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Friday, May 18, 2012

Being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Or Transsexual In Japan - Guest Post By Imogen Reed

Welcome to another wonderful article written by Imogen Reed. I know very little about her except that she is a great writer. Here she tells us about the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transsexual scene in Japan -something I asked her to look into for me.

Japan's Thriving LGBT Community

The world is becoming more open, people and cultures are interacting and transforming at an amazing pace due to globalization. While it has become much easier to transfer money abroad and to move around globally, still Japanese culture largely rejects any sort of diversity. 

Although Japan's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) youth do not have to deal with name-calling and physical violence for the most part, the do face ijime, (Japanese for bullying).

Targets of ijime usually deal with silent treatments, badmouthing and alienation because they are considered to be deviants or too different from the established norm.

Due to the communal nature of Japanese culture, most LGBT people in Japan end up leading double lives in which they marry members of the opposite sex to form so-called "normal" relationships while concealing their sexual orientation to avoid discrimination.

A lot of LGBT people tend to be isolated, and often do not meet like-minded individuals until well into their twenties. In most cases, they cannot be open about their sexual orientations in the work place as they risk being fired.

At the same time, there are no Japanese laws against homosexuality.

While Japan does not recognize same-sex partnerships, it does provide some protection for gay and transgender people. Transgendered people are legally allowed to change their sex, and transgendered people in prison can take separate baths.

Still, despite the negative stereotypes and lack of political acceptance, Japan has a blossoming gay scene that is thriving at the edges of mainstream Japanese society.

The Japanese LGBT scene is very visible in cities such as Tokyo, Osaka and Sapporo, with the largest gay district in country situated in the Shinjuku Ni-chome district in Tokyo having the highest concentration of gay and lesbian bars in Japan.

Activism and gay pride parades in Tokyo

The 2006 Tokyo Lesbian & Gay Pride parade.
On April 29, 2012 around 2,500 people marched in Tokyo waving rainbow-colored flags and banners to draw attention to Tokyo Rainbow Pride's campaign for the rights of sexual minorities in Japan.

Amongst the gathered crowd and part of the movement, were people from the Japanese LGBT community, their supporters, sex workers and non-Japanese campaigners.

While this was Tokyo Rainbow Pride's first parade, the very first gay pride parade in Japan—the Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade—was in 1994, and was organized by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Japan. The Tokyo Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade, now known as the Tokyo Pride Parade, will host another gay pride march later this year.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual parade. Image from Japan Times.
Last month's Tokyo Rainbow Pride was actually split from the Tokyo Pride Parade in order to pursue a greater representation of the LGBT "rainbow" through a horizontal working space where everyone contributes equally.

Tokyo Pride is very involved in activism and is supported by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Labour, as well as Tokyo's government on issues regarding sexual health. The Tokyo Pride Parade is an extension to the work of Tokyo Pride activists and takes a more strict, top-to-bottom approach to work than the Tokyo Rainbow Pride.

Stuck in the closet

Although these parades aim to raise awareness of the issues that affect the LGBT community and draw large crowds of people, a lot of sexual minorities in Japan prefer to stay away from such open events. A large number of the Japanese LGBT people are in the closet and fear being exposed in public.

According to a recent survey of Japan's gay people aged between 18 and 31 years, 61% of them had revealed their sexual identities to someone else, usually friends as opposed to parents—but even then, mothers before fathers.

Most respondents claimed their relationships with friends and family suffered as a result of the revelation.

A large majority of those surveyed, said they received negative information about being gay with 56% blaming the media for negative propaganda.

Sadly, 36% of the respondents had, at one time or another, considered suicide because of their sexual orientation.

The media's continuous misrepresentation

There is a mass misunderstanding of LGBT people and most of this is blamed on the media which does not accurately represent LGBT people.

The Japanese media largely tends to mock sexual minorities, portraying them as abnormal and making them the targets of ignorant and offensive comments. The Japanese media mirrors the exclusion of LGBT people in the mainstream Japanese society.

On Japanese television, the gay television personalities, also known as tarento, are regularly ridiculed. It is the same for transgendered people or cross-dressers. Japanese television tends to lump tarento that are not heterosexual or heteronormative (a set of lifestyle norms that hold that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (man and woman) with natural roles in life) under the same umbrella.

According to a recent television programme, gay men who act in a manner that is stereotypically female, male-to-female cross-dressers and transwomen are lumped under the "gay" category.

This fails to distinguish between the different experiences of LGBT people.

They are portrayed as men who are trying to be women, this ignores that there are cross-dressers who are heterosexual, and transwomen who are in relationships with other women.

LGBT in the public eye

Japan's first transgendered politician, Kamikawa Aya
 There are and have been Japanese politicians who are openly LGBT people.

Ishizaka Wataru and Ishikawa Taiga are both openly gay politicians from Japan's Social Democratic Party (SDP) where the leader of the party is a known campaigner for LGBT rights.

Ishizaka even participated in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade last month.

Other well-known politicians include Otsuji Kanako, a lesbian and former politician, and Kamikawa Aya who made history as the first transgendered person to be elected into public office in Japan. In 2003 she won a seat in the Setagaya local assembly in Tokyo and she was reelected in 2008.

Outside the sphere of politics, there are visible members of the LGBT community in a variety of fields. For example:
  • Kitahara Minoro, the owner of the first sex shop that specifically targets women is queer business woman;
  • Takeuchi Sachikoa is a lesbian comic book author, whose popular manga (comic book) Honey x Honey explores a lesbian relationship;
  • Maeda Ken, a well-known comedian and tarento;
  • IKKO and Haruna Ai are both tarento and transgendered women.


Footnote:
All Japanese names are written surname first.
Blog owner Andrew Joseph's wife has a cousin - a gaijin - who is gay and living in Tokyo with his male Japanese partner. He has lived there for over 20 years, and is apparently estranged from his family here in Canada. He need not be. 

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