Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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By Patrick W. Galbraith

Fujoshi
The “rotten girls” of Ikebukuro take center stage

Patrick W. Galbraith

When people think of Japanese fan culture, the word otaku springs to mind. But the day is long overdue to consider the female presence—in particular, a certain group of girls and women who account for 2 percent of manga consumption and who consistently dominate amateur comic markets. What these females most actively read, write, draw, buy and sell is yaoi, a sub-genre of shojo manga that focuses on homosexual romance between men. The women themselves aren’t gay; they are fujoshi, literally “rotten girls” (腐女子) and a pun on the homonymous term for “lady.”

The word fujoshi came into use around 2000, but such fans have been around since the early ’70s, when comic markets began springing up. These gatherings provided outlets for amateurs inspired by the so-called Magnificent Forty Niner’s, a group of female artists born around 1949 who experimented with homosexuality in shojo manga. By 1979, the manga June was founded to carry these experimental works, and the number of fans swelled drastically in the mid-’80s, when parodies of the shonen for-boys magazine and anime such as Captain Tsubasa and Samurai Troopers hit an all-time high. The style of “coupling” male characters from mainstream works in unintended homosexual romances still dominates the amateur works and websites devoted to yaoi. This is not the case with professional variants called BL, or “boys love” (not to be confused with “boy love,” slang for pedophilia). Each month, BL and yaoi fill the pages of nine literary magazines, 12 manga and approximately 30 paperbacks.

Fujoshi rule the streets of Ikebukuro’s “Otome Road”—an area of abundant yaoi shops, butler cafes and danso (females dressing as beautiful boys)—the same way that otaku do Akihabara, but the media and government strangely don’t promote them. In fact, it was Pop Travel Japan, a California-based company, that first started offering fujoshi tours to the burgeoning global yaoi fandom. Fashionable and articulate, fujoshi don’t stand out the way stereotypical otaku do. That is, until they start debating the dynamics of uke (submissive partner) and seme (dominant partner) in Dragon Ball Z.

And therein lies the rub. The image of girls getting out of hand is hard for some to swallow. Shojo manga, consumed by some 80 percent of women in their teens and 20s, presents a conservative romantic fantasy: girl meets boy, struggles with feelings for boy, struggles through awkward or challenging courtship with boy, and finally gets together with boy. Such is not the case with yaoi, which are played out by androgynous “men” so that women themselves, ironically, become unnecessary. In extended romantic interludes that have no socially productive goal or end, the complicated relationships are constantly threatened by societal pressures and, thus, constantly free, fresh and fun. The word yaoi itself is a self-depreciating acronym for YAma nashi, Ochi nashi, Imi nashi: “without climax, punch line, or meaning.”

Experts predict that Japan’s population will shrink to 108 million by 2030, and critics of the otaku phenomenon blame men and women who can now live meaningful lives without human companionship. One analyst says that the rampant creativity of otaku is rivaled only by their stunted emotional growth. Journalist Yumiko Sugiura, who literally wrote the book on fujoshi (2006’s The Fujoshi-izing World: The Female Otaku of East Ikebukuro), says women who indulge fantasies of queer love rather than finding boyfriends face an even greater backlash than their male counterparts. She believes that, via yaoi, fujoshi demonstrate dissatisfaction with traditional Japanese expectations of what a woman’s life should be. Female fans prefer to “rot” as “girls” rather than become “ladies.” On the other hand, yaoi is the fastest growing international manga market and continues to rake in economic and critical acclaim. Fujoshi may be rotten, but they’re also gold.

Otome Road is located past the Tokyu Hands entrance to Sunshine City in Ikebukuro.

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