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Barazoku (薔薇族?) is Japan's first male gay magazine commercially circulated.[Adonis 1] It began publication in July 1971 by Daini Shobō's owner's son and editor Bungaku Itō (伊藤 文學 Itō Bungaku?). It is Japan's oldest and longest running monthly magazine for gay men. However, it has ceased publication 3 times due to the publisher's financial hardships. In 2008, Itō has announced the 400th issue would be the final one. The title means "the rose tribe" in Japanese, hinted from King Laius' homosexual episodes in Greek mythology. The magazine has been printed in Japanese only.
Gay magazines in Japan, along with much gay culture, are segregated by "type"; most are aimed at an audience with specific interests. Barazoku, however, attempted to reach a broad audience and thus contained "a little of something for everybody". A typical issue of Barazoku had approximately 300 pages, including several pages of glossy colour and some black and white photographs of younger, fit men in their late teens and twenties (these photographs were censored in accordance with Japan's rules, which require the obscuring of genitals and pubic hair). Despite the inclusion of pornographic pictures, however, Barazoku was not a pornographic magazine.
The bulk of a typical issue of Barazoku was made up of articles and short stories, advice, how-tos, interviews, news, arts, and community listings. In comparison with other gay magazines like Badi, Barazoku typically had fewer pictures and less manga stories and news, which may have contributed to its demise.
Much of the magazine's revenue came from the "personal ads" - advertisements placed by readers in search of romantic attachments, friends or sex partners. Such advertisements have long been a popular way for gay men to meet each other in Japan, but the advent of the internet, with its free dating sites, also contributed to the magazine's eventual end, especially when such sites became accessible from mobile phones.
Along with the rise in use of the internet and a decrease in paid advertising, Barazoku blamed its demise on the increasing inclusion of gay news in mainstream publications.
Barazoku was Japan's oldest gay magazine, and was in print for 33 years. First published in 1971, Barazoku was known as a trailblazer for other gay publications and a leader in Japanese gay culture, boasting celebrity fans including Akihiro Miwa, a drag queen rumored to have been a lover of famed author Yukio Mishima. During its 33 years, the magazine survived mainstream disapproval, legal injunctions, and numerous arrests of its founder and editor, Bungaku Itō.
Barazoku was the first gay magazine in Asia to be sold at mainstream bookshops, such as Kinokuniya. It became such a cultural phenomenon that its title has entered the mainstream language as a synonym for "gay" and gay manga.
In its early years, the magazine published anonymous work by some of Japan’s most famous poets and authors, and artwork by Goto Mishima. Founder Ito's determination to fight discrimination led the magazine to publish an interview with Japan’s first known AIDS sufferer when the mainstream media refused to address the issue.
The demise of Barazoku may come as a blow to gays in isolated communities in Japan: the magazine's strongest sales came from small, independent bookshops in such areas. According to Ito, "When we told readers that this would be the last issue, I received a letter that just said: 'Your magazine has helped untold numbers of us out of the hell of isolation.'"
Several attempts were made to restart the magazine, twice in 2005, and then again in 2007.
Bungaku Ito, the promotor of the magazine, had already published some books for oppressed gay people in Japan since 1968, such as Homo Techniques: Sex Life between a Man and another Man (ホモテクニックー男と男の性生活 Homo Tekunikku - Otoko to Otoko no Seiseikatsu?) and Lesbian Techniques: Sex Life between a Woman and another Woman (レスビアンテクニックー女と女の性生活 Resubian Tekunikku - Onna to Onna no Seiseikatsu?) and then became confident that Japan's first gay magazine would also be welcomed. In 1970, Ito announced in one of his publications that he was going to launch a gay magazine, in order to reduce prejudices in the mainstream cultures and encourage gay people that they deserve better lives and brighter future. As a result, 2 men called Ryu Fujita and Hiroshi Mamiya contacted Ito for help. Lucky for heterosexual Ito, both of them were gay, and were also experienced writers/editors, having had worked for minor magazines. As Ito had not had any experiences in publishing magazines but paperbacks, most parts of the first issue of Barazoku, including essays, photographs and illustrations, were made by Fujita and Mamiya. In the meantime, Ito attempted to convince bookstore's agencies like Tohan that having his magazine in mainstream bookstores would be profitable. Initially Tohan rejected it as they thought neither men nor women would be interested in such a magazine, but finally accepted it as Ito's other books for gay people had outsold their expectations.
The magazine was named Barazoku (The Rose Tribe) by Ito since the flower rose had been a prominent symbol of male homosexuality in Japan, derived from Greek myth of the King Laius who have affairs with boys under rose trees. The first issue was published on 30 July 1971, with 72 pages including only 6 pages of nude photographs, and the price was 260 yen per copy. It was sold in major bookstores such as Books Kinokuniya in Shinjuku and Shibuya. Most of the first 10,000 copies were sold out shortly. After that, the news of successful launch of Japan's first gay magazine became a hot topic in other magazines. Ito analyzes that the popularity was due to the fact that the 2 helping editors' favorite "type" was sporty young men, that was what most of gay people love. Therefore the contents of the magazine would match the readers' interests.
1970s and controversies
Encouraged by the first issue's success, Ito published the second issue in November 1972. However, one of the nude photographs titled Summer of '52: Omoide no Natsu (Summer Memories) was found obscene by the police as one of the models' few pubic hairs were not censored properly. Ito was afraid of penalties especially a ban on further publication of Barazoku, however he received no penalties but a warning "not another pubic hair" in future issues. Later Ito continued issuing Barazoku bi-monthly and the sales was increasing.
In 1973, Barazoku salvaged a short novel Ai no Shokei (Love Execusion) by Tamotsu Sakakiyama from a member-only gay magazine Apollo from the 1960s. Ai no Shokei, since its first appearance in 1960, had been rumored to be written by renowned author Yukio Mishima for its similarities with Mishima"s Yukoku(1961). Barazoku 's aim was to discuss whether the rumor was true or not. In addition to regular Barazoku writers, university professor Masamichi Abe and film critique Tatsuji Okawa were invited. Abe pointed out there are similarities in Ai no Shokei and Yukoku, however did not confirm they are both Mishima's works. Whereas, Barazoku's editor Ryu Fujita and novelist Mansaku Arashi both insisted that Ai no Shokei was written by Mishima under the pseudonym. In 2005, 32 years after the discussion, it was confirmed that Fujita and Arashi were right.
Since 1974, Barazoku was sold on a monthly base as Ito wanted to compete Adon, a new gay magazine to be launched by Sadashiro Minami, one of the former writers of Barazoku. Monthly Barazoku was welcomed by the readers and the circulation was increased. But in 1975, a new series of erotic novel Danshoku Saiyuki (Gay Journey to the West) started in the April issue, was found obscene. This time Ito and the novel's author Mansaku Arashi were summoned and interrogated harshly, until when the investigators found out that Arashi was related to a former prime minister of Japan. Soon the interrogation was closed and Ito and Arashi were not criminalized, but further sale of the April 1975 issue was forbidden.
In 1976, Ito opened a cafe named Matsuri (Carnival) in Shinjuku Area, as a socializing space for Barazoku's readers. Ito thought there would not be so many visitors who would dare to be seen as gay, but it instantly became a very popular place and Ito needed to open a couple more branches as the first Matsuri was not capable of all the visitors. In addition, for female gay visitors, a lesbian cafe Ribonnu (Ribboned Girl) was opened in the same district.
By the end of the 1970s, Barazoku became much thicker in volume with increased articles and photographs, and the price went up to 500 yen. The rise of the price was welcomed by readers who did not want to be seen when buying the gay magazine, as they did not have to wait for the change if they give a 500-yen note.
1980s: rise of Bara products and AIDS
In 1981, Barazoku began selling gay videos and it turned out to be another success. Ito stated that although purchasing such videos via mail-order had been considered unsafe, many people placed orders as they trusted Barazoku's reputation. One of the pilot titles Bara to Umi to Taiyo to (Roses, the Sea and the Sun) became popular and was later shown in movie theaters with the catchphrase Barazoku Eiga (movie). Since then, all male gay movies in Japan have been labelled as "Barazoku Eiga", regardless of who produced them.
In 1982, Ito produced a lubricant product and named it "Love Oil". He appealed to the readers that for safer and better sex, they should use condoms and put Love Oil over it. It became another popular product of Barazoku, with average sales of 4000 - 5000 bottles per month.
In 1985 Barazoku staff managed to interview an AIDS patient. It was the first interview between a Japanese AIDS patient and a member of the media.
Barazoku also published extra issues featuring gay manga, including the now-famous works of Junichi Yamakawa, such as Kuso Miso Technique (1987). However, Yamakawa's style was hated by the editors except for Ito himself. Eventually Yamakawa stopped visiting Ito and still has not been in contact since then.
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- 薔薇族 [The Rose Tribe] (398). Daini Shobo. 2008. pp. 46–55.
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- Ito, Bungaku (2001). 薔薇ひらく日を - 薔薇族と共に歩んだ30年 [The Day When The Roses Bloom: 30 years with the rose tribe]. Kawaide Shobo Shinsha. pp. 144–145. ISBN 4-309-90455-6.
- Lewis, Leo and Tim Teeman: "Voice of gay Japan falls silent after 30 years in the pink"
- Mackintosh, Jonathan D. Itō Bungaku and the Solidarity of the Rose Tribes (Barazoku): Stirrings of Homo Solidarity in Early 1970s Japan Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context Issue 12, January 2006
- There had been a member-only magazine called Adonis and its extra issue Apollo in around 1960.
- Barazoku website (Japanese)