Japan Changes the Definition of Love—Literally

A Japanese dictionary gives a nod to gay and lesbian lovers.

(Illustration by Jeanine Henderson)

Nov 21, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Nicole Pasulka is a writer and reporter who lives in New York City. She has written for Mother Jones, BuzzFeed, The Believer, and the New York Observer.
More than 30 U.S. states, dozens of countries, some members of the Catholic church, and now a leading Japanese dictionary recognize the validity of same-sex love. Sanseido Kokugo Jiten, the National Language Dictionary, announced this month that in its newest edition, “love” and “sex” are no longer defined as heterosexual and instead will be gender neutral, RocketNews24 has reported.

A member of the editing committee explained the decision on Twitter: “In the 7th edition of the ‘Sanseido National Language Dictionary’ we have revised the descriptions for entries relating to love and sex that included unnecessary references to ‘heterosexuality.’ ‘Love,’ ‘(romantic) chemistry,’ ‘carnal desire…and so on, are not limited to between men and women.”

Love, or koi, used to be defined in the dictionary as “affection between a man and a woman,” but it now means “affection for a person,” according to RocketNews24.
While “carnal desire” had previously been “feelings of sexual desire between a man and a woman,” it was changed to simply “feelings of sexual desire.”
When life and culture grow more tolerant, descriptors become more respectful. In Japan, people younger than 30 are more likely to be accepting of homosexuality, and the entire country grew more tolerant toward gay people between 2007 and 2013, according to a Pew Global Attitudes Project poll. We see this around the world, with gendered terms such as waitress and stewardess giving way to server and flight attendant, and racial descriptors becoming more inclusive.
A few words in a dictionary might not seem like much, but it’s often tiny moments like this that signal major shifts in law, custom, and society.