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775: The M-List
774: Compatriotic Spirit
773: The Naked Truth
770-71: It Ainít Easy Being Green
769: íTwas the Night Before Christmas in Japan
768: Japanese Lessons
766: Bad Credit
765: Chew on this
764: Red faced
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755: Banding Together
753: No Competition
752: Sex and This City
751: Letís Shogi
750: The Yasukuni Follies
748: Loud and Clear
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746: Raiders of the lost SMAP
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743: Murder in Lotus Land
742: Stereotypes íRí Us
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543: Moore or less
542: Fair games
541: Developmentally challenged
By Melina J. Herweg

Smile and say “lesbian”

Call me what you like, but at least call me something

Melina J. Herweg is a very confused, monolingual Melbourne writer currently residing in Tokyo

Can someone please tell me once and
for all how you say the L-word in nihongo? Or can we at least have some agreement for the sake of confused gaijin dykes? My girlfriend and I have only been in Tokyo/Japan for a week and a half, and already we’ve come across three different ways of saying “lesbian.” But each time we try out our new word-of-the-day, nobody seems to know what we’re talking about!

First of all, we’re in what I will have to refer to as, for want of a local term, a dyke bar in Shinjuku (which took us, by the way, about two hours to find—thanks for nothing, Lonely Planet) and, being green and not knowing anything about the gay girl scene in Tokyo, I pick up a few fliers and so forth from the table inside the door. Most of them are advertising “women only” dance parties coming up in the Shinjuku area and are covered with sexy pictures of sexy chicks doing sexy things. Nothing to complain about there. But one flier stands out from the rest. “YURICON 05 in Tokyo,” it proclaims loudly, going on to explain that Yuricon, which is helpfully described as, “the organizer of the exceptional YURI events in America,” is setting up shop in Tokyo, for a few days at least.

Closer examination reveals an explanation: Apparently, yuri (“lily”) or yurizoku (“lily tribe,” as opposed to “rose tribe,” which is apparently what the Japanese word for gay men, barazoku, translates as) was a term born out of the early ’70s (no kidding), but it was then disowned by the lesbian community when it became associated with girl-on-girl pornography aimed at straight men. Now the term has been reclaimed, reinstated and reinvigorated, and can describe anything from “sweet crushes of teenage school girls” to “admiration”(?) to “lesbian relationships.” Right.
No actually, wrong, quite wrong, as the Japanese woman sitting next to us at the bar explains when I try to ask her if there are any other “yurizoku bars” in the area. She has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. She wants to know where I got that word from, so I show her the flier. “Nobody says that,” she tells us, laughing. “The word we use now is bian,” which comes out sounding like the last two syllables of “lesbian,” pronounced with a French accent: bee-on. Sexy.

OK, so that’s good. We’ve been laughed at once but now we know what we’re saying, we’ll be fine, right?

Wrong again. The next night we go over to our straight Japanese friend’s house and have a couple of beers with her and her two (also straight Japanese) friends. One of them asks us if we’ve been going out much since we arrived. “Yes,” I tell them excitedly, “we went to a bian bar the other night.” I smile proudly because I (who knew no Japanese at all three weeks ago) now know a nihongo word that neither my Japanese friends nor my girlfriend (who studied Japanese for six years at high school) have taught me.

“What’s that?” our friends ask. “Is that the name of the place?”
“No,” I tell them, thinking I must have pronounced it wrong after all. “It was a bian bar, you know, bian.” I’m really pulling out all the stops with my French accent, but they still don’t know what I mean. I have to explain, once again, in English. They all agree that they have never heard the word bian in their entire lives. When asked what word they would use then, and after some consultation among themselves, they eventually come up with rezu, which is like “lezzo” pronounced Japanese-style.
I am about to give up. OK, let’s review. We’ve got yuri, which is some olde worlde nihongo word that’s been kicked out of its home country and apparently adopted by the Yanks. Then we’ve got, locally, both rezu and bian. So what’s next? Esbi? Something else entirely?

In Australia people might, depending on which side of the fence they sit and what kind of company they keep, say dyke, lezzo, lesbian, gay, gay lady, or a couple of other words that Metropolis won’t let me print. They might even (but only if they’re an absolute wanker) say “sapphic friends.” But even if you wouldn’t, for example, introduce your boss to your drinking buddies as a “hardcore lezzo,” you still know what the different terms mean, for chrissakes. And everyone agrees that there can be a few different terms, not just one word that only they know and no one else has ever heard of. So please, all you rezus, bians, yuris and “admirers” out there, make up your mind! And let me know when you’ve decided, please.

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