Keywords: Boy-love, Japan

Shota: Japanese 'boylove' vs. Western subculture

wanpaku; Mar 14 2006
Type of Workessay

If you're not interested in modern boy-love in Japan, stop now! This is the most long-winded and random writing I've ever posted on this board -- you have been warned!

I was poking around on Wiki and thought it was really interesting how different the entries were for Shotacon or Shota in the Japanese Wikipedia and the English Wiki.

Most people in Western countries who know the word know it as it applies to explicit manga focusing on boys, which by now is far from uncommon even on the English-speaking Internet. But what most don't know is that Shota is also used in today's Japan to describe sexual attraction to boys in general. Not only that, but it is probably the more embraced term nowadays than shounen-ai (which literally means "boy-love").

Poking around the entries in Wiki on this particular subject shed a lot of light on how different thinking is in Japan and in the West, so I thought I'd share some of those differences.

Lest this turn into a political debate, I'm not trying to say one viewpoint is better than the other--I'm just trying to show another side of the matter. I'm also translating the Japanese article fairly literally, so if something rubs off as un-PC, try to overlook it...

From the English Wiki:

Shotacon (also Shota, and commonly misspelled Shouta) is a Japanese and anime term for a sexual complex where an adult is attracted to an underage boy. Shota typically refers to male characters under thirteen years of age.

The Japanese Wiki has a broader definition:

Shotacon is a tendency toward sexual interest in boys rather than adult males. It also describes a female who has these kinds of sexual tastes. It sometimes refers to males as well, as well as people with love or emotional attachment for boys and underage males ages 0-18 or pictures, manga, and novels depicting them.

The Japanese Wiki quickly points out that the term started as a way of describing women, which actually differs quite a bit from both the Western definition and what the term has evolved to mean in Japan today. There are a lot of male shota out there, which is why one of the main sub-headers in the Japanese Wiki is entitled "The Actuality of Homosexual Shotacon."

It's in this section that the article dives into the background and history of what we call "boy-love." This includes references to Ancient Greece, explanations of some of the misunderstandings held by society, and so on. The coverage of these modern social issues is much more complete in the shotacon article than the shounen-ai article (which deals primarily with historical boy-love).

The shounen-ai article even acknowledges that the meaning of shotacon has broadened to apply to the sexual attraction, and is now synonymous with shounen-ai. I would argue that shotacon has more or less replaced that word in modern discourse. One writer on the shounen-ai Wiki discussion page points out that shotacon or shota are the more apt terms, stating that

  • (a) people attracted to boys use the term for themselves, and
  • (b) to him shounen-ai suggests love for an existing boy, while shota refers to a broader, multi-dimensional attraction to boys.

Going back to the shotacon article, let me outline a couple of the assertions it makes:

  • According to the editor of Barazoku, a popular gay magazine, 1 in 10 men are homosexual. Further, a University of Chicago study found 2 out of 127 homosexuals studied exhibited an attraction to children. Simply calculating based on this data would suggest that 1 out of 800 males is a "boy-lover" (shounen-aisha).
  • The acceptance of "boy-love" attractions in Japan probably faded in post-WWII Japan with the signing of the 1950 "Mental Health Act" (seishin-eiseihou) designed to protect the emotional well-being of people, and "boy-lovers" were deemed dangerous and unpredictable.
  • In terms of whether or not "boy-lovers" can be reformed or not, the article of course states that it would be difficult if not impossible, but interestingly enough, it also says that the attitude in Japan that counseling can "fix" sexual orientation is thought to have come from American movies, etc.

I also thought it was interesting how the English article about shotacon carefully dances around any association with pedophilia, even though the term carries that nuance more and more in Japan. Look at how the English article explains the origin of the term shotacon:

  • The phrase derives from "Shotaro complex" (Shôtarô is a hero character from Tetsujin 28-go and is a popular generic name for young male characters in anime) and is sometimes contracted further to shota. Shôtarô, in those anime and manga, often outwitted ungainly grownups and was never afraid to say what he had to against them. Disregarding a few situations in which his physical limits became a disadvantage, he had everything that could be had for an adult. His appearance was also deemed cute.

"He had everything that could be had for an adult"? Sounds like making an excuse to me, with "cute" as an afterthought. The Japanese explanation of this same word origin goes a little differently:

  • The word comes from "Shotaro complex," named after Shotaro Kanada, a character in Testujin 28-gou. There's no confirmation of crazed Shotaro Kanada fans back when the manga was first published, but in the 1980s the term came to mean people with love or emotional attraction to boys Shotaro's age who looked good in shorts like his.

No apologies. Hot boy, hot shorts. How strange that the English article insists shotacon is about sex ("Though non-hentai shota does not technically exist") it won't have any part of pedophilia. Yet the Japanese article points out how broad the term is (everything from emotional to sexual attraction), and still doesn't shrug off the implications of pedophilia.

Well, I'm not sure I have a point, but I thought it was good reading and wanted to pass it on to those who can't speak Japanese.

So long for now,