Gaysia

bloggaysiaThis book by Benjamin Law takes a look at how different Asian societies treat and view gay people.  As a gay man himself, he sets off to experience different societies from Bali’s tourist directed gay services to Japan’s popular culture exposure of gay people.  The result is a book that is funny at times but ultimately serious in its assessment at how the gay minority presents itself in different places and how it is viewed.

The journey starts in Bali which offers services to the gay tourist, including resorts that are exclusively for gay clientele.  Around these resorts young Balinese gather as sex working can be lucrative; not all of the young men are gay themselves, it is a ‘day job’… or more often a night one.

The journey moves on to take in China, Japan, Malaysia and India.  It is interesting that each country has a different expression of gay culture.  In China the view of the authorities is apparently neutral but most gay life is online and a lot of self censorship goes on to avoid being shut down.  In Japan, gays are out in the open but it seems that the more flamboyant, the better.  As Law shows, in the end it seems that the great Japanese public accepts gays as long as they are feminine and in the entertainment industry.  Trying to be out in any other way is still hard.

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Benjamin Law is an Australian and he travels as a gay man who has no trouble with his identity.  This book is a reminder that some places have a long way to go but it also demonstrates the power of the human spirit.  Even in the hardest places, he found people who were not going to hide their sexuality.

‘Gaysia’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Japanese Soccer Tights

One of the cultural differences that interests me is the wearing of tights by boys in some countries; it would be very rare to see a boy in tights in Britain.  In Japan their use as acceptable wear seems to be more frequent.

There are rules, though!  Boys wanting to wear tights when playing football have to observe the rule that the tights, short exercise lycra shorts or inner wear has to be the same colour as the main uniform.  In case of doubt, there are helpful illustrations, shown below.

NG here is the ‘not okay’ message.  These rules apply for official matches and things are more relaxed for practice sessions.

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From Up on Poppy Hill

This animated film from Japan remains a favourite of mine.  It dates from 2011 but is set in 1963 as Tokyo prepares to host the Olympics.  In a boarding house overlooking the harbour of Yokohama, a young girl hoists flags every day.  Umi runs the household as well as attends school as a High School student.  Her mother is studying abroad and her father is lost at sea.  She flies the flags to offer hope to ships passing by as she once did for the return of her father.BlogPoppyHill

In her school newspaper, she reads a poem about the raising of the flags.  It was written by a boy called Shun, who works on the paper and leads the campaign to prevent the student’s clubhouse from demolition, a plan organised by the Chairman of the school as part of the Olympic preparations.

Umi and Shun become close but their complicated family histories seem to prevent their becoming closer.  Shun is the son of a tugboat captain but he is aware that he was adopted at birth.  While the story of saving the clubhouse acts as a background to the film the main narrative concerns Shun’s feelings for Umi and her confusion at his reluctance to advance their relationship.

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It is a sweet film made by Studio Ghibli, famous for their animated films.  It is based on a serialised story by illustrator Chizuru Takahashi and author Tetsurō Sayama.  The director of the film was Goro Miyazaki.

There is a scene towards the end of the film where both Shun and Umi are summoned to a ship in the harbour where the captain wishes to see them. His link with both their fathers proves pivotal to both youngsters understanding their backgrounds.

‘From Up on Poppy Hill’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

Seven Days: Friday to Sunday

This is the second of a pair of films in the week long romance between two High School boys.  Actually it is a case of ‘is it or isn’t it?’ a romance since the central conceit is that one boy, Shino, asks out the younger but popular Seryo on a date.  School legend has it that Seryo only dates girls for a week, accepting any offer on a Monday but ending the arrangement on a Sunday.

What made the film (and its companion) interesting to me is the idea that two boys could fall in love without having had any previous indication that they were gay.  This, I suppose, is where the Q comes in to the acronym LGBTQ.  I had never been convinced by the idea of that Q.  In my experience, the sense of otherness that many gay people feel is there long before any outward expression of sexuality becomes an issue.  Yet, here we have two boys who date each other, partly out of fun and partly out of a sense of adventure.

As the week progresses, their feelings for each other grow stronger so that  by the time we reach Friday, the point where this film picks up the story, both boys expect the other to end things.

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Love is where it falls, so I am not sceptical about the storyline.  Why wouldn’t feelings grow through getting to know somebody?  A limiting factor of both films, though, is the interior monologue being shared as voice overs.  This probably worked better in the original manga. However, this blog is a positive place;  no one wants negative things in their hinterland.  The film shows two young men whose feelings grow to the point where they want to start a proper relationship.  It is worth watching to see them grow closer together.

Takeshi Yokoi directed the film with Tomoki Hirose as Seryo and James Takeshi Yamada as Shino.  It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

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Seven Days: Monday to Thursday

Before I record my views on this film from Japan, which was based on a famous manga, I need to explain why it has changed my thinking despite being a reasonably fine film rather than being a great one.

Films that explore the gay experience, particularly those that feature younger people coming to terms with their sexuality usually resonate with me.  I am a keen supporter of LGBT rights and will stand up for these rights in a public way when necessary.  I noticed that a Q appeared on this acronym a few years ago but only in some places.  The Q stands for ‘questioning’, as in ‘not sure’ I suppose.  Now I had a problem with that Q.   Why is it needed?  I understand that for gay people reaching a point of self- acceptance comes after a process but, I believed that deep down gay people knew they were gay.  The process is one of coming to terms.  That Q suggests that there is an element of surprise when a person comes out.  Frankly, I didn’t think the Q was needed.

This film may have changed my mind!

‘Seven Days: Monday to Thursday’ is the first of two films (and there are no prizes for guessing the title of the second one!) which deals with one week in the lives of two high school boys in Japan.

As in so many Japanese films based on manga you have to accept the central premise.  In this case it is that Toji Seryo, a student, dates girls for one week.  At the end of the week he ends the relationship and moves on.  Putting to one side the fact that most girls with self- respect would give him a wide berth on any given Monday, the whole school knows that this is how he operates and many girls seem to have treasured ‘their week’ with him.

Into this story comes Yuzuru Shino, a student who is two years older.  He knows of Seryo’s reputation and is intrigued that the younger boy has such magnetism.  Having been given a character analysis by his friend who also told him about her treasured week with Seryo, he finds himself next to the object of everyone’s affections outside the school gate.

Shino asks Seryo to date him.  It is said half in jest, in the way that would allow the person asking to retreat behind the idea that it was just a joke.  Seryo agrees and their week begins.  They are awkward at first, why wouldn’t they be?  Yet, as the days move to mid-week, Shino asserts his right to Seryo’s time, they are dating after all!  The younger boy, meanwhile, is conflicted when his feelings for Shino grow.  All the messages suggest that this is a joke on Shino’s part and they are bound to part on Sunday.  Afraid of being hurt, both boys skirt around each other and fail to share their feelings honestly with each other.

The story continues in a second film covering Friday to Sunday.

The Gift of Rain

Philip Hutton feels disconnected from his family.  His Chinese mother was his British father’s second wife and his brothers and sister were all offspring from his father’s first wife, also British.  They live in Malaya in the period leading up to the Second World.  Noel Hutton, twice widowed, is the head of a trading company started int he glory days of the British Empire.  But these are turbulent times and war is on the horizon.

Tan Twang Eng’s novel shows the search for identity of a young man who has grown up semi-detached from the White British and the Chinese in Malaya.  When he meets Endo, a Japanese national new to the island of Penang, Philip is drawn to him and a teacher pupil relationship begins which teaches Philip not just a martial art but a way of being comfortable with himself.

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Yet his loyalty to his Japanese friend brings problems when the war comes to Penang and the Japanese occupy the island.  Once again, Philip finds himself adrift from the majority of the community.  The consequences of warfare on the rest of his family and his friends make for both a thrilling and heart-wrenching book.  Since the book is narrated by a Philip at the end of his life, it is no secret to write that he survives the war.  Readers will decide for themselves whether this was a fate worse than death; just as they will decide whether the young man caught between worlds is a hero or a collaborator.

This is a novel that stays with you long after you have finished. It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

 

The Heart of a Samurai

Heart of a Samurai is a 2010 novel by Margi Preus based on a real life story of a young Japanese boy who strayed out to sea while fishing and ended up in the rescuing arms of an American whaler, whose kindly captain takes a shine to the young boy because of his curiosity and intelligence.

BlogSamuraiManjiro Nakahama  is thought to be the first Japanese person to live in America.  His own country was sealed off from the rest of the world in the 1830s and 40s and contact with foreigners was hazardous for Japanese people.  Having been taken on board the American ship, the option of returning to their homeland was taken from them.

Manjiro was a poor fisherman but he dreamed of being a Samurai, something a boy of his class could never hope to be.  The only future he and the other members of his crew could hope for was one of abandonment on a neutral island.  The American Captain Whitfield, wants to adopt Manjiro and offers him a place in his home back in the United States.  His fellow countrymen fear that going to America will contaminate him but the kindness of the captain and the promise of education prove to be a powerful incentive.

The story shows how he copes in a strange land and how his hope to return to Japan spurs him on to further adventures.  How he becomes a Samurai and what that means in a more open Japan becomes clear.

This is a book about crossing cultural boundaries and finding an identity through the experiences you go through.  Margi Preus discovered the true story of the Japanese boy who went to America when she was researching another book.

It is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?