Genderless Subculture in Japan

By TAISHI NAKAMURA

Beauty standards and definition of gender in Japan is quite unique compared to western standards… Are there similar trends in your country?

[IMAGE CREDIT] こんどうようぢ | Twitter @yohdiworld https://twitter.com/yohdiworld

You may all be aware of the two main aspects of beauty standards: the fact that it changes with time, and that it varies across different cultures. After living in New Zealand then suddenly becoming connected to Japanese culture, I have noticed the uniquely distinct beauty standards of Japan. One of the aspects which highlighted this contrast was Japan’s current and famous ‘Genderless’ phenomenon, which I will explore here.

First of all, what is “Genderless”? The “Genderless-kei”(ジェンダーレス系) is a type of subculture in Japan which refers to males or females (although mainly males), who cross gender boundaries. For example, men wearing makeup, incorporating feminine fashion and aiming for a pale, slim and petite body; a genderless person in this case would neither be gay nor transgender. They may be attracted to women, or may not feel any affection towards women at all. These “Genderless Boys” have been a hugely growing trend in Japan, mainly among social networking services such as Twitter and YouTube, and among the fashion industry in Japan. They have also started to be featured in numerous television programs.

For example Kondo Yohdi (こんどうようぢ) is a popular genderless kei danshi (genderless type boy), having more than 280,000 followers on Twitter, releasing songs, and having his own fashion brand ‘Ding’. These “Genderless Danshi” are especially popular on the streets of Harajuku, where all the current and popular trends concentrate.

But these Genderless phenomena were more than just a simple trend; they highlight a deeper aspect of Japan. Firstly, they show connections with the current cultural practices in the Japanese entertainment industry. For example, according to Jennifer Robertson, Japanese studies scholar, one example would be the Onnagata (the female cast), which is used in the traditional Kabuki play, where the man dresses and acts like a woman. The opposite is also practiced in the Takarazuka play, where the females play men’s roles as the Otokoyaku (male casting parts). Both are known to have a very large audience base, which comes to show there were certainly the practice of gender-blurring. These gender-blurring practices are also famous on the streets of Japan, such as the cross-dressing clubs in Japan. This is said to be mainly frequented by middle-aged, straight salary-men, which may have links with the stress society Japan has – the businessmen have the opportunity to release their stress by crossing gender boundaries and becoming “feminine”. The current genderless trend may be connected to these culturally unique phenomena.

Also, throughout history, Japan has had practices illustrating the existence and norm of gender-blurring and plural sexualities - people had the history of not necessarily living under the fixed cultural conventions of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. As illustrated by Robertson, this phenomenon was seen in Japan through the “moga” girls (short for “Modern Girl” モダンガール), who were “westernized modern girls”. These people went against the traditional Japanese cultural conventions of women wearing Kimonos and transformed themselves into wearing Western-style clothing. They went against the traditional gender norms and conservative Japanese standards set rigidly by society, and bravely dressed across these boundaries.

Just as all of these examples face, despite the fame, the Genderless culture have received backlash from society. In a blog by Toman (とまん), another famous genderless-kei, he revealed that he has people say that he is “disgusting” and “girly”. In response, Toman responded that he is “doing what [I] wants to do” and that he “haven’t once considered himself as a genderless-kei”. The fact that these genderless boys unconsciously do and aim for what is considered “genderless” by society, and that it is so widespread and famous among society, comes to illustrate the difference in beauty standards. Could you imagine the same trend happening in your countries anytime soon?

Overall, highlighting this current Genderless phenomenon makes it possible to observe the links between history and today, and the changes in Japanese aesthetic conventions.

© 2020 by Komaba Times