If you’ve watched any variety show on Japanese TV lately, you’ll have noticed there’s usually at least one male entertainer dressed up as a woman. The trend has become so popular that it’s even spawned its own genre: onee talent. The slang term onee refers to ‘girly men’, who are thought of as feminine either because of their appearance or behaviour, regardless of whether they’re in full drag or not. It’s an odd cultural development when you consider that prejudice against sexual minorities remains strong in Japan, with very few public personalities being openly gay. How, then, have these cross-dressers come to be so warmly welcomed on TV?
Introducing Bourbonne and Esmeralda, pioneers of the drag show scene in Shinjuku’s Ni-chome – Tokyo’s premier gay neighbourhood – and, consequently, of ‘josou’ (the Japanese word for anyone dressed as a woman). Bourbonne, who also works as a freelance writer, has gone from events organiser, to editor of a gay magazine, to host at a mixed bar with rotating drag performers. Esmeralda is a TV screenwriter by day and a ‘horror drag’ performer by night, showing off gory moves to welcoming audiences.