HOMOSEXUALITY IN JAPAN
Kiss me Japanese gays live quietly and are not very visible. They are tolerated more than in other Asian countries but are still occasionally the targets of discrimination and harassment. There is such pressure to conform in Japan that many gay men get married and live the gay life in secret, something that is not hard to do considering that men spend so little time at home.
During the Edo Period (1603-1867) homosexuality was reportedly widely practiced and even encouraged among samurai. As was true in ancient Sparta, there was a belief that a warrior would fight harder if he was protecting the life of a lover fighting at his side.
Shinjuku is the home of Tokyo's main gay district. The first ever Gay and Lesbian Parade in Japan was held on Shinjuku Street in 1992. Estimates of the turnout ranged from 300 to 1,000 marchers. Gay organizations have small membership. This partly because most Japanese gays don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
As of the mid 2000s, only one politician—a lesbian member of the Osaka prefectural assembly—has some out and admitted he or she is gay.
Good Websites and Sources: Gay and Lesbian Japan japanvisitor.com ; Gay Love in Japan gay-art-history.org ; Book: Homosexuality and Masculinity in Postwar Japan routledge.com Books: Coming Out in Japan by Satoru Ito and Ryuta Yanase (Trans Pacific Press, 2001); Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan by Mark McLelland (Curzon, 2000); Queer in Japan, edited and translated by Barbara Summerhawk (New Victoria, 2001)
Links in this Website: SEX IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; PROSTITUTES, SEX CLUBS AND SEX INDUSTRY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HOSTESSES, HOSTS AND STRIPTEASE IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SEX, CHILDREN, TEACHERS AND SUBWAYS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SEX, DATING CLUBS AND SCHOOLGIRLS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Gay bars in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Homosexuality and Entertainment in Japan
Cross-dressing males are often guests on television talk shows. There are clubs with she-male reviews that end their shows by exposing themselves.
Many heterosexual and homosexual male college students work in the sex trade just as young women do. They regard what they do as work and a way to make some spending money.
Tokyo hosts a gay and lesbian film festival in mid July
Thousands March in Japan Gay Pride Parade
In April 2012, AFP reported: “ Some 2,500 people marched in a gay pride parade in Tokyo, vowing to transform a low-profile campaign for the rights of sexual minorities into a major movement in Japan. The crowd, mainly from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, as well as their supporters and sex workers, paraded through the capital's entertainment and shopping district of Shibuya. [Source: AFP, April 29, 2012]
Waving rainbow-coloured flags and banners, foreign and Japanese campaigners marched in colourful carnival and samurai warrior outfits. It was the first parade organised by Tokyo Rainbow Pride, a private organisation formed in 2011 which aims to support the rights of sexual minorities. [Ibid]
“Compared with that of New York or London, Japan's awareness of sexual minorities is quite low," said Sayaka Kato, a spokeswoman for the organisation. "I'm afraid Japan has yet to have a culture of accepting diversity." The group hopes to stage a gay pride parade with 50,000 participants within the next five years by expanding its networks among not only Japanese but foreign residents. [Ibid]
“Wataru Ishizaka, 35, who as an openly gay politician in Japan is a rarity, noted that a number of sexual minorities in the country still hesitate to take part in events in support of LGBT rights for fear of discrimination. "Japanese sexual minorities are still concerned about their exposure to the public," said Ishizaka, a local Tokyo politician, after participating in the parade. [Ibid]
Discrimination Against Gays in Japan
Japan does not have any laws that ban homosexuality nor are there laws that protect homosexual’s rights. Many gays have to deal with the trials and tribulations that gays everywhere have to endure: explaining to their mothers they are gay, dealing with their father's disgust, being the butt en of jokes by schoolmates and coworkers.
In a society where conformity and social harmony are valued, homosexual are often looked upon as outcasts. Some gay men don’t come out until they are in their 30s and learn about gay life through pornography. Gay school teachers have been forced to quit their jobs because they were gay.
Japanese gays are not big on coming out in the work place or fighting discrimination. Even so homosexual groups such as OCCUR (Japan Association for the Lesbian and Gay Movement) have won a number of victories in anti-discrimination court cases.
In October 2009, 37-year-old Japanese television personality Ai Haruna won the “Miss International Queen 2009" transsexual beauty contest in Pattaya, Thailand.
In January 2010 it was revealed that Filipino transsexuals were passing themselves off as women and marrying Japanese men and living in Japan with passports that listed them as women. There was even a broker that helped arrange the “marriages” that worked with an agent in the Phillippines that provided the transsexuals with women’s passports, onto which they placed their pictures. The transsexuals entered Japan with those passports and received residence cards after registering their marriages to Japanese men at local government offices. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]
Sex Change Operations in Japan
Sailor Moon The first legal sex change operations in Japan were conducted in 1998. According to medical guides, sex change operations have to be approved by one of two medical school ethics committees and patients are supposed to receive psychiatric counseling and hormone therapy before undergoing the operation.
Transsexuals face a number of problems after the operation, including being identified by their former genders on their passports, health and employment insurance documents and pension papers. People who have has sex change operations can not change their sex on official registries unless they have been married and have children.
Transgender people have traditionally worked in the entertainment industry.
A child born to a couple who husband was a former woman who had a sex change operation to become a male was declared illegitimate by city officials in Hyogo Prefecture.
Japanese TV Personality with Gender Identity Disorder
Masanori Tonegawa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “Japanese transsexual TV personality Ai Haruna, 39, suffered from and overcame gender identity disorder. Born anatomically male, Haruna wanted clothes and toys for girls as a child. When playing house, she always played the role of the mother. "I believed that I would naturally be able to become a woman when I grew up," she said. [Source: Masanori Tonegawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, April 15, 2012]
“But upon entering primary school, things quickly changed. Students were separated by sex for physical examinations. She wanted to wear bloomers for female students in gym class, but had to wear shorts for male students. "I despaired and wondered whether I would gradually become different from the other friendly female students. I felt my identity was threatened," she said. "Why can't I become a woman?" Haruna thought this to herself all day long and was unable to concentrate on studying. [Ibid]
“During reading time, Haruna always chose the Hans Christian Andersen tale "The Little Mermaid" because she could identify with the main character, who could not become a perfect woman unless she gave up something important. During that time, Haruna covered her face with the book to hide a flood of tears. [Ibid]
“Before attending kindergarten, Haruna had dreams of becoming an idol singer, aching to be like pop music duo Pink Lady. Beginning in primary school, Haruna frequently appeared on amateur impersonation TV programs. "As I hid my feminine side at school, I felt liberated [on the programs]," she said. Without confiding in anyone, she graduated from primary school and advanced to middle school. [Ibid]
“Since childhood, Haruna had worried about the incompatibility between her mental and physical genders. When entering middle school, she wore a male school uniform with a stand-up collar and tried to act manly. "I had a tough time not being true to myself, but I had decided to present a fictitious self at school," she said. On the impersonation TV programs, Haruna appeared in women's costumes even after becoming a middle school student. As a result, she was bullied at school. She even thought of suicide. [Ibid]
“When she was a second-year middle school student, Haruna had a life-changing event. A customer at her mother's restaurant took her to a club where "newhalfs" (transsexuals and male transvestites) entertained customers. It was the first time she learned there were many people just like her. Haruna asked the club manager for a job and started the next day, living a double life as a male middle school student by day, and a newhalf at night. [Ibid]
“As she had found a place where she could be her true self, Haruna had no problems acting like a man both at home and at school. "I used to hold a grudge against my parents for not making me a baby girl. But when I was considering suicide, pleasant memories of my family dissuaded me from doing so. So I'm really grateful to my family," she said. Just three months after entering high school, Haruna dropped out. She confessed to her parents that she was suffering from gender identity disorder and was determined to live as a newhalf. [Ibid]
Japanese TV Personality Talks About Gender Identity Disorder
Masanori Tonegawa wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “While working at a club, Haruna sang and danced on stage to entertain customers, becoming a show business professional. One day, a TV crew came to the club to cover Haruna. "I felt like I was closer to my dream. I wanted to become cute so I could look like a young woman in every way, and that way, more TV stations would come to run stories about me," she said. [Ibid]
“Haruna then underwent a sex-change operation. "I couldn't tell my parents about the operation. But right before the surgery, I called my mother to hear her voice. Then I went into the operation room shedding tears," she said. Once she became a woman in body, Haruna felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. The happiest thing was that she could now wear clothes and swimsuits for women, as well as enter female bathhouses. [Ibid]
“Nevertheless, those around her sometimes do not acknowledge Haruna as a woman. At the time, she was in a steady relationship with a man, but his family pressed her to break up with him on the grounds that Haruna is a newhalf. "I understood that after I had the operation, I wouldn't be able to have a period or become pregnant. It was a tough operation, but I noticed that only one of my many worries was resolved," she said. [Ibid]
“After the operation, Haruna continued to work at the "newhalfs" (transsexuals and male transvestites) club. When she turned 20, opportunities to appear on impersonation TV programs suddenly increased. One day, she was scouted by a Tokyo entertainment agency. She then left her hometown in Osaka Prefecture for Tokyo. However, there wasn't as much work in Tokyo as Haruna expected, and she quit the agency about one year later. After that, she worked at various places, including a restaurant in Tokyo, and opened her own small bar about 10 years ago. [Source: Masanori Tonegawa, Yomiuri Shimbun, April 22, 2012]
“Soon after, Haruna developed a polyp on her throat and could not speak. In the bar, she began lip-syncing and shadowing TV performances of singers Aya Matsuura and Seiko Matsuda, which was a hit with the bar's patrons. "At first, I didn't know whether my impersonation would be something people laughed at, but I dared to try anyway. In the end, it became my trademark," she said. Her voice returned about six months later, and she polished her techniques for lip-syncing and mimicking Matsuura's performances. When she demonstrated her technique at a party, she caught the eye of a man working in the entertainment industry. Since then, she has received an increasing amount of work and fulfilled a dream in 2008 when she released her first single as a singer. [Ibid]
“Haruna didn't want to admit that she was a man. But now, she's come to think it's her individual character to combine feminine and masculine attributes. "I became a woman physically, but sometimes I want to speak in a deep voice. I won't change my sex to female on my family register either," she said. In 2010, Haruna tried to run a 24-hour ultramarathon for charity on a TV program for the NTV network. She received encouragement and support from people along the marathon route and in faxes sent to the program. [Ibid]
“In 2009, she won the "Miss International Queen" transsexual beauty pageant held in Thailand. "If I can make an impression on people, I don't care if they think I'm an odd person. If people are interested in me, I don't care if it's just for fun," Haruna said. "I'd like to make myself known to other people and take on activities to encourage people with gender identity disorder or people struggling with diseases.” [Ibid]
Image Sources: 1) Wikicommons 2) and 3) Japan Visitors 4) Japan Zone
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012