Like the U.S. and other countries with a fairly open gay scene. There is the dichotomy of “butch and femme” lesbians in Japan as well. This entry will cover the relationship between these identities and Japanese culture in what is hopefully an accurate description but alas I can only judge from my own experiences and knowledge.
Within the heterosexual world there is this growing fascination for men to be more beautiful and cute like women in their clothes and hair. There was even a fad in Tokyo where straight men wore long skirts. Given that, the “butch” lesbians of Japan are not so butch as you might find in America or elsewhere. The common word to refer to a lesbian who is more on the butch-side is actually ボーイッシュ or “boyish”. I would say they look more like tom-boys or maybe even nicely dressed guys than actually butch, but it’s not to say that you can’t find that either. There are also femme lesbians in Japan or referred to as フェム. Unlike some other countries where lesbian culture is just emerging and you only find butch/ femme relationships, Japan has grown from that and you often see femme/ femme relationships. Unfortunately it’s not as common to find boyish/ boyish relationships.
Although whether you are boyish or femme isn’t a big concern for Japanese lesbian or even Japanese people as a whole. As I stated before there were straight men wearing skirts in Tokyo. At a visual kei concert you will often see the band members acting gay together. There are many boyish looking women who seem like they really should be lesbian or at the very least bi but are completely straight. In some ways this is nice because if you are boyish you won’t have to worry about being singled out and accused of being gay in a very negative way. The bad news is that except for going to a specifically gay party/ event/ club/ or bar, you have no way of telling who is and who isn’t gay, which hides this hidden community even more from mainstream society.
For a lesbian in Japan their main concern is actually if you are “tachi” タチ or “neko” ネコ. This refers to what role you will play in the relationship as far as being the more dominant one or “tachi” or submissive one “neko”. As much as I hate using these terms it really comes down to who is the “man” or “woman” in the relationship. Until VERY recently you couldn’t not choose a side and if you were one you could only be with your opposite. Of course that might actually work for some people but for us westerners that have been brought up in households were our mothers worked as well and sometimes were even more successful than our fathers, it’s hard to imagine this sort of relationship being healthy. Although, like I said recently that is changing and you can add リバ to the list. It’s short for “liberal” or even “reverse” it basically means that depending on the situation you can either be tachi or neko but it really doesn’t matter to you. I also want to make it clear that these are not terms to describe BDSM. They have separate language for that, which is similar to English but I’ll have to cover that in a different entry.
As for actually dating these tachi/ neko, boyish/ femme Japanese lesbians it’s usually better to figure out who your type is before you go to an event because trust me people will ask you. Let’s take me for example. I am femme and while I will like the occasional tom-boy, another femme is more my style. I have a strong personality but I don’t like doing all the work when it comes to setting up dates etc (I like being chased too). So some one like me should say they are “femme liberal” looking for someone who is “femme tachi”. Why don’t I say femme/ liberal? Honestly the “liberal” femme women that I have met are neko by my western standards, as in they still really act like the typical “you must chase me” girl. Even some tachi lesbians I have met who are boyish have been less of the “wearing the pants” than I am used to from women in the U.S. However one must remember that they are in Japan, wherein most girls are encouraged to become housewives when they get older instead of having a career. So for a lesbian to break away from their cultural upbringing in Japan and become who they really are is a very long, strenuous and complicated process.