Everybody's Fujoshi Girlfriend

Fujoshi

Fujoshi kanojo 腐女子 (“Fujoshi girlfriend”) is a new movie based on a blog by “Pentabu” that rode the original post-moe fujoshi boom to bestselling book status a few years ago. (Pentabu is currently blogging part 2.) I don’t have anything in particular to say about the movie itself, but the way it is being marketed is an excellent example of how the media misunderstands — or at least misrepresents — fujoshi.

Media treatment of the fujoshi concept has always been problematic. The root of the problem is, as usual, otaku culture. When the Akiban hordes first spread across the steppes of the mass media, triumphant cat emoticons unfurled, they brought their own women with them: maids, underground idols, voice actresses, cosplayers, and underage cartoon characters. That virtually all of these women were either personae played for cash or entirely imaginary did not prevent these ideals of womanhood establishing themselves in the public mind as a badly-needed feminine yin to Akibacentric otaku culture’s hypertrophied yanginess.

As a result, when media attention eventually turned to actual fujoshi, the elevator pitch — “They’re otaku, except girls!” — was more or less accurate (granting a broad reading of “otaku”), but the implications were misunderstood. If fujoshi were girl otaku, they must be the girls usually appearing alongside otaku in those TV specials and magazine articles, right? You know — the maids.

But no. As you might expect, although fujoshi and otaku often turn to the same texts for raw cultural material, they have very little to do with each other as cultural actors. There are fujoshi stores in Akihabara, but the main fujoshi center is in Ikebukuro — and it developed around a core of bookstores, not transistor hustlers.

“fujoshi syndicate”, a group of self-described “fujoshi OLs” from Tokyo (the only named member is one Ōta Maki 大田真樹) address this exact point in their recent book Naze, fujoshi wa danson-johi na no ka?『なぜ、腐女子は男尊女卑なのか?』 (“Why are fujoshi male chauvinists?”), discussing the cover of another book from 2007: Bokutachi no ki ni naru fujoshi 『僕たちの気になる腐女子』 (“Those fascinating fujoshi”), which also featured maid imagery on the cover.

Let’s start with the “face” of the book, its cover. The cover of Bokutachi no ki ni naru fujoshi is a girl in a maid outfit. — So at this point, it’s already failed. It’s true that there are a few fujoshi among the girls working in Akihabara’s maid cafes, but most of the staff there are not fujoshi but “Akiba girls” (アキバ系女子).

What are “Akiba girls”? By this we mean girls who love the anime and manga subcultures, but who also go to Akihabara to be made a fuss of. […] They are otaku, but they don’t do the earthy “Let’s party, just us girls!” thing; they’re on good terms with male otaku too. One representative example would be Nakagawa Shōko (Shokotan).

In other words, otaku girls who wear maid outfits are not part of fujoshi culture, but rather Akiba culture. […]

The syndicate then relate an apparently true story about how they once asked a maid cafe employee where they could find Messe Sanoh, a specialist retailer of woman’s video games, and that maid didn’t know: incontrovertible proof that she, at least, was no fujoshi.

The fujoshi syndicate actually spend more of Naze, fujoshi wa on this and other misconceptions of fujoshi by non-fujoshi (especially men) than they do on the title question. One argument they keep returning to is that the cosplaying, go-shujin-sama-ing media fujoshi addresses a deep psychological need within post-Bubble men. High salary, highly respected alma mater, and physical height: two of these three Bubble-traditional status markers are much harder to obtain than they used to be, and the idea of a secret caste of women — maybe there are some right there in your office! — who prefer the company of low-status, sensitive, intellectual types, and will even play along with their fantasies — this is bound to have appeal.

(Ironically, argue fujoshi syndicate, real fujoshi are just as status-conscious as ever, and have no interest in otaku as a rule. The syndicate traces this state of affairs to fujoshi reading material and its emphasis on status and power differentials as a source of eroticism.)

The argument here is not that there aren’t any otaku women who genuinely enjoy cosplay and Akiba culture, or that this is somehow inauthentic. Arguments about terminology and authenticity are a dead end. The question is to what extent the prominence given to these individuals impedes understanding of broader “fujoshi culture.” There is also arguably a political element involved: you can see this as the co-option of the idea of the fujoshi to reinforce sociosexual norms, the replacement of a uniquely female culture identity with one defined only in relation to male interests.

Unfortunately, though, it’s not a fair fight. As long as keen interests in fancifully-depicted gay romance and other distinguishing features of non-Akiba fujoshi don’t show up in photos, the media will always prefer the women dressed as frilly maids.

Matt TREYVAUD
June 4, 2009

Matt Treyvaud is a writer and translator living near Kamakura. He is Néojaponisme's Literature/Language editor and the proprietor of No-sword.

23 Responses

  1. Wilford Says:

    It is interesting to see how fujoshi subculture wants to separate itself from the Akiba otaku scene. That seems to be different from the US side, where yaoi fans seen simply as a subset of anime and manga fandom (largely populated by women), and drawing parallels with the slash fanfiction of the large sci-fi fandom.

    On the other hand, I find it curious that female otaku are so invisible in the broader media (probably because that concept would be transgressive to the predominant paradigm). One only has to look at those series that are largely in-jokes for the otaku, such as Lucky Star or Comic Party, to see them populated with women as well. Perhaps, there is a bit of wish fulfillment, but a quick glance at any cosplay magazine will show more than half are female. The female otaku is out there, not just the maids, but they remain hidden.

  2. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Yeah, I’d love to see a really serious, in-depth historical study of the women in US-centric fandoms vs the women in Japanese ones. Something by a researcher with no axe to grind who spoke and read both languages.

    fujoshi syndicate, although I wouldn’t want to give the impression that I agree with everything they say in their book, believe that even female cosplayers should be divided into the “Akiba” and “regular” categories. One dividing line seems to be whether they’re dressing for the male gaze or the female (and/or imaginary BL character) one. I think this comes up in their discussion of Genshiken, speaking of works that are largely in-jokes for otaku.

  3. Patrick W. Galbraith Says:

    Great article! I think it might be meaningful to separate fujoshi and josei no otaku rather than simply drawing the line at Akiba. The Syndicate displays a disturbingly common bad habit of dismissing all those from the Akiba area and culture. At any rate, I thought this might be of interest. http://metropolis.co.jp/tokyo/777/pop.asp I am currently attempting to write that academic paper on fujoshi! Keep up the good work.

  4. Connor Says:

    Several years ago, a (male, homosexual) buddy of mine did a thesis on Yaoi comics and the seemingly impenetrable layers of representation/abstraction within the phenomenon of women writing sex comics for other women that involve two men but the men are more or less acting like women. His eventual claim is that the impetus to write this stuff comes from a sort of gendered dissatisfaction with the societal order, being that heterosexual intercourse in wider Japanese society was seen as basically the purview of men and that women were essentially passive participants.

    In that respect, it would seem to me that they have a lot in common with the otaku (female and male), whose movement, and I realize that I am essentializing here, seems a lot like the kind of thing that would happen when a bunch of people get together and decide that they’re never going to find sexual acceptance within the mainstream anyway, so they might as well give up the stuff they were doing to gain that acceptance (getting a good job, smelling acceptable, working out, etc) and just reading comic books all day. I realize that there’s a good argument to be made that the primary disaffection of the otaku is economic in nature (being shut out of Japan Inc) but I bet a lot of people see the main upside to Japan Inc as being access to top-tier women.

    So being that, in my view at least, the driving impulse behind each movement is the same, I’m kind of puzzled as to why the fujoshi would view the otaku with such disdain (albeit they seem to have couched it in some tricky rhetoric).

  5. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Connor, the problem with that theory is that fujoshi don’t give up on seeking acceptance — the majority dress perfectly normally, work out, even have boyfriends (shock!). Anecdotally, they are usually on some form of the treadmill: either interested in a lifelong career, or looking to get married and become a homemaker. So (and again this is anecdotally) the distaste for otaku comes because of the whole otaku dropout thing. That isn’t what they want for themselves, and it definitely isn’t what they want in a partner. One of the pillars of yaoi/BL and even regular shojo manga is that one of the romantic antagonists has money and/or status and isn’t ashamed of it.

    Patrick, thanks for the link, that is a great intro to fujoshi. It’s true, fs seem to be trying to swing the pendulum the other way and get fujoshi completely separated from Akiba culture in the public mind. I’m not sure that this extreme is justified either. Please let me know when you finish that paper!

  6. Peter Says:

    “The question is to what extent the prominence given to these individuals impedes understanding of broader “fujoshi culture.” ”

    Admittedly, the first time I saw a show about fujoshi it very accurately described the whole yaoi/boys love phenomenon and how it manifests itself in the back streets of Ikebukuro.

    For anyone watching the show, it was easy to see that comic books and fantasy are common threads between fujoshi and akihabara culture, but it was at the same time clear that the two are somewhat distinct waves, propelled by different sets of values.

    Very interesting post, Matt.

  7. W. David MARX Says:

    When did otaku/femi-otaku culture become about sexual obsession rather than robots/sci-fi?

  8. Selectism | Around the Web | Selectism.com Says:

    […] “Fujoshi kanojo 腐女子 (”Fujoshi girlfriend”) is a new movie based on a blog by “Pentabu” that rode the original post-moe fujoshi boom to bestselling book status a few years ago. (Pentabu is currently blogging part 2.) I don’t have anything in particular to say about the movie itself, but the way it is being marketed is an excellent example of how the media misunderstands — or at least misrepresents — fujoshi.” (neojapanisme) […]

  9. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    Maybe I am too hard on the media? I’m sorry, NHK.

    As far as I can tell fujoshi culture has always been principally about ideas on the romance-sex spectrum. As for otaku culture in general: taboos get broken, things go in and out of fashion. There’s always been a sexual undercurrent. Space opera-style sci-fi in general is getting less popular worldwide, I would assume at least partially because as the decades went on it became clear that humans weren’t going to leverage the moon landing into LaGrange point colonies after all. On the other hand you see a lot of manga nowadays where the “science” aspect is about Matrix-style digital simulacra or nanotech accomplishing the same thing — OR, the “weird fantasy” thing like China Mieville, where connection to real science is abandoned in favor of the cool setup.

    Then there is the meta-phenomenon of otaku consciously creating media for other otaku, which leads more directly to the sexual tension because there’s no need for a norm framework to hold it. IIRC Otsuka Eiji talks about this a lot and seems to consider the 80s a key decade for it. (All this is off the top of my head. I have no hard figures to back it up.)

  10. MattAlt Says:

    When did otaku/femi-otaku culture become about sexual obsession rather than robots/sci-fi?

    Evangelion. Although it was a huge crossover success itself, the way it legitimized and empowered otaku gave rise to the current trend of content specifically tailored to their obscure tastes, without any regard for a mainstream audience. And that is very much to the detriment of the anime / pop culture industry as a whole, I’d argue, but that’s another post for another time.

    I hate to pile anecdote atop anecdote here, but I know a handful of fujoshi myself. All are married to guys with otaku tastes but who I wouldn’t call otaku (i.e., they love old anime/tokusatsu/manga, but hold steady jobs and aren’t social dropouts.) The fujoshi stay at home to focus on their hobbies (writing/collecting dojinshi, etc.) and none show any signs of planning to have children. I realize this is a ludicrously small statistical sample to draw any sort of conclusions from, but my gut reaction was that they’re definitely off “the treadmill,” as Matt put it, though in a different way than male otaku.

  11. Peter Says:

    I’ll go out on an old-fashioned limb here and say that I feel that not “planning to have children” (different from not being able to) is an oblique way of dropping out of society.

    With that out of the way, I wanted to ask if there are any comparisons between the fujoshi, their stories of “boys love” and the fanbase of Takarazuka? If anyone knows of research out there, please let me know.

  12. Daniel Says:

    Media treatment of the fujoshi concept has always been problematic. The root of the problem is, as usual, otaku culture. When the Akiban hordes first spread across the steppes of the mass media, triumphant cat emoticons unfurled, they brought their own women with them: maids, underground idols, voice actresses, cosplayers, and underage cartoon characters. That virtually all of these women were either personae played for cash or entirely imaginary did not prevent these ideals of womanhood establishing themselves in the public mind as a badly-needed feminine yin to Akibacentric otaku culture’s hypertrophied yanginess.

    Can I nominate that for Neojaponisme Paragraph of the Year? Much respect.

  13. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    You don’t think it’s a little too subtle?

    Matt, your comment interests me because it shows the anecdotal nature of all this — most of the fujoshi I know, I met in or via office-y settings that have nothing to do with otaku culture, but I bet by the nature of your work your acquaintances are more likely to have something to do with games or entertainment professionally in the first place. Who is to say which, if either, gives a truer sampling of average fujoshiness? And of course fujoshi syndicate have their own biases and territory to protect. Research! Research!

    Peter: Leonie Ray Stickland’s Gender Gymnastics: Performers, Fans and Gender Issues in the Takarazuka Revue of Contemporary Japan doesn’t directly address your question IIRC but is well worth a read.

  14. Leonardo Boiko Says:

    > (Ironically, argue fujoshi syndicate, real fujoshi are just as status-conscious as ever, and have no interest in otaku as a rule.)

    And poof goes my dream of finding a Japanese lover who would be 1) otaku and 2) supportive of my bisexuality.

  15. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » June 11, 2009: Shorter Journalista 22 Says:

    […] [Commentary] Fujoshi aren’t like male otaku Link: Matt Treyvaud […]

  16. Dcal Says:

    Before I begin, let me introduce and justify my status as a fujoshi here:
    (http://berribunzstudio.wordpress.com/2008/01/15/meandering-thoughts-the-fujoshi/).

    I found this article thoroughly thought provoking and useful as reference.

    With the whole Otaku stereotype exploited and exaggerated by the Media, there is a growing need to sensationalize something new. And unfortunately, the Fujoshi sterotype has been the next target for commercial exploitation.

    Having read the Fujoshi Kanojo (both the novels and the manga), I have to point out that Y子 (the fujoshi girlfriend’s pseudonym) did cosplay within the context of the book. She did as a reward for Pentabu, to spice up their relationship. It is also to be noted that she also dressed up as a nurse etc and even made Pentabu play dress up as well.

    Thus the publicity material for the Fujoshi Kanojo movie isn’t all that skewed. And I’ll hold my verdict till I’ve seen the movie.

    I feel that another title Tonari no 801-chan is a better representation on fujoshi behavior. (http://berribunzstudio.wordpress.com/2008/12/16/fujoshi-kanajo/)

    From my own experience, fujoshi prefer not to draw attention and rarely expose their fujioshi nature to those outside of their circles.

    There is a need to maintain a ‘normal’ facade and keep the interest for hot boy-on-boy action a secret. This is partly due to a self-awareness that openly admitting to enjoying BL is social suicide.

    So as members of the fujoshi culture keep mum about their interest, a general lack of understanding or misinterpretation of the culture is developed.

    However, it seems that this characteristic of fujoshi is limited to the scene in Japan. On an international level, the fujoshi culture seems liberal in comparison and share similarities to the Akiba-girls as described in your article.

  17. MangaBlog » Blog Archive » Hot manga, Chinese artists, and misunderstood fujoshi Says:

    […] Fujoshi: Serious fans, not frilly maids. Interesting article, found via Japanator. […]

  18. Matt TREYVAUD Says:

    I was kind of waiting for the other foot to drop on that — yeah, I guess she does dress up as a maid in the book/movie itself. My argument isn’t so much that no fujoshi would play along with Akihabara culture ever as that that’s not really characteristic of them, contra the visual shorthand.

    I agree with you about Tonari no 801-chan (which even addresses the cosplay issue in volume 2 or 3 IIRC). Is admitting to enjoying BL really so socially suicidal, though? I hear this a lot but I’m not convinced, personally…

  19. xee Says:

    I wanted to ask if there are any comparisons between the fujoshi, their stories of “boys love” and the fanbase of Takarazuka?

    A friend of mine works on Takarazuka – I remember her saying that some ex-otokoyaku started up bars (where they continue to dress otokoyaku-style) in Ikebukuro, on fujoshi turf, which are presumably either for the fujoshi crowd, or in peaceful coexistence with. The various fanbases within Takarazuka seem to be way more diverse than I thought – certain types seem to cluster around certain otokoyaku? It’s fairly likely that there’s a girlbutler-cafe-going fujoshi-esque subset among younger Takarazuka fans.

  20. xee Says:

    (by ‘fairly likely’ i mean ‘i think i was told about it once but i couldn’t give chapter or verse’)

  21. inbuninbu Says:

    >>Yeah, I’d love to see a really serious, in-depth historical study of the women in US-centric fandoms vs the women in Japanese ones. Something by a researcher with no axe to grind who spoke and read both languages.

    I too am looking forward to whatever researchers like Galbraith are about to produce on these topics. Certainly, this seems to be the next step.

    Writing a recent paper that touched on these issues, I found I came up against a wall when it came to these two issues; namely, the America (or non-Japanese) vs Japanese female fans as well as the fujoshi vs Takarazuka fan comparisons. At present there seems to be a dearth of thorough academic research so I look forward to this being corrected in the near future.

    Like you, I would stipulate that it be done by someone able to research fluently in both languages and with no angry lesbian-feminist (or any other) chip on his or her shoulder!

    >>It’s fairly likely that there’s a girlbutler-cafe-going fujoshi-esque subset among younger Takarazuka fans

    In my own personal, albeit anecdotal, experience, there certainly is! Having met a handful of such women working mainly in the butler cafes on Otomo Road, I have a hunch there are many more out there. It would be fascinating to see an investigation into the crossover between such genres of popular culture.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking weekend read.

  22. inbuninbu Says:

    >>…some ex-otokoyaku started up bars (where they continue to dress otokoyaku-style) in Ikebukuro, on fujoshi turf, which are presumably either for the fujoshi crowd, or in peaceful coexistence with.

    Having reread xee’s comment: as far as I can recall, these bars were founded mainly in the early 70s and their fate was heavily intertwined with the ups and downs of the Japanese economy; the vast majority had gone bust by the 80s.

    See Mark McLelland’s co-authored book “Queer Voices from Japan: First Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities” which contains a chapter on the personal experiences of Maki, the owner of one such bar during the boom years.

    Also, I believe the bars were chiefly not concentrated around Ikebukuro but were more widely distributed over the city of Tokyo – although of course likely predominantly situated in and around Kabuki-cho and Ni-chome gay district as part of the ‘water trade’ (mizu-shoubai) – so it not strictly true to say they were founded on “fujoshi turf” (sorry to quibble!).

    Lastly, going on what very little information I was able to find after a cursory dig around, it seems likely that these bars (founded mainly by cross-dressing women, often ex Takarazuka otokoyaku) catered to a very different clientele than do current butler cafes, although I would not be surprised if they fulfilled a similar function for their different demographics.

    For instance, the bars founded in the 70s (‘onabe bars’) originally catered to a broad audience including, but not limited to, affluent straight women and men, famous actresses, female wrestlers and lesbians and bisexual women, all of whom presumably gained something different from the experience.

    On the other hand, I beleive I am not wrong in saying that the customers at modern-day butler cafes in Ikebukuro are mainly fujoshi, in particular, young, school-age fujoshi.

  23. AC Says:

    Heya, just a few things I wanted to point out.

    I personally believe why fujoshi tend to shun otaku or, not seeing them as a potential lover, is because yaoi/BL tend to be a beautification of the reality. As my knowledge goes, all of the guys in that genre, seems to be accomplished of something. Be it in looks/personality/intelligence. Thus otaku, especially, as potrayed by the media, sort of shattered their fantasy.

    Regarding them being silent about their status of fujoshi, it actually goes both way with otaku. I do have once read, real veteran otaku would never states themselves as one. In fact, some would took it as insult. I guess its because of how the media started to potray otaku in the early `90s and thus creating the negative misconception around the word. Therefore, an undesirable term, due to the importance they place on their standing in the society.

    I believe only, the newer generation are starting to accept the term and use it openly. Perhaps its also because of the influence from all over the world.

    Regarding the bars, I do belive it could be partly influenced by the Post war era of Japan where there were many bars of women cosplaying (in US sailors uniform/geisha etc)

    -I wanted to ask if there are any comparisons between the fujoshi, their stories of “boys love” and the fanbase of Takarazuka?-

    Do wiki Takarazuka and read about them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takarazuka_Revue

    They actually talked about what I called, another probable seed of yaoi/yuri/BL genre. Here I quote it “So while Takarazuka “reinforces the status quo and sublimates women’s desires through its dreamy narratives, there remains some possibility that certain spectators find it empowering simply to watch women play men.”

    Few factors that pushed the existance of fujoshi would also be “Rose of versailles” and Kaoru Kurimoto’s “Shōnen Ai Mono” … and perhaps, though tad weird, would be Osamu Tezuka’s “Ribon no Kishi”

    And Tezuka’s Ribon no Kishi, actually stemmed from the fact that, he, as a youth, often goes to watch Takarazuka.

    (All of this seemed to be sort of factors that affect each other.)

    Nevertheless, I personally think that this genre, came from the fact that the women, during that time, felt opressed by the overbearing men and the takarazuka is sort of a fantasy world where we are all equal or women had the same standing as men. Oh and perhaps why BL tend to have the man, pretty and stuff, might have originated from the creation of Takarazuka.

    Another factor that I think is quite important to be noted, is that lesbianism/bisexuallity/homosexuality existed from very early japanese history. (Might had been a practice from the mainland. That I am not sure) Often discussed are times during the Bakufu-Shinsengumi era, where homosexuallity (Secretly? Needs confirmation. From my information, its an open relationship.) thrived and accepted as male bonding.

    I also read, due to the fact that monk can not marry, they actually have brothel where all their workers are pretty young male who cross dressed as girl. (I need more information regarding this one, do share if you have them.)

    Anyhow, the complex system of japanese history, culture and society are perhaps, the one that created this genre.

    [Thank you for reading my rambling and all of this are from top of my head and personal opinion. I apologize if I had unconciously insulted anyone.]