Archive for the History of Yuri Category

Why We Call It “Yuri” on Anime Feminist

August 10th, 2017

In the 20 years I’ve been watching, reading, writing and speaking about stories of lesbians and lesbian relationships in anime and manga, a lot of things have changed. In the 1990s, western fans were coining phrases like “shoujo-ai” and “shounen-ai” to enforce what they saw as differences between pure” romance between girls and adult lesbian sex. The distinction was arbitrary, and more in line with western morals than Japanese standards. Those words have since been all but abandoned for being more related to pedophilia than woman or men in same-sex relationships. Likewise Juné, Yaoi, 801 have all come and gone and come back again to describe pretty boys in sexual and romantic relationships For the most part we’ve landed on “Boys Love” as the definitive (for now) genre term. 

Yesterday on Anime Feminist I discuss why we call our genre Yuri and not, say, the (seemingly obvious) analogous phrase “Girls Love.”  Even more importantly, I recall the roots of the term in lesbian culture, roots I and other lesbian creators and fans feel are critical to keeping the genre about us, telling our stories, as opposed to letting the stories be dictated by those who haven’t experienced them. 


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Take a look at Why We Call It Yuri on Anime Feminist – and thanks to the AF team for being so awesome and giving me space to tell my story! 


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How Lesbian Social and Political Activism Helped Give Birth to Yuri Manga

May 21st, 2017

This was originally presented at the Queers & Comics conference, on April 14th, 2017 as part of the “History of Queer Manga” panel.

Here on Okazu, we’ve gone over the history of Yuri in previous essays, tracing the tropes developed in literary roots of “S” stories of early 20th century Japan, to mid-century exploration of sexuality and gender by the Magnificent 49ers.

But it’s worth reminding ourselves that, in the late 20th century, sexual and gender revolutions occurred on a scale that had never previously been seen in the social and political spheres. Anti-war protests and feminism all became part of public discourse and media coverage in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Japan, just as they were doing in America. Communities of intention were built by feminists, by lesbians both inside and outside of feminist groups and by radical feminists and lesbian separatists, looking to create a new kind of society. Today I want to briefly discuss the place lesbian communications had in the birth of what, 30 years later, would become a new genre of Japanese media.

In America, the oldest lesbian organization is known as the Daughters of Bilitis. Founded in 1955, the group was active through 1972. During that time, the founders collected many books and periodicals both about and by lesbians to assist them in their stated goals.  These publications included The Ladder, The Daughter of Bilitis’ own newsletter that included information, interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. Collections of these publications can be found at the Lesbian Herstory Archives in NYC and GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, if you’re interested in taking a look.

1971 was, for our discussion today, a significant moment. As feminism grew in importance, the first known formal lesbian community was established in Japan, Wakakusa no Kai (Fresh Green Club). This name was meant to literally represent the fact that it was a “grassroots” organization. Wakakusa no Kai did not disband completely until the mid-80s. 

1971 also saw the creation of Japan’s first commercial gay magazine, Barazoku. By 1976 , the editor, Itou Bungaku, included a page for lesbians, which provided information on how to get in touch with lesbian groups and printed letters by lesbians looking to meet other women. This page was called “Yurizoku no Heya” the “Lily Tribe’s Room”. This is generally credited as the origin of the term “Yuri” in regards to lesbian-themed media. 

In the days before the Internet, the most common way a lesbian had to meet other woman like herself was to go to a gay bar that allowed lesbians or, perhaps, a lesbian party night at a gay bar. If she lived near enough to a big enough city, there might even be a lesbian bar. A Japanese lesbian would find, as her American counterpart might, flyers for lesbian events or groups. Letter columns and personal ads in magazines like Gekkou or Barazoku could function as a lifeline, especially for more provincial lesbians, for whom the big city was both literally and figuratively far away. But a lesbian life was a fantasy that few could embrace. Manga of this period that included lesbians at all, tended to show one partner leaving to be married or dying, leaving the other with unfulfilled longing that could never be resolved. This image shows a flyer from 1981 that advertises a “marriage meeting” for gay men and lesbians who wished to marry to fulfill familial obligations. 

As lesbian groups developed and grew, it made sense to create newsletters to communicate with and among members and non-member readers.  In 1976 Subarashi Onnatachi, the first lesbian feminist newsletter was begun. It only lasted one issue, but others publications arose: Hikari Guruma and Za Daiku  in 1978. By 1982, “Lesbian Communications” by groups like Regumi Studio and mini-magazines were popular in the lesbian community for sharing information, interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. 

These newsletters and mini-magazines, somewhat naturally led to the creation of the first lesbian magazines in Japan.

In 1995, Japan’s first lesbian magazine, Phryne premiered.


While Phryne only lasted 2 issues, editor Hagiwara Mami went on to create Anise magazine in 1997. Like Phryne, and the lesbian “communications” of the 1980s, these magazines included interviews with lesbians, guides to women’s bars and lesbian parties,  comics, fiction, reviews of media and even horoscopes. 

At the same time, LOUD (Lesbians of Unusual Drive) was created as a sex-positive organization. They took their communications online, to a lesbian-focused BBS and, eventually a blog. Inevitably, these media would still provide space for sharing event information, personal ads, comics and interviews, opinions, stories and news about lesbian life. 

Among the comics creators being published in these magazines and on these websites were names that would go on to put out self-published works at the increasingly popular comic markets being held in Tokyo and other Japanese cities. These doujinshi could be informative publications about gay life or fan works pairing up characters from popular anime or manga series. Even well-known novelists got their start in these magazines, in which chapters, that would later be collected, were originally published.

Lesbian newsletters had morphed from typed and mimeographed creations to slick publications with color photos, original art and stories, but the core concepts – stories and news about lesbian life – remained at the center.

These lesbian newsletters provided an environment that fostered creativity by and for lesbians, covered issues of immediate interest to lesbians and made it possible for young artists to create lesbian work long before the word “lesbian” was something one uttered in public. Some of these artists moved on to mainstream publishers and left their lesbian roots behind them in order to reach a broader audience. Other artists went on to build a following by creating parody comics of popular series and evolving over time to creating original art that was picked up by magazine publishers.  Many of the most popular names in Yuri manga got their start this way, using the  springboard of lesbian communications to launch a career.

And, in this way, these lesbian communications – these newsletters, magazines and doujinshi – made room for an entire generation of lesbian artists to openly draw the stories they wanted to read, about the characters they wanted to read about, and helped to eventually give birth to the Yuri genre.

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Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana Monogatari, Part 2 (花物語 下)

April 6th, 2017

Today I award myself a Yuri History Achievement Badge. I have finished Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana Monogatari, Part 2 (花物語 下).

So many dead girls.

Girls died from starvation, illness, train accident, ship sinking, and at least one threw herself off a tower. It would be creative if it were, say MURCIÉLAGO, but as it it wasn’t, it was actually a little distressing.

The second half of the series continues the trend we saw in the first half of the collection, as stories became longer and longer as the series went on. In some cases, it worked and others not so much. I will say this about Yoshiya-sensei’s writing – as she has more time/page count to spend on story, she never fell back into lazy writing. Characters get more developed and fleshed out and while large, overarching themes repeat, none of the stories are themselves repetitious.

This second half is notable for containing the fascinating, yet ultimately depressing, Yellow Rose (which has been wonderfully translated by Dr. Sarah Frederick and is available digitally. I recommend it highly and hope you’ll all consider picking it up  For a mere $2.99, you can read one of Nobuko’s best-known, and genuinely interesting stories.

Of the two stories that stick with me, most I have completely failed to remember which flowers they were attached to. ^_^; One, exceedingly long story, spoke of two sisters, one plain and of average intelligence and accomplishment who sacrifices everything to help her musically talented and attractive younger sister to thrive after they are orphaned. It was such a massive ball of misery that just kept dragging on. It never became hopeless, it just didn’t end, and then she died. Well, then. But her sister, at least, did thrive, and I suppose that made it all worth it. Somehow. 

My second-favorite tale was about a young woman who lived alone with her mother and younger sister who quits school to begin working. The description of the office workplace, with the female secretarial and typist pools working with the male staff was fabulous. It was if suddenly we were catapulted from the turn of the century into a 20th century background that we would instantly find recognizable. Men and women smoking in the office(!) and the young typist forming a strong affinity for the woman who ran the typist pool. It was all so 1930s urban. I could picture the clothes very clearly. ^_^ This stood out because, along with Yellow Rose, it portrayed a young woman becoming a professional typist as a kind of freedom and also as a kind of bondage.

Also very interestingly, the second half includes bullying at school – of the sniping behind one’s back kind – and a few stories which were built around betrayal.

If there was one theme, though, that kept repeating, it was the way in which young women interacted with the technologies of the day. From a steam train ride through a horrible frightening storm, to war-time telegraphs, to typing, this books is set firmly in the 20th century in a way that the first half just wasn’t. City vs country was another motif. A number of the stories contrasted urban vs rural. It was pretty obvious that Yoshiya-sensei herself favored the city, but that meant that she often had her characters defend the rural areas with vehemence.

Hana Monogatari was less inside it’s own head than the dense and self-absorbed Yaneura ni Nishojo. The short-story format gave Yoshiya-sensei a chance to really delve into creating different scenarios and the characters who would inhabit them. We spend enough to time with characters, to (in many cases, ) predict the character’s reactions. There’s less frivolity and phantasm in this half, but instead it is filled with a loving look at modern Japanese life in the 1930s through the eyes of young women who lived or died during that time.


Overall – 9

I’m pretty sure that, despite the privation and deaths, I enjoyed the collection as a whole. ^_^ But “Moyuruhana” from the first half still wins and I hope one day to read that in translation. 


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A [Very] Brief History of Yuri

May 22nd, 2016

Here are the full text and graphics I used in my presentation at the Tokyo Comics Showcase, Vol. 1, on May 3, 2016 as part of Tokyo Rainbow Pride. If you have 8 minutes, you can understand where Yuri came from and the why of what you’re looking at.

May 24 update: The video now has a choice of Japanese or English subtitles.  ^_^

If you’d like to use the text and/or graphics for a Yuri Panel of your own, please feel free to contact me!

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Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana Monogatari, Part 1 (花物語 上)

January 10th, 2016

HMono1If I bothered to make New Year’s Resolutions at all, my one resolution for 2016 would have been that the first Japanese novel I completed would be Yoshiya Nobuko’s Hana Monogatari, Part 1 (花物語 上). It was, for most of the 20th century, the definitive collection of girl’s literature in Japan, as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series was in the 20th century for American girls, and as The Babysitters Club is to people younger than I am. ^_^ It is also considered by many people to contain early proto-Yuri work.

And so, after many days of diligently plowing through some amazing – and some amazingly awful – stories, I have fulfilled that non-existent resolution. ^_^

Hana Monogatari, “Flower Tales,” were originally serialized in girl’s magazine Shoujo Gahou from 1916-1924. Each story is named after, and sometimes refers in the story, to a specific flower. The stories follow young women in their teens and early twenties, most often in school, but sometimes as they strike out into adulthood.

The first part of the collection begins with a ribbon story – that is, a scenario that is meant to tie the stories together. In this case, it is a number of middle-aged women, sitting together and reminiscing about their youth. The first dozen or so stories are presented as a flashback, but about midway through the volume, the ribbon story slowly fades and we’re left with a remarkable collection of stories about girls and young women, written by a young woman in Japan in the 1920s.

I’m not going to summarize every story. I honestly couldn’t, simply because there were some where my comprehension was tenuous, to say the least. And I’m kind of on the side of grumpy old folks who say Japanese kids’ reading comprehension has gone down, if this was what was popular with middle school kids in the 1920s! Compare this to most Light Novels being published for adult otaku and Hana Monogatari is practically college-level reading. ^_^;

After reading a number of stories, I started taking notes when a piece really stood out. The first such story was “Cosmos,” sometimes noted as a clearly proto-Yuri story. I’d disagree with that, but that’s an argument for another time.  Cosmos is made up of a girl’s letters to her onee-sama as her mother is in the hospital, ending with her mother dying and the girl having to leave school forever. My note says only “Brutal.” It’s not the only one. Death is a common factor in many of the pieces. The worst of these often had a red shirt on the character from the get-go, such as the younger brother in “Tsuriganesou.” It was instantly obvious the kid was gonna die, but still, the news was presented without a hint of feeling or compassion and I actually flinched when the neglectful uncle bothered to tell his sister. “Ah, um, so…he’s dead.”

“Shiroyuri” was sweet and hopeful, while “Fukujusou” is one of the few stories with what can be considered a “happy ending” when a girl who was parted from her onee-sama meets her again as a young adult.

“Hinageshi” started really beautifully, with two girls meeting at school, dancing in a patch of red poppies flowers and talking while in the rocking chairs in the waiting room, but ended up rather emptily.

“Himomo” was a strange little tale of a girl who is giving and kind, so of course the other girls make fun of her for her sense of responsibility. She has a habit of taking care of what we might think of as a lost and found box. In it, she finds a little set of bookshelves, with lovely letter from a teacher who had to leave the school. I believe this was the first story I read that did not end in a melancholy fashion.

The first story with anything approaching what I would consider to be Yuri, was “Tsuyukusa.” Akitsu and Ryouko love each other, they “yearn” for each other. When they are parted it is harsh and abrupt – and rather cruel on Ryouko’s part. I immediately note the use of the name “Akitsu” – the same name given to one of the protagonists of Yaneura no Nishojo. I wonder who Akitsu was, and what she meant to Yoshiya-sensei. ^_^

“Benibara, Shirobara” was a sweet story that was sweet without melancholy. With the Red Rose/White Rose contrast, I of course saw the kernel of the Rosas of Lillian Academy. ^_^

There were two stories that were really the standouts for me. Of these, we’ll start with “Dahlia,” as I have already brought up Maria-sama ga Miteru. ^_^ This story follows a woman out of school, Touko. Touko has become a nurse in the town in which she attended school. When a former classmate is admitted to the hospital, the former classmate’s rather wealthy and prominent family asks Touko to be their daughter’s private nurse. The head of the hospital strongly encourages her to do that, as it will be good for her both monetarily and prestige-wise. But that night Touko is on the ward comforting a small child whose mother isn’t there and she realizes that this was why she became a nurse. She rejects the offer in order to help people who really need the comfort and companionship. Shades of Marimite‘s Matsudaira Touko lay heavily over me as I read this story, remembering Touko’s own story of early life in a hospital and the nurses there who were kind to her.

The last story of note was really noteworthy. Called “Moyuruhana,” which Dr. Frederick (the scholar who brought us the superb translation of Yellow Rose from Hana Monogatari, which I reviewed in February 2015) suggested be translated as “Smouldering Flower”. This story was…well, it felt sort of like a vampire story without any vampires. Midori becomes infatuated with “Mrs. Kataoka” a new teacher at school. The use of the English “Mrs.” is emphasized, rather than calling her Kataoka-fujin or -sensei. Midori comes to Mrs. Kataoka’s  room one night, where the teacher is described like a “Snow Queen”, pale in the reflected light of the snow outside. Mrs. Kataoka embraces Midori, whispering that young girls like her “are the best.” At this point I read the rest of this story as if it were a kind of Carmilla-esque tale and it worked *perfectly*.  Midori becomes increasingly obsessed, but when she tries to see Mrs. Kataoka again, she’s stopped from entering by a mysterious older woman who strokes a black cat (!).

A guy in a black suit arrives to try to pay off the principal, Wagner-sensei (ya see what I mean about Carmilla, yes?), to hand Mrs.Kataoka over, Wagner-sensei tells Mr. Suspicious to bag off, he threatens the school.

The climax of the story is in fine Gothic form as the school buildings go up in flame and neither Mrs. Kataoka nor Midori can be found and both disappear from the story completely. In the final pages, Wagner-sensei suddenly becomes the protagonist of the story by saving the school.

This was so eyebrow-raisingly amazing a story, I couldn’t wait to tell you about it. ^_^

The initial chapters/stories are short, but as her work grew in popularity, clearly she went from shorter stories to longer ones. As a point of contrast early stories run about 6 pages in this edition and the later stories go as long as 30 or more pages.

Color, too, plays a big part in the stories, as one might expect. Frequently the color of a flower is one of it’s significant qualities. Red roses, violets, tiger lily, daisies, and so on, so you can imagine the scene quite spectacularly clearly when I say “a field of red poppies” or “violets in the garden.” The mood of the story is often tied up in the color associated with it. Lavender twilights and melancholy, golden sunshine and daises, that kind of thing.

My admiration for Yoshiya-sensei jumped up by significant amounts reading this book. While many of the stories were tinged with a melancholy, she manages to play around with tone and voice quite a bit – especially as the stories progress.


Overall – 9

This was not an easy read, there were any number of deaths to deal with, but as I read her work, I’m coming to appreciate it more and more. Hana Monogatari deserves it’s status as the definitive example of early 20th century Japanese girls’ literature. I’m really looking forward to getting to Volume 2!

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