Takarazuka’s Women-Presenting-as-Men Jolts Me When…

I am used to seeing women performing in tuxedos. I’ve seen it in American media (example: Janelle MonĂ¡e), I’ve seen it in Taiwanese media (example: Fong Fei Fei), and I have danced in a tuxedo in public myself. Heck, I have even seen Japanese women dance in tuxedos in San Francisco. So when I see Takarazuka performers in tuxedos, it seems totally natural to me.

On the left, we see the face and the back of a standing blond woman wearing a fancy white 30s style dress, on the right
 we see a standing woman presenting as a man wearing a black tuxedo, and in the bottom center we see a seated woman presenting as a man wearing a white tuxedo with a black shirt
.  All of them are wearing heavy, dark eye-makeup. The English words 'The Lost Glory' are prominently featured.

Is it just me, or is this Takarazuka poster a bit creepy? I think the creepiness is due to their artificial-looking faces, not the tuxedos.

Don’t get me wrong – I like the woman-in-tuxedo look, and it is one of the many aspects of Takarazuka which appeals to me. But it also feels … ordinary.

Though I have not seen any Takarazuka shows set in imperial China, my guess is that seeing Takarazuka performers dressed as men from imperial China would not jolt me either. Why not? Because Chinese opera has had women playing male roles since before Takarazuka existed.

I admit, I do not know about every Chinese opera tradition (there are many). But I have seen a Taiwanese opera in which all of the performers happened to be female, and when I saw Ming Hwa Yuan (one of the most famous Taiwanese opera troupes) perform, the male ‘handsomest man in the world’ lead was performed by a woman. Meng Xiaodong, a famous female Beijing opera singer, often played male roles. And Huangmei opera has the legendary Ivy Ling Po, who much like top Takarazuka stars, was considering more charming than ‘real men’.

So after seeing so many operas which show female performers dressed as men in imperial China, I doubt seeing it in Takarazuka would jolt me.

But when Takarazuka performers dress as men from pre-Meiji Japan?

In the top-right corner there is a large Takarazuka performer dressed as a samurai from the 1600s riding a big black horse with a long lance, while in the lower-left corner there is a Takarazuka performer dressed as another man from the period with a flute, and a woman from the period with a sword on her shoulder.

A poster for the show “Ichimuan Fuuryuuki Maeda Keiji / My Dream TAKARAZUKA” (2014)

The first time I saw a Takarazuka performer on stage in a kimono and hairstyle for men in historical Japan, my reaction was ‘Whoa’.

I have seen American women dressed as men from pre-Meiji Japan performing in English. But for some reason that does not count for me. Seeing Japanese women dress as men from pre-Meiji Japan and performing in Japanese seems like something else to me.

And watching Ichimuan Fuuryuuki Maeda Keiji also felt … different.

Unlike Chinese opera, Japanese performing arts have traditionally forbidden women from playing female roles, let alone male roles (note that there are exceptions to this – such as the geisha culture – but try to find a traditional kabuki performance with female performers, I dare you). So the fact that Takarazuka celebrates female performers is itself a break from this broader tradition, and going so far as to have female performers present as JAPANESE MEN …

I even have seen a Takarazuka performer perform a Noh dance on stage. That provided a stronger reaction than Ichimuan Fuuryuuki Maeda Keiji, since in the latter one eventually gets used to the fact that it is set in historical Japan, but maybe it is also because Noh has a strong tradition of no women performing in public.

So, in short, I am more shocked to see Takarazuka performers present as JAPANESE men than to see them present as European or American men.


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The Unassailable Heterosexual

This is for the August 2014 Carnival of Aces.


Sara the anti-heterosexual bigot firmly believes that anyone who claims to be heterosexual but does not fit every single one of the below criteria is lying!


– Heterosexuals must be neurotypical. If they are not (for example, if they are autistic) they are clearly confused about their sexuality, and not in fact het.
– Heterosexuals must be healthy and abled. If they are not, then that means that their health problems/disability are the cause of their confused sexuality (come on, being attracted to people of a different gender is pretty darn confused) and they are not actually heterosexual.
– Heterosexuals must not have mental health issues, because if they do it is obviously a mental illness thing and not Real Heterosexuality
– Heterosexuals must be cisgendered, since it is impossible for non-cis people to be real heterosexuals (NOTE: unfortunately, this actually reflects how some transphobic people think)
– Heterosexuals must be attracted to all people of a different binary gender, because if they meet someone of a different binary gender and are not attracted, they cannot really be heterosexual
– Heterosexuals must be between the age of 20 and 40, since teenagers cannot understand their own sexuality, and people over the age of 40 do not have sexuality and thus cannot be heterosexual
– Heterosexuals must be sex-positive, since it is wrong to be heterosexual and sex-negative or anything other than sex-positive. And if they ever say anything bad about sex, that means they are not real heterosexuals.
– Heterosexuals cannot masturbate, because if they do, that means they are really autosexual, not heterosexual!
– Heterosexuals cannot have a history of abuse. If they do, then they are not really heterosexual, their apparently heterosexual feelings were caused by the abuse!
– Heterosexuals need to be interested in dating and romance, because if not, they cannot be real heterosexuals

In response to Sara’s anti-heterosexual bigotry, heterosexual-visibility activists often downplay or hide aspects of themselves which did not fit the above criteria, and heterosexuals feel that if they do not fit the criteria, they might not really be heterosexual, or at least they should not try to be visible heterosexuals since they would make heterosexuality ‘look bad’.


The heterosexuals/heterosexual activists let Sara the anti-hterosexual bigot manipulate them … hmmm.

Yeah, this parody is a combination of the Unassailable Asexual/Ideal Asexual concept and the Heterosexual Questionnaire.

I decided to make this parody about heterosexuals rather than about allosexuals since there are a lot more people who consciously identify with the ‘heterosexual’ label. But I had to put that special note about the cisgender/transgender part, since even trans people who are heterosexual get their sexual orientation invalidated. As Hezekiah points out, allosexual trans people do not have any privilege relative to asexual trans people.

I think this parody highlights the usefulness of intersectional analysis, since many of the ways people try to invalidate asexuality is tied to other kinds of prejudice (ableism, for example).

I know a heck of a lot of heterosexual people, and I do not think a single one completely fits the criteria for the Unassailable Heterosexual.

And I do not know any asexuals who are the Unassailable Asexual (I have some “unassailable” traits, but I also have ‘assailable’ traits). So, if heterosexuals cannot be expected to be the Unassailable Heterosexual, then asexuals cannot be expected to be the Unassailable Asexual either.


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Being Vegan Does Not Mean I Am an Animal-Lover

When people find out I am vegan, they often say that I must love animals. However, this is not true.

I like some animals, and I sometimes come to love individual animals, but I do not love animals in a general sense.

For example, I generally dislike dogs. But even though I generally do not like them, I recognize that they have rights, and I am against dog abuse.

I have a cousin who is an ‘animal-lover’ – at one time she wanted to be a vet – but who is also a ‘carnivore’ (to quote my mother) – i.e. she loves to eat dead animals, and she is not even terribly concerned about the welfare of the animals she eats, let alone their rights (NOTE: it has been years since I have been in direct contact with her, so her views and behavior might have changed). One time, when my mother was eating with my cousin, my mother refused to eat the meat on the table, and brought up the question of why someone who loves animals so much is eating animals who suffered so much cruelty. My mother reports that my cousin responded with awkward silence.

I do not doubt that my cousin loves some non-human animals, but it is a love which does not include respect for animal rights.

Sometimes, when I state I am vegan, people tell me that I am a ‘nice’ or ‘kind’ person. Being ‘nice’ means going above one’s ethical obligations to be good. I do not think I am doing that. I think being vegan (at least as a middle class person in the developed world – context matters) is part of my basic obligations. To me, saying that being vegan is ‘nice’ is like saying that refusing to lunge at people’s necks is ‘nice’. By saying that I am being ‘nice’, people are excusing themselves from the responsibility to treat non-human animals with decency.

So ultimately, making veganism about ‘loving animals’ and ‘being nice’ is yet another distraction from the ethical question – is it okay to take away animals’ freedoms in order to use them as objects? Is it only okay when it is an absolute necessity for survival, such as the Gwich’in people who hunt for food but do not deprive animals of freedom while they are alive? Is also okay for affluent people in California to buy eggs from chickens whose beaks were cut off by a hot blade at a young age (de-beaking can cause chronic pain for life) simply because ‘eggs taste good’? What about situations in between, such as my cousin who keeps some hens in his backyard who, while never permitted to leave the backyard, let alone anywhere near roosters, at least can run all over the backyard, are not in chronic pain, and have each other for companionship?

I do not love animals. But I still want to do the right thing.

And a morality which said you only had to treat those you love with basic respect, and that it is okay to abuse anyone you don’t love is a pretty worthless morality in my opinion.

I also recommend reading “A Vegan But Not an Activist? Sure. An Animal Lover But Not a Vegan? Nope.” for a perspective that is a little different from my own.


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My Responses to the Sex-Repulsion/Sex-Aversion Carnival

The July 2014 Carnival of Aces about sex-repulsion/aversion is excellent and I recommend reading all of the submissions. It is so thought-provoking that I am dedicating this post to various responses to the submissions for this carnival.

First of all, a number of submissions – specifically “Why I prefer the term “sex-revulsion””, “The False Dichotomy of Repulsion Vs. Indifference”, and “Sex-Averse of Sex-Indifferent” – discuss the inadequacy of the terms sex-repulsed/sex-averse/sex-indifferent/sex-favorable. I also realized while I was writing my own submission that there are problems with the ‘sex-indifferent’ label, but I will keep the label until I find something better (I toyed with ‘sex-disinterested’ but I do not think that is any better). If these labels were not already within use in the community, I probably would not have come up with the idea of labeling myself this way at all.

In “Am I sex-averse? Maybe. I have made a decision to identify as such” luvtheheaven describes her reactions to sexual situations which helped her realize that she is sex-averse. I have not been in such situations, and I honestly do not know how I would react. Maybe I would discover that I am sex-averse after all. Maybe I would discover that I like sex after all. I did not expect to like being buried in hot sand or lying down on hot stones in a small chamber, but in Japan I learned that I love being buried in hot sand and lying down on hot stones in a small chamber. That said, I do not think it is important for me to find out how I react in highly sexual situations, just as I do not think it is important for people to find out how they react to being buried in hot sand.

I am honored that The Thinking Asexual responded to my submission with their own post. They mention that almost all of the sex-indifferent aces they know are having sex in romantic relationships, and they have assumed that sex-indifferent aces would have sex within a normative romantic relationship. Well, that particular hypothetical does not apply to me since I happen to be romance averse, and that normative romantic relationship simply is not going to happen.

I have at this point decided that I am never going to engage in romance (or at least in what is commonly understood as romance). I have not made the equivalent decision about sex – for example, I might at some time in the future pursue procreative sex.

The reason why I prefer ‘sex-indifferent’ over ‘sex-averse’ is that I do not reject sex because it is sex, I reject it because it takes time, I do not have the experience, I want to avoid STDs, I do not want the emotional drama, etc. Of course, it is 100% okay to reject sex because it is sex as well. I do reject romance because it is romance, which is why I think the ‘romance-averse’ label works for me.

Like Thinking Asexual, I identify more with aces who abstain from sex than with aces who have sex, and there is certainly a strong correlation between aces who are sex-averse/sex-repulsed and aces who abstain from sex.

Finally, even though it was not part of the carnival, I just want to say that Ace Muslim wrote a superb post which quoted my carnival submission and I would like to respond to it when I have more time.


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Why Do So Few Foreign Tourists in Japan Visit the Countryside?

Japan, of course, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia, so even in the off-season there are lots of tourists.

Yet most foreign tourists are concentrated in just a few places. If a foreign tourist is in Japan for only a week or two, I can guess where they will go – Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka (maybe), and Hiroshima. Maybe they will go to Kyushu too, particularly if they are Taiwanese.

And even in those places, they will only go to certain spots. For example, in Hiroshima, all of the foreign tourists converge on the Peace Park, and are to be found nowhere else (unless you count Miyajima because it is in Hiroshima Prefecture).

To put it succinctly, most foreign tourists only go to the cities on the southern coast of Honshu and *maybe* Kyushu.

When I first realized this, I considered this really weird. In Taiwan, unless they are just stopping in Taipei for a few days, most foreign tourists do get out into the rural areas. They might only go to places like Jiufen, Sun Moon Lake, Taroko Gorge, Alishan, etc. – but as touristy as those places are, they are not urban.

I met plenty of tourists in Japan who had great interest in seeing the countryside … they simply did not know how. It is not on Japan’s well-beaten tourism track. Taiwan is less on the beaten international tourism track than Japan (which means the tourists who do come to Taiwan are generally more adventurous), and Taiwan is better set up to send foreign tourists to the countryside than Japan is. Taiwan has to – Taiwanese cities on their own are generally not enough to pull in the foreign tourists – whereas Japan has enough in just the cities of Kanto/Kansai/Hiroshima to bring in crowds from around the world. No need to make it convenient for those foreigners to get out of the city.

I had spent years in Taiwan learning how to navigate the rural areas, and this knowledge served me well in Japan. First of all, I can read Chinese characters, who makes navigating rural Japan easier (thank you so much for using so much kanji!), and I am used to putting up with certain inconveniences (walking 3km to get to a bus stop, reading bus schedules so I can be there for the bus which only runs four times per day, etc.) but most importantly I was used to travel in rural areas, even if I am the only foreigner within ten kilometers. Before I lived in Taiwan, I am not sure I would have had the confidence to travel around rural Japan alone.

And I will say this – if you visit Japan, VISIT THE COUNTRYSIDE! Even if you can only fit in one day in the countryside, fit in that one day. It is totally different from urban Japan. And I find rural Japan way more interesting than urban Japan. If you want a relatively convenient trip to the Japanese countryside, I highly recommend going to the Yama-no-be-no-michi in Nara Prefecture. You can get to Kintetsu/JR Tenri station from Nara city within 20 minutes by train, there are lots of signs in English, yet it is totally authentic Japanese countryside – in fact, it is the cradle of Japanese civilization. And much as I like seeing the big Buddha and Nara Park, I enjoyed the Yama-no-be-no-michi much more.

EDIT: Now I have been to Hokkaido, and Hokkaido is like Taiwan in that the foreign tourists who make it this far north are not here just to see Sapporo (unless it is snow festival time) – they are also heading into the Hokkaido countryside. And what marvelous countryside it is, as I think the recent photo week demonstrates.


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National Parks in Hokkaido Week: Daisetsuzan National Park

I recently traveled around Hokkaido, and wish to share the photos I took in the national parks, complete with alt-text descriptions for the visually impaired. Click on the pictures to see them at full size. Enjoy!


Last but not least is Daisetsuzan National Park.

We see a blue sky mostly but not completely filled we white clouds.  There is a mountain with two ridges rising from the lower left to the upper right.  Three jets of steam rise in the middle, parallel to the ridges.  Below we see a little lake, which contains an upside down reflection of the mountain and the sky.  At the very bottom we see a bit of fence.

Mt. Asahi, the highest mountain in Hokkaido.

Above there are white clouds with a hole of blue sky in the center.  Below there is a mountain rising gently up in the shadow of the clouds, covered with a large snowfield like a white cape.  The snowfield is partially in the shade, partially in the sun.

The other side of Mt. Asahi.

In the upper right there is clear blue sky, but to the upper left and in the center right there are clouds blocking the view.  Past the clouds on the left there are views of tall green mountains with streaks of snow, with a green plain dotted with little blue lakes below.

Trying to see the Daisetsuzan mountain range and the little lakes below through the clouds.

Above is a clear blue sky, with some white clouds at the edges.  Below wee see a set of green and reddish-brown hills with a valley in the center, and a little snowfield in the valley.

And this is what I saw at the top of Mt. Asahi.

Above is a blue sky being covered with large clouds (the one clearing in the clouds is in the upper left).  Below we see a reddish-brown volcano with patches of green and a cicular crater at the top.

Mamiya-dake, as seen from the top of Mt. Asahi.

There is an opening of blue sky running from upper left to lower right; otherwise the clouds are blocking the sky.  Below we see a steep slope mostly covered with snow; otherwise it is brown.  The big cloud above is casting a partial shadow across the snow.  In the foreground is the closer side of the crater's rim, reddish-brown with tufts of green shrubs.

Inside the crater of Mamiya-dake.

Above is a clear blue sky partially blocked by a rectangle of clouds.  Below we see a giant basin with a mix of snow fields, greenery, rivers from snowmelt, sulfur mixing in the rivers, etc.  Around the basin are a ring of mountains, which are the same colors as the basin.

This is a giant basin in the middle of Hokkaido’s highest mountains.

In the center of a brown-gravel field, we see a close up of a clump of flowers. They have delicate little grey-green leaves (a bit like yarrow leaves), with pink flowers rising up. Each flower is deep pink at the base, and nearly white at the tips. Someone said that these flowers look like pink elephants' heads.

There are lots of alpine flowers up here, such as these komakusa flowers (thus named because they are supposed to have a face like a pony).

This is like the previous picture of the great basin, but instead of seeing a ring of mountains we see a relatively even ridgeline in the distance, and the mountains are in the shade, while the basin in partially in the sunshine.

Another view of the great basin.

Above is a clear blue sky.  Below we see basalt cliff on the right and left, with one bit of basalt cliff rising in the center like a tooth.  The cliffs are mostly brown but are partially covered by pine trees.  In the gaps between the cliffs there are waterfalls.  The left waterfall is a long white ribbon which spreads out and then narrows.  The right waterfall is barely visible because it is blocked by pine trees, but it looks very full.

An finally, at Kobako (within Sounkyo Gorge) we see the Ginga waterfall on the left, and the Ryusei waterfall on the right.


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National Parks in Hokkaido Week: Shiretoko National Park

I recently traveled around Hokkaido, and wish to share the photos I took in the national parks, complete with alt-text descriptions for the visually impaired. Click on the pictures to see them at full size. Enjoy!


This is in Shiretoko National Park, which is also a World Heritage Site.

At the top we see blue sky.  In the top right we see blue sea, and in the top left we see a cliff with forest at the top descending diagonally into the ocean in a twisty way.  There is a river mouth and a little beach just below the cliff.  In the foreground are some trees running diagonally from upper left to lower right in the lower left of the picture.

The mouth of the Iwaobetsu river.

In the top we see a clear blue sky.  Below that is a green mountain with a blanket of white clouds smothering it.  Below we see forest, and at the bottom of the picture a river is coming in a upper left to lower right diagonal towards the viewer.

Here is the Iwaobetsu river with Mt. Mitsumine in the background.

In this panorama shot, on the left we see some trees right above a cliff which is plunging into the blue sea.  Then we see a exposed rocky cliff further away also descending sharply into the blue sea.  There is a small, narrow little bay below it.  At the most inward part of the bay, we see a waterfall in the shadows, coming down a grassy cliff like a drooping tongue.

Can you find the waterfall in this picture?

Above, we see a clear blue sky with a single cloud.  In the lower half, we see a flat coastal area in the distance (with magnification we can see a few lakes), and then there is green mountain descending straight ahead towards the coast, with a line of snow going forward in a crack in the mountain.

A snow field descends in the direction of the Shiretoko Five Lakes.

In the upper left we see clear blue sky, and in the upper right we see a column of clouds coming up.  In the left center we see a triple emerald peak, with some snowfields on the right side.  In the foreground on the left is a pile of grey rocks.

Clouds come up over Mt. Mitsumine, as seen from the top of Mt. Rausu.

We see a clear blue sky with two clouds, with one cloud coming up from behind one of the Mitsumine peaks at the same angle as the mountain slope itself.  The peak itself is gree, with a field of brush pine in the foreground at the bottom of the picture.

Another view of Mt. Mitsumine

We see a clear blue sky above.  On the upper left, we see the Shiretoko mountains, green, with clouds blanketing the top.  In the foreground on the upper right, we see a tree, and in the lower part of the picture we see a black pond with green plants growing on top, all surrounded by bear bamboo.

Near the Shiretoko five lakes (no, this is not one of the lakes).

We see a clear blue sky with wisps of clouds coming up like smoke.  In the lower part of the picture, see what looks like an amazingly large flatish pile of grey rocks, which is in fact a mountain peak.

Mt. Rausu, the highest point on the Shiretoko peninsula.

At the top is a clear blue sky, but just below there is a layer of white clouds right above a set of green mountains extending in a line into the distance straight ahead, we a little green plain at the bottom, and a few grey rocks in the foreground.

The Shiretoko mountain range, as see from the top of Mt. Rausu, the highest point on the peninsula.

At the top we see clear blue sky, and then we see a horizontal line of green mountains blanketed by white clouds.  We see a line of forest.  In the bottom half of the picture is a rectangular looking lake which acts as a mirror, reflecting the mountains, clouds, and sky above.

The first of the Shiretoko Five Lakes.

Continue to the final post in this series: “Daisetzuzan National Park”


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