Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Japan's Transgender Community

Japan is a giant in terms of its economic, technological, industrial, and medical prowess, but when it comes to treating transgender people lagged behind the rest of the world. The first sex reassignment surgery in Japan (for an F to M) didn't take place until 1998 and was followed up by the first M to F surgery a year later.

If you're an anime fan there are numerous titles that have transgender characters such as my fave series You're Under Arrest which features transgender Tokyo police officer Aoi Futaba. But unfortunately real life transgender people in Japan have been reluctantly hiding in the shadows in a culture that prizes conformity.

Things are changing in Japan as it make moves to grant more personal freedom to its citizens, and the Japanese transgender community is a beneficiary of this openness.

It's estimated that there are 7,000 to 10,000 transgender people in Japan, and while it seems that the ascension of Japanese transpeople has been meteoric, much of what has happened was the result of years of behind the scenes work.

In 2003 Aya Kamikawa became the first (and so far only) transgender person elected to public office in Japan when she won a place on the local assembly for Setagaya, one of Tokyo's biggest local government areas. She has played a key role in lobbying for changes at both the national and local levels, including the 2004 gender change law. Kamikawa has also successfully lobbied to eliminate unnecessary mentions of gender in public documents and was reelected in 2008 to serve a second four year term.

Following on the heels of Kamikawa's historic political victory were groundbreaking legal reforms in 2004 that allowed some transsexuals to change their officially registered sex. Unfortunately the law only allows unmarried, childless applicants to change their official gender. In addition, applicants also must have had SRS and been diagnosed by two doctors as having gender identity disorder.

That has resulted in only 151 people officially changing their gender codes between July 2004, when the law took effect, and the end of March 2005, according to Japan's Justice Ministry.

Despite the victories, there's still some stigma attached to being transgender in Japan, although that is slowly being overcome. "As long as we keep silent, nothing is going to change," said Kamikawa. "We need the courage to make a society which respects diversity."


Dale said...

Your articles on various countries around the world are quite interesting. Thank you for taking the time to research them and then write them up.

genevieve said...

I read something the other about it. I enjoy reading how transgender people are faring in other countries.

Monica Roberts said...

Dale and Genny
Glad you peeps are enjoying the various articles on transpeople in other countries.

I thought it would be a good idea for us US based transpeople to have measuring sticks as to how good (or bad) we're faring versus transgender people in other countries.

Unknown said...

I was just coming over here to say the same thing as Dale! I love these little overviews, I always start googling after I read them, and it really takes me to great places. Thank you for posting them!

k. terumi shorb said...

i'm new to the blog, and really happy my partner sent it to me! being of japanese decent myself, and having lived in japan, this is truly great news! the strange stipulations do dampen the progress, but it still makes me hopeful. i do want to say, though, the assessment of japan as a country that prizes conformity (compared to other countries) makes me a little nervous. having lived there, there is a truth to it. but then, having lived in the u.s. and great britain, i've learned that every country has its own brand of conformity and every national culture prizes this conformity. even if that conformity is "individualism"--as confined and prejudiced as it is usually presented--like it is here in the states. i think that sometimes what japanese people see as "community," americans and europeans see as "conformity." both sides benefit from looking toward each others' attitudes. besides, some of the strangest, quirkiest, most vocal people i know are japanese. i would say, however, that i believe japan has been really embracing more progressive politics and policies lately. especially within the last five years. every time i return to japan, i am pleasantly surprised by how different it feels! thanks for the post! you're going on my rss feed.

Monica Roberts said...

K Terumi,
Thanks for the insight. I find the changes in Japan for transgender people there fascinating compared to what's happening here in the States.