I search for your heart, pursuing my true selfPersona 4's main driving theme is the idea of the "true self": the person who we all are deep down inside, and how the fears that we have about how others perceive us can make us hide these aspects of ourselves from the world. Kanji's bath house and shadow are perhaps one of the more debatable topics of the game: just search "Tatsumi Kanji" in google and you'll pull up a plethora of articles. This is most likely largely due to the fact that Kanji's character touches on some sensitive and perhaps "taboo" topics (namely, homosexuality), and while there's no way anyone can really disregard that this theme exists in his dungeon, Kanji's problems start at, and then go beyond simply the issue of sexual preference.
Shadow Kanji: Men are much better. They'd never say those awful, degrading things. Yes, I vastly prefer men.
Kanji's channel and shadow forms on Mayonaka TV don't go beating around the bush: the steamy bath house, half naked Kanji and rose-adorned steroid chomping monster are nothing short of homosexual. In Persona 4, it's just like they say: you can't believe everything you see on TV. The TV world takes a person and monopolizes on their fears, glamourizing, overdoing and creating a false version of who the person truly is--it exists for the entertainment of an audience who's looking for violence and scandal. That is to say, Chie is not actually a whip-bearing dominatrix, Yukiko is not actually a princess, and Kanji may or may not actually be a flaming homosexual. What the shadow of Kanji actually represents is a physical manifestation of Kanji's fears: what if everyone thinks that I'm gay because of my girly hobbies?
Sexuality comes up as issue for Kanji prior to entering Mayonaka TV--when the group initially goes to stake out Kanji at the riverbank, he's been approached by Persona 4's resident cross-dresser, Shirogane Naoto. Naoto is an interesting turning point in Kanji's storyline: he's already questioning himself as a man who likes to sew, so when a Naoto (who is still known to be a boy, at the time) states that she's "interested" in him, he quickly begins to worry what this means about him.
Kanji: D-did he say he was interested? He's a guy... and I'm a guy. But... he's interested in me?Kanji acts flustered around Naoto after their initial meeting--whether or not it's because Kanji has a crush on "him" or he's just nervous Naoto wants to meet up with him isn't exactly clear. He does become defensive when Chie and Yosuke suspect that he might be gay, so regardless of whether or not he's interested in Naoto as a man he's definitely embarrassed at the idea of anyone thinking of him as a homosexual. Kanji reveals to the group later on that he thought for awhile he was the type who may never be interested in girls, but got frustrated with himself and dismissed the idea immediately. This wouldn't be particularly surprising considering Kanji was already worried about his feminine interests-- to have a guy "interested" in him on top of that would just make others question him even more.
Kanji's sexual preference isn't explicity stated at any point of the game: Yu Namba of Atlus USA stated in an article "We would like everyone to play through the game and come up with their own answers to that question; there is no official answer. What matters is that Kanji's other self cries out, 'Accept me for who I am!' I think it's a powerful message which many, if not all of us can relate to."
Shadow Kanji: What does it mean to be "a guy"? What does it mean to be "manly"?
One of Kanji's true concerns may in fact not lie in sexuality, but with gender: consider the fact that Kanji is a large, imposing figure of a man who likes to cook and sew in his spare time. In a society where men are stereotypically known to be the leaders of the house, to be manly and work hard and support the family, Kanji's fears of revealing his true interests to society are legitimate ones. His true problem really lies with the gender roles that society has laid out: men are manly and beat up biker gangs and protect the weak, women are girly and stay at home to cook and clean. Because this is a barrier that he can't seem to pass, he's afraid to let anyone know the true, more "feminine" interests he's involved himself in for so long.
Kanji lives with these problems inside of himself due to something his father taught him as a boy: "If you're a man, you have to become strong." To a young Kanji, he couldn't quite grasp the double-meaning to the word strength: that this wasn't something merely physical, but mental as well. On top of this, the culture surrounding him growing up has set "rules" for what it means to be a man versus a woman, thus he's been ridiculed by girls and boys alike for being the way he is. He merely understands the ideas of men and women by what he's seen by a world saturated in stereotypes and unspoken rules. What Kanji is ultimately struggling with is what it truly means to be a man, and whether or not the hobbies and interests he has make him any less of a man than anyone else.
Kanji: I'm a total pansy who tries to make everyone hate me.To counteract the looks of disgust he received from the people who rejected him initially, he put up a front which was tough, strong and wild: what Kanji understood to be "manly". His true self was being hidden by what Kanji thought society expected of him as a male. However, deep down inside Kanji wants to believe that something as trivial as "gender" shouldn't matter when it comes to something you like doing, and especially when it comes to being able to relate to other people.
Shadow Kanji: I don't care who... won't someone, anyone, please accept me?What these actually add up to is what Kanji is crying for deep inside himself: acceptance from both genders, someone who will be his friend and appreciate him for who he is, rather than who he's pretending to be. Because he felt that he couldn't fit in with the boys and thought that girls would find his hobbies disgusting, he shied away from the world and grew up in loneliness. Despite the big bad bathhouse, Kanji's problems don't necessarily just lie in a matter of sexual preference for men or women: it's merely that he wants to find acceptance in both of the sexes, to be understood for who he was, and not misunderstood for who he was constantly pretending to be.
Kanji: I guess I wasn't really afraid of girls. I was just scared of people in general.In a world that scrutinizes others at a face-level and won't bother to look beyond the facade before they begin to judge people, it's no surprise that Kanji was afraid to show the world who he really is and the things that he actually enjoys doing. He was so scared of being left out and falling behind that he couldn't be true to himself and began to second-guess who he really was, thus falling victim to the shadow inside of the television.