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Adachi & Shimamura Unpacks What It’s Really Like to Be Queer in Japan

Adachi & Shimamura isn’t just a yuri series depicting a budding romance between young women. It also examines the realities of being LGBTQIA in Japan.

Adachi and Shimamura is a yuri light novel series similar to Bloom Into You in that it depicts a slow-burn romance between two high school girls right up to adulthood. Written by Hitoma Iruma with artwork by Non, the story centers around Hougetsu Shimamura and Sakura Adachi, two classmates who meet on the second floor of their school gym and become close friends. By their second year, Adachi and Shimamura become romantic partners and start learning new things about themselves as they embark on this new journey together. Interestingly, queer romance is not the only thing Adachi and Shimamura has going for it; the light novels also shed light on what it’s really like to be LGBTQIA in Japan.

While Japan is not historically hostile toward the LGBTQIA community and is culturally accepting, the Japanese government also does not offer any legal protections for LGBTQIA individuals. Though it does not criminalize these identities and behaviors, same-sex marriage is also not legalized at the federal level due to patriarchy and heteronormativity. This means that while some municipalities in Japan do offer same-sex partnership certificates, without legal protection at the federal level, this restricts where LGBTQIA couples can live and where they can travel in Japan. Adachi and Shimamura depicts the impact of this status quo on its queer characters.

Adachi & Shimamura Explores the Impact of Heteronormativity on Queer Japanese

One of the earliest examples of the impact of heteronormativity on queer Japanese people is that neither Adachi nor Shimamura confirm their sexuality at any point throughout the series. In fact, when Adachi starts experiencing romantic feelings for Shimamura for the first time, they terrify her and make her question her sexuality. Prior to meeting Shimamura, Adachi had always assumed herself to be heterosexual, and that she would eventually marry a man and have children when she was older. To add to her confusion, she even recalled having a crush on a male classmate when she was younger. After she accepted her feelings for Shimamura were romantic in nature, Adachi concluded she stopped caring about gender when it came to romantic attraction.

Prior to meeting Adachi, Shimamura also assumed herself to be heterosexual. While she was always aware of Adachi’s feelings for her since the start of their friendship, she also didn’t take them seriously as she never expected her to act on those feelings. Adachi’s romantic interest in Shimamura didn’t become real for her until the former finally confessed her love in Vol. 6, and asked her to be her girlfriend in a very roundabout way.

This caught Shimamura off-guard at first, but she decided to give dating Adachi a shot to see where it would go. Shimamura herself didn’t begin to fully commit to the relationship until they went on their first school trip together and realized for the first time that she did love Adachi romantically as well.

Adachi & Shimamura Depicts Why Queer Japanese Don’t Come Out

Another major hallmark of heteronormativity in Japan is how heavily tied it is to the Japanese concept of family. Traditionally, Japanese families are thought of as consisting of a married man and woman and the children they have together. One reason same-sex marriage isn’t legalized in Japan is tied to the thought that same-sex couples can’t produce biological children — a notion that excludes trans and non-binary people. While Adachi and Shimamura identify as cisgender women, the reason they don’t come out to their friends and family members is their awareness of societal expectations.

Not coming out is a theme that’s further explored with the character of Pancho, one of Adachi and Shimamura’s classmates from their second year. In Vol. 8 of the light novels, it is strongly implied that Pancho is herself a lesbian, but hasn’t been able to talk to anyone about her sexuality or her interest in women. It’s not until she observes Adachi and Shimamura’s behavior toward one another during their school trip that she puts two-and-two together and figures out they’re both dating.

When Pancho manages to catch Shimamura by herself, she uses that opportunity to ask her if she and Adachi are “like that,” meaning if they’re both lesbians. Shimamura is very reluctant to answer her question for fear of rumors spreading and being bullied by their classmates. She ultimately tells Pancho “you are free to think that” — a statement that neither confirms nor denies. It’s not until Pancho starts hinting at her own sexuality that Shimamura begins to understand why she wants to have this conversation. Once they’re both comfortable having it, that’s when Pancho starts asking questions about Shimamura’s own attraction to women and what she and Adachi do when they’re alone together, including whether they’re sexually active.

The entire exchange between Pancho and Shimamura paints a clear picture of how often queer Japanese tend to live in the closet. It also says something about how uncommonly LGBTQIA issues are openly discussed, resulting in very roundabout conversations — even among queer Japanese individuals. Even when family members like Adachi and Shimamura’s respective mothers realize their daughters are secretly dating, they both avoid discussing the topic among themselves and especially with their daughters. The recurring pattern is that there’s a very strong fear of losing existing relationships as a consequence of coming out, especially since Japan is a collectivist culture and a rule-oriented society.

Adachi & Shimamura Depicts How Queer Japanese Compromise In Marriage

The depiction of same-sex marriage in Japan is explored with three couples: Adachi and Shimamura, Akira Hino and Taeko Nagafuji, and Hino’s mother with her maid, Enome-san. In Vol. 8 of the light novels, Adachi and Shimamura are depicted renting a flat together as adults, though they only get it as roommates. This indicates they’re still living in the town they grew up in within the Gifu prefecture, which (with the exception of the city of Seki) does not currently offer same-sex partnership certificates.

Vol. 9 of Adachi and Shimamura explores Hino and Nagafuji’s childhoods while a new character is introduced: Enome-san. While thinking about her own future and how Nagafuji will fit into it, a 13-year-old Hino has a heart-to-heart with her mother’s maid. When the three of them go to the beach, Hino learns that the resort they stay in is special to both Enome-san and her mother. While Enome-san does not state her exact relationship to her mother, it is strongly implied that prior to getting married, they were romantically involved.

Since Hino’s mother is the daughter of the wealthy Hino family, she had an obligation to marry heterosexually to keep the bloodline going. As such, she entered a friendship marriage with her adoptive brother, who was never truly welcomed into the family. However, rather than break up with Enome-san, Hino’s mother decided to keep her in her life by employing her as a maid. They could stay together forever in this way, and Enome-san came to think of her lover’s daughter as if she was her own. Enome-san may have given a 16-year-old Nagafuji the inspiration to ask Hino to employ her as her servant in the future — especially since Hino admitted to herself at one point that she does want Nagafuji to be with her forever.

Though Adachi and Shimamura is a slice-of-life light novel series that primarily depicts the romantic relationship between two Japanese women, it also offers a very realistic insight into what life is really like for LGBTQIA people in Japan. While Japan is more accepting of the LGBTQIA community than Western European cultures, the lives of LGBTQIA individuals are also still restricted by heteronormativity and patriarchy.

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