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Harumi Fujiyoshi "Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei"
If you often watch anime and read manga, you have probably come across the word “otaku” before. Heck, you even probably call yourself an otaku. An infamous word in Japan used to describe people with a specific passion, otaku has become the signature term globally for the consummate anime and manga fan, and can frequently be found here on Honey’s Anime, a website which specializes in “OTAKU Reviews & Recommendations.”
Making waves among fan communities currently, and bearing similarities to otaku with drastically different connotations is a new term referring to a particular type of female fan: fujoshi. Like otaku, the term“fujoshi” originated in Japan and has since spread globally. What does fujoshi even mean and how is it used today? This article sets out to answer these questions by briefly examining the Japanese word itself and the history behind it and also by taking a look at notable fujoshi representations in anime.
Now without further ado, let’s get rotten.
Fujoshi History and Etymology:
One can’t speak of fujoshi without first mentioning Boys Love. What would perhaps be called “gay porn” by those unfamiliar with it, Boys Love (often shortened to BL) refers broadly to media – often manga, anime, and light novels – depicting male-male love narratives with Japanese women as the targeted audience. Most people outside of Japan have probably heard yaoi used instead of BL when talking about media representing such narratives. Yaoi has been used and is still being used as an all-encompassing term much like BL to indicate these male-male fictions, though in in recent years in Japan, BL has eclipsed yaoi since its birth as a commercial genre in the 1990s.
The predominant demographic consuming and producing BL are widely viewed as Japanese women ranging in their early-teens to mid-to-late forties frequently called and self-identified as fujoshi, a term that literally translates to “rotten women.” While women who consumed and produced BL have existed since the 1970s, the conception of a particular type of women, the fujoshi, associated with BL appeared in the early 2000s on 2-chan, a popular messaging board website in Japan.
Since its first appearance on the Internet (within Japanese BL fan culture), fujoshi has become only one of many terms used to describe women with these interests. Despite this, it is by far the most commonly used term among BL fans and mainstream media in Japan (Saito, 2011: 171–3).
In Japanese, fujoshi is a homonym for “fujoshi” written as 婦女子, meaning a woman or grown woman. In this instance, fujoshi uses the kanji characters 腐女子 with 腐 meaning rotten and 女子 still meaning girl or woman. Fujoshi can be directly translated as “rotten woman,” however it gains a sense of self-deprecating humor due to its dual homonym meaning. This dual meaning perhaps reflects the standing of fujoshi culture in relation to the rest of society. Often times, fujoshi hide their media preferences, instead relying on coded language to communicate with other fujoshi in the public sphere. Fujoshi can be said to have a dual nature in this way: their “fujoshi” woman side and their “fujoshi” rotten side (Okabe et al., 2012).
Much like otaku, the term fujoshi has since spread among fan communities inside and outside of Japan and has appeared in many anime series. The following is a short list of notable anime featuring fujoshi characters.
Anime with Fujoshi Characters:
- Episodes: 13
- Aired: July 2013-September 2013
While Genshiken is widely known as the series that exposes the everyday life of an otaku, Genshiken Nidaime, the continuation of the original seinen anime and manga series, illustrates the everyday lives of fujoshi. With Ogiue Chika becoming the club president of Genshiken, the formerly male dominated club soon takes on a particular BL bent when a fujoshi freshmen joins the club.
In Genshiken Nidaime, we have a full cast of otaku, ranging from a history otaku to a cosplay otaku. Yet, their common interest in BL binds these characters together. What is particularly remarkable about Genshiken Nidaime is that not only does it depict fujoshi characters like Ogiue, but also fudanshi (the male counterpart of fujoshi), as embodied by Hato Kenjiro. Taking gender bending to the max, Genshiken Nidaime is perfect for those interested in the gendered dimension of media consumption and fan identity.
Ouran High School Host Club
- Episodes: 26
- Aired: April 2006-September 2006
A slight blast from the past, Ouran High School Host Club does have its lone fujoshi: Houshakuji Renge. Perhaps better known as the girl who believes she is Kyoya Otori’s fiancé because he resembles a video game character she loves, Renge is not merely interested in male/female romance. Rather, on more than one occasion, she gives her fellow female classmates insight on love between men. Though she’s a side character, Renge provides comedic relief in a show that is already hilarious.
- Episodes: 12
- Aired: July 2014-September 2014
While Tamako Arai is not the main focus of Barakamon, her well-meaning presence and complex about being a fujoshi provides insight into what could be called the “fujoshi lifestyle.” For those looking for a quality show with a hint of “rotten-ness,” Barakamon might just be up your alley.
Barakamon, a 2014 summer hit, follows the story of professional calligrapher Seishū Hanada as he retreats to the island of Gotō to discover his own calligraphy style. While living on this island, he encounters a young girl named Naru Kotoishi and other eclectic characters that teach him more about life.
With hopes, this article has given you a taste of what fujoshi is. As there are many facets to fujoshi culture, I have only briefly defined the meaning of the term itself. If you are interested in learning more about fujoshi, there is a quite a bit of academic literature published on the subject. Following is a short list of recommended titles for the curious. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints about this article or the list, please feel free to write them below!
- Aoyama, Tomoko. “BL (Boys’ Love) Literacy: Subversion, Resuscitation, and Transformation of the (Father’s) Text.” U.S.-Japan Women’s Journal 43, no. 1 (2013): 63–84. doi:10.1353/jwj.2013.0001.
- Fujimoto, Yukari. “Transgender: Female Hermaphrodites and Male Androgynes.” L. Flores & K. Nagaike, Trans.). Edited by S. Orbaugh. US-Japan Women’s Journal 27 (2004): 76–117.
- Galbraith, Patrick W. “Fujoshi: Fantasy Play and Transgressive Intimacy among ‘Rotten Girls’ in Contemporary Japan.” Signs 37, no. 1 (Spring 2011): 211–32. doi:10.1086/660182.
- Galbraith, Patrick W., and Thomas Lamarre. “Otakuology: A Dialogue.” Mechademia 5, no. 1 (2010): 360–74.
- Matsui, Midori. “Little Girls Were Little Boys: Displaced Femininity in the Representation of Homosexuality in Japanese Girls’ Comics.” In Feminism and the Politics of Difference, edited by Sneja Marina Gunew and Anna Yeatman, 177–96. Allen & Unwin, 1993.
- Mizoguchi, Akiko. “Male-Male Romance by and for Women in Japan: A History and the Subgenres of Yaoi Fictions.” US-Japan Women’s Journal 25 (2003): 49–75.
- Nagaike, Kazumi. “Elegant Caucasians, Amorous Arabs, and Invisible Others: Signs and Images of Foreigners in Japanese BL Manga.” Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific 20 (2009): 29.
- Nagaike, Kazumi, and Tomoko Aoyama. “What Is Japanese ‘BL Studies?’: A Historical and Analytical Overview.” In Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan, edited by Mark McLelland, Kazumi Nagaike, Katsuhiko Suganuma, and James Welker, 119–40. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2015.
- Okabe, Daisuke, and Kimi Ishida. “Making Fujoshi Identity Visible and Invisible.” In Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, 207–24. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.
- Saito, Kumiko. “Desire in Subtext: Gender, Fandom, and Women’s Male-Male Homoerotic Parodies in Contemporary Japan.” Mechademia 6, no. 1 (2011): 171–91. doi:10.1353/mec.2011.0000.