Fujoshi Rising: A Preliminary View on the Rising Yaoi Subculture in Indonesia

 

The typical fujoshi.
The typical fujoshi.

 

I’ll admit, the first time I came in touch with yaoi was around 2-3 years ago, when I was trying new things after my worst breakup ever. A friend lent me her collection of yaoi comics. It wasn’t anything hardcore; it was just two guys in that typical “won’t they, would they” relationship. The male characters were so girly, I swore my dick shrunk by 2cm and my chest hair receded after finishing the series. My friend was (and still is), what she calls herself and other women who enjoy the genre, a fujoshi.

Yaoi is a doujinshi subculture, a type of slash fiction. It is an abbreviation of the phrase “yama nashi, oshi nashi, imi nashi” or roughly translated as “no climax, no end, no meaning”. The term yaoi is colloquially used to refer to a form of fiction that focuses on male-male relationships in a romantic context. There is also an array of other terms that, while having the same meaning as yaoi, are not used as much as yaoi itself. The Japanese terminology that is closely associated to male homosexuality range from bishounen, shounen ai, bara, June’s, etc (Saito, 2011). Yaoi was shaped by the doujinshi culture that began to develop rapidly in the 1980s. Lam (2010, 237) notes that a “yaoi boom” occurred in the early 1980s. The reason? Takahashi Yoichi’s Captain Tsubasa. Unlike mainstream sports comics in its time, Captain Tsubasa “felt like a mixture of shonen and shojo manga in its depiction of both competition and friendship between boys”. In 1986, Captain Tsubasa paved the way for bishounen soccer stars doujinshis, signaling the start of the “yaoi boom” at Comiket and also the start of the fujoshi culture. In the later years, Saint Seiya doujins became the center of interest for the fujoshi population.

Typical yaoi illustration.
Typical yaoi illustration.

As a form of slash fiction, yaoi doujinshis almost always incorporate male characters from canon works and situate them in a homo-erotic relationship. In other settings, OCs or “original characters” are used in the doujinshis, which further add to the “personal factor” of a creative work. The male characters incorporated into yaoi fiction are often sexually ambiguous/androgynous, or better known in the genre as bishounen (lit. “pretty boys”), though it is not always the case. I’ve seen doujins depicting overly muscular men in weird sex positions and even weirder situations, which now I know is called bara.

This brings us to term “fujoshi”. A fujoshi, which literally means “rotten girl” in Japanese, is a term for women who enjoy yaoi (Galbraith, 2011). Of course, as to why exactly these girls self-deprecatingly label themselves as “rotten” is beyond me. I propose that they label themselves “rotten” because they enjoy a type of fiction that the mainstream would consider unpleasant, especially in a conservative society that condemns homosexual relationships.

The yaoi subculture is experiencing a major rise in ubiquity in Indonesia. From the many conventions I have attended, the yaoi doujinshi market is steadily increasing in size. More aspiring artists are appearing at conventions with doujinshis that portray yaoi. Take for example, my friend and her yaoi renditions of Re:On Comic‘s cast of Platina Parlour and the Kuroko no Basuke series. On the internet and social media, fujoshis are coming more out in the open. They are actively discussing yaoi, circulating images of comic strips picturing certain degrees of yaoi, and engaging in public discourse on the appropriateness of their fetishes. This phenomenon raises several questions. Is it a sudden surge in suppressed identity, a blatant “fuck you” to the system? Is it just another transient trend, like that time when everyone went gaga over SAO? Is it actually a niched socializing mechanism among like-minded individuals, a place where one can escape the constraints of reality? Or is it an underrated creative economic opportunity? Join me on a path to understand the misunderstood fujoshi.

Rise in Identity: Fuck the System?

The transnational success of Japanese cultural products is an important drive for the development of the yaoi subculture in Indonesia. In Indonesia, it is safe to assume that Japanese cultural products have successfully penetrated (pun intended) segments of society, especially rising middle class teenagers with access to the Internet. Bookstores stock Japanese manga, anime is readily available online (despite ethical qualms about downloading fansubbed anime), and Japanese-related events are held periodically. From these cultural products, the yaoi subculture began to slowly grow in Indonesia. Galbraith (2011) notes that a majority of fujoshi communication occurs over the Internet. Such is the case for Indonesian fujoshis. Facebook groups, such as Indonesia Fujoshi Forum, are playing a significant role in nurturing the subculture. Online communication often entail offline “meet-ups” or “gatherings” of these like-minded females, which mostly occur at doujinshi conventions such as Hellofest, AFAID, or Comic Frontier.

Despite conservative values, Indonesian fujoshis are clearly rising. It is a given that in Indonesia, a conservative culture inspired by Islamic values has a tight grasp on society. The rising fujoshi culture is then pitted with values that condemn homosexuality, which pose a significant barrier for the rise of fujoshis. Yet, despite this particular barrier, more and more fujoshis are coming out of hiding. They profess themselves as fujoshis and “are proud of it”. It is similar to the “we are otaku and we are proud of it” movement a couple of years ago, when Indonesian otaku could finally seek like-minded others through the Internet. This might indicate a subculture that is attempting to challenge the mainstream, an attempt to say “Hey, I’m a fujoshi! Fuck the system, I like what I like and you can’t tell me otherwise!”

It shows the rise of a certain social identity, which has been suppressed for quite some time. These people want society to acknowledge them as legitimate members of society, regardless of their preferences, despite conservative values saying otherwise. This could also explain why the Indonesian yaoi community only develops rapidly in the online community, as fujoshis tend to face stigmatization from a conservative society. But then again, perhaps it is too early to say that the yaoi community is blatantly issuing a “fuck you” towards the system, as most fujoshis are still reluctant to professing their “fujoshi-ness” outside of the Japanese cultural community.

An Escape from Reality

In the previous section, I mentioned about fujoshis facing pressure from a conservative society that does not appreciate homosexuality. Now, let me lead you to why fujoshis fantasize about homosexual relationships.

A scene from Fujoshi Kanojo, a J-drama series centering on a fujoshi having a heterosexual relationship and how the boyfriend copes with her quirks.
A scene from Fujoshi Kanojo, a J-drama series centering on a fujoshi having a heterosexual relationship and how the boyfriend copes with her quirks.

Despite being interested in male homosexual fantasies, fujoshis are heterosexual. What’s interesting is that these fujoshis tend to resort to yaoi fantasies as an escape mechanism from reality. As Galbraith (2011) describes, fujoshis consider yaoi as a form of “play” (JP: asobi), a digression from the rules and expectations of real life. Put further, a fujoshi tends to view that a female-male relationship is too close to reality; hence, they resort to male-male relationships.

Unlike male fantasies which tend to be overtly sexual, the fantasies of a fujoshi are more subtle. As part of their fantasy, a fujoshi constantly looks for and interprets touch, expressions, and body language in canon works as forms of affection, which then fuels the fantasies for the creation of a romantic setting. The essence of yaoi is intimacy, and that is what fujoshis try to capture in their fantasies. The term for this type of play (you might be surprised) is what we know today as moe.

An artist's interpretation of the relationship between two male characters in the series Durarara!
An artist’s interpretation of the relationship between two male characters in the series Durarara!

No, moe is not limited only to cute girls. The term moe (lit. “burning”) applies to “a response to fictional characters or representations of them” (Galbraith 2011). Furthermore, Galbraith (2011) asserts that moe is what fujoshis seek when producing and consuming yaoi. That feeling of satisfaction when you successfully construct a fictional scenario for Kuroko to be paired with Aomine that features the rape of someone, that’s moe. And moe is what keeps fujoshis going. When two fujoshis engage one another in talk, it is called moebanashi (“moe talk”). One might reference a popular creative work, say Black Butler, and its cast of male characters. The other will reply with their assertion of a pair, say Sebastian and Ciel. The two will engage in discourse, discussing possible scenarios involving Sebastian and Ciel, how the two would interact, under what circumstances would be interact, and so on, until they both agree that a given situation is plausible enough to make their moe receptors go overload, causing them to faint on the spot.

Does that not sound awfully similar to males discussing female characters? In essence, being a fujoshi is about escaping reality to a playground where you and close friends have complete control over your characters. Kinda like playing dolls, but mentally. In a society still constrained by conservative values, I would understand why some women become fujoshis just to let off steam and be free, even in their own fantasies.

An Underrated Creative Economy Opportunity

In Japan, the yaoi boom caused yaoi doujinshis to take center stage. The otaku community saw a significant increase in female participation, which led to more fujoshis capitalizing on the opportunity to sell yaoi-based doujinshis. Unlike their predecessors, these fujoshis were creative and had access to a plethora of tools to mass-produce their doujinshis and sell them at Comiket (Lam, 2010). I think what happened in Japan three decades ago has finally made its way to Indonesia.

Holy shit look at all those fujoshis! A photo from Comiket.
Holy shit look at all those fujoshis! A photo from Comiket.

The advent of the Internet and various illustrating programs like SAI and Adobe Illustrator (easily obtained pirated versions are available online and offline) has caused a “yaoi boom” in Indonesia. Basically, any girl with enough time, skills, and imagination can come up with scenarios for yaoi doujinshis or artworks and digitally manufacture them with the help of SAI. The creative fujoshis I know make extra money off their doujinshis and knick-knacks that they sell at conventions. Digital imaging programs and also social media has also helped the fujoshi community come together. As they upload their works and engage in discussion, they form some sort of market among themselves. Illustrators can charge fees for doujinshis by request (supply) and consumers get to determine what fandom they want to be in doujinshis (demand). Simple supply and demand.

Yet I feel that the yaoi doujinshi market is largely underrated creative economy opportunity. But before I go further, mind you that the technical aspects of economic analysis is not my forte, so don’t expect economic mumbo-jumbo from me.

For the moment, yaoi doujinshis are, to a large extent, restricted only to anime conventions. As Abraham (in Levi, McHarry, and Pagliassotti, 2010) notes, in Indonesia, a majority of anime conventions host a special “creator’s alley” or “fan market”, which are often dominated by yaoi works. The reason why yaoi works are only limited to conventions is because conventions provide a more lenient environment as opposed to other venues of publishing. As I have mentioned over and over again, Indonesia is a strictly conservative society influenced by Islamic values that condemn homosexuality. Of course nothing explicitly yaoi could be found on bookshelves. For yaoi fans, an anime convention is a liberal vacation.

However, considering the steady rise of convention goers and the amount of fujoshis coming out in the open, I have seen only a few circles and even less major publishing companies capitalizing the opportunity. I can only assume that societal values are hindering creative fujoshis from coming out into the open. As for other Indonesian comic artists, I have yet to encounter. I’m sure there’s a lot out there, but their publications are mostly limited to webcomics. It is a shame though. With a majority of fujoshis coming from the middle class, the fujoshis are a really enticing market for comic artists.

Fujoshi as a Trend?

“This too shall pass” is what I often say to myself when seeing a particular trend come in the Indonesian otaku community. Such was when the SAO hype, the idol hype, and as of now, the KanColle hype. Trends come and go, and I think the sudden fujoshi uprising is yet another trend in the Indonesian otaku community, which might have a correlation with the fujoshi uprising.

Thanks to the internet and social media, fujoshi groups are appearing at a fast rate. For those new to the otaku community, especially unstable teenagers seeking friends, bandwagoning is often a viable option to get best social results. Hence, the increase in bandwagon fujoshis that create rifts between the “senior fujoshis” and the “fucking noobs”. But I have little to say on this, mainly because I don’t mingle too much with the fujoshis. And even when I do, when they start talking pairings, unless its an anime or work I know and enjoy, I politely get the fuck out of there.

Conclusion

The yaoi and fujoshi subculture is clearly a rising phenomenon in conservative Indonesia. The uprising can be interpreted as a sudden social identity surge, when subcultures want a bigger share of the social pie. It can also be seen as a part of a progressive cultural movement that embraces what a conservative society would rather shun. At its very core, being a fujoshi and enjoying yaoi is part of an escape mechanism tailored towards fulfillment of fantasies that could not be fulfilled in real life. It is a form of “play”, similar to otaku men comparing which female character they would bang. As a segment of the population, fujoshis are an underrated economic opportunity. Despite the rising numbers, nobody is capitalizing the moment and using it to generate economic activity. Such a shame, considering that Indonesia’s current government is all about creative economy. Perhaps our conservative society isn’t really ready for such a bizarre subculture being part of mainstream art.

Further Reading

Abraham, Yamila. (2010). “Boy’s Love Thrive in Conservative Indonesia”. In Boys’ Love Manga: Essays on the Sexual Ambiguity and Cross-Cultural Fandom of the Genre. Levi, McHarry, and Pagliassotti (eds.). pp. 44-55. McFarland Publishing.

Galbraith, Patrick W. (2011). “Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among “Rotten Girls” in Contemporary
Japan”. Signs. Vol. 37, no. 1. pp. 211-232

Lam, Fan-yi. (2010). “Comic Market: How the World’s Biggest Amateur Comic Fair Shaped Japanese Dōjinshi Culture”. Mechademia. Vol. 5. pp. 232-248

Saito, Kumiko. (2011) “Desire in Subtext: Gender, Fandom, and Women’s Male-Male Homoerotic Parodies in Contemporary Japan”. Mechademia. Vol. 6. pp. 171-191

EDIT (26 January 2015): The following statement Heck, the only major Indonesian comic book that somehow supports limited freedom of yaoi expression is Re:On comics with its Platina Parlour serieshas been omitted after further evidence showing that Platina Parlor does not fit the parameters of being “yaoi” in essence, and therefore, the above statement is considered invalid. Apologies for those who might have been offended. 

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12 thoughts on “Fujoshi Rising: A Preliminary View on the Rising Yaoi Subculture in Indonesia”

  1. Hello there~~
    Stumble across this article and the content are very interesting that I wanted to leave some comment no matter what.

    Maybe some intro is in order. To begin with, my name is Kate Yan, one of the creator of Platina Parlour from re:ON comics publishing.

    I kind of honored that you find a time to write about this particular subject and to mention our works on top of that so I decided to read the rest of this article. But then there is this statement

    “the only major Indonesian comic book that somehow supports limited freedom of yaoi expression is Re:On comics with its Platina Parlour series.”

    As the creator, I don’t think what I made fall into yaoi category and I find it kinda offensive if you just labeled our work as one. I really hope you have read the comics because it has a plot, a conflict and a conclusion for the story, far from what you said yamanashi, ochinashi, iminashi. We all know that Kancolle give some fanservice like ripping costume but we did not judge it as hentai, so as 2 men hugging each other is considered as fanservice, not yaoi. So here I am asking you that you will be so kind to change the yaoi term to maybe “man centered works” or just delete the statement all together. ^^;

    As for the rest of the article, I find it pretty good since you bring up several view of fujoushi world that rarely get to the light of the day. You did a good research but maybe can do more since what you write here is still just the scratch.

    Thank you for the article and keep up the good work~

    Like

    1. I feel honored to be visited by a creator from Re:On comics! Welcome, Kate!

      First of all, let me use my right of reply for statement regarding Platina Parlor as “supporting limited yaoi freedom of expression”.

      After I read your comment, I proceeded to re-read and re-read again Platina Parlor from all the Re:On comics I had in my collection which hosts the Platina Parlor comic strips. Yes, there was indeed a plot, with conflicts (some funny and enjoyable) , and an ending. All of these parameters contradict the given parameters of the term “yaoi”. Therefore, I admit that I might have been a tad too quick in giving the label “yaoi” to Platina Parlor. Please accept my sincere apologies and I will get to editing straight away.

      That being said, not everyone in the mainstream otaku community (which is mainly a male-dominated niche) might have the patience and open-mindedness to do a deeper analysis of, for the sake of example let’s use Platina Parlor, and proceed to judge the comic as being “yaoi” just because it has boys hugging one another. Furthermore, the amount of fujoshis in the fan base and “yaoi-ness” of Platina’s doujins further add to the stigmatization of the series as being “yaoi”. I’ll admit, the first time I knew Platina was from a doujin on sale at Hellofest 9. I wasn’t a Re:On reader back then (heck, my collection started at vol. 6), so I assumed (wrongly) that Platina was, in essence, a boy’s love comic.

      THAT is the problem that I am addressing; is that people NEED to understand one another. And the purpose of this post is to invoke a long-needed discussion among the Indonesian otaku community, where fujos tend to be viewed with contempt, which hopefully will bridge the gap between fujos and mainstream otaku.

      I recognize that this post just scratches the surface of the issue (hence, “preliminary”), mainly because I have little connections to and a lot to learn about the Indonesian yaoi subculture.

      Again, you’re welcome to agree or disagree with me. And I do welcome civilized debate. Once again, thanks for your opinion, Kate, and a good day to you!

      Like

  2. I like the way you threw profanities here and there and yet still maintaining the validity of the argument, kinda humorous. lol. Well written, keep it up!

    As for the post, where and how did you get all those reference books? I’m curious

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I think you brought up a lot of good points though I wanted to say that not all fujoshi are merely heterosexual. I am actually interested in both guys and girls which by society would be classified as bisexual. LoL, I do not discriminate based on gender.

    So not all fujoshi are merely heterosexual. Other than that I do agree with you on your reflections on Fujoshis and the Yaoi Fandom.

    Like

    1. Well about that, I had to do a bit of self-censoring considering that the majority of Indonesians have yet to come to terms with the LGBT community. Personally, I don’t care about other people’s sexual orientations.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I can understand that. That is too bad if that is something that exists in Indonesia. I too hate the idea of people making a fuss about sexual orientation or who try to censor it in any way.

        But anyway, as someone who is a self-aware fujoshi many thanks for this reflection ^-^

        Like

  4. “As a segment of the population, fujoshis are an underrated economic opportunity”.Say…how did you know that the number of fujoshis are rising in Indonesia? Do you any data or statistic? 🙂 Anyway I like your blog and it’s refreshing to read your opinions about otakus in Indonesia. Keep writing…

    Like

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