L Japan: Kobe couple vlogs about lesbian life

L Japan  is a YouTube vlog by an “International Lesbian Couple Living in the Kansai region of Japan, Miho (Japanese) and Clare (American)”.

“Making videos has been a fun, creative outlet for us and is also a rewarding way to be ‘out’ and proud,” says Clare, who with her partner Miho, produce L Japan, a YouTube vlog about lesbian life in Japan. Miho and Clare self-identify as lesbians.
“We decided to start our YouTube channel one because, while we found other Japanese-Japanese lesbian couples, we couldn’t find anyone like us,” says Clare in an interview with Global Voices. “And I personally wanted to create a resource for other women like myself who wanted to date women in Japan but always thought it was impossible.”
Clare is originally from Florida in the United States, while Miho is from Nara Prefecture. Both now live in the Japanese port city of Kobe, to the west of Osaka, and have been together for a year and a half.
“We have videos where the two of us talk in Japanese about various topics, do some fun activities, or go on dates,” says Clare in an interview with Global Voices. “I also have videos that I make alone, in English, about lesbian dating in Japan.”
Miho and Clare started the channel in November 2019, and so far have produced nearly thirty videos. In the video below, Clare and Miho return to Nara to meet Miho’s parents, and also reflect on the year ahead. While the video is in Japanese, YouTube provides English subtitles.
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“Miho’s family (in Nara) have all been very accepting of her and me, including her grandparents, aged 87 and 91,” says Clare, who also says notes in general, life is comfortable for her as a lesbian living in Japan.
“Japanese people seem to have little to no opinion on LGBT people, which on one hand makes activism, (such as getting the laws around same-sex marriage changed) difficult, but going out very easy,” she says. “We comfortably hold hands and tell others we are a couple. It is confusing for some, but we have never had any negative reactions.”
Marriage equality and legalization of same-sex partnerships remains a key issue for LGBTQ+ people living in Japan. In early February, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo rejected calls to legalize same-sex marriage. In the absence of national leadership on the issue, local authorities and municipalities across Japan are increasingly recognizing same-sex partnerships, which has important implications for shared ownership of assets, estate planning and retirement planning.
“Same-sex partnerships are not yet recognized where we live (in Kobe), but areas around us which do are increasing and I believe it’s only a matter of time until Kobe also implements the “partnership” system,” says Clare. “We do plan to marry abroad though, even though it won’t be recognized here.”
At the end of the day, however, Clare says their goal is to provide a fun and informative look at life in Japan.
“Although we promote our videos with tags like ‘lesbian couple’ or ‘international couple’, we really just want people to see that we are not so different from other couples,” says Clare.
Watch videos by Miho and Clare on L Japan on YouTube, including this introduction to Japanese lesbian slang:
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The intertwined origins of ‘kawaii’ and Japanese queer culture

A “Rune Girl” on the cover of a 1959 issue of “Junior Soleil” (ジュニア それいゆ) a magazine designed by Rune Naito. Screencap from YouTube.
Represented by cultural icons from Sanrio’s Hello Kitty to Hasbro’s My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the Japanese concept of ‘kawaii‘, or cuteness, has become a part of global culture.
As a 2017 article in UK-based Time Out magazine notes:

[The word ‘kawaii’] joined the league of sushi, samurai and kimono: the word kawaii is now part of the global consciousness, with enthusiasts from Seattle to Stockholm embracing Japan’s take on cuteness.

Cosplay, or dressing up in character, has become part of mainstream youth culture around the world, and is often linked to cosplay . The newest Star Wars-themed television series, The Mandalorian, features a ‘kawaii’ Baby Yoda character that has become wildly popular for its cuteness.
While Japan is recognized as the birthplace of contemporary ‘cuteness’, in a recent series of tweets, one person has identified the roots of ‘kawaii’ and its connection with queer culture.
‘Kawaii’ EVA Air checkin kiosks at an airport in Taipei. Photo by Nevin Thompson.

Twitter user Patrick, who is pursuing a doctorate in Japanese Studies focusing on research on contemporary queer Japanese literature and communities, identifies the late Japanese designer and illustrator Rune Naito as the pioneer of “cuteness” in Japan in the 1960s. Patrick recounts the beginnings of Naito’s career in the late 1940s, when he launched a magazine for young girls.

Rune was born in 1932 and got his start working with Nakahara Jun’ichi, another one of the major figures in shojo history. Together, they helped to start Himawari (Sunflower, 1947-1952) one of the first postwar magazines for young girls. pic.twitter.com/35q46ffeS8
— ✨ (@animaltextures) December 10, 2019

Rune became a major figure in the design and editing of Himawari’s successor, Junior Soleil (1954-1960). Junior Soleil was where Rune’s career really took off, and his “Rune Girls,” became a major hit, launching his career as an illustrator and designer for numerous magazines pic.twitter.com/6HA8azVIFv
— ✨ (@animaltextures) December 10, 2019

As a result of his success in illustration, Rune began designing his own mascot characters that also became huge hits. Characters like Hello Kitty are pretty well known everywhere now, but Rune’s Panda character, designed the year before Ueno Zoo received a panda, paved the way pic.twitter.com/ERYTMkcvIn
— ✨ (@animaltextures) December 10, 2019

A YouTube channel features several examples of how Rune Naito’s character creations were licensed for commercial reproduction:

Examples of Rune Taito character designs that licensed for commercial sales. Screencap from YouTube.

Patrick goes on to note that Naito’s ‘kawaii’ legacy has largely overshadowed his contributions to queer culture in Japan.

But a major part of Rune’s work that’s rarely discussed is the work he did for the magazine Barazoku (1971-2008). Barazoku was the first mass-market magazine that catered to same-sex attracted men in Japan, and Rune’s long term partner Fujita Ryu designed the first cover pic.twitter.com/YRuzTfm3Mx
— ✨ (@animaltextures) December 10, 2019

After the mid-1980s, Rune joked that he could use his name for illustrating for gay magazines because his “boom” period was over. For the rest of his life he lived with Fujita, producing dolls, figures, designs, and gay illustrations until his passing in 2007 pic.twitter.com/v7JxEZRvsV
— ✨ (@animaltextures) December 10, 2019

When he died, many Japanese obituaries credited him as the “godfather of kawaii,” but very few noted his contributions to queer visual culture in Japan or his own history as a queer person. As far as I can tell, no English language sources on him discuss it either. pic.twitter.com/kRaQsTr5kw
— ✨ (@animaltextures) December 10, 2019

Patrick concludes his Twitter thread by stating:

That’s why I think it’s important that Rune get credit for the totality of his works; not only was he a pioneer of the kawaii aesthetic but with his long term partner, he helped to create an entire visual language and artistic lineage for gay men in Japan.

Besides paving the way for queer culture to be produced in Japan for queer audiences, Rune Naito also set the stage for queer culture to enter mainstream culture. ‘Yaoi‘ is a genre of manga that focuses on homoerotic relationships, and is generally created by women for a female audience.
The cover of the first volume of the manga My Brother’s Husband by Gengoroh Tagame published by Futabasha. From Wikimedia.

More recently, the popular manga My Brother’s Husband, about a gay man from Canada who travels to Japan following the death of his Japanese husband, has been turned into a hit live-action television show on NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster.
An exhibition of Rune Naito’s works is currently being held in Okazaki, in central Japan until January 13, 2020. The official Rune Naito website has more examples of his work. For more background about the history of ‘kawaii’, Sebastian Masuda of fashion brand 6%DOKIDOKI discusses Rune Naito at a 2012 “Roots of Kawaii” exhibition in Tokyo:
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NOTE: Twitter user Patrick gave permission for his tweets to be embedded in this story.