Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

Sociology and Social Policy

Research Student: Jane Wallace

The media and gender diverse identities in Japan

Photo of Jane Wallace

Representations of gender diversity are ubiquitous in the Japanese mainstream media. Characters that seemingly challenge a binary understanding of gender range across genres, from comics aimed at young girls to late-night variety shows broadcast across the country.

During research conducted for my Master’s degree I found that in the text I studied (IS: Neither Male nor Female by Rokuhana Chiyo) representations of diversity were heavily managed by both genre and the wider context of commercial media production in Japan. Additionally, despite recent developments in Shibuya Ward (Tokyo), legal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, and gender-queer individuals living in Japan remains scant. Thus, in some instances, media representations of gender diversity essentialise and obscure the lived reality of individuals who self-identify as LGBT and/or queer in Japan.

This research aims to understand the effects that competing media discourses and gendered scripts have on the lived experience of gender diverse individuals, with specific focus on the complex processes involved in the development of personal identities.

Background

I participated in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) in Japan in 2004, which is where I first became interested in Japanese culture and society. My undergraduate degree was in History, so my initial interest was in the history of Japan. After returning to the UK, I worked in the private sector for a number of years, but any spare time was always dedicated to reading about Japan and learning Japanese. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to take my interest in Japan further and studied for my Master’s in Japanese Studies at Leeds University.

What motivated me to undertake PhD study?

My Master’s dissertation focused on the textual analysis of a Japanese comic book series that included the themes of changing gender and same-sex romance. Whilst writing my Master’s dissertation I began to read more about gender studies and LGBT issues in Japan. I became fascinated by the complexity of researching gender diversity in Japan, and the range of research already conducted in this field. I consequently decided that I wanted to continue research in the field of LGBT and queer studies in Japan, but with a focus on ethnographic approaches.

What makes me passionate about my subject?

When I visited Japan at the end of 2014 for a language-training course, I was already working on research that would use an ethnographic approach. I knew I wanted to improve my ability to talk about my research with people in Japanese, and I felt that the best way to do this was full immersion in an environment where these issues were discussed regularly. As a result, I decided that I would volunteer at a non-profit organisation established to help LGBT and queer individuals living in Kansai (the Osaka, Nara and Kyoto area of Japan). In the end, I volunteered at two different organisations and as I began to get to know people, and the organisations they were involved in, my passion for research in this area increased a great deal. I have so much more to learn about my area of research, and my volunteering experience helped me to understand how much work there is to be done in this field. My experiences helping out at NPOs and attending public events has fuelled my passion to continue with my work.

What are my plans once I have completed my PhD?

I would like to find an academic job in the field of Japanese Studies. Although my focus for my PhD is narrow, I am interested in Japanese culture and society more broadly as well. I would like to pass on some of this passion and enthusiasm on to younger students who are just starting out in University.

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