Do you have an idea or can point me towards a good explanation why a lot of gay manga revolves...

Q: Do you have an idea or can point me towards a good explanation why a lot of gay manga revolves around BDSM and torture? I've tried thinking about it critically, but without knowing much history I can't be too insightful.

It’s a great question, and I’m afraid there’s no simple answer! Japan has its own rich indigenous sexual history, following a trajectory almost completely unperturbed by the West up until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Elements of torture and BDSM have been present in Japanese culture for centuries, long before the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) came to define the term “sadism.” Rope bondage, for instance, can be traced back to the martial art of Hojojutsu, estimated to be over 1,000 years old. 

In Gay Erotic Art in Japan Vol. 1, Gengoroh Tagame follows the origins of contemporary Japanese gay erotic art to the hentai zasshi (“perverse magazines”) of the post-war era, which allowed all kinds of erotica to co-exist: heterosexual, gay, lesbian, fetish and S&M. These magazines, like Fuzokukitan, were the platform for a generation of gay artists whose work frequently focused on BDSM, including Go Mishima, Tatsuji Okawa, and Sanshi Funayama.

Nowadays, the incidence of BDSM actually seems much lower than it was half a century ago in Japanese gay erotic art. There’s a lot more room for a variety of sexual tastes in contemporary gay manga, so it usually depends on each artist’s personal predilections. Clearly, BDSM is essential to the erotic tastes of Gengoroh Tagame, which accounts for its frequent appearance on this blog— but while BDSM isn’t entirely absent from in the work of mangaka such as Kazuhide Ichikawa and Seizoh Ebisubashi, it’s perhaps less central to their practice.

The erotic themes in gay manga also have a lot to do with which magazine is paying for it. If a mangaka is hired by SM-Z, their work is going to be bondagey. If it’s for Samson, it’s going to feature an older male character. For G-men, the characters might have a more “macho” look. So BDSM is just one “flavor” available in the Japanese gay marketplace, and hence gay manga.

Do you have an idea or can point me towards a good explanation why a lot of gay manga revolves...

Q: Do you have an idea or can point me towards a good explanation why a lot of gay manga revolves around BDSM and torture? I've tried thinking about it critically, but without knowing much history I can't be too insightful.

It’s a great question, and I’m afraid there’s no simple answer! Japan has its own rich indigenous sexual history, following a trajectory almost completely unperturbed by the West up until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Elements of torture and BDSM have been present in Japanese culture for centuries, long before the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) came to define the term “sadism.” Rope bondage, for instance, can be traced back to the martial art of Hojojutsu, estimated to be over 1,000 years old. 

In Gay Erotic Art in Japan Vol. 1, Gengoroh Tagame follows the origins of contemporary Japanese gay erotic art to the hentai zasshi (“perverse magazines”) of the post-war era, which allowed all kinds of erotica to co-exist: heterosexual, gay, lesbian, fetish and S&M. These magazines, like Fuzokukitan, were the platform for a generation of gay artists whose work frequently focused on BDSM, including Go Mishima, Tatsuji Okawa, and Sanshi Funayama.

Nowadays, the incidence of BDSM actually seems much lower than it was half a century ago in Japanese gay erotic art. There’s a lot more room for a variety of sexual tastes in contemporary gay manga, so it usually depends on each artist’s personal predilections. Clearly, BDSM is essential to the erotic tastes of Gengoroh Tagame, which accounts for its frequent appearance on this blog— but while BDSM isn’t entirely absent from in the work of mangaka such as Kazuhide Ichikawa and Seizoh Ebisubashi, it’s perhaps less central to their practice.

The erotic themes in gay manga also have a lot to do with which magazine is paying for it. If a mangaka is hired by SM-Z, their work is going to be bondagey. If it’s for Samson, it’s going to feature an older male character. For G-men, the characters might have a more “macho” look. So BDSM is just one “flavor” available in the Japanese gay marketplace, and hence gay manga.

Fuzokukitan (風俗奇譚) magazineCovers and pages from various issues...





















Fuzokukitan (風俗奇譚) magazine
Covers and pages from various issues (1961-1966) 

Gengoroh Tagame paints a picture of the seminal Fuzokukitan’s impact on Japanese gay art in his primer on the genre, Gay Erotic Art in Japan vol. 1: Artists from the Time of the Birth of Gay Magazines.

The story of contemporary gay erotic art in Japan can start with the magazine Fuzokukitan (1960-1974). Fuzokukitan was a magazine that included all sorts of kinks, both male and female: S&M, fetishism, homosexuality, lesbianism, and transvestism. In short, it was for abnormal sexualities.

Fuzokukitan didn’t exist in a vacuum– it was just one of several popular hentai zasshi (“perverse magazines”). But unlike other hentai magazines, Fuzokukitan brazenly featured male nudes on its cover, including works by the American artist George Quaintance and Tom of Finland.

Even in the issues with images of women on the cover, the catch copy featured gay related articles such as “Sexual Desire: Pictures of Sodomy and Lesbos” (October 1961), “The Country of Sodom,” and “Graphic: The World of Sadism, Masochism and Homosexuals” (special extended issue, August 1963).

Tagame goes on to detail the contents of Fuzokukitan’s August 1962 issue (top left in the above gallery):

On the cover are two cowboys. One, a naked young man, is standing closer to us, and the other man, standing behind him, is making eye contact with him. If the viewer is gay, he will instantly get a sense of physical attraction basic to the construction of the picture. Though there is no credit to the artist, this piece is by the gay erotic artist George Quaintance, who was then an active contributor to an American "physique” magazines.

The frontispiece is four male nude pieces by Tom of Finland, who was also a “physique” magazine artist. The illustrations on the index page are similar. Then, there are sixteen gravure pages, and five out of the sixteen are of male nudes. Eleven pages of heterosexual frontispieces follow, then five pages of transvestites, and after the body in the middle section of the magazine, are eight pages of gay frontispieces. There are two gay articles out of six featured articles on “Cruel Stories of The War Front.” Of those seven essays and memorandums, three are gay and one is transvestite themed. One of the two serial novels has a gay theme, and there is a gay column and a transvestite column. What’s more, thirty seven out of fifty people with ads in the personal section are gay, more than half. As shown above, at least in this issue, over half of the contents are related to gay issues.

Many of the artists Tagame profiles in Gay Erotic Art in Japan first published their work in Fuzokukitan, including Tatsuji Okawa, Sanshi Funayama, Go Mishima and Go Hirano. By the late 1960s, these artists had moved on from the sexual smorgasbord of Fuzokukitan to publish their work in Bara, a small-circulation gay magazine, before finding a home at Barazoku, the first mass-market magazine for gay men.