A gay couple's road to
By Harumi Ozawa
Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
COMING OUT IN JAPAN
By Satoru Ito and Ryuta Yanase
Trans. by F. Conlan
Trans Paciffic Press, 337 pp, \3,400
Kevin Kline's character in the
1997 U.S. movie In & Out was lucky. A high school teacher
pushed to the verge of being fired because he was gay, he
was saved from losing
his job and his reputation by the support of his students,
friends, parents and even the woman who was his fiancee.
This was not the case for Satoru
Ito, a former high school teacher who felt forced to quit
his job as a result
of being gay. Ito is the coauthor of "Coming Out in Japan," a
single volume translation of two books he penned with his partner
Ryuta Yanase about being homosexual in Japan.
Essentially, the book is an autobiographical essay in which
the gay couple tell us what it is like to grow up and realize
you are homosexual, and then to try and live in a way that is
true to yourself in a society that often refers to itself as
homogeneous. It shows how they develop a loving relationship
and become determined to make a public declaration of their
sexuality to provide a role model for gay couples in Japan.
A fairly legitimate question for people outside Japan would
be, "Is it really that difficult for homosexuals to come
out in Japan?" It is true that Japan does not have any
laws or customs that openly ban homosexual relationships like
some other countries. However, the book's subject and its title
are perfectly appropriate, considering the unspoken social
on the nation's homosexual minority to conform to its heterosexual
Both Ito and Yanase, who now actively promote gay rights in
Japan through publications and lectures, endured a great deal
of difficulty-both mentally and socially--to recognize and accept
their own sexuality. It seems they feel positive about life
after finding each other because of the mutual support their
In fact, Ito says it took 28 years for him to come to terms
with the fact that he is gay and 33 years for him to meet Yanase.
He describes those 33 years as full of agony because of the
way homosexuals are treated as if they do not exist in Japan,
as well as being made the butt of jokes.
Ito was even blackmailed by friends of a man he contacted via
a personal advertisement section in a gay magazine. This, as
well as other rumors about him being gay, led to a situation
in which he felt forced by the private high school where he
worked to quit.
Although some of Ito's students protested against the effective
discharge, their efforts did not lead to a positive outcome
like In & Out.
He recalls the difficult situation in the book:"If I was
to carry on fighting to the bitter end my enemies would undoubtedly
produce their trump card. The word would be out not only to
my students but to the whole of society including, most importantly,
my mother." The fact that he had to live with this fear
and felt unable to come out to his mother well illustrates
lack of tolerance for homosexuals in Japan.
Yanase also spells out the pain he suffered during his childhood,
when he was picked on and called a hermaphrodite by his peers,
His father also demanded that he behave in a masculine way.
What is likely to be equally interesting and enlightening for
readers is a series of incidents encountered by Yanase after
he went to live with Ito and his mother.
After overcoming the huge hurdle of coming out to their respective
mothers, Ito and Yanase later began to experience the same kind
of problems that many wives have after moving in with their
mothers - in-law. He began to feel frustrated with things Ito's
elderly mother said and did-and also with Ito, who did not lift
a finger to help do housework.
"He displayed an amazing inadequacy, indeed a complete
blindness, to the jobs that needed doing around the house,"Yanase
writes about Ito at home, "He just very conveniently left
the whole lot to his aged mother - the cleaning, the washing,
looking after the meals - everything. "Yanase said this
made him, and later Ito, realize how much men depend on women
in heterosexual Japanese households.
In certain ways, the couple seems to expose too much about
their private lives - from Ito's adventures in a gay district
in Shinjuku, Tokyo, to their exchange of words of love for each
other. They also go into detail about arguments they have had
over small things, such as who was going to do the cooking or
grocery shopping. Candidly speaking, many of these episodes
are nothing you would care to read if they weren't written by
a gay couple.
Why do they go so far to expose their private lives?
"Coming Out in Japan" is a record of a gay couple
determined to become the happiest such couple in Japan, and
to provide a model for younger gay people in hopes that they
will not struggle, like Ito and Yanase did, to gain self-confidence
and find the right partner, The book also reveals how a couple,
regardless of their sexuality, can form a mature relationship
and manifest their love with pride.
Given the way the couple sacrifice their privacy in this publication,
it is readers' duty to think about the messages they have tried
to send to a heterosexual society that follows male-dominated