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January 16, 2008

Hard Gay: cooking with children
Posted by Teresa at 02:52 PM *

Hard Gay is the wildly energetic emcee, or star, or something, of a Japanese cooking show for children. He gets them to eat food they previously thought was yucky. The kids are fine with this. Beyond that, words sort of fail me.

Sean (nee Bosker) Sakamoto, who sent it to us, has the same problem. He lives in Japan and is a fairly unflappable guy, and yet:

I can’t describe this to you in a way that will get past the spam filter. All I can say is that it’s the Best/Worst thing I’ve ever seen. It is totally safe for work. It’s a cooking show from Japan with children, and yet, entirely inappropriate.

I need a new word for culture shock.

Comments on Hard Gay: cooking with children:
#1 ::: Duncan J Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 03:22 PM:

What a Wonderful Thread Title!

Visions of Zombies chanting "Braaaaaiiiinnnnssss"!

#2 ::: Horace Rumpole ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 03:34 PM:

Mmmm, children.

#3 ::: Cynthia ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 03:41 PM:

Wow. It isn't easy to render me speechless, yet this did the trick. What a bizarre, bizarre show.

I will never, ever understand Japanese TV.

#4 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 03:47 PM:

Oh dear. The very idea of Hard Gay. Cooking. For kids.

Having looked at it. Yup. It's exactly what I imagined it would be.

It's hard to describe exactly what Hard Gay is. He's somewhere between game show host, comedian and idol. Sort of like Borat, except without being precisely foreign to his intended audience. Well, more foreign than leatherboi.

All that said, this is one of the better Hard Gay shenanigans I've seen.

#5 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:15 PM:

I can't look at videos at work. Is Hard Gay his name in Japanese, or a translation?

#6 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:21 PM:


Given the choice of grinding food into a pasta sauce, waiting until the kid's older and trying again, and donning a leather costume and putting on a three-ring circus (and paying the therapy bill for *that*)...

...I'll just wait a while, thanks.

(I had two finicky eaters. They're both eating just fine, and the gray streaks they drove through my hair in the concerning "white food only, no texture" period? They look marvelous.)

#7 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:29 PM:

Xopher @ #5.

Yes, his name is written "Ha-do Gei," Spelled with the Kana for western borrow words. Hard Gay is his name in Japanese.

Actually, when I was in Japan, I heard the words "gay" and "homo" used most often for gay men describing themselves. When we went with our friend to this tiny Japanese gay bar and stayed there for a few hours drinking with the owner and waiters, they spoke little to no english, but always used "homo" "bi" and "straight."

#8 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:30 PM:

oh gods. I have a picky eater, but i'm not trying this.

I don't have words.

#9 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:31 PM:

At first I wondered whether the name "Hard Gay" was chosen with any knowledge whatsoever of what that actually means. Or if he just shops frequently at Hard Off (actual name of national Japanese chain of used computer/electronic stuff) and thought it would be cool.

But now that I've watched the video, I'm sure he knew *exactly* what he was doing. :}

When I was in Japan last month I didn't watch much tv, but what I saw was truly surreal. The first thing I saw was the Hello, Kitty! morning show, to which I could only say "but of COURSE" *facepalm*. Later on I saw a show that seemed to be Iron Chef for families -- mothers and children having some sort of a cook-off against one another. In the bit I saw, they were making pancakes. I think the kid won.

#10 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:34 PM:

Hard Gay has been around for a while (wiki article for background). In fact, I think Masakai Sumitani has retired the character due to overexposure (snerk).

I recommend the ramen and Tomy episodes.

Having said that, there's also this little voice at the back of my head that last got its workout after I saw Spike Lee's Bamboozled, one that says, "Jackass, you're laughing at a minstrel show!"

#11 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:39 PM:

I watched a lot of "Japanese Television that happened to be on when I went down to the dining room" while I was living in a boarding house in Japan. (Boarding houses are still quite a popular option for students or single young people, especially girls. The one I was in had a maximum capacity of probably about 150-180 people).

Most shows seem to be just what is portrayed here: Weird, 'live' segments about people or animals, with celebrities commenting during or after them. There is even more fascination with celebrity and a higher celebrity-to-normal-person ratio in Japan than in the US.

One of the most strangely fascinating things I ever watched was two people, an older distinguished actor and a young rock star, playing Jenga. They'd cut back to the Jenga playing periodically throughout the variety show. By the end of dinner, I couldn't leave without seeing who won, and I lingered in the dining hall about 15 minutes after I finished eating.

#12 ::: Adam Rakunas ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:42 PM:

Oh, and I forgot: we actually found one of the toys from the Tomy video in a Yokohama bar last Worldcon.

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 04:58 PM:

Ye gods and small fishes. That's a children's show?

#14 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 05:08 PM:

That's like some kind of mix of Pee Wee Herman and LSD.

#15 ::: Nick Fagerlund ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 05:10 PM:

My friend Laura, who lives in the Kansai, has also tried and failed to explain Hard Gay to me. (Through no fault of her own, he added unnecessarily.)

#16 ::: A. Nakama ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 05:48 PM:

Actually, the show is something of a variety show, with Hard Gay doing a variety of bizarre things and accosting passers-by. It's amusing to watch the reactions he gets, like the children in that video who dance along and run away at the same time. As Leah@11 mentioned, that kind of show is incredibly common in Japan.

He started as the funny-man in the manzai duo. Manzai itself is an interesting version of stand-up comedy in Japan, but it doesn't exactly translate well.

My favorites are the episodes where he tries to get this guy the courage the ask a girl on a date and his father's day special. It's, uh... special.

#17 ::: Zak ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 06:20 PM:

Oh yes. The Father's Day special is exactly as described. See it for yourself.

#18 ::: Ron Sullivan ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 06:24 PM:

"Entirely inappropriate" is absolutely right! Nothing on this green Earth could possibly make natto appropriate.

#19 ::: Melissa (oddharmonic) ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 07:02 PM:

Natto is perfectly appropriate... when cooking breakfast for hungover people who complain that menudo is nasty.

#20 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 07:03 PM:

I think that sound was my brain imploding.


Yes, that is gray matter running from my ears.

I look at something like this and all I can summon is awe. Who first thought of this? It's like being the first person to look at a lobster and imagine the possibility of drawn butter.

#21 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 07:07 PM:

OK, the Father's Day one is brilliant. I think I've gone all the way around the other side of horror. (I actually like the English lesson).

Someone, wash my brain out for me!

#22 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 07:08 PM:

Well, the content may very well be SFW, but the link? I'm not even going to consider putting that URL in my browsing history at work!

And the comments make me even more curious. Must wait until I'm safe at home!

#23 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 07:14 PM:

I've been watching clips for the past couple hours. This is some seriously funny stuff. I love the way crowds swirl away from him like schools of fish. I swear they form bait balls.

#24 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 08:04 PM:

This was just forwarded to me. There's a video of a performance, too.

"The Vegetable Orchestra performs music solely on instruments made of vegetables. Using carrot flutes, pumpkin basses, leek violins, leek-zucchini-vibrators, cucumberophones and celery bongos, the orchestra creates its own extraordinary and vegetabile sound universe. The ensemble overcomes preserved and marinated sound conceptions or tirelessly re-stewed listening habits, putting its focus on expanding the variety of vegetable instruments, developing novel musical ideas and exploring fresh vegetable sound gardens."

#25 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 08:05 PM:

Hard Gay has indeed been around for a long time. You can buy lots of Hard Gay merchandise, if you like, in Tokyo.

As for what he is, he's a perfectly standard "talent" in Japan, which is basically a professional celebrity guest. In the evening they have fun playing weird games and going "ehhh?" in tiny boxes in the corner of screens, but in the daytime they have to be bored silly sitting around watching non-"ehhh?"-worthy things in terrible daytime shows for housewives.

#26 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 08:29 PM:

Hmm. Site wants to install a browser plugin for DivX, but it's not from the DivX site. Color me suspicious. Are we sure this is safe?

(Ideally, I'd like it to be safe as in "Someone I trust inspected the code" rather than safe as in "everyone else seems to be fine"...)

#27 ::: Jessica ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 08:32 PM:

Michael: You can pull up quite a few Hard Gay episodes from youtube, many of them subtitled.

#28 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 08:35 PM:

Yeah, Michael, I'm shying away from that DivX plugin too.

#29 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 08:45 PM:

Hard Gay - Cooking With Kids on YouTube.

That's among the most repulsive things I've ever seen in my life. And I agree with the comment at the end - the kid was just saying OK so this hideous apparition would leave him the hell alone.

What the hell IS natto, anyway? It certainly looked repulsive. And I cannot BELIEVE they thought mixing it with coffee would make it good for kids.

And you know what? Take my favorite thing in the world, and make a sandwich with it and whipped cream, and I won't eat it.

#30 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 08:52 PM:

Xopher @29 - natto is yet another way of making fermented soy beans into food.

It's delicious - but very much an acquired taste.

Much, I imagine, like Japanese TV.

#31 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 08:56 PM:

Oh My Lord.

Japanese shows exist to give my laughing muscles a good workout, it seems. (And on a side note, Hard Gay must have thighs of steel to be pumping his pelvis like that.)

#32 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 09:01 PM:

My sister-in-law has recently developed a taste for natto, which has my brother very, very frightened.

#33 ::: LMB MacAlister ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 10:02 PM:

Oh my. How delightful. I know how I'm going to be spending the next hour or so.

#34 ::: jayskew ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 10:18 PM:


"What the hell IS natto, anyway?"

It's a traditional children's breakfast food.
Fermented soybean curd is accurate, but doesn't begin to describe it.
Think cod liver oil for a vague equivalent.
When the boy eats it and sticky threads string from his mouth, that's natto, all right.

Hard Gay deserves a medal for getting a natto hater to eat it.

#35 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 10:32 PM:

I once successfully ate a piece of natto sushi. It's not an experience I care to relive.

#36 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 10:49 PM:

How do I loathe natto? Let me count the ways.

1.) The slimy/stringy texture, which intensifies when stirred.

2.) The bitter/alkaline taste, reminiscent of particularly stinky blue cheese.

3.) The spoiled/ammonia stench.

I'll eat darn near anything. I'm even attempting to make a batch of miso in my kitchen from soybeans, koji, and salt (it's been aging for nearly three months now, and is starting to develop a nice plausibly miso-like flavor). But natto? Blech.

(Though iirc from the original Japanese incarnation of "Iron Chef" (it used to be aired with English subtitles in the Bay Area) Battle Natto fared far better with the judges than one iteration of Battle Potato that resulted in things like "potato-curry ice cream".)

#37 ::: Wrye ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 10:50 PM:

The only way I ever found natto to be palatable was the one time I had it deep-fried. It's not an issue of taste, it's texture. Natto is incredibly slimy and sticky. Any foreigner who has lived in Japan also finds it incredibly tiresome, as "Do you like Natto?" is the one question that every Japanese person knows how to ask a foreigner. And so you wind up answering that question pretty much every day you are in Japan. On average, anyway.

#38 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 11:00 PM:

All the descriptions I've ever heard for natto makes it sound loathsome. Julie L, you've just finished me for ever trying it if it should ever be offered.

I like all manner of odd and strangely flavored things, but all I hear about natto it sounds like the texture would be extremely off-putting. As in toss-my-stomach off-putting.

#39 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 11:02 PM:

Likewise. No natto shall pass these lips!

#40 ::: Melissa (oddharmonic) ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 11:16 PM:

Julie L.@36: You are much more adventurous than I am to make your own miso. We just buy a brand of semi-locally-made miso paste (Miso Master) to minimize the shipping impact and call it good enough.

All the interesting cultures in our refrigerator are for cheesemaking.

#41 ::: Mark Wise ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 11:32 PM:

Folsom Street meets Sesame Street. Wow. There are people I must share this with.

I'm another member of the minority of wakkos that likes natto, especially in makizushi. A usual fringe benefit of ordering it is a chat with the chef.

#42 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 11:34 PM:

Looking at the clips on You Tube, it seems that the "cooking for kids" sketch is a one off. It that his usual gig, or is he a general-purpose shock-the-normals type guy?

#43 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 16, 2008, 11:56 PM:

I had a girlfriend who's mother was born in Japan (her parents met while he was with the Army of occupation), she made me a dinner, it had some delicacy which had not only a pleasantly fermented seaweed, but also natto and raw quail eggs.

She wasn't too hurt when I flat out refused.

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 12:07 AM:

Site wants to install a browser plugin for DivX, but it's not from the DivX site.

I went to the DivX site and downloaded the plugin from there. Aside from wanting to install the Yahoo Toolbar, it was okay, and ran the clips fine.

#45 ::: Christopher Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 12:20 AM:


I lived in Japan for eight years, and by the end I really enjoyed natto* - especially with rice for breakfast, but also plain by the spoonful.

To my bafflement, however, and the general disbelief of my Japanese friends, I could never smell it. I've had several varieties, fresh and packaged; none had any discernible odour. I can't explain it; my nose seems otherwise functional.

*nankotsu, however - deep-fried chicken cartilage - I wouldn't touch. Shudder.


#46 ::: Michael Beasely ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 01:08 AM:

I thought hard gay was just a play on words, lol. I fell dirty for clicking on the link.

#47 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 01:21 AM:

Wow. I lived in Japan for nigh on eighteen months, and I don't remember ever even seeing that stuff, much less having it offered to me to eat.

I'm so glad.

The show does take me back, though. I used to think Japanese TV was the weirdest in the world until we had this influx of "reality" shows a few years back.

#48 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 01:31 AM:

Another odd Japanese product is konnyaku, seemingly a craft material misclassified as a foodstuff. No flavour (or calories), just a disturbingly rubbery texture.

For transgressive culinary experiences here, I'm looking forward to trying konowata (fermented sea cucumber intestines) and funazushi (fermented sushi). I suspect the purpose of both of them is to provide an excuse to drink massive quantities of alcohol in order to get rid of the taste, if not the very memory.

A currently popular "talent" is underpant maestro Yoshio Kojima, who is obviously making a lot of people happy somehow...

#49 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 01:37 AM:

Ok - now my sides hurt from laughing.

But my opinion of natto remains unchanged. Blech.

#50 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 02:05 AM:

Linkmeister (#47) "I used to think Japanese TV was the weirdest in the world until we had this influx of "reality" shows a few years back."
Those of you who've seen some of Clive James' talk?/variety?/tonight? show episodes during the 1980s and '90s probably remember that one of the running (crawling, sliding, falling down) jokes was showing segments of some of the odder Japanese mild torture/entertainment shows.

I've wondered since then if it was that exposure to them that sparked some of the ideas of just how far it was possible to go in the "minds" of the "people" who designed those reality & humiliation-by-quiz shows.
OTOH, I have memories of reading of some similar sorts of game shows in Brunner's The Sheep Look Up (1972), which I'm glad to see back in print (unless it was in Spinrad's Bug Jack Barron (1969))

#51 ::: George Smiley ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 02:09 AM:

Horace @2: As they say in Virginia, Kids First!

#52 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 07:09 AM:

Kojima Yoshio's a riot. And if you don't believe me, I can start a riot by reporting your disbelief to the 500 Junior High Students I intermittently teach. 90% of them have never been outside of Hiroshima city, and the other 10% have never been overseas, but for Kojima, they'd band together and build a blimp or something, just to riot in your home-town.

Okay, not really. Maybe 6 months ago they would have. But in all honesty, Kojima's pretty funny, especially if you can catch him when his appearance is longer than just the song & dance.

Regarding Hard Gay... I've been a fan for about 2 years now, around when I first found out about his existence. I tend to think flagrantly inappropriate behavior is funny when it's not actually being a pest (which is why Tom Greene wasn't funny).

But the thing that's best about watching Hard Gay with children (the best thing about watching him in general is, of course, the comedy) is how truly strongly it drives the point home that the kids don't notice the sexual (not sub)text of what HG is doing. They think the crotch motion is odd, but it's not like "Oh wow, I need to touch that moving thing... now what's the man in vinyl doing... OH NO! now I'm prematurely sexualized, if only somebody would have protected me, I wouldn't have turned into a teenaged prostitute. I hate my legislators!" Part of why kids are psychologically sturdy is that unless they're prematurely sexualized, they don't CARE about sex, they don't notice it, and it doesn't matter. And if they are prematurely sexualized, the battle was lost before-hand (thanks uncle Bob!). HG isn't hurting anybody, and it's obvious if you watch the children he's around.

On the other hand, when those kids grow up, they ARE going to hate their parents. I can't imagine being in high-school with footage like that in existence *shudder*

#53 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 08:00 AM:

Scott (no relation) @52: the other 10% have never been overseas, but for Kojima, they'd band together and build a blimp or something, just to riot in your home-town.

Heh. Good one.

Personally, I think HG is just another example of how Japan Is Beating America In Important Stuff. When you think about it, isn't it the patriotic duty of every American to donate at least 5% of their paycheck to the guys in Jackass to help defray the cost of central nervous system stimulants and exotic lingerie?

We can still win this thing, people.

#54 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 09:22 AM:

I've found it helps if you don't look directly at the Japanese entertainment media.

#55 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 09:27 AM:

Re: those thighs of steel and pelvic movement

What kept going through my mind was the Good Doctor's dirty limerick (from memory):

N ynql bs Fbhgu Pnebyvan
Fgergpurq pngthg npebff ure intvan
Jvgu gur cebcre fvmrq pbpxf
Zrer frk orpnzr Onpu'f
Gbppngn naq Shthr va Q Zvabe*
Isaac Asimov

*Pronounced "mynah" like the bird

#56 ::: Calton Bolick ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 09:42 AM:

>Natto...very much an acquired taste.

True, even among the Japanese. I've asked Japanese people whether they've liked natto, and I've gotten about a 50/50 split. One said, firmly, "Natto is not a food."

When you buy it here, I'd like to point out, you normally get a little packet of sauce (like soy sauce) which really helps with the flavor. Really, it's not so bad, though yeah, it's an acquired taste.

#57 ::: Seth Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 10:05 AM:

Wow. And they say Japanese culture values conformity.

#58 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 10:14 AM:

Some of these food descriptions make me think that Lovecraft's deities/entities must have migrated to New England from Edo, bringing their delicacies with them. (Being HP, not HG, when he saw the cookbook he was shocked, shocked!)

#59 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 10:23 AM:

Carol (#55) how else can it be pronounced?

#60 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 11:04 AM:

I'll agree with Calton @ #56: a lot of Japanese really hate natto. My first introduction to it was the Japanese exchange students at the international house hosting a buffet and Takashi, the loud and outgoing one, warning anyone who would listen: "Don't try the natto. it is terrible!" A lot of Japanese won't readily admit to it, but I'd say that only about... 10-20% of them actually like natto to the point where they would routinely choose it to eat if presented with other options. Another decent chunk of the doesn't mind it and will eat it when it presents itself, but aren't very enthusiastic. These ratios are a little skeweed in areas where it is considered a local specialty, but I'd say Carlton's ratio is probably accurate.

Now, I hate natto... but for me it just tasted like EXTREMELY stale rice crispy treats that smell a little bad. The texture was something like a soggy, underdone rice crispy treat. I'd never voluntarily eat it again (fortunately, the Japanese expect this, and never offer) and it is wretched, but I didn't have the same taste experiences as people list above. That's just the kind of food natto is. Though I must admit that after seeing the Natto Iron Chef, I've always been curious what Miyamoto's coke-flavoured natto was like.

And Xopher @ #29

The japanese are pretty heavily caffeinated from early childhood, considering that in many lower cost restaurants the 'default' beverage is hot green tea, with nothing else readily available but beer (asking for water can get some confused looks in less cosmopolitan areas). Coffee flavoured jello is such a common ingredient in Japanese dessert and sweet snack cooking that, when I discovered I really disliked it, I sometimes had ot rule out nearly half the sundaes at a given ice cream shop. And that stuff is pernicious - it's nearly impossible to pick it out of anything you put it in.

#61 ::: raza rumi ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 11:40 AM:

This was too funny -
this blog is a discovery for me

#62 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 12:39 PM:

I couldn't get the linked videos to run, but Youtube rewarded (?) me with Hard Gay in Las Vegas, or more accurately,
Hard Gay and friends*
entertaining a bunch of senior** citizens in what looks to be a church fellowship hall, then looking for a job, then back amusing the seniors, oh my! Safer for work than the other videos, for most values of safer and work.

Alas, the HG wikipedia entry has shattered my illusions. It appears he's really a straight, married, college-educated former pro wrestler.

*His young friend in the sequined Captain America suit is cute.

**Not particularly ancient, but they look older than I and younger than my mother.

#63 ::: James Moar ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 12:51 PM:

I was very disappointed when I had natto on a trip to Japan, and after I was all prepared for the worst, it barely tasted or smelt of anything. I don't *think* I had it confused with anything else....

#64 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 12:53 PM:

I showed this to Sarcasm Girl. Once she scraped her jaw off the floor she said "I'm so glad I don't have that guy's lower back. Ow"

#65 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 12:54 PM:

Leah 60: Why is it that EVERYTHING I hear about Japan makes me even less inclined to go there than I was before? At this point I fully intend to live out my days without ever setting foot in that country. And that takes into account all the things I'd like to see there; all the beautiful temples and silk kimono and Mount Fuji and so on.

I don't think I could eat there at all. I think even if I ordered plain, raw tofu, they'd helpfully cover it with some kind of fish sauce. And soy beans are nice things; there are so many good things you can do with them! I even like tempeh, which most people find repellent. Why would anyone INVENT something like natto, except as a punishment food?

Now I find out that they caffeinate everything. I think AMERICA is too caffeinated, and also I can't have caffeine. So no dessert either!

NB: I am not saying that Japan Is A Bad Country, or that No One Should Go There. I'm only saying that it appears that I could not possibly enjoy a visit to Japan.

And after some thought, I have a hypothesis about Hard Gay: He's a homophobic stereotype designed to reinforce people's fear and hatred of gay people. This is ONLY a hypothesis, based on a) the fact that he's so extreme he repels me, especially when he's wagging his crotch at those little children (really, my gorge rose), and I'm far from repelled by leather, overt sexuality, or scantily-clad men in general; and b) I've heard that Japanese culture is far more homophobic than ours.

I'm especially interested in the opinions of people who live in, or have lived in, Japan. I'm ready to be told, if you think it's so, that exactly the opposite effect is intended, or that Hard Gay has the opposite effect, or anything else you think is the case.

#66 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 01:11 PM:

Tracie 62: It appears he's really a straight, married, college-educated former pro wrestler.

That's one fact in favor of my hypothesis.

#67 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 01:33 PM:

Xopher @ #65, I lived there too long ago to make any useful statements about Japanese homophobia, and besides, I was in the US Navy at the time, which wasn't and isn't exactly gay-friendly itself.

The food, though, gets a bad rap because of the extreme examples so easily found. Good Japanese cooking is wonderful. Light tempura batters on veggies or shrimp, thinly-sliced sashimi and delicate sauces can be bliss.

#68 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 02:06 PM:

I found people's attitude toward homosexuality in Tokyo to be one of benign ignorance. I would guess that a lot of gay people do not reveal their sexuality to anyone but their close friends, because that's the usual way of dealing with private matters in Japan. So most straight people don't know if they know any gay people. You do get a lot of the problems of ignorance: some men feel nervous about meeting gay men, etc. But they won't go around saying that gays should be locked up or will burn in hell, etc. It's far from ideal, but it's not so bad.

Just like everything else in Tokyo there is a specific district just for gay bars etc.: Shinjuku ni-chome. Just like you would go to Akihabara to buy otaku stuff, you would go to ni-chome if you want to meet gay/lesbian/etc. friends.

There was an accepted tradition of homosexual relations between samurai, so history is on the side of tolerance; and much the most popular kind of manga among young girls is "Boy Love" with beautiful feminine men falling for each other, so culture is on the side of tolerance too. There is a lot of work to be done in terms of education, but I think it will happen.

As for food, you can eat all kinds of food in Japan, simple "normal" food and "weird" food like natto, which is plainly not weird to gazillions of children who eat it every day. The weird food is somewhat more accessible than in America, but you still have to decide to eat it, after all. I found the people there went out of their way to "warn" me about "weird" Japanese food like natto, sushi, and so on. As for why invent it, it usually comes from a lack of resources, necessity being the mother of invention.

*China* is where the real weird food is, as far as I can tell.

#69 ::: sdh ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 02:15 PM:

Fascinating, but it reminds me of the first season of Monty Python--which was essentially a series of tittering gags about homosexuality.

Still, funny as hell though.

#70 ::: Estara ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 03:14 PM:

If you now have aquired a taste for Hard Gay, how about Shingo Mama and Oha Rock (with a walk on part for James Brown)

Quoting the guy who put it up
"Amazingly random Japanese pop video that somehow became the spark for a family communication campaign sponsored by the Japanese government.

"OHA!" is apparently shorthand for "ohayo gozaimasu" (good morning).

YES, Shingo Mama (real name Katori Shingo) is a male transvestite. So? He's funny and the kids like him.

Look hard and you *will* see James Brown in this"

#71 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 03:27 PM:

#70: Wow, that last chord was not what I had expected. It's from a completely different sound world.

#72 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 04:26 PM:

Eh, the guy's just a clown, "transgressive" subtype.
I suspect that to a Japanese audience, his loudness and "theatric egotism" is part of the transgression, to me it was just annoying.

#74 ::: Susan ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 05:13 PM:

Trust me, you could eat in Japan. I'm an unadventurous eater and don't actually care for Japanese food, and I managed to get through nearly two weeks there on a minimal budget and only consume noodles a few times. At least in the major cities, there are decent restaurants of all cuisines, places that are the equivalent of Friendly's (cheap, generic American menus), mall food courts, Italian/pizza, and (sigh) McDonald's (with menus in English on the flip side of the Japanese ones). You have to watch out for weirdnesses (tomato ice cream, not so great), but you would be in no danger of starving.

#75 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 05:16 PM:

Xopher: I've heard that Japanese culture is far more homophobic than ours.

One hears this, one hears its exact opposite. Having taken a (tangentially related) seminar with one of the leading western scholars on the subject, I am able to give a semi-cogent response on the subject, but the internet is too small to contain it.

Put another way, the statement "Japanese culture is far more homophobic than [anglophonic American]" is both completely true, completely false, and absolutely the wrong way to go about framing the issue.

The same, by the way, holds true for anti-semitism.

#76 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 05:23 PM:

Ah, but Xopher is a vegetarian, is that not correct? Which complicates the issue. I would not try being vegetarian in Japan, although certainly it could be done; it's just that a lot of Japanese people have trouble grasping that when you say you don't eat meat, that also means you don't eat (say) fish broth, which is in just about everything. There are specialty Buddhist restaurants, and macrobiotic restaurants, and tofu restaurants, but it would be hard to travel with a laissez-faire "Oh, I'll pick something up at the next food court" kind of attitude.

#77 ::: green_knight ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 05:23 PM:

Xopher @65:

I went to Japan for Worldcon and although I wasn't particularly keen beforehand, I'm hoping to go again. It's a fascinating country, an easy travelling country, and even without any Japanese I mostly managed to find things to eat. (A little knowledge of written Japanese and I could have sounded things out and done better, but I was too stressed beforehand to really make the effort.)

It's different, yes, but in a good way. Oh, and Lonely Planet rules.

#78 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 05:40 PM:

Ah, being vegetarian in Japan is very difficult indeed. I thought Xopher was just being John Boehner. Sorry Xopher!

#79 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 06:07 PM:

Emily 76: Yes, exactly so. I had that problem in Japanese restaurants in the US, almost every time I went (note past tense; I gave up long ago) to one. I'd order miso soup and it would come with a decorative (in the same sense that this is decorative unless you know the material here) slice of fish floating in it.

At one place I made a point of telling the waitress "I don't eat fish, so if I order anything that has fish in it, please tell me and I'll pick something else." The dipping sauce for the tempura I eventually ordered (after everything else turned out to contain fish) came with odd flakes in it. I asked the waitress what that was; she said a Japanese word I cannot now recall. "And what's that?" I asked, dreading the answer. "Dried fish—ohhh!" she said, eyes widening, and clamped both hands over her mouth. (She then brought me a dipping sauce with no such contaminants; the problem was NOT a lack of willingness, but the fact that fish is so pervasive in Japanese cuisine that many Japanese are not conscious of which things have it and which don't.)

The last four times I went to Japanese restaurants, the only thing on the menu that I could eat was vegetable tempura. Actually one of them may have had battered and deep-fried tofu (the soft kind, about which yuck) too—if so, it came with a fish sauce. Now I like vegetable tempura as much as the next guy, but I'm quite capable of battering and deep-frying at home, and they really don't do it any better than I do. Also they fry fish in the same oil, and it's really obvious when the tempura comes to your table; to my nose, it absolutely reeks.

That's Japanese restaurants in the US, which I've now put in the same category as steak houses: I can't eat there. Now, admittedly these probably cater to American tastes, but the ones in Japan that don't probably flavor with fish even more.

#80 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 06:14 PM:

BSD 75: Could you point me to some resources on the topic? I'm interested, especially the part where it's completely the wrong frame. What's the right frame?

individualfrog 78: Oh, gods forbid! No, no. I'm an adventurous eater within the vegetarian restriction. (Were any of you at the Fanoclasts where I tried egg kichel for the first time? That was a dirty trick to play on a nice innocent boy from the Midwest.)

Btw, your comments at 68 were helpful and enlightening. Thank you.

#81 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 06:21 PM:

Speaking of exotic cuisine... How about Pepe's in Alaska? (I blame Tania for that one.)

#82 ::: JupiterPluvius ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 06:38 PM:

Hard Gay isn't homophobic any more than Dame Edna Everage is misogynistic.

Or, conversely, Hard Gay is just as homophobic as Dame Edna Everage is misogynistic.

It's not meant as a homophobic caricature, but as good-natured fun; Masuki Sumitami isn't trying to make people hate gay men, but rather trying to be funny.

Now, it may be that Xopher and others find unconscious/subconscious homophobia and/or internalized cultural homophobia in the humor, and that's another matter.

But Hard Gay is neither designed nor understood as a way to marginalize gay men.

#83 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 06:40 PM:

Christopher 73: After reading that and looking at the pictures, I know how natto was invented. Some community had some soybeans that they were counting on for survival in a bad year. When worst came to worst and they opened the barrel, they discovered that water had gotten in and the beans were fermented.

(This, by the way, is exactly how beer was invented, or I suppose I should say discovered. The process is parallel; the results are not in any way comparable.)

A debate in the community followed: is it better to eat the spoiled soybeans and possibly die right away, or die of starvation? A few tasted the slimy, spoogy mess, said they were convinced it was lethally poisonous, and the community sat down and prepared to die.

After some died of starvation, the rest decided they could no longer live with the shame of surviving their neighbors, and that it would be right and just to die by eating the spoiled soybeans. So they ate them, and half of them died of sheer esthetic revulsion.

The ones who lived are the ancestors of the modern Japanese.

(Please note: the incapacity for esthetic revulsion that this implies also explains Hello Kitty and Hard Gay.)

#84 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 06:55 PM:

Jupiter 82: That's an interesting opinion, and you may very well be right. Why do you hold it? What evidence led you to that conclusion?

Has Masuki Sumitami made public statements on the topic (interviews, etc.)? Could you point me to some? (Please note this is not conclusive; Eddie Murphy once said that he's not homophobic, and that only "faggots" are offended by his humor. You will see why I find this unconvincing.)

I'm not trying to give you a hard time; I really want to know.

I think a better analogy (since Dame Edna is more about class stereotypes than gender stereotypes) would be to blackface comedians in the US in the 1920s. White guys would paint themselves shoe-polish black, with gigantic painted lips that no human of any "race" has ever had, and the humor was about being shiftless, lazy, and cowardly. To call this explicitly racist would be to dramatically understate the case.

When I see Hard Gay, I don't think "Oh, he's just having fun." I think "He's making fun of me and my friends." I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but I'd need evidence.

#85 ::: sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 07:50 PM:

@52 - well said!

@83 - as a true vegetarian I would not want to try to eat in Japan. As has been said, seafood is considered totally acceptable for a vegetarian diet and you will struggle to explain that you eschew fish as meat.

I am allergic to iodine so although I'll happily eat meat I have to avoid all shellfish and most fish. I tried to explain this to my Japanese hosts just to have it dismissed (without my knowledge) as a fear of sushi. I was offered crab soup and told it was chicken. I described it as the most amazing chicken soup I'd ever tried before the reaction set in and I asked if there was seafood in it.

I didn't need to wait for the answer, by the time I'd finished the question, I knew. But the response? As I choked and spluttered, I got told, "but you liked it!"

YES, I do! I just can't eat it. :/

#86 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 08:21 PM:

I watched a lot of Hard Gay last night, and on the whole enjoyed it very much. As was said above, my take on it was 'clown, sharing fun rather than making fun' but clowns can be quite annoying and even frightening depending on one's own perspective. Certainly not everyone HG accosted while filming was enchanted with him or willing to interact! I didn't see homophobia in his antics. That might be due to there not being any, or any more than is usually present in my life, or maybe to Japanese culture being entirely unfamiliar to me.

But there were some moments, such as the rock star (Hoshimi Go?) entering into the fun on rehearsal day and dancing right along with HG, and the line of little kids in the first Cooking segment dancing hoky-poky-like at his direction and shouting "Gay!" at intervals... it's kinda nice to hear a kid shout "Gay!" and it not be an epithet, y'know?

#87 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 08:32 PM:

since no one else has said it ... just ... wow.

#88 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 08:47 PM:

Pericat, I think the kids shouting 'gay!' was kind of insulting. It was a joke-- let's make the kids say funny things! What's a funny thing? Gay!-- and didn't make the kids laugh any more than another syllable might. The humor seems to come from differences in culture, like the Beverly Hillbillies, which sets up the two groups as an opposition. People laugh because he doesn't belong. It's a reflection of institutionalized homophobia, even if it isn't meant to be more overt.

#89 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 09:48 PM:

I might add that many Asians (Japanese and Chinese) traditionally find Western cheese repulsive. They don't consume a lot of milk products, let alone aged milk products deliberately infected with bacteria and fungi. This may be changing, though you still find shrimp-flavored chips in Asian snack food sections where Western chips would be cheese-flavored.

Contest: Natto vs. Limburger?

#90 ::: Suzanne F. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 09:56 PM:

Julie L. @ 36

I've made miso in my basement before, hands down the best miso I've ever eaten, with lots of deep, complex, earthy, mushroomy flavors (I got cultures here).

As for natto, I just can't stomach it. It's the texture, I think. But I agree that acceptance of various fermented foods is culturally based. I love stinky cheese and very strong kraut, but natto and lutefisk (and I'm sure, other ripe things) put me off.

#91 ::: Suzanne F. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 10:05 PM:

I forgot to mention that you can buy natto cultures at GEM Cultures too. The organism is Bacilis subtilis, which is a charming name for flora that produces such a strongly flavored substance.

#92 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 10:11 PM:

sara 89: That may be in part because the gene that allows adults to continue digesting lactose is widely distributed only in people of European ancestry. Nothing like getting sick right after trying a new food to make you think it's disgusting from then on!

#93 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 10:18 PM:

I thought cheese didn't have lactose. It makes sense that they wouldn't have it, if they can't digest the sugar to begin with, but I've known people who were lactose-intolerant who said that in becoming cheese, the lactose is broken down.

#94 ::: telophase ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 10:43 PM:

Diatryma@93: if cheese had no lactose in it, I wouldn't get horribly ill after eating it. Hard, aged cheeses have less lactose in them, and can be tolerated by people whose lactose intolerance is not as strong as mine is, and there are some varieties of Parmesan, I am told, that have aged so long there is no lactose left. But your typical cheddar, while having some of it broken down, has enough left to make me a very unhappy camper if I don't take lactase pills.

Xopher: You might be able enjoy a trip to Koyasan, which is where a friend and I spent two nights this past summer on our Worldcon trip. It's a Buddhist temple complex cum religious pilgrimage/tourist community. There are no hotels - you stay in temples (which are, admittedly, set up as hotels) and the cuisine in the temples is all strictly vegan, no animal products of any sort whatsoever. And delicious. Koyasan is in the mountains, and absolutely beautiful.

#95 ::: A.J. ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2008, 11:53 PM:

I think a better analogy (since Dame Edna is more about class stereotypes than gender stereotypes) would be to blackface comedians in the US in the 1920s. White guys would paint themselves shoe-polish black, with gigantic painted lips that no human of any "race" has ever had, and the humor was about being shiftless, lazy, and cowardly. To call this explicitly racist would be to dramatically understate the case.

Shiftless, lazy, and cowardly are all pretty negative characteristics. Hard Gay is definitely employing stereotypes, but are they really as bad? I see oversexualization as the main one. Japan doesn't have any sizeable populace subscribing to the Homosexual Agenda conspiracy theories. (Their sexual repression manifests in different ways, most through vending machines, if I understand correctly. :)

#96 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 12:02 AM:

telophase 94: THANK YOU. Koyasan sounds wonderful! Finally someone tells me something about Japan that makes me WANT to visit!

#97 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 12:03 AM:

Thanks, telophase. I had forgotten that cheesemaking is a multi-step process and that some sugar must still remain for that.

#98 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 12:08 AM:

Xopher: You left out the part where it was bread which got soaked, and went off.

As to Hard Gay, are you perhaps projecting American Cultural Stereotypes onto the Japanese? It's possible that, they don't have the underpinnings you do, and so what you read into it is very different from 1: what they intend, and 2: what they read into it.

I know, from painful experience, that Russian humor doesn't work for me. The cultural understanding which makes the jokes funny is so absent that when translating them, in class, we looked at each other, compared the translations and were surprised that we were all on the same page.

We knew we'd missed the punchline, and when the joke was read out to us, 1: we hadn't, and 2: the only person laughing (and that to the point of having to catch his breath) was the instructor.

That pattern repeated itself for a year.

Closer to home. I like British humor, but (had to be a but) they never know when to end the joke, and what was funny ends up tedious.

#99 ::: Allen Baum ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 01:13 AM:

Xopher @94

Koyasan is a cool place, and depending on the time of year, quite literally. There are a large (50+) number of monastaries there that rent rooms - its how they make money. There are a couple that cater to foreigners. The rooms aren't necessarily cheap.

We went in November, I think. For some reason there was a big thermometer on a stand in the hallway. The reason was that the indoor temperature was about 32F. The room we had was rather huge by Japanese standards, overlooking a beautiful garden. It came with nice thick comforters - we were comfy despite the chill.

Traditional Japanese architecture doesn't know about double pane windows, and this was very traditional. The room also had a kotatsu and kotatsu-take, one of those gridded tables and blanket covering that are intended to go over a hibachi to keep you warm in the winter. We didn't have a hibachi - we had an small incandescent light bulb under the table instead. Worked amazing well, to our surprise.

We were expected/invited to attend morning prayers. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who can't sit on their knees comfortably, but otherwise it was quite interesting.

The food was very vegetarian, and quite good. No natto, to our relief.

#100 ::: Dave Langford ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 01:58 AM:

#63 I was very disappointed when I had natto on a trip to Japan, and after I was all prepared for the worst, it barely tasted or smelt of anything. I don't *think* I had it confused with anything else....

Which gave me a Jack Vance flashback:

"That is 'Tourist Ahagaree', especially modified to suit the off-world taste."

(The hapless off-worlder then asks about the next item on the menu: "Those are parboiled night-fish, fresh from the bogs." He decides to stay with the tourist option.)

#101 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 02:24 AM:

Allen: Seiza does take practice. I find that it's not the first day I spend two-three hours sitting that way which hurts, it's when I try to sit in it again on the next day.

Aikido seminars can make going to class the next day a whole lot less fun.

But I'd like to spend a week, or two, at Hombu.

#102 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 03:35 AM:

Serge@81: I've actually eaten there, as part of one of the tour groups mentioned in the article you link to. I even use one of the keychains that were handed out. I posted my list of Ten Things I've Done that You Probably Haven't and that was one of them: "Eaten a taco north of the Arctic Circle."

#103 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 05:04 AM:

Sara, #89:

Natto? Limburger? Pffft. Here's a recipe from Cooking Alaskan:

Stink Heads: Take fresh salmon heads, wrap in long green grass and bury in ground for 2 weeks. Dig up, remove grass and rinse in cold water. Serve raw, or boiled. When boiling the heads, skim the oil off the top of the water. Spread the oil on bread. A variation is instead of burying the heads, immerse them in a cold fast running stream for 1 week.

Now there's a food that takes courage to eat! (I freely confess that I have never tried it.)

#104 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 05:52 AM:

David Goldfarb @ 102... I also like their motto that "Seven days without Mexican food makes one weak."

#105 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 06:47 AM:

Suzanne F @ #90

Lutefisk isn't so much fermented as cured in lye ("lut" in Swedish, probably a smilar word in the original Norwegian), then left to dry and finally soaked and boiled in hot watre. It is also not food, it's vaguely off-white blubbery goop with almost no flavour that some people eat.

You may be thinking of sourherring, the fermented, somewhat liquid and VERY stinky non-food some Swedes consume and claim it's delicious (it's got a vaguely sharp, slightly sulphuric flavour, smells strongly of cadaverine and putrescine and doesn't have much in the way of texture). I understand taht the normal sourherring meal is more pleasant without the sourherring to spoil it (boiled new potatoes, sour cream, chives, sourherring (optional); wrapped up in a soft flatbread and washed down with liberal amounts of vodka). Sold in cans, make sure to puncture the can under water, they may explode and will definitely spray stinky liquid if punctured in air. Do NOT open indoors, try to avoid eating indoors.

And, yes, I've tried both. Probably would, again, if there were no other options, but they're not stuff I voluntarily track down.

#106 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 07:16 AM:

Mez @ #59:

Like "mine ore", approximately, though with less emphasis on the second syllable.

#107 ::: Jenny Rae Rappaport ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 08:38 AM:

#70: The talent in Japan is incredibly versatile though. Katori Shingo is now starring in one of the top-rated dramas in Japan, and from all I've heard, is very good in the role.

#108 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 09:32 AM:

Suzanne F @ 90:

Lutefisk is not fermented, but made of air-dried fish (which is made into lutefisk by putting it in a lye solution, and then the fish watered for a few days, and heated before serving). In my opinion the most dominant taste is 'bland', actually.

(There is also an eternal debate about whether the fish should be similar to the original cod in texture or rather quivering, jelly-like. Ask the right kind of Scandinavian or Scandinavian-American and you'll probably learn more about this subject and the pro and cons for each point of view that you ever wanted to learn.)

We do, however, have a kind of fermented fish in Norway, rakfisk. I am not a fan, but it does have an enthusiastic following. There is the chance that the curing process for rakfisk will go wrong, making it unsafe for consumption (botulism), and I've seen that the authorities sometimes issue "rakfisk warnings" about specific batches or suppliers when it is rakfisk season.

#109 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 09:51 AM:

I reckon Hard Gay has done for gay rights in Japan what Little Black Sambo did for civil rights in the US. Nothing, maybe some harm, I don't know.

One thing to consider is that Hard Gay is as much a caricature of a Westerner as it is of a homosexual. He's loud, impulsive, and all about himself. That's an American, as far as the Japanese are concerned.

After worldcon I traveled with a friend of mine for two weeks who is gay. He went to a bath house in Tokyo for some cruising, and he came back to our hotel with some really fascinating stories.

The place he went to was like a funeral inside. Everyone was very quiet, shy, and never made eye-contact. The signals and customs for hooking up were totally different. He found someone to play with, but he was a Japanese man who'd lived in the US for a while and loved the "freedom of New York."

After 8 years of marriage to a Japanese woman, and numerous trips to Japan, I still experience deeper and deeper levels of culture shock. It really is different. When I first got married, I assumed that culture shock was something I could overcome through the sheer power of my open mind! It was a very provincial viewpoint, ironically enough.

My in-laws don't like to hug, and no amount of hugging can fix it. I've really had to learn my place, and it hasn't been an easy adjustment, but I'm slowly getting there.

All I can say to Xopher is that yeah, homophobia is alive and well in Japan, as is sexism. It's not the same homophobia we have here. That doesn't make it OK, I'm not defending it. I'm just saying that it's so different it's almost impossible to comprehend. The homophobes in japan are different, as are the homosexuals.

Japan is still in the closet about a lot of things. That's my Western, ethnocentric opinion. However, there is some great stuff to enjoy in Japan, and being a foreigner means you will never fit in, nor be expected to fit in, so being gay wouldn't trouble the Japanese. It would be another American trait.

My friend and I called ourselves the "Dangerous Clown People" when we traveled. We were a source of amusement, and slight trepidation for disturbing the peace wherever we went with our tall, caucasian manners and bodies.

I'm not quite living in Japan yet. My wife and son and I plan to move to rural Japan in June. Our goal is to get a nice big farmhouse in a village filled with Japanese misfits that we discovered by volunteering last summer for a month before WorldCon.

My plan to stay sane is to have as many guests as want to come. Xopher, you'll be on the list of invitees, and we'll show you a fun side of Japan, replete with vegetarian cuisine, bona fide.

#110 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 10:37 AM:

Allen @ 99 / Terry at 101 re: seiza

There's a lovely moment in the movie Funeral*, where a modern Japanese businessman's family honors him with a traditional funeral. The guests sit on their knees during the service. After a while, a phone rings in another room, and several people on the edge of the crowd quickly try to get up to answer/silence it, and fall over because their legs have gone to sleep.

Same director who did Tampopo, so if you know that one you can spot younger versions of many of the same actors.

#111 ::: [spam replaced with verse] ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 11:06 AM:

There's very little less important than
The right word whispered in the wrong ear.
With what we have we do the things we can,
But not that, not us, not now, not here.

[posted from]

#112 ::: Donald Delny ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 11:32 AM:

Dangerous Clown People & sexual repression in Japan?

A.J., you mentioned Japanese "sexual repression". As far as I can tell it is so different from Western style repression as to be unrecognizable. Everyone, all the time, are participating in external roles, in order to keep society running smoothly, and everyone is judged on how well they keep to the code role. But the American-typical expectation that what is on the outside is also on the inside doesn't seem to be there.

Personal desires, are just that: personal, enclosed, and therefore permitted within the wrapping. Anecdotally, being gay is fine - provided you marry and produce offspring to fulfill your obligation to family and society.

As far as I can tell, this is why certain routines in anime comedy work. For example, the protagonist protests that she is not hungry (external wrapping), only to be outed by a rumbling stomach (internal desire). This is part of why the embarrassing is considered hilarious - I think.

I will now meditate on the meaning of carefully wrapped gifts in Japanese culture.

Sean Sakamoto, I would love your input on this. I might have gotten this completely wrong.

#113 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 11:41 AM:

Sean 109: What a kind offer! I may just take you up on that, someday after you get settled. Even if I don't, the offer itself has earned you a place on my Good Guy list that only truly egregious (and, from what I've seen of you in the past, extremely unlikely) behavior on your part could erode.

Also, it's actually nice to know they won't hate me for being gay, any more than they'll hate me just for being American! (Phrasing intended as humorous.)

#114 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 12:22 PM:

Terry Kanrney, 98: I like British humor, but (had to be a but) they never know when to end the joke, and what was funny ends up tedious.

That's interesting, because it's something I usually associate with American humor; almost every SNL skit that starts out funny and ends up tedious is the result of violating the Rule of Three. Is that ubiquitous across the pond too?

One thing I've noticed is that "classic" British comedy (of the Monty Python variety) almost always has at its heart the idea of maintaining dignity under absurd circumstances. I think this doesn't read well to a lot of the "mainstream" American audience - but it obviously does read well to a large portion of fannish culture. There's probably a thesis in there somewhere.

An awful lot of American humor, in contrast, seems to be about transgression and loss of dignity, coupled more and more frequently these days with the trope of neurotic people who respond neurotically to every situation they're placed in (the archetypal example of this being Seinfeld). From a small and unreliable sample, there seems to be a strain of this infusing modern Brit humor too (AbFab, Black Books), but I don't have much sense of how prevalent it is these days. (Probably some kind of thesis in that, too, come to think of it.)

We like to think of laughter as something universal, but I can't even agree on what's funny with lots of people I've known for years; no wonder the humor of an entirely different culture would seem incomprehensible.

#115 ::: green_knight ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 12:44 PM:

Xopher @113

Mostly what I've experienced was disinterest. Being tall and white I would always stand out in any crowd, and while some people appeared genuinely interested, most were simply going about their daily lives. Unless you are openly trying to demonstrate your gayness, I can't see how your reception would be much different.

I don't eat fish - emphatically not - which was one of my difficulties in finding food; but I think that learning a spot of Japanese and - yes - looking for restaurants that have seen a vegetarian before should make up for it. Again, praise be to Lonely Planet and its listing of restaurants...

(Temples. Volcanoes. Japanese gardens. Dragonflies. Wild eagles. Have we tempted you yet?)

#116 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 01:20 PM:

Dan Layman-Kennedy: I find SNL (post the first couple of seasons) very unfunny.

They usually fail to get out of the blocks for me. Monty Python is about fifty -fifty. The Dead Parrot is a little too long, the Cheese shop is ok.

The "blommangies", way too long.

#117 ::: Xopher may have found "Important" spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 01:45 PM:

I don't see what "Important"'s comment (currently #111) has to do with the topic of the thread, or any topic under discussion here. According to VAB, this is "Important"'s only post to ML. The post is generic and does not mention anyone who posts here, or connect to anything else.

Also, who cares who is or was part of the CFR, but that's not necessarily a sign of spam.

#118 ::: Mary Aileen agrees with Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 01:55 PM:

I was wondering about that, too. If it had been dropped into the Open Thread instead of here, I would be more inclined to think it were legit.

#119 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 02:08 PM:

Xopher @ 80: S.S. at 108 says it better than I ever could.

To use a VERY useful statement by someone else in that aforementioned seminar:

"The Japanese conception of the Other is the most salient point of their own Otherness to us."

As for books I can recommend, I see that Pflugfelder's main work was recently republished: Cartographies of Desire.

#120 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 02:15 PM:

Re: Weird food,

You don't have to go north of the arctic circle to get strangeness. In fact staying just south of it lands you potentially in Iceland where we have several national 'delecacies'

You can start off easy with singed sheep heads. A friend of mine was traumatised for life when she was told the sheeps head on the table was in fact that of the labrador dog next door by as a joke.

Then there are whey pickled ram's balls and a version of haggis with fewer spices and more blobs of fat in.

The piece de resistance is the Rotten Shark. Basically the Greenland Shark is inedible normally because of the amount of uric acid, but! if you bury it in the ground and let it rot for a few months and then hang it up to dry for a few more months you end up with biologically safe to eat food.

Apparently people who really like very strong blue cheeses like it sometimes but really the stench is incredible and it smells awful. The worst bit about the smell though is that it sticks to anything the shark touches so if you drop a piece of it on your clothes you'll have to throw that piece of clothing away.

I've never actually been able to make myself eat it. I've been told the smell is worse than the taste but that doesn't really say anything since the smell is *so bad*

Ooo I just found this: National Geographic documentary on the Rotten Shark phenomena

#121 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 02:33 PM:

BSD 119: Assuming you mean the current 109, OK. I'm glad you agree, because Sean's explanation made lots of sense to me.

#122 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 02:56 PM:

Anecdotally, being gay is fine - provided you marry and produce offspring to fulfill your obligation to family and society.

Hell of a lot of people not bothering much with that obligation these days, hence the much-trumpeted demographic decline. Japan has one of the most urbanised populations in the world, and children are a financial liability, especially with the horrendously competitive education system here.

#123 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 03:20 PM:

Aigh! Stupid computer being in the way. The cultural comparison here is fascinating. I get the feeling it would be easier to talk about in person, though.
I took a Japanese culture class in college. It was extremely disappointing-- it more or less said that every stereotype I knew of Japanese schools being horribly* competitive, Japanese people being extremely stiff and formal, and Japanese music being unlistenable was true. I know that the class I wanted it to be would require more background in all sorts of how-to-look-at-culture classes, but it was such a letdown.

*here used not to mean 'very' but 'bad for people'

#124 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 03:53 PM:

green_knight @ 115: Unless you are openly trying to demonstrate your gayness, I can't see how your reception would be much different.

green_knight, the question for me is what constitutes "openly trying to demonstrate gayness."

There's a lot of this sort of thing even going on in the U.S. -- where people often say things like "I don't mind gay men, but why do they have to be so BLATANT about it?," by which they mean, they saw two men holding hands or kissing briefly or heard a man mention his boyfriend or husband -- all things that heterosexual people can do without others taking any notice.

"You can get away with being gay as long as you're completely closeted" isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for a place's gay-friendliness.

This may or may not even be true of Japan; I have no idea.

As for Hard Gay, it made me uncomfortable because I wasn't sure where the levels of irony were with the gay stereotyping. I was doubly uncomfortable with what I read as the implied stereotype that gay men are always pedophiles, which is a really pernicious, disgusting one. Is the clip supposed to be making fun of people who believe in that stereotype, or is it meant to appeal to those people? I couldn't tell, which means that if it was trying to mock the stereotype, it didn't exactly succeed.

#125 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 05:17 PM:

green_knight @115, you'd be surprised at how easy it is to "openly demonstrate your gayness".

Walking down the street with your partner. Using pronouns or gendered names when referring to same (not as much of an issue when you don't speak the language, but usually a consideration). Having your partner's picture on your desk at work. (Again, not so much of an issue while traveling, but a very real consideration for many people).
Checking into a hotel room with only one bed. You know, the sort of ways that straight people flagrantly flaunt their sexuality every day without thinking twice about it.

As Caroline says in #124, being okay so long as I remain fiercely closeted every second of the day isn't really what I would consider "okay".

#126 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 05:25 PM:

Re 111:

Thank you for pointing that out, Xopher and Mary Aileen. I may be able to do bugger all to stop spammers posting irrelevant comments, but I can certainly do doggerel about them after the fact.

#127 ::: Sean Sakamoto ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 05:42 PM:

Xopher, we met once, and I liked you very much, so I'm glad to be on your good list. Another thing about Japan, even if they did hate us, they're way too polite to let us know about it. Small consolation, but it beats more assertive expressions of hate.

Anyway, I hope we do meet in Japan. Or in NYC again.

Regarding the fitting in comment of Donald at 112, I think you're right. I'm far from an expert of Japan, but sometimes I think that personal desire is only relevant in that it's something one should NOT do. There's a stoicism there than a layabout like me can even dream of.

#128 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 06:01 PM:

I keep thinking of this famous Pat Parker poem.

#129 ::: JupiterPluvius ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 06:10 PM:

To Xopher @ 84:I think a better analogy (since Dame Edna is more about class stereotypes than gender stereotypes)

Er. No. If it were about class and not gender, Mr. Humphries would not dress up as a woman, now would he?

Since I don't read or speak Japanese myself, I am reliant on the words of other people, who have told me that Mr. Sumitani has made it clear in interviews that he is not homophobic, and that he intends Razor Ramon Hard Gay (to give the character his full name) as an over-the-top pro wrestler who's obsessed with Western gay archetypes (apparently he says things like "I'm powered by Freddy Mercury!" and he released a remake of the Village People's song "YMCA").

By the way, the point I was making above was that I find most kinds of "drag" humor indicative of powerful cultural stereotypes, but not necessarily of personal animus.

I do not think that Barry Humphries is a misogynist, but Dame Edna Everage wouldn't be as funny in a non-misogynist culture. Similarly, I don't think Masaki Sumitani is a homophobe, but this character wouldn't be as funny in a non-homophobic culture. (Although I know Stateside leather daddies who find this stuff hilarious, so who knows?)

#130 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 06:30 PM:

"'You can get away with being gay as long as you're completely closeted' isn't exactly a ringing endorsement for a place's gay-friendliness."

Curiously, that does seem to describe Saudi Arabia, which reportedly has what we would call a thriving gay underground. The Atlantic had an interesting article on the phenomenon last May:

"'You can be cruised anywhere in Saudi Arabia, any time of the day,' said Radwan, a 42-year-old gay Saudi American who grew up in various Western cities and now lives in Jeddah. 'They’re quite shameless about it.' Talal, a Syrian who moved to Riyadh in 2000, calls the Saudi capital a 'gay heaven.'"

#131 ::: Cassandra ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 08:25 PM:

Xopher: Adding to what Telophase said, I have a friend who visited that same temple complex a few years ago. She said it was amazingly beautiful and incredibly soothing.

I eat fish and seafood, so I think it would be easier to be in Japan as a pescatarian than a vegetarian or vegan, but I have heard that it can be done. I have heard that it is helpful to learn how to say things like "I eat a Buddhist diet."
You can find odd, wonderful food experiences if you know where to look: my friend's "Italian pasta bar with a live rap DJ in Shinjuku" story is a good one; she also has an amazing story about wandering into a fairly nice restaurant in the middle of Tokyo somewhere and having the staff be incredibly polite and attentive--then they told her she was the first westerner to eat there, and the restaurant had been there for about 200 years.

The Japanese culture of food is so rich and varied; there's a thousand-year long tradition of celebrating food and even food tourism has a long history.

As for Natto: I like it about once every six months, and I've found out that it's much better when fresh. It's a thing: I also really liked brussels sprouts when I was a child. (I might be spoiled because I live near a Japanese grocery). The taste of fresh natto, for me, is very close to the taste of old blue cheese, but the texture is very gelatinous.

Try lotus root. It's starchy and a tiny bit sweet and has a wonderfully delicate structure that's a delight to look at.

I am also told that you can take tours of local tofu producers and try all the different types of tofu--hard, soft, with various delicate flavors depending on the kind of water or bean, etc.

If you are interested in learning more about how to actually go about doing this, I'd be happy to ask my friends for further concrete information. Drop me an email. The address works.

#132 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 08:50 PM:

I love lotus root!

#133 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 09:05 PM:

Xopher, I thought I had your email address but I don't. Wanted to send a thank you for the wheatless brownie recipe and now share a recipe for a really tasty vegetarian recipe I found today (with sweet potato noodles yet, gonna make it for my next writer's group meeting, a Chinese New Year them)

Mine is d r a g o n e t (at) k c (dot) r r (dot) com


#134 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 09:13 PM:

Mine is xopher underscore hatton atsign yahoo dot com.

#135 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 10:14 PM:

Xopher @ #84: I was very surprised to find out that a number of black* comedians performed in blackface. The stereotype of blackface was so exaggerated that they wouldn't really be recognized as a minstrel performer without it.

*I once received an art request that described a character's skin as "dark African-American Nubian." Which seemed very silly. Even sillier was the fact that the request maker owned a coffee shop (and knew I had worked as a barista), and therefore had a whole host of descriptive adjectives to more exactly pinpont the color he wanted, from latte to cappucino.

Of course, now that I do color correction, I could even go for +15D -10R +3M +2Y. (Why do they use red instead of cyan? Who knows.)

#136 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 18, 2008, 10:41 PM:

Ingvar, #105: [Lutefisk is]...not food, it's vaguely off-white blubbery goop with almost no flavour that some people eat

At last, I have a better name for that awful white glop sometimes misleadingly called "gravy" in the Southern parts of the US!

#137 ::: Per Chr. J. ::: (view all by) ::: January 19, 2008, 04:46 AM:

Regarding blackface and black actors, there's Spike Lee's Bamboozled from 2000, which features a blackface revival in the TV show format. I'm actually not sure if I 'got' this film entirely, as it seemed to be delivering punches in all directios, but it was interesting, though. One of the points it at least seemed to be making was that even 'cool' stereotypes of blacks today, not least in the music industry, could be seen as a kind of blackface as well.

#138 ::: green_knight ::: (view all by) ::: January 20, 2008, 03:42 PM:

Caroline @ 124/ Lorax @125:

I could have been any flavour of sexual orientation and have any kind of preference - *nobody cared* and *nobody in Japan knows*. They didn't ask, and I didn't tell.

I admit I didn't think what travel would be like with a (same-sexed) partner, because I was simply recounting my experience - I did not hang out a sign that said 'I am x' and there was neither a need for an explanation nor even an opportunity for it.

Personally, I don't think that walking hand in hand with anyone would have been a problem for me - it might have caused reactions, but so what - I was a traveller, I did not *care* what anyone thought of me, I would be gone the next day, and as I said, being western you stand out a mile anyway. Can't talk about sharing rooms, but folks who went to Worldcon might report on that - I'm certain people were sharing, as they do at all cons - m/f (unmarried), m/m, f/f, large robot/furry, whatever.

I don't think being gay would give you a different reaction from simply being western and not fitting in.

That is, unless you do the provocative kind of act that Hard Gay is showing on the video; which I found unnecessary and extremely offputting; but that would be *exactly the same* if he were het.

#139 ::: Torie ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 10:17 PM:

Just to clarify, since there seems to be some confusion: as far as I know, this isn't a children's program. I believe it's actually more of a variety show intended for adults (though feel free to correct me).

#140 ::: Jonathan Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: January 23, 2008, 10:17 PM:

Carol @ #55: The limerick is unlikely, because the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor is for, er, organ.

Now if the Good Doctor had considered a cello or violin for the ultimate line, he would have had something.

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