Japan: Fertile Ground for the Cultivation of Yuri
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Japan: Fertile Ground for the Cultivation of Yuri is an essay by Rica Takashima. It first appeared in Eureka Magazine's 2014 issue "Current State of Yuri Culture."
- Rica Takashima's background in manga
- Differences between how yuri is viewed in Japan and America
My first series, a work that remains my greatest manga to date, was called Rica ‘tte Kanji!? It took place in the club scene of Shinjuku Ni-chome, which offered events and information for LGBTQ people, but little in the way of genuine human connection. It was a story about a girl who liked girls, and how she came to be a part of the LGBTQ community.
I would like to emphasize here that I was motivated to create Rica because of how extremely grave the situation was in Japan at the time. I didn’t want to draw a manga full of cute girls who had to keep their feelings hidden, but rather to bring hope and laughter to readers anxious about their sexuality. Looking back on it over a decade later, I’ve realized that, in fact, I was doing it more for my past self, who had agonized over her sexuality from a young age, too. It was a way of telling her, “Don’t worry, you have so much to look forward to!”
An English edition of Rica was published in 2003. In the years since, anime and manga in the Yuri genre, sometimes known as “shoujo-ai” or “girls’ love,” seem to have exploded in popularity all over the globe. I think most American fans in junior high and above would be familiar with the term “Yuri.” The public libraries here generally offer a selection of manga in their Young Adult section, and I frequently hear about manga workshops, too. I can’t imagine that Strawberry Panic is sitting there on the library shelves next to Attack on Titan, but people interested in Yuri are able to read it online.
Yuri is viewed similarly to BL (“boys’ love”; sometimes called “Yaoi”) in the US, so I doubt many young readers here go into it looking for the same focus on platonic relationships as Japanese yuri fans. Rather, more explicit works about cute girls making out with each other are driving the popularity of the genre abroad. Among the over-21 crowd, I think there are a certain number of fans of yuri-like stories, in a broad sense. But there doesn’t seem to be much interest in creating yuri in the Japanese sense of the term. I don’t know of any foreign artists who specialize in that type of yuri.
In fact, after having lived in the United States for several years, I can say that I don’t think it’s a very fertile breeding ground for yuri. Americans are able to accept yuri because they see it as a product of Japanese culture, but yuri works created outside Japan would not receive the same reception. In a society that highly values diversity, stories that relegate their characters’ lesbian relationships to the realm of subtext may be viewed as exclusionary and discriminatory. And in countries where any sex with a minor could be considered statutory rape, sexually explicit works that feature childlike-looking characters, as in some Japanese art styles, are viewed with suspicion. So foreign Yuri creations feature characters who are clearly recognizable as adults.
In contrast, Japan’s focus is on passing down traditional culture through generations. Manga and anime subcultures, including yuri, exist in their own spheres, evolving independently from the rest of Japanese society. Within the sphere of yuri, fans have a propensity for reading between the lines, picking up on subtle cues, and using their own imaginations to weave rich tapestries of meaning from small threads. This has created marvelously fertile soil for the genre to flourish. I believe it may spring from the delicate sensibility of the Japanese character, steeped in the culture of haiku poetry. Perhaps the secluded feeling I experienced there was the other side of the coin from this isolated cultural growth, where subcultures develop their own unique characteristics akin to the biological variation of the creatures of the Galápagos Islands.
I do not think such a breeding ground could develop in a country like the United States, where the predominating creative process involves a deliberate focus on incorporating diversity and is very structured and goal-focused. So when the Japanese lily, Yuri, is transplanted into American soil, perhaps it becomes a different flower altogether.