Publication Details

McLelland, M. J. (2001). Out on the global stage: Authenticity, interpretation and orientalism in Japanese coming out narratives. Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies.


In recent years in Anglophone countries and the societies of northern Europe, the 'coming out' narrative has emerged as the primary genre through which individuals who identify as lesbian and gay narrate their lives. Through the wide reach of western gay print media and also sites on the Internet, this discourse is also gaining ground in societies where 'sexuality' has not traditionally been a privileged site of 'identity.' In the 1990s, Japan, like other societies in Asia, underwent a 'gay boom' in which new, primarily western terminology, began to be deployed in an attempt to describe and speak for previously silenced or ignored sexual minorities. 'Coming out' (kaminguauto) is now a relatively common term not only in Japan's gay media, but through the work of gay activists such as Itō Satoru, occurs even in mainstream publications such as the Mainichi shimbun.

This new visibility of Japanese gay men and lesbians who articulate their identities in a manner very similar to activists in the west has been heightened by two recent English books Queer Japan and Coming Out in Japan. While acknowledging the need to listen to a plurality of voices from Japan, this paper problematises the way in which the coming out narratives in these books have been framed by their western translators. In the introductions to both books, Japan is (once again) pictured as a feudal and repressive society. In their efforts to let the homosexual subaltern speak, the translators fall into the common orientalist paradigm of once more homogenising the Japanese people even as they attempt to use the stories of their homosexual narrators to break down the myth of Japanese homogeneity.