Random Thoughts on Yuri from a Shoujo Perspective
There is a women’s culture in Japan, that has been there since the middle ages – a culture that produced its own worldview, its own philosophy, its own anthropology, its own writing system, history books, literature, etc. In Japanese tradition, men are supposed to be raised by men in the men’s culture, while women are raised by women in the women’s culture. This culture shone the most during the Heian era, was sort of repressed but survived during the time of the shoguns, and has become very active and fertile again during the past hundred years or so.
(This is very unlike what happened in western countries, where, because of religious reasons, women were raised to be as idiotic and ignorant as possible – and were not allowed to develop anything like a women’s culture. In fact, even in modern times, women’s liberation movements and feminism have mostly been about giving women access to the men’s culture, so that they could assimilate it and participate in it just as men did… which is really sad, because, in the end, the result was the reinforcing of a dominant system of values that had become extremely sick and twisted… but I digress…)
I’d say it’s only natural, for a women’s culture, to accept and cultivate as a healthy thing the homoerotic sensibility we associate with yuri… which is why I don’t find it surprising that women in Japan have indulged in yuri – both in fantasy and in reality – since the middle ages…of course, the fact that the men’s culture was extremely favorable to male homosexuality helped a lot too… ^_^
Even during the shogunate era, the samurai’s golden age, women were able to read about homosexuality and explore their own homoeroticism quite freely… men didn’t pay attention to what women did when alone in their rooms… The Ha Gakure.1 has some delightful chapters about this… Eheheh, male homosexuality had to be morally justified in the context of the samurai’s code of honor (how could a samurai still be loyal to his lord when he had become the “wife” of another man, and, therefore, transferred his loyalty to this “husband”!? *^_^* ), but noone cared about what the ladies did with each other… ^_-
So… about the origins of yuri… well, I’d say you have to look for them in the Heian era… and then go through the centuries all the way to the present…
As far as I know (which is probably not too much: I’ve read many Japanese novels and many books on Japanese literature, but I’m not an expert), the oldest yuri book is The Journal of Murasaki Shikibu. You know, Murasaki Shikibu? Famous authoress of the Genji Monogatari?2 She was, for many years, a lady-in-waiting for Empress Akiko, wife of the Emperor, who had her own palace and court in Heian – a court sort of like the one of her husband, but composed only of ladies. One has reason to think the homoeroticism in the atmosphere of this all-female court was as thick as honey… **^_^** Tee hee hee, it’s all in Lady Murasaki’s Journal… ^_^
As for modern manga, here’s a chronology of shoujo yuri manga (shoujo, not shounen; I have absolutely no idea what was the first shounen manga with rezu characters):
As far as I know, Yamagishi-sensei’s Shiroi Heya no Futari was the first shoujo manga ever with yuri in it. I can’t say for sure, though, cuz I haven’t read it. Come to think of it, it’s not a very well-known series at all… I guess it’s as people say: Ikeda Ryoko-sama is the one who really started it all with Rose de Versailles and Oniisama e…
1 Hagakure — which can be translated as either “hidden leaves” or “hidden by leaves” — was published on September 10, 1716. It is a compilation of the philosphies of Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a samurai of the Edo period.
2 The Genji monogatari (The Tales of Genji) by Lady Murasaki Shikibu was written in Japanese during the last years of the 10th century. This is considered to be the greatest classical work of Japanese literature and the world’s first real novel.