Participants in the 2019 Tokyo Rainbow LGBT Pride in Japan (Pic: Shutterstock)
Since the 2019 Rugby World Cup kicked off in September, host country Japan has been garnering praise from all corners of the globe. The Japanese are a people known for their resilience and courteous and respectful demeanour.
Modern Japanese culture is rooted in traditions that have been around for hundreds of years, and adhering to the old ways has given rise to a philosophy of conformity, clearly set out in the Japanese proverb, “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down”.
Although relations between people of the same sex have been documented since ancient times – same-sex relationships were prevalent in Buddhist monasteries and samurai classes in the pre-Meiji and Meiji periods – opposition to homosexuality grew as Westernisation efforts came to the Empire of Japan in the 19th and 20th centuries.
LGBTQ+ rights in modern-day Japan
Japan is considered to have some of the most progressive attitudes towards the LGBTQI+ community in all of Asia, and same-sex sexual activity was only briefly criminalised between 1872 and 1880. Today, 7.6%, or one in 13 Japanese people identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and 54% of the Japanese population agree that homosexuality should be accepted by society, according to a 2013 study.
Although the majority of Japanese citizens support same-sex marriage, marital unions between people of the same sex are not legal. The 2009 decision allowing Japanese nationals to marry same-sex partners in countries where it is legal to do so was deemed an important step in the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
In 2015, the district of Shibuya in Tokyo became the first to allow same-sex couples to obtain a “proof of partnership” paper that, while not legally binding on the part of the institutions it is presented to, does help couples with things like shared renting and hospital visits. 23 municipal governments have followed suit since then, and two Japanese prefectures also introduced ordinances that ban discrimination against sexual minorities earlier in 2019.
With same-sex marriage still just a far-off reality for the Japanese LGBTQI+ community, same-sex couples in the country are not allowed to legally adopt children, and lesbian couples and single women aren’t allowed access to IVF and artificial insemination.
Transgender citizens of the Land of the Rising Sun experience great difficulty in fully living out their gender identity, and are required by law to receive a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” and undergo surgery to be sterilised if they wish to change their legal gender. Together with the local trans community, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health recently appealed to the health and justice ministries in Tokyo to revise these laws.
While we admire many qualities that draw from the traditions of the Japanese people, it is important to remember that this country, progressive as it is in the broader scheme of LGBTQI+ rights in Asia, still has a long way to go towards equality.
The annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, which has been held since 2012, is a colourful exhibition of the many nails that stick out in Japanese society today. And, seeing as it’s something that the majority of Japanese are in favour of, hopes are that these nails will no longer be hammered down due to Westernised notions that have very little to do with ancient Japanese culture and tradition at all.