Yuri 101 | Setting the Stage

Crossdressing theater is a centuries-old practice in Japan, as it is in Western Europe. Traditional and aristocratic noh plays always boasted male actors and Kabuki, a genre more popular among the lower classes, first emerged as an all-female mode of theater before it was banned due to an association with sex work, leading young boys to take the role of women. They, too, were banned with time due to the link with prostitution, leaving adult men the sole actors in the genre. With the Meiji Restoration, Kabuki became a symbol of Japanese pride, and though debates around it raged, it was accepted as an important cultural tradition. At the same time, with the bourgeoisification of the nation and the initial sightings of spectacle-culture, young girls and women were making attempts to break into the historically segregated theater industry. Afraid of the “degenerate schoolgirl” and desperate to maintain the “good wife, wise mother” dynamic, railroad baron Ichizo Kobayashi devised an all-female, modern mirror of kabuki: the Takarazuka Revue.

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The Definition of Iyashikei Isn’t So Simple

If Natsume Yuujincho is about anything in particular, it’s an all-encompassing kindness towards other people as well as the world at large, in a very ecological sense. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Iyashikei as a whole is almost defined by its relative lack of antagonistic forces, a decentering of conflict, something which would seem antithetical to the very structure of narrative. Yet oddly it works for this oh-so-particular genre. Natsume, in focusing on youkai, accomplishes what other iyashikei achieve through other means: an elaboration of the world as living, equally important to human life itself and necessarily tied up with that human life. It presents harmony as the utmost ideal, something which takes work but is more than worth the payoff. In a sense, it’s a near-perfect series in the way it engages with this. But that brings us to an important question. Why is it that only series widely recognized as “good” count as iyashikei?

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