During my fieldwork in Tokyo investigating the various discourses of desire circulating throughout the Japanese gay media landscape, I encountered many gay Japanese fans of Korean popular culture. What I found really fascinating about interacting with these fans was how they viewed Korean men in ways which were very different to the female fans of K-Pop which have been discussed in previous scholarship. Instead of approaching Korean men (and K-Pop idols in particular) as representative of a “soft” masculinity, the gay men I spoke to in Japan seemed to understand Korean men as somehow more masculine than Japanese (and sometimes this was evaluated quite negatively). The image presented above is typical of the image of a desirable and manly Korean which circulates throughout Japan’s gay media.
Whilst thinking through these ideas (and also to help deal with some writer’s block), I have produced a translation of a letter to the editors of Badi magazine which discusses Koreans. This letter, and the response by Shunko and Kazu (two gay men who play around with the camp style of speech known as onee-kotoba despite identifying as normatively manly gay men), is representative of attitudes towards Korean masculinity within the gay media. Whilst short, I find this letter to the editor particularly enlightening as a point of departure to think through the complicated issues of gender, sexuality and ethnicity in the gay male sub-culture of Japan. Indeed, whilst I won’t comment much on it here, the translation below also reveals some very telling examples of the heteronormative understandings of masculinity which are commonplace within Badi (and the Japanese gay media landscape more broadly).
The letter comes from pg. 257 of the June 2012 issue of Badi. I have translated another interview from this issue, concerning Chinese men, here.
Introducing our readers’ adventures: Report no. 3
Does sex have a “national character”?
Miruku-pan (Milk Roll), Aichi Prefecture, 29 years old
Whilst I was spending a blissful time cruising in a hatten-ba (beat) in Bangkok, a really muscular Korean hunk grabbed me by the hand. Caught up in the high spirits of it all, I found myself taken to private room where the super aggressive (do-S) Korean guy threw me to the floor and roughly entered me without giving me any kind of prepping at all. It was kind of scary, but I was soon swept away by his manliness. Is such a forceful and manly kind of sex part of Korean [gay] men’s national character (kunigara)?
Kazu: Oh wow. That guy certainly did arouse you quite forcefully, didn’t he? You should probably go to Korea!
Shunko: Jeez, when this kind of topic comes up, I get so hot that I immediately turn into a real bitch (mesu). But, in Japan, because we have a whole range of gay guys from sados to super masochistic (do-M) guys, I think that we can’t really talk about “national character” so simplistically. But I have heard that in Korea there are heaps of tops (tachi), so that means that there might be more manly guys there! Rumours about there being lots of tops in Japan are simply not that common, are they?
Kazu: The fact that the percentage of tops and bottoms (neko) in different countries’ populations is different is truly interesting, isn’t it!? I want you to go and ask cultural anthropologists such questions !
Shunko: It’s a question of nature or nurture, really, isn’t it? It could really be either one, we just don’t know… If it’s based on nature, then we will be able to come to understand such trends as based in the the differences between national cultures, right? Wow, now I’m also really interested in this too.
Kazu: No, no! No matter how much we agonize over this, we won’t really begin [getting to the bottom of it]. But, I really am coming to feel like sex does have some kind of national character. Because in Korea there is national conscription, I have heard that during conscription there were many straight guys who became gay later in life and thus remember what it was like to be a man (lit. “the taste of men”). So perhaps there is some truth to the statement that there are lots of people who have manly sex in Korea. Ahh, I really want to go to Korea~!