HomeAsia-Pacific Social Science Reviewvol. 15 no. 2 (2015)

Experiences of Coming Out in Japan: Negotiating “Perceived Homophobia”

Kotona Motoyam



Heteronormative society requires non-heterosexuals to come out in order to be recognized. Coming out is often the most challenging experience for non-heterosexuals and heteronormativity and homophobia are two powerful obstacles that they have to deal with. This paper considers how non-heterosexuals come out to themselves and to heterosexual others under the effect of Japanese cultural norms. Interviews with 24 non-heterosexuals and their experiences revealed that they have to deal with not only heteronormativity and homophobia like non-heterosexuals in the Western culture, but also “perceived homophobia,” which is created by the expectation of “respectable Japanese selves.” Thus, coming out in Japan requires a continuous process of negotiation with cultural norms embedded in a society. The paper raises questions about the necessity of considering cultural differences in coming out and explains how non-heterosexuals negotiate with themselves and others in order to live “happily” in Japan’s strongly conformist culture. This paper provides a better understanding of sexual minority issues in the Japanese context.