TOGO Ken, The Legendary Okama: Burning with Sexual Desire and Revolt
By Kenji Oikawa
Translated by Katsuhiko Suganuna
TOGO Ken is the oldest Gay activist
On the evening of 27 November 2000 in a lecture hall at Waseda University, a frail figure stood under a pink spotlight in front of a colorful hand-made poster advertising “The Legendary Okama ; A Speech by TOGO Ken.”
Who, exactly, is TOGO Ken? When TOGO’s name is mentioned, what comes to most people’s minds is his self-proclaimed status as an okama, his many unsuccessful attempts at winning election to the House of Councilors or his various arrests on obscenity charges. Yet, despite these usual images, TxJ怫xJ�?is much more than a politician, a gay bar owner or the editor of a gay magazine. For instance, attorney Makoto Endo, who reveres TOGO as a Buddha figure, once commented that “What is special about TOGO is that he questions everything that 99 per cent of the population takes for granted and he acts on his doubts. His rebellious spirit is his great attraction, and the fact that he constantly challenges authority.”
In 1971, TOGO ran in the election for the House of Councilors for the first time and he continued to run in elections over the next two decades, making his last attempt in 1995. TOGO puts his motivation for engaging in politics this way: “Why on earth are there no representatives from oppressed groups of people in the Diet? Liberty and equality for whom? Why are there no representatives from the bottom of society at all?” Looking at the frail figure on the stage, I was struck by the fact that his slender body would snap like a twig if it were stepped on. Wondering about the source of his tenacious and rebellious spirit, I decided to pursue TOGO for some answers.
Right-Winning Organization attacked him
It was already well after midnight when I first visited TOGO at his bar named “Saturday” in Shinjuku’s Ni-chxJ恪e. He still hadn’t arrived and there was only one part-time staff member standing behind the bar. There were only about ten seats in front of the bar counter, and behind them was a bookshelf full of back numbers of TxJ怫xJ廖箔 monthly magazine The Gay. Numerous pictures of naked guys were pasted on the walls. It wasn’t until after 4 a.m. that TOGO arrived, dressed in jacket and jeans. Although he said “No interview today!” he did answer my questions. Due to the weather, I thought that he might have caught a cold. I was worried by his repeated sniffling during our conversation and I asked him, TOGO, are you sick?
“Well, since I was attacked by the right wing, my nose hasn’t been so good!” he replied.
The incident referred to occurred back in 1984. In the August 1984 edition of a monthly magazine called Shin-zasshi X (New X Magazine), the Zatsumin no Kai, an organization run by TOGO, contributed an opinion piece with an illustration. The illustration depicted the provocative scene of His Majesty the Showa Emperor being raped by US General Douglas MacArthur. Branding the illustration “disrespectful,” a right-wing group protested to the publisher. Parking their sound trucks outside the publisher’s offices, they screamed abuse from dawn till dusk and at one point they broke into the publisher’s office and trashed it. TOGO’s home was also picketed in the same manner, and he received threatening phone calls.
Then, one day, a member of a right-wing organization was riding his bicycle down the street in Shinjuku when he came across TOGO by chance. Although he had never met him in person, he recognized TOGO from his television campaigns when he was running for office. He pedaled close to him and called out “Hi TOGO.” But TOGO denied that it was him and tried to get away. “You liar, you little asshole,” shouted the right-winger in a rage and ploughed straight into TOGO with his bicycle, knocking him over and then bashing him. He then rode away without getting caught.
TOGO remembers the incident this way. “I saw a good looking guy on a bicycle coming towards me from over there, and I was wondering ‘Which bar does he work at? What a handsome man!’ and I thought it would be nice to give him a smile. At that moment, all of sudden he crashed into me on his bicycle, and I was like ‘Nooooooo’.” After being attacked, TOGO reported the matter to the police, and two months later, the right-wing activist was arrested. But why on earth did TOGO publish the “disrespectful” drawing even though he knew he’d be attacked by the right wing? The background to his behavior is related to the incredulity that TOGO feels toward Japan’s “Emperor system.”
TOGO Challenged national election 15 times
TOGO was born in Kakogawa city in HyxJ怫o prefecture. His grandfather was a member of the House of Representatives and his father was a member of the Hyogo Prefectural Council. According to TOGO, his mother was a schoolteacher who married into the TOGO family as a second wife after the divorce of the first wife. Since she was only their step-mother, she was bullied by the children of her husband’s ex-wife. After her husband’s death in 1941, the first-born son of the husband’s ex-wife, who became the household head, treated her as his servant. His treatment of her was so harsh that her teeth fell out. It can be said that TOGO’s hatred of the patriarchal family came from the abuse he and his mother experienced at the hands of his half-brother and his father.
TOGO says, “Back then the head of the nation was the God Emperor, and the head of the family was the father, and after his death, the first-born son became the head. The authority of the household head was clearly related to the patriarchal authority embedded in the Emperor system.” He goes on, “Although after the war, the Emperor declared that he was human, he continued to be Emperor. He completely avoided accepting responsibility for the sufferings of the victims of the war. The declaration of his humanity was just a strategy to deflect attention from his ultimate responsibility for the war and its consequences.”
For years, every time TxJ怫xJ�?has campaigned in the election, in his television broadcasts and in his speeches on the streets, he has continued to proclaim that “if the Emperor’s chin (a pronoun used only by the Emperor) is a symbol of Japan, I prefer the symbol of a man, his chin chin (a slang term for the penis)”. TOGO comments that “It is difficult to understand that all people are equal, unless we think of them having sex. Even the Emperor has a dick—and he uses it. We are not so different from each other.”
TOGO’s outspokenness often gets him into trouble. I asked him how many times he has been arrested so far.
“I don’t remember every time,” he replied.
Among other offences, TOGO has repeatedly been arrested on obscenity charges. In 1986, for instance, he was caught by Customs when he tried to bring in magazines from abroad which depicted uncensored pictures of male genitalia. Since he refused to pay a fine, he was prosecuted by Customs in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court where he was eventually found guilty of contravening Japan’s obscenity laws.
About this case, TOGO comments that “Originally there was no such word as ‘obscenity’ in Japan. In the Edo era, there existed male brothels where men rubbed against each other’s chin chin. I don’t understand what obscenity is. What’s so obscene about the human body? Why on earth should the act of loving between two people be obscene? Love is a form of free expression and it is not right for the authorities to crack down on it.”
By the way, TOGO once had a wife. She passed away in 1999. They were separated for a long time, and finally, toward the end of her life, she told him that she wanted to divorce. They had one boy and two girls. Deciding that he “had to live an honest life”, early in his marriage TxJ怫xJ�?left his family for Tokyo where he began to run a gay bar. Later on, he brought his first born son and daughter to Tokyo and raised them by himself. One wonders how such an unconventional father was looked at through the eyes of his children.
“As far as I’m concerned, my father used to have little meaning for me but I finally came to a point where I could think about him calmly and objectively. I realized that you should not condemn a person who acts against common sense. Now I am able to look at TxJ怫xJ�?not as my father but as an individual.” So says TOGO’s son who once harbored such rage against his father that he punched him. However, for the last eight years, it has become a New Year’s custom for TOGO and his son to visit the Ana-hachiman shrine to purchase good-luck talismans for the coming year. TOGO’s grandson, who is more than ten years old now, also accompanies them on these shrine visits. “The existence of my grandson works as a cushion in my relationship with my son. When my grandson is around us, I become a so-called ojiichan (grandpa) rather than a father to my son,” says TOGO.
“I want to shoot photos at the exact moment”
When I again visited his bar “Saturday” early one morning, there were no guests—only TOGO himself standing alone. TOGO was telling me about this guy who he’d love to shoot photographs of. The explicit photos that TOGO takes for his own magazine The Gay are the magazine’s main selling point. TOGO says that although he hasn’t had sex for more than 20 years he enjoys talking dirty to naked guys who are his type. He loves it when their small shrunken cocks gradually rise up in response to his words. When the models get really hard, pointing up at ceiling—that’s his greatest joy. “I want to shoot photos at the exact moment that those men, or all men, feel sexual ecstasy. But that is a very difficult thing to do. One time, one guy shot his load from here to there…” says TOGO, pointing at the phone. It seems that it was surprising even for TOGO to see this guy’s load shoot almost three meters ahead. But these days he feels lonely because he cannot find any good men.
What he most adores now is his beloved cat named “Chin”. According to TOGO, she was abandoned in front of his house covered in her own blood from an accident to her shoulder. Chin was hovering between life and death. TOGO took her in and raised her like his own daughter. Her name “Chin” was taken after the Emperor’s use of the pronoun chin, a kind of imperial “we”. He adores her even more than his own children. Now he lives on just because Chin is with him. “She is a really refined cat”, said TOGO humorously.
TOGO told me that he wanted to show me something interesting, so we left the bar in the early morning light. Kan-kon kan-kon, the dry sound of wooden clogs tapping on the concrete streets, was echoing all over the now deserted district of Shinjuku Ni-chxJ恪e. There was hardly anybody on the streets at this time in the morning. How many people would be able to imagine that Shinjuku Ni-chome is one of the foremost gay areas in the world by just looking at its morning face?
Gay is Love
We arrived at a 500-meter-long underpass connecting the Shinjuku San-chome subway station with Japan Rail’s Shinjuku station.
“This is it. This is what I wanted to show you.”
We viewed an immense jam-packed crowd of people all dressed in hues of grey or black surging past us. “Look at all these people rushing to get to work on time, surging past like a big wave. I have watched this scene for more than 20 years. This is like a funeral procession of living people.”
TOGO was lurching into the crowd, taking rhythmic steps right and then left.
“I have been discriminated against by people from this crowd. This drunken old okama is walking against the wave of this crowd. Every time I see this, I feel that I must continue to live.”
Then and there I asked TxJ怫xJ�?why he continues to use the word “okama”, a word that sounds discriminatory. As the term “okama” is often used in the phrase “kama wo horu” (digging an okama), some gays feel uncomfortable with it, saying that it emphasizes anal sex.
“I love the word okama very much…. I feel free to love this word because of the fact that I have been discriminated against through its use”. His face was still red, but his eyes showed sobriety, as if he wasn’t drunk at all.
“There is no need to justify love between men by adjusting the wording. What’s wrong with men loving each other, and women loving each other? What is shameful is to live your life lying to yourself, and not being able to love another person.”
TOGO dares to embrace the word “okama,” a term that symbolizes contempt for homosexuals.
“I believe that okama originally comes from the Sanskrit word kxJыa, which means love. Therefore, the origin of okama is love.”
Saying this, his facial expression softened. His anger and sadness slipped away, leaving a soft and very charming smile on his face.