The possibilities of research on fujoshi in Japan

Midori Suzuki

Kyoto Seika University, Kyoto, Japan

[0.1] Keywords—BL; Boys' love; Dōjinshi; Gender; Research; Yaoi

Suzuki, Midori. 2013. "The Possibilities of Research on Fujoshi in Japan." In "Transnational Boys' Love Fan Studies," edited by Kazumi Nagaike and Katsuhiko Suganuma, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 12. doi:10.3983/twc.2013.0462.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Today, people who are referred to as fujoshi exist in every part of the world. Especially in Japan, many women admit to liking genres such as yaoi and boys' love (BL). In the new millennium, the word fujoshi has traveled beyond fannish circles and has come into general use in Japanese popular media, reflecting the fact that fujoshi are no longer necessarily an underground phenomenon. Because I analyze the use of the word fujoshi in multiple discourses, I want to stress that the word does not have a single established definition.

2. From the emergence of the word fujoshi to today

[2.1] I will first trace the origins of the word fujoshi and describe how it became established terminology in Japan. Around the start of the year 2000, the word fujoshi was used mainly in online anime and gaming fan communities. Chizuko Ueno (2007) says that the word was first used around the beginning of the 2000s on the online message board 2channel. At that time, fujoshi indicated a girl or woman who proactively read things in a yaoi fashion, discerning romantic relationships between men where such relationships were not originally intended. The kanji characters for fujoshi are pronounced in the same way as a similar character compound that means simply "woman," but the first character fu (woman) is substituted for a homonym fu (rotten) so that the resulting term, "a woman with rotten thought processes," becomes a self-deprecating label that such women use to refer to themselves. It is assumed that fujoshi was originally meant to refer to women's love of unique and deviant acts of imagining and expressing romantic relationships between men. As such, the word fujoshi was never used for all readers of male-male romance works. This is obvious from the fact that, from the beginning, the term was never applied to male readers. Still, it was common knowledge among both men and women in otaku communities that a preference for expressions of male-male romance was nothing unusual among female fans. However, that preference was not considered quite right for several reasons. For one, both the creation and consumption of yaoi works were seen as activities based on an intentional misreading of source works (note 1)—a kind of misreading to which children, in particular, should not be actively exposed. Another major factor was that for the female fans concerned, there was a certain sense of shame involved in reading as homosexual those male characters whose heterosexuality or sexual orientation had never been explicitly stated in the source works, and in viewing those characters in a sexual way. It is likely that the term fujoshi continued to be used simply because it seemed obvious to everyone exactly what was rotten about a fujoshi.

[2.2] The first occurrence of the word fujoshi in the mass media was in an article on female fans in a special issue of the magazine Aera, published by Asahi Shimbun Publishing and appearing on June 20, 2005 (Sugiura 2006b). The authors of that special issue seemed mostly interested in fujoshi as the female equivalent of male otaku (Sugiura 2006b). In that same year, the success of Train Man (Densha Otoko) had sparked a wave of media interest in otaku.

[2.3] It was only around 2006 that media interest turned toward fujoshi in and of itself. Women who expressed a positive interest in expressions of male-male romance began to be depicted in media aimed at the general public—for instance, in publications such as Yumiko Sugiura's book Otaku Girls Research: Fujoshi Ideology (2006a), and in various manga about fujoshi as exemplified by Ajiko Kojima's 2006 text My Neighbor Yaoi-chan (Tonari no 801chan). In 2006, the magazine Eureka (Seidosha) published two special issues, Fujoshi Manga Compendium (June) and BL Studies (December), about boys' love/shōnen-ai works and their fujoshi fans. Both issues contained critiques and essays by fujoshi from many age groups and professional backgrounds, and they strongly foregrounded insider points of view. They also made references to male readers of yaoi and BL. The word fudanshi, "rotten boy," was used to denote male fans who liked fujoshi-oriented content, indicating that a taste for expressions of male-male romance was not as strictly gendered as was previously assumed.

[2.4] In present-day Japan, the term fujoshi is understood to mean mainly women who are fans or creators of works centered on male-male romance, and the word is common knowledge, especially among younger people and those who have some affinity with otaku. The word is now also used outside of the framework of Net slang.

3. Readers of male-male romance works before fujoshi

[3.1] As mentioned earlier, works centering on male-male romance that were created and enjoyed by women existed before the word fujoshi appeared. For example, at manga dōjinshi conventions such as Comic Market (Comiket), many amateur female creators distributed self-created works featuring male-male romance. From the inauguration of the convention in 1975, a high percentage of Comiket attendees were female fans of manga like those created by Moto Hagio (note 2). Professional female manga-ka were already creating works depicting male-male romance during the second half of the 1970s. Shōjo manga that featured shōnen ai had a strong influence on these works. Yaoi works that were based on existing source works also emerged at this time and focused mainly on beautiful male characters from anime.

[3.2] From 1984 on, Comiket saw a proliferation of yaoi works based on Yōichi Takahashi's Captain Tsubasa (note 3) (Comic Market Preparation Committee 2005), and from the latter half of the 1980s, yaoi fandom became a major presence at manga dōjinshi conventions. It was around this time, and starting with Captain Tsubasa fan works, that many key elements of contemporary yaoi and fan work-creating fandom were first established, such as dōjinshi conventions that focused purely on fan works (note 4) and the publication of manga anthologies of fan works by commercial publishers. Further, the 1990s saw the weakening of a tendency in yaoi fandom to cluster around one single popular source work or genre. I would argue that this development was due to an expansion in the sorts of things that could be read through a yaoi lens as yaoi became more established as a creative technique, as well as to an increase in the number of participants in yaoi fandom. This is evidenced by the fact that from the second half of the 1980s until today, virtually every popular manga that was serialized in the magazine Shōnen Jump (Shūeisha) gained its own yaoi following (note 5).

[3.3] Starting with June in 1978 (Sun Publishing), commercial publishers began to publish manga magazines focused solely on male-male romance. From the late 1990s on, many such magazines were serialized, cementing the commercial manga genre of BL. Most of these manga were created by women, many of whom self-identified as fujoshi in the author introductions of their manga volumes. It is assumed that many readers of these commercial BL manga today are not actively engaged in yaoi fandom, which is to say that the term fujoshi is not necessarily restricted to otaku. In any case, the reading of male-male romance by women was clearly well established before the word fujoshi appeared.

4. Research on fujoshi in Japan

[4.1] As consumption of male-male romance by women became more widespread, research into the phenomenon began to emerge, with researchers evincing a particular interest in the idiosyncrasies of women who like works of male-male romance. Junko Kaneda (2007b) identifies Azusa Nakajima's People Suffering from Poor Communication Syndrome ([1991] 1995) as representative of the early analysis of yaoi/fujoshi theory (note 6). In this text, Nakajima makes a distinction between women who evince an affective pleasure in male-male romance works and otaku, and it focuses on the girls (shōjo) who create and read commercial BL works. Many other yaoi theory works from the 1990s also refer to yaoi fans as girls (shōjo or onna no ko). It seems that fans of male-male romance works were imagined to be mostly young and socially immature women, and that no one felt this group needed a special designation (note 7).

[4.2] Today, however, the word fujoshi is in common use, and research into the characteristics and activities of such fujoshi is carried out frequently. Male-male romance works tailored to the preferences of female readers have diversified, and countless works have been published since the early days of the 1970s. The readership of these works has diversified as well, and it is certainly no longer appropriate in research of that readership to use terminology that fails to sufficiently reflect this diversity, like girl (shōjo or onna no ko). Perhaps it was thought that in order to represent yaoi fandom as a positive activity undertaken by women who are full-fledged participants in society, a new word was necessary to denote the people involved (Kaneda 2007a).

[4.3] Let us turn to the question of exactly who is being talked about when researchers use the word fujoshi. Sugiura (2006b) presents fujoshi as an appropriate designation not just for fans of yaoi or BL, but for all women who are fans of anime, manga, and the like. However, this definition is not generally accepted in reader studies or fan studies. For example, studies of women who create fan works may refer to the existence of the term fujoshi, but they don't use it as a general term for women who create fan works (Natō 2007; Kaneda 2007a). The reason for this is that female fan creators' works do not fall in the yaoi category by definition. In sociological and literary studies, the word fujoshi is used not as a general term for female otaku but to designate women with a preference for the kind of male-male romance works found in yaoi and BL. I should also mention that fujoshi is obviously not the only term used to denote readers of male-male romance. Fan activities centered on male-male romance have different roots and different characteristics according to place; for instance, there is the Western tradition of slash fan fiction. The fans involved will also have different ways of referring to themselves. Studies of women who enjoy male-male romance works should pay close attention to the terminology used to talk about fans.

5. What it means to study fujoshi

[5.1] Why have fujoshi become an object of study? No doubt one of the main reasons is that the activities of fujoshi take place on such a large scale that academic studies simply cannot afford to ignore them. One of the earliest approaches taken by researchers was to focus on the idiosyncrasies and deviance of women who like male-male romance works, rather than to consider a connection with the participating fans' own sexuality. Long before outsider researchers began to study "why these women like these things," though, fujoshi had themselves already repeatedly considered that same question (Nakajima [1991] 1995, [1998] 2005). Kaneda (2007b) argues that this early research was significant because it presented yaoi as a phenomenon that could be understood even by people who were not directly involved in it. The exploding popularity of yaoi and BL in the 1990s brought a wave of research into the meanings of fujoshi activity. Much of this research was conducted by researchers who self-identified as fujoshi and wrote from an insider perspective. It is likely that this was at least in part a reaction to the tendency of otaku studies research on content consumption and amateur content creation to focus on the activities of male fans, with female fans often being relegated to the margins. Obviously it would be incorrect to map out the preferences and activities of the fans involved and conclude that female otaku and fujoshi are one and the same group. Still, given the fact that large numbers of women do participate in manga dōjinshi conventions and yaoi fan work production, their presence absolutely cannot be ignored within otaku and fan studies (note 8).

[5.2] Considering the importance of fujoshi to fan studies, as well as the massive commercial and noncommercial output of male-male romances, I see two important research questions that future studies might consider. First, although it is certainly possible to discern a relationship between acts of reading male-male romance and taking pleasure in them, is it possible to make a theoretical distinction between these two things? Second, what are the limits of the gendered categorizations indicated by such terms as fujoshi (rotten girl) and fudanshi (rotten boy)? Anyone conducting research on contemporary fujoshi should keep these two questions in mind.

[5.3] Finally, I briefly want to consider the impact that the word fujoshi has on those who use it. Young people have been influenced the most by this term. Fujoshi was already widely used by the time most younger fans first encountered male-male works, which is probably why they tend to accept the term without reservation. Nevertheless, even today, one established convention among fans is the importance of keeping talk of the pleasures of male-male romance to a minimum outside the otaku community. There are many reasons why this convention persists (note 9). One is probably that although establishing themselves as deviant beings called fujoshi allows fans to craft an identity that sets them apart from others, it also affords outsiders a means of justifying their repression.

[5.4] There is also a tendency to see the word fujoshi—"rotten girl"—as a fitting term for women who not only have a preference for male-male romance, but also explicitly engage with works containing such romance by reading them and creating derivative works. This connotation of the word can be seen not only among people who have no ties to otaku/fan activities, but also among those within the otaku community itself. We could interpret these reasons as indicative of an evolution in the meaning originally attached to the word fujoshi; additionally, it suggests that the people who use this word are not always in agreement about who exactly fujoshi are. The various meanings encompassed by the word fujoshi are an important topic of discussion in contemporary otaku/fan studies. Fujoshi research must always specify exactly whose activities, and what kind of activities, are being examined.

6. Conclusion

[6.1] It has been over 10 years since the word fujoshi first appeared in Japan, and several years have passed since the term came into general use. Moreover, a great many works featuring male-male romance now exist, and just as what are now classic texts drew in the first generation of readers, contemporary BL will probably entice many more new fans. There are already considerable limitations to discourses about fujoshi that focus solely on one characteristic of these fans, namely their preference for male-male romance works created by women. Still, it is clear that yaoi fan works are being created by manga readers around the world, that BL is an established commercial manga genre, and that activities focusing on male-male romances are an important trend in contemporary popular culture. Research on fujoshi should provide important clues as to the characteristics of these trends and their function in society.

7. Acknowledgments

[7.1] The contents of this article are based on the author's MA thesis, which was submitted in February 2012. This article was translated from the Japanese by Nele Noppe.

8. Notes

1. The fact that the source works' creators and media companies consider such derivative works copyright infringement and are wary of their possible influence on the reputation of the source works no doubt played a role as well.

2. The majority of Comiket participants are now girls and women.

3. Captain Tsubasa was serialized as a manga in the magazine Shōnen Jump (Shūeisha) from 1981 to 1988. An anime series was broadcast beginning in 1983.

4. These dōjinshi conventions were organized not just by company entities, but also on the initiative of fan creators themselves (Nishimura 2002).

5. Genre codes are used to divide dōjinshi circles at Comiket, and the code "FC (Jump)," meaning dōjinshi based on manga serialized in Shōnen Jump, was established in the 1990s as a subcategory of the genres manga and FC (fan clubs). Individual source works that are very popular sometimes receive a genre code of their own.

6. Nakajima's theories as outlined in People Suffering from Poor Communication Syndrome and the book that followed it, The Children of Thanatos (first published in 1998 by Chikuma Shobō), greatly influenced subsequent research into yaoi and fujoshi. For this article, I used the 1995 and 2005 Chikuma Bunko editions of these books.

7. On the other hand, works by Nakajima ([1991] 1995, [1998] 2005), Kazuko Nimiya (1995), and others do allude to generational transitions in the meaning and appreciation of yaoi. They discuss the possibility that depictions of male-male romance and their readership will be expressed through different trends over time.

8. Examples of works that discuss the characteristics of fujoshi as manga readers and the relationship between manga dōjinshi and yaoi include Itō (2007), Fujimoto (2007), and Yonezawa (1991). These works were presented as research on manga.

9. The problems related to copyright and expressions of sexual content that surround derivative works, as well as the general lack of understanding about women who like works containing male-male romance or pornography, are also probably contributing factors.

9. Works cited

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