There is a thick mist surrounding foreign furry fandoms. We Americans are hardly exposed to foreign furry culture beyond the artists we watch on art websites. It’s the reason I wrote an entire article about it. There are shards of content available around the internet. Many foreign artists are on FurAffinity and DeviantArt. Kemonono is an English imageboard that focuses on the Japanese “kemono” art style. However, what we experience is nothing but the art that overseas artists create.
Like any subculture, it’s impossible to understand the foundation by only examining the productions that trickle their way to the surface. (Imagine judging American furries using that method… oh, the horror.) The difficulty lies in finding information about foreigners. The invention of the Internet has been a great boon in that regard, but we still have to deal with language barriers, cultural differences, and, in my case, finding someone who’ll listen to the questions of some stranger from across the world with a weird FurAffinity avatar.
Surveys in the past have had issues with reaching international audiences, further complicating things. In order to create an international survey, a series of questions would have to be agreed upon as well as a distribution method, the questions would have to be translated by two translators whose work could be cross-referenced to remove translation errors, and the entire thing would have to be approved by the institutional review board of the sponsoring institution. In short, jumping through hoop after hoop, with an unforeseeable brick wall possibly thrown in at any point.
As a result, foreign furries have been underrepresented in surveys. In the Anthropomorphic Research Project’s International Furry Survey from Summer 2011, non-Americans made up 24.9% of the survey demographic. In Winter 2011, it was 33.03%. Those portions are largely made up of Canadians and Europeans.
However, the cultural differences between Canada, Europe, and America isn’t as strong as the differences between America and the rest of the world. South American responses comprised 0.5% of the Summer 2011 responses and 1.21% of the Winter 2011 responses. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to learn more about the South American furry culture?
Well, too bad! Because, for this article, I’ll be writing about the Japanese furry culture. (Asia was 0.6% in Summer 2011 and 0.98% in Winter 2011, for those statistics junkies out there.) Japan has a special place in the furry fandom stereotyped as “those weird guys who invent the craziest fetishes and those super cute fursuits”, and I decided to do my best in order to learn more about them, past all the stereotypes and generalizations.
In order to do so, I had to cross that huge invisible wall separating the American furries from the Japanese. Fortunately, that was no big deal, because someone's already done that. His name is Yoshinomi, and he’s been to Anthrocon three times now. His English isn’t bad at all and he was very receptive to my slew of questions, derived from discussions with others about the subject. I also received some tertiary input from mick39 (made famous for inventing the Sergal species). I’ll summarize their responses to each question.
"Furmeets", small gatherings of 10-40 or 50 furries, usually at a furry's house, are popular in America. Do those exist in Japan, and if so, are they prevalent?
Furry gatherings don’t normally take place in host homes. Most planners have meets for friends, taking care to avoid problematic furries, and host them in meeting rooms, karaoke rooms, and the like. This makes sense. Japan has a much lower average housing size than American homes (close to a third the average square footage). Tokyo, where over a quarter of the population of Japan lives, has the highest population density in the world (almost four times as much as New York City). Meeting somewhere public probably allows for more space and a more interesting venue. The “meets” are inherently smaller, as well. Mick39 suggested 2-10 people.
How important is sexuality to Japanese furries?
Of course I had to ask this one. It’s a broad question, but the answers were very enlightening. Of course people like adult art and such but it isn’t discussed in public, even at meetings or conventions where people who aren’t interested could be present. The furries involved in “yiffy” chatter on twitter and such end up on the butt end of rumors. Fursuit crossdressing (males in female suits) aren’t a big deal, though, as long as it isn’t prominently sexual (huge boobs, bondage stuff, etc.)
Is there a skew towards gay/bisexuals in the fandom like there is in the American fandom?
Many furries are gay/bisexual, just as they are here, but it isn’t shown as much as it is in America. Hookups are heard to be arranged over the Internet but only in private.
How do Japanese furries see the American furries? What do they think of us?
Another broad question. Since Yoshinomi is a fursuiter, he had more to say about the difference in fursuiters. The conception is that the majority of American furries order their suits elsewhere instead of creating them themselves and that even if someone’s wearing an ugly fursuit they’re generally pretty nice about it. Good stuff, I suppose. Mostly, American furries are just as mysterious to the Japanese as they are to us due to the language barrier. It was mentioned that some use FA and other generally American websites but at large the Americans are very separate.
Do furries in Japan have a strong internet presence? How important is social networking over the internet?
My favorite response! The popular thing for Japanese furries a few years back is a Japanese website called “mixi”. Mixi is a social networking site that started in 2004. In May 2008 it had an 80% share of the social networking market in Japan with over 21.6 million users. However, apparently the website started copying the nuances of Facebook and most furries ended up migrating to Twitter. It isn’t the best way to find information on conventions and such, but that information is easily available elsewhere. Pixiv, of course, is an important player as well. Pixiv, a Japanese online art community, was started in 2007, currently has over 4 million members, 24 million submissions, and receives over 2.8 billion views per month.
What differences do you think there are in the artistic styles of Japanese and American furries?
Much wasn’t said in response to this. The art style is very close to Japanese anime and the style is very prevalent in Japanese artists.
What does the fandom mean to you?
Another loaded question. The first part of the response was a clarification on the term for a “furry” in Japan. They call themselves “Kemoner”, a portmanteau of “Kemono” and “-ner”, basically “one who participates in”. (For the curious: “獣” = “Kemono” = “beast”. “ケモナー” is the fully written term for “Kemoner”, pronounced “Ke-mo-na”.) It’s mentioned that the usual fun stuff is great, fursuiting and making friends and all, but some furries are problematic. The overall experience, of course, is “exciting”. It’s noted that it's a significant part of their lives.
What does the fandom mean to those in your region/locally?
Yoshinomi mentioned making a friend nearby on FurAffinity, so it’s been a blessing in that way. The question wasn’t discussed much beyond that.
How is furry seen as by non-furries in Japan?
Visibility of furries to non-furries is low in Japan compared to America. Yoshinomi is a part of a volunteer group who wears fursuits at a zoo (comparable to many similar such groups here in America). The crowds tend to like the mascot suits (similar to here) but he fears that knowing that the wearers are “furries” might cast a kind of shadow on their group. (“Gross and weird” were his exact words.)
What do people do in fursuit in Japan? Community activities? Furmeet activities? Just private/conventions?
Basically, at volunteer services, but sometimes at cons and private meetings as well. Pretty standard.
How are fursuits different in Japan from America?
Radywolf and Mahiro are cited as “the base of Japanese fursuits”. Yoshinomi mentioned liking cartoony American fursuits since anime-like Japanese fursuits tend to be copies of the really good builders. However, he mentions that he hears from Americans that American suits are just copies of the good builders as well. (Basically, this is an American summary of a Japanese impression from an American on other American suits. Woah!) In addition, it was mentioned in the responses that Japanese fursuits were “two or three steps behind” American suits. Them’s fighting words!
And, there you have it. Similarities and differences abound due to the difference in culture and location, as anyone could have expected. Some of the answers were very intriguing. I had never heard of Mixi before these responses and I had never considered that the difference in Japanese housing would factor into their furry fandom.
Ideally, I’d like to ask these questions to more furries from around the world where the difference of the local culture can influence the growth of the furry fandom. The unexpected answers here only encourage the notion that not only is there significant differences in other furry cultures but that the differences can be unique and utterly fascinating.
Plus, it gives me an awesome excuse to post really cool art and pictures from foreign cultures!
- http://pastebin.com/hYr75FnF - "yoshinomi's answers"