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Yaoi - Meaning in Japanese - やおい

Saturday, September 16, 2017
If you have been on the internet enough, it's likely you've heard the word yaoi やおい before, it's a genre that refers to gay manga porn in the west. But what does yaoi mean in Japanese? Does it mean the same thing as it does in the west? Or is it different? And where does yaoi come from?

Definition

In the west, the term "yaoi" is used by the anime fandom to refer to any and every kind of gay drawn porn, gay manga, gay fanfics based on manga and anime, and even original gay fiction.

In Japan, the word yaoi is also used by the anime fandom, but primarily by fujoshi 腐女子, as a genre of manga, anime, games and stories (novels). In order for any given work to be considered yaoi, it must be these four things:
  • Fictional. (manga & anime, not real people)
  • Pornographic. (hentai 変態)
  • Homosexual. (guy x guy)
  • Made "for women," josei-muke 女性向け

Although in the west "yaoi" is pretty much the most common word used to refer to gay hentai in general, that's not the case in Japan. In Japanese yaoi is not used that frequently, and it's not the only word used to refer to gay fiction.

In particular, the term BL, "Boys' Love," or booizu rabu ボーイズラブ, is a lot more popular than the term yaoi and also refers to gay fiction made for women.

Common in both Japan and in the west are the terms seme 攻め and uke 受け, frequently used by the yaoi and BL fandom to refer to the "top" and "bottom" in a given gay couple.

It's important to keep in mind that in Japanese both yaoi and BL are genres of gay fiction made by women for women. They are not made by gay men for gay men. They are fantasy made up by the imagination of perverted girls and women. Stories with zero grasp or concern on real gay relationships. Pure entertainment. Basically the same thing as gay fanfics in the west.

801

In Japanese, yaoi is often written as the numbers 801 instead of the hiragana yaoi やおい or the katakana yaoi ヤオイ. This specially true on the internet.



But why yaoi is 801? Well, that's because:
  • ya of yattsu 八つ, "8"
  • "o" and 0 look alike
  • i of ichi 一, "1"

So ya-o-i 801.

One example of such usage is in the manga Tonari no Yaoi-Chan となりの801ちゃん, where the character Yaoi-Chan has her name written as 801-chan, even in the title.

Yaoi Acronym

The word yaoi stands for yama nashi, ochi nashi, imi nashi. In Japanese, these words are tricky and have multiple meanings, but basically:
  • nashi なし
    Without.
  • yama
    Mountain. Peak.
    Climax (of a story)
  • ochi 落ち
    Fall. Drop.
    Punch-line (of a joke).
    Point. Conclusion (of a story)
  • imi 意味
    Meaning.

So yaoi stands for "no climax, no conclusion, no meaning." Sometimes English authors prefer the translation "no climax, no point, no meaning," but, personally, I think "point" is the same as "meaning," and there is no meaning or point in saying the same thing twice. So it must be "no conclusion" instead.

Meaning of yaoi acronym: yama nashi ochi nashi imi nashi やまなしおちなしいみなし, "No Climax, No Conclusion, No Meaning."

As some sort of not-so-obscure reference, the phrase yama nashi ochi nashi imi nashi will sometimes appear in manga and anime of the parody genre, specially those that deal with otaku オタク culture.

That is, the word yaoi itself doesn't show up, maybe because then it would be too obvious, but the original phrase does, because it also means "no climax, no conclusion, no meaning," nothing in it explicitely says "gay drawn porn."

Phrase yama nashi ochi nashi imi nashi, the yaoi acronym, quoted from manga Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei さよなら絶望先生


Anyway, the idea behind the abbreviation is that yaoi is something without any real plot, that goes straight to the gay porn part, skipping story elements such as climax, conclusions, or even any sort of meaning, or at least that's what it's generally said to mean.

The origin of the term is written in full further below, but for now just keep the abbreviation in mind because it plays a role in the usage of yaoi compared with other words.

Yamete! Oshiri ga Itai!

Some time after yaoi was already a word, a backronym for yaoi came to exist based on, well, what happened in yaoi fiction.
  • Yamete! やめて!
    Stop!
  • Oshiri ga お尻が
    [My] butt
  • Itai! 痛い!
    Hurts!

Yaoi vs. BL

Although yaoi is a very popular term in the west, it isn't as much in Japanese. Instead of yaoi, the Japanese fujoshi prefer to use the term BL, which stands for "Boys' Love."

The term BL is more recent than yaoi, which has been a word since 1980. Maybe because of that, the west keeps using yaoi even though Japan has moved on to BL. This, coupled with the fact that yaoi is often spelled with numbers, 801, means that if someone writes yaoi やおい, with hiragana instead, there's a chance he's a western who just tried to write the term he knows, "yaoi," in Japanese, and isn't aware yet that Japan uses the word BL nowadays.


(that is to say, if you are going to say yaoi やおい in Japanese, say BL instead.)

The difference between yaoi and BL is a bit difficult. Both words refer to gay hentai, both are genres targeted at women. However yaoi's original meaning is connected to having no plot or story, so a yaoi work pretty much goes straight to the porn part. Because of this, we can differentiate between yaoi and BL this way:
  • Yaoi
    Gay porn. Generally no story or romance.
  • BL
    Gay fiction.. Not necessarily porn.

Do note that BL is often used for gay porn, too. It's just that yaoi can't be used for anything but porn. So BL also includes fiction that ends in just romance, or just friendship, or even drama.

Nico Nico's Dictionary page on やおい claims the word yaoi is generally more used for parodies, specially doujinshi 同人誌, while BL is more used for original stories. It seems, however, that this is no longer the case, as more people use the term BL for anything and everything related to gay fiction.

Yaoi & PWP

The Japanese website Otacco (targeted at otakus オタク, obviously) has an article containing a list of English slash fanfiction terms and their meanings in Japanese. In such list, the term PWP, "porn without plot," originally "Plot? What Plot?" according to Fanlore, is listed as having the same meaning as yaoi やおい. Therefore, yaoi = PWP slash, as opposed to normal slash.

Yaoi vs. Yuri

In the west, the counterpart of the yaoi genre is the yuri 百合 genre. The difference between yaoi and yuri is very simple:
  • Yaoi
    Male gay drawn porn.
  • Yuri
    Female lesbian drawn porn.

Originally, in Japan, yuri ゆり was the counterpart for a genre called bara バラ, which deals with gay male porn in a different way than yaoi does. The word yuri 百合 means "lily," a flower, and the word bara 薔薇 means "rose," another flower.

Comparison of 4chan vs. Futaba gay boards: yaoi, yuri and bara

Yaoi vs. Gay

The word yaoi doesn't mean gay. It's not synonymous with that. In the west, it's a genre for any kind of gay hentai. In Japan, it's a genre for gay porn targeted at women. So either way you can't use the word yaoi to call someone gay.

In Japanese, "gay" would be gei ゲイ. Note that the word gai ガイ, with a "gah," means "guy," not "gay." (romaji has Italian spelling, not English) Another common word is homo ホモ, also meaning "gay," although some may find it offensive. Both these words aren't exactly formal. To describe gay and lesbian persons the term douseiai-sha 同性愛者, "homosexual person," is normally preferred.

Further, the words above can also be used to describe manga in Japan. Except for douseiai-sha, which only describes persons, not things.
  • gei manga ゲイ漫画
    Manga with gay scenes.
  • homo manga ホモ漫画
    Manga with homosexual scenes.
  • yaoi manga やおい漫画
    Manga with gay sex made for women.

Yaoi vs. Bara

The bara バラ genre is another genre of gay fictional porn that exists both in Japan and in the west.

The difference between yaoi and bara is that yaoi is a genre specifically targeted at fujoshi, women with a gay fiction fetish (note: straight guys with such fetish, fudanshi, exist too, theoretically), meanwhile bara is a genre targeted at gay men.
  • yaoi
    By women for women.
  • bara
    By gays for gays.

In practice, this means that yaoi tends to have younger looking "pretty guys," bishounen 美少年, who are effeminate, androgynous, have no body or facial hair, but long, dazzling hair on top of their head, basically fashion model aesthetics, while bara has guys who, being the total opposite, are thick mountains of muscle, body hair and beards.

Because BL is also targeted at women, it has the same differences with bara that yaoi has.

Non-Gay Yaoi

It seems that in the past, before yaoi became exclusively a gay fiction word, it could also refer to non-gay fiction that skipped the plot and went straight to the porn part. Remember: the term yaoi has nothing that explicitly says "gay" in it.

Nowadays, however, yaoi has been solidified as a gay fiction word, so it's not used for non-gay fiction anymore.

Yaoi Word Origin

Circa 1979, in the Ishikawa-ken 石川県 prefecture of Japan, there was a there a certain "association for manga research" called "Lovely," manga kenkyuukai ravuri 漫画研究会ラヴリ.

Basically a group of people trying to become professional mangaka 漫画家 of the shoujo 少女 genre. They published a doujinshi 同人誌 with the same name, "Lovely" / Ravuri, monthly or even bimonthly filled with contributions of its members, and they'd then critic their own works trying to improve themselves. It was kind of a circle. Images can be found in this blog.

One such day one of Ravuri's members Mikaru Mikiko (not sure if it's read this way) 磨留美樹子 submitted a certain manga to the group entitled Yaoi 夜追い, meaning "night chase." They took a look and decided it looked very good... but couldn't understand what the story was about. 

Because nobody was getting it, Mikiko would later say that the title Yaoi meant yama mo ochi mo imi mo nai ヤマもオチも意味もない, "neither mountain, nor drop, nor meaning," which can also be translated as "no climax, no conclusion, no meaning."
  • yama
    Mountain.
    Climax (of a story)
  • ochi 落ち
    Fall. Drop.
    Punch-line (of a joke)
    Point. Conclusion (of a story)
  • imi 意味
    Meaning.

Having heard such line coming from the mouth of the author, the powers that control of the universe joined forces to make pre-internet meme-ing happen. The other authors of Ravuri started using and re-using he line as they read each-others' works.

So as an in-joke, someone would read a comic by someone else and critic yama ga nai!, "it has no climax!" or ochi ga nai!, "it has no conclusion!" And so on.

The phrase changed into form many times. Nowadays, people say yaoi stands for yama nashi ochi nashi imi nashi ヤマなしオチなしイミなし, which means the same thing as the original phrase, "no climax, no conclusion, no meaning," except it uses different words.

The usage spread until it materialized into the very first self-classified Yaoi manga. A doujinshi with no story, no meaning, no climax, no conclusion, no nothing. Just the pretty drawings and the important parts. Just the saucy bits of fictional homosexual stories that would then spiral into modern drawn gay Japanese porn.

So that's the story of how the word yaoi came to be. Some of the people involved into this, and in the Ravuri publications, would later be known as the Year 24 Group, ni-jyuu-yon nen gumi 2 4年組. A group of women said to have contributed greatly to yaoi and gay fiction in manga and in Japan itself. Basically, the pioneers of all fujoshi.

Yaoi Written With Kanji

The word yaoi isn't written with kanji. It's either hiragana, yaoi やおい, or the number 801. Never with kanji.

In the story of the origin of yaoi above you'll see the title Yaoi 夜追い is indeed written with kanji. However such story is one literally nobody knows or cares about. The employee who writes the sign yaoi in the yaoi section of the bookstore most definitely doesn't know about where the word came form, so it is not written with kanji.

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