You don’t need to be Donald Richie— noted American film critic, high culture interlocutor, and lover of Tokyo construction workers– to swoon over this neighborhood banner celebrating the association of skilled laborers. In Japanese, they are called gatenkei no hito (ガテン系のひと).
What says solidarity more than singing karaoke in hard hats and head towels? The husband reminds me that skilled workers, like yakuza, have a reputation for chosen male families and gay sex.
As many of my readers know, I am maintaining two blogs: this one about personal interests (ranging oddly from flowers to pottery to male hair and female geeks), and another about a public policy research project sponsored by a prominent foundation and corporation. I have purposely not linked the two blogs, so as to provide more freedom for me to write candidly about my thoughts and interests in this blog.
Prior to moving to Tokyo, I have always been out. Youthful activism and a hostile academic environment shaped my professional career in unexpected ways. It is ironic that the elite academic department that blacklisted me is one that claims a dedication to cultural relativism and openness. I have no regrets, and have been able to reclaim and re-purpose my academic training into a career first in industry and now in public policy.
Creating a new life in Tokyo presents new challenges to a queer identity. With no threat of anti-gay violence in Japan, the flip side is a complete expectation of heterosexuality. And, for the first time, perhaps because of middle age, a new environment, a desire to “be harmonious,” and the sheer quantity of new people I meet every week, I feel an unfamiliar hesitation to challenge conceptions when I am asking new contacts for help and orientation.
This has led to some awkward situations for me. Continue reading long post
I recently read China Lover, by Ian Buruma. It is a fascinating historical fiction narrated by three men who are mesmerized by real life Japanese actress Yamaguchi Yoshiko: a Japanese cultural officer in Japanese occupied Manchuria, a US film writer in US occupied Japan, and a Japanese terrorist imprisoned in Lebanon. Buruma, a prolific author and Japan expert, provides a compelling history of twentieth century Japan, film and cross-cultural desires. The middle section is based on the life story of noted American expat and film scholar Donald Richie (see his Japan Journals: 1947-2004).