexuality from Sociological Media Studies].” Bachelor thesis, Keiō Gijuku Daigaku 慶応義 塾大学, Japan.

  • Trültzsch, Sascha. 2009. Kontextualisierte Medieninhaltsanalyse - Mit einem Beispiel zum Frauenbild in DDR-Familienserien. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

  • Villarejo, Amy. 2007. “Materiality, Pedagogy, and the Limits of Queer Visibility.” In George Haggerty and Molly McGarry, eds., A Companion to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 389–403.

  • Wee, Darren. 2015. “Japan TV to Air First Lesbian Drama.” Gaystarnews; October 23, 2015; online: https://www.gaystarnews.com/article/japan-tv-to-air-first-lesbian-drama/#gs.k2gz81 (accessed: June 22, 2019).

  • Yamamoto, Nanako 山本菜々子. 2013. “Terebi ni utsuru sekusharitî ― ‘onē’ no saki ni mitai mono テレビにうつるセクシャリティ ― “オネエ”の先に観たいもの [Sexuality in Television – What We Want to See after Onē].” Online: https://synodos.jp/society/4482 (accessed: March 3, 2019).

  • Yanagisawa, Masakazu 柳沢正和, Muraki Maki 村木真紀, and Gotō Jun’ichi 後藤純一. 2017. Shokuba no LGBT tokuhon: ‘Ari no mama no jibun’ de hatarakeru kankyō o mezashite 職場の LGBT 読本: 「ありのままの自分」で働ける環境を目指して [Reader about LGBT in the Work-place: Aiming at an Environment Where You Can Work “Just As You Are”]. Tōkyō 東京: Jitsumu Kyōiku Shuppan 実務教育出版.

  • Yuen, Shu Min. 2011. “Last Friends, Beyond Friends: Articulating Non-Normative Gender and Sexuality on Mainstream Japanese Television.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 12 (3), pp. 383–400.


Journal + Issues