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Noritaka Moriyama
Photography: Shinichi Shimazaki

The Japanese Kojien Dictionary and Sexual Diversity

Noritaka Moriyama
Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

The definition of LGBT in the Latest Kojien Dictionary

The definition of LGBT appears in the seventh edition of the Kojien dictionary published in January 2018. This was received by many people as a reflection of our society's heightened awareness towards sexual diversity issues.

Many people also noticed how the term LGBT in the dictionary was misinterpreted. It was criticized by the public and many demanded an immediate revision. Their original definition of LGBT (an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) as people whose sexual orientations are different from the majority is certainly incorrect. The concept of sexual orientation (indicating a person's sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted) is only directly relevant to gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. For transgender people, whose gender identity (the way people identify themselves in terms of gender) differs from their biological sex or the gender that people around them see them as based on physical appearance, the question of sexual orientation has no connection to their gender identity.

Although criticism of the inaccuracy of this definition is a matter of course and is necessary, I would like to take a slightly different approach to the issue. The first question is, since when have other words and phrases related to sexual diversity been included in the dictionary, and what do those definitions look like?

Since When Have Terms Related to Sexual Diversity Appeared in Dictionaries?

I decided to do some research to find out which editions of Kojien first included entries of words related to sexual diversity. Here's a quick test for the readers. Sort the terms "isei-ai (heterosexuality)," "dousei-ai (homosexuality)," and "ryousei-ai (bisexuality)" in order of when they were first included in Kojien.

An unfair test, I know. The first term that was included in the first edition (1955) was dousei-ai. Isei-ai was later included in the sixth edition (2008). However, the word ryousei-ai has not entered the lexicon even in the current seventh edition. Incidentally, the word bisexual (italicized English terms used in this article show that the actual terms are written and defined in Japanese using the katakana script, which is commonly used in Japan today to indicate words that are borrowed primarily from English or other European languages) was included in the sixth edition. The term dousei-ai was first identified as an existence that deviates from what is considered normal (this is called markedness in the theory of social discrimination), and isei-ai was eventually added to provide the definition of what is considered normal, making the two sides balanced, at least in form. However, the word bisexual, which was not even recognized, was finally introduced in katakana form, treating it as something that is not on the same plane as homosexuality or heterosexuality. This may just be my personal interpretation, but it is almost frightening how closely in tandem these definitions have evolved with the social history of actual LGB people.

I will gather some other results from my research here. Dousei-ai was included in the first edition. Homo (defined as an abbreviation of homosexual in the second edition) first appeared in the second edition (1969), rezu (an abbreviation of the word lesbian) first appeared in the third edition (1983), the words gay and lesbian first appeared in the fourth edition (1991), skip one edition, and the words isei-ai, bisexual, gender identity disorder, gender identity, and sexual orientation first appeared in the sixth edition, and finally, LGBT and transgender appeared in the seventh edition. As far as I can tell, this chronology seems like an accurate reflection of how Japanese society has received sexual minorities throughout history. Although discriminatory terms like homo and rezu should not be used lightly just because they appear in Kojien, it is understandable that as a dictionary they would not exclude such derogatory language. Their use should be left up to the wisdom and ethical judgment of the individual.

Considering this background, the issue surrounding the inaccurate definition of the term LGBT should give rise to a new topic of discussion. Why is it that even after the terms sexual orientation and gender identity appeared previously in the sixth edition, did they neglect to add both concepts in the definition for LGBT? Digging deeper, the word sexuality, which also appeared in the sixth edition, contains the unfamiliar term "seiteki shikosei" in its definition, which is not consistent with the term "seiteki shiko" (sexual orientation) that appears in the same edition of the dictionary. The fact that this inconsistency occurred shows that the words related to sexuality have not yet reached a point where they are properly organized within the dictionary.

How Have the Definitions Changed?

The definitions of some of the entries have changed. Let's take the word dousei-ai(homosexuality) that has appeared in Kojien since the first edition. Under pressure from a gay rights organization called OCCUR, the publisher Iwanami Shoten removed the term sexual abnormality from the definition in the fourth edition. I had assumed that the term sexual abnormality was included in the first to the third editions as well, but actually, in the first edition, the definition simply says, "sexual attraction to people of one's own sex, and the emotion of love attached to it." This means that there were people who were involved in the publication of the second edition who thought that homosexuality should be described as abnormal. To me, this definition is inaccurate and terrifying. Incidentally, in the fourth and fifth editions, the unfamiliar term sexual love appears, but in the sixth edition and onwards, the term has changed to sexual desire. I assume that they used the word love to avoid the tendency to associate homosexuality only with the act of sex, but when they introduced the entry of heterosexuality, the creators perhaps made a distinction between the words in terms of sexual desire in order to avoid displaying discriminatory intent.

How Do Words Shape Reality?

The history of how Japanese society—or the authors of the dictionary—thought about sexual diversity is contained within the pages of the Kojien. These are not just mere words we're talking about. How do we protect sexual diversity in our society, and what are the appropriate words for it? Instead of reacting in anger by saying you don't want to use difficult technical terms, or that shunning the use of degrading language is political correctness in the extreme, shouldn't we learn about how words help shape reality, and think carefully about what lies ahead? After all, words are not to be placed in a display case merely to be gazed upon—they are powerful and easy-to-use tools that build the very world we speak of.

Noritaka Moriyama
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1982, Noritaka Moriyama completed his doctoral program at the Department of Advanced Social and International Studies, University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is an expert in sociology and queer studies. Before assuming his current position at Waseda University, he was an assistant professor at the Department of Advanced Social and International Studies, University of Tokyo Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. His notable publications include Gay Community no Shakaigaku (Sociology of the Japanese “Gay Community”) (Keiso Shobo, 2012) and LGBT wo Yomitoku: Queer Studies Nyumon (What Does LGBT Stand for?: An Introduction to Queer Studies) (Chikumashobo, 2017).