In this podcast episode, I chat with fellow Japanologist Jordan Marshak (@j_marshak) about Passionate Friendship, a book by Deborah Shamoon that analyses the 20th-century history of girls’ culture in Japan. Our discussion explores the fragile boundaries between homosocial affection, homoerotic attraction and homosexual identity, and social constructions of heterosexuality and homosexuality — covering the gamut from medieval knights in Europe to the recent controversy over the treatment of same-sex attraction in Fire Emblem: Fates.
“One of the most salient and misunderstood forms of prewar girls’ culture is the prevalence of homosociality and particularly S kankei (S relationships), a close but temporary bond between two girls. Although S relationships have a homoerotic element, they should not be read as lesbian in the twenty-first-century sense of a fixed sexual identity. S relationships were tolerated, even encouraged by educators and other authority figures, as a way to channel girls’ desires away from heterosexual activity. Representations of S relationships in fiction were always coded as pure, innocent and asexual. As a result, the love between two girls, because it was understood as chaste, becomes the ideal expression of spiritual love.” – p.11
“Honorable men these days do not treat each other with the proper degree of care and respect. In the days of the flower of chivalry, a knight would greet his brother after a long absence with a kiss to the mouth and tears of joy, as befitting such a happy reunion of brothers!”