Gay Japan News & Reports 2000-03

1 Sex change no cure for torment 6/01

2 Tokyo Disneyland offers gays chance to come out in the sun 8/00

3 Trocks in frocks in Tokyo (Male Ballet Company) 7/01

4 Coming out at the workplace the next big challenge for gays 6/01

5 ‘Selectively out:’ Being a gay foreign national in Japan 3/01

6 Gay Iranian desperate to stay in Japan 3/01 (see #15)

7 The marginalization of male homosexuality 3/01

8 Gays included for human rights in Tokyo 11/01

9 Lesbian couple fight for rights 11/01

10 Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Japan (1995 book)

11 Gay Magazine publisher writes book 1/02

12 Transsexual stands proud in a land of conformit–elected to office 5/03

13 Japan Recognizes Rights Of Transgendered 7/03

14 Closet gays stiffed with cock-and-bull stories 11/03

Japan Times, Tokyo ( )

June 20, 2001

Sex change no cure for torment

Surgery an option but transsexuals still face legal walls

by Hiroshi Matsubara, Staff writer
In 1987, Masae Torai caught a flight to the United States with 4 million yen in savings to undergo a sex-reassignment operation and fulfill a long-held wish to become male.

His wish came true. After being diagnosed as a person with gender identity disorder at a U.S. hospital, Torai, the pen name he has used for several books on transsexualism he has written, underwent surgery at age 23 to remove breasts and lacteal glands. He returned to Japan and started taking male hormones in a bid to have a body more like that of a man. Two years later, Torai’s ovaries were removed in the U.S. Although Torai, 37, still needs to periodically inject male hormones to maintain his male features, he said his anguish over his physical state has been surgically cured. His social suffering, however, continues. He still faces difficulties in many aspects of daily life because legally he remains a woman.

"When I renewed my passport a few years ago, I had to explain my situation for 30 minutes in front of other applicants," he said. "I feel embarrassed, bothered to explain, and often even sorry to confuse other people in every situation I need to show my ID." The Family Registration Law stipulates that registrations can be corrected only when "mistakes" are found. Judicial authorities have repeatedly rejected petitions by transsexuals to change their gender registration, saying sexual identity is determined only by sex organs and chromatids. Only one amendment has thus far been approved for a gender identity disorder patient, in 1980, according to Torai.

Last month, Torai and five other transsexuals separately petitioned four family courts in eastern Japan to change their registered genders. On Monday, Torai and three other transsexuals also petitioned the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry to allow them to change their registered sex on health and employment insurance documents and public pension papers. They also requested that the cost of sex-reassignment operations be covered by health insurance and called for administrative measures to prevent employment and other social discrimination toward such people. Prior to Monday’s petition, Torai told The Japan Times that Japan, where sex-reassignment surgery has already been authorized for people with gender identity disorder, should now move ahead to allow them to legally change their sex.

"Our constitutional right to pursue happiness is being violated," he said. "Currently, I cannot even marry my girlfriend." For him, adolescence was simply a nightmare. "Everyday, I felt that I was growing into an undesired body," he said. "I hated every aspect of my life, ranging from wearing a girl’s uniform at school to having a high-pitched voice and menstruation."

In 1996, Saitama Medical School authorized sex-reassignment surgery as a legitimate medical treatment for patients diagnosed with gender identity disorder. Two years later, the first patient underwent female-to-male surgery, and to date, seven patients have undergone sex-reassignment surgery there. In addition, another received a male-to-female operation at Okayama University Hospital in January. Many sufferers of the disorder previously underwent such surgery abroad, mainly in the United States — where about 1,000 people had had sex-reassignment operations by 1980 — and Thailand.

According to Toshio Yamauchi, a psychiatrist at Saitama Medical School and head of the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology’s special committee on gender identity disorder, such surgery is necessary for serious cases. "Previously, psychiatrists tried to help patients accept their physical sexuality through counseling, but it rarely worked," he said. "Sex-change operations may still appear extreme or even immoral, but it is often the only solution for patients." According to the latest studies, gender identity is probably established in the fetal stage, often regardless of physical or genetic characteristics.

Gender is genetically established at the time of fertilization, but a "hormone shower" must follow to establish gender in a physical and probably psychological sense, during the brain’s development, in accordance with the genetically determined sex, Yamauchi explained. But fetuses are often supplied with fewer hormones than required or in some cases the hormones of the opposite sex, spawning gender identity disorder, or in extreme cases, birth as a hermaphrodite, he said. Torai said he believes his disorder was caused by his mother taking steroid hormones to prevent a miscarriage.

A report released by a prominent U.S. psychiatrist in 1985 said that in the U.S., one out of 24,000 to 37,000 men and one out of 103,000 to 150,000 women have gender identity disorder. Saitama Medical School, where about 350 people have so far received counseling and other treatment, estimates there are between 2,200 and 7,000 cases in Japan. While Yamauchi said he believes the registration law should be amended to allow transsexuals to change their registered gender, he said it would help just a small segment of patients.

"Those who want to completely transform their bodies through surgery account for less than 10 percent of all the patients we have treated, and many others choose to live between the two sexes," he said. "Some are still confused over which sex they belong to and face persistent prejudice from the general public, which tends to regard such patients only as sexual perverts."

Rumiko Miyazaki, a biological male who asked that his real name be withheld, may be a good example. Identifying himself as having gender identity disorder, Miyazaki lives as a woman on Saturdays and teaches politics and economics at a Tokyo high school as a man on weekdays. Having had no surgery or hormone treatment and having never consulted a psychiatrist, Miyazaki also has a wife and son at home, to whom he plays the role of father on Sundays. "I feel so much more comfortable living as a woman and can’t wait for Saturday to come around," said Miyazaki, who is in his 40s. "But even other transsexuals call me a phony GID or just a pervert."

Yamauchi of Saitama Medical School said it is crucial for society to break through the prevailing "dualism of sexuality," which tends to ignore the presence of sexual minorities and often dismisses their rights. "Dualism in sex draws a strict line between two genders and defines those in between only as perverts," he said. "Such an idea is obsolete from the perspective of medical science, and a society that adheres to that ideal is simply immature and inhumane."

Japan Times, Tokyo ( )

August 1, 2000

Tokyo Disneyland offers gays chance to come out in the sun

by Hiroshi Matsubara and Takuya Asakura, Staff writers
As is always the case at weekends during summer vacation, Tokyo Disneyland was packed by tens of thousands of visitors Sunday. A group celebrates the first Lesbian & Gay Day held at Tokyo Disneyland on Sunday. But conspicuous among the families and young couples were numerous same-sex couples, expressing affection for each other just like heterosexual pairs.

Sunday marked the first Lesbian & Gay Day at Tokyo Disneyland, in which around 3,000 gays and lesbians — many wearing special red T-shirts for the day, printed with "July Pride 2000" and others in their own outfits — celebrated their sexuality under the bright summer sun. "We have been so excited about this," said a young man in his 20s from Ehime Prefecture, who came with seven friends. "We were even thinking about chartering a bus and organizing a tour (for gay friends in the neighborhood)."

The event was organized by Shigenobu Umeki, a 41-year-old writer for gay magazines, who had long dreamed of hosting the event since he became familiar with the original Gay and Lesbian Day at Walt Disney World in Florida, which has been held annually since 1991. During this year’s Florida event, held in June to mark its 10th anniversary, Disney World was reportedly packed with more than 100,000 gays and lesbians wearing red as a sign of gay pride.

"I believe places like Disneyland, which is such a healthy, bright, family-oriented and commercial atmosphere, are the hardest ones for gays to become completely open about themselves," Umeki said. "The event is an attempt to get away from the usual night club events into places under the bright sunshine without hiding their sexual identity." While Lesbian & Gay Day is not an official Tokyo Disneyland event, Koji Mizukami, a spokesman for Oriental Land Co., which operates the theme park, said the company welcomes any group unless it is explicitly political, religious or has advertising interests.

While organizers of the events here and in Florida emphasize the significance of the event at Disneyland, many are still against it because the presence of gays may irritate other visitors who just want to have fun at the theme park by escaping from the usual realities of life. In fact, the original Gay Day at Disney World has always been a contentious event, facing strong criticism from such groups as Christian fundamentalists.

Umeki said he only hopes heterosexual visitors to the park, who otherwise have no chance to interact with gays, could think about why they feel uncomfortable, awkward, or even hatred when they see gays. "I want them to think that such negative sentiments are often connected to prejudice or discrimination," he said. "It is your choice if you come here or not," said a 32-year-old man from Tokyo, who works at a publishing firm. "But it is absolutely great to have such an opportunity."

A 27-year-old nurse from Kanagawa Prefecture said he did not wear the red T-shirt just because he did not think so many people would do so.While welcoming the event, an American man who works at a legal firm in Tokyo said Japan is not an easy place to live, especially for gay couples, citing as examples discriminatory treatment in housing and corporate benefits for employees. "There are few corporations who willingly support such an event for gays," Umeki said. "I hope Lesbian & Gay Day at Disney served as a good opportunity for both gay and heterosexual people to start naturally accepting homosexuality."

The Age, Melbourne. Australia. (

31 July 2001

Trocks in frocks in Tokyo

by Jo Roberts
Trockmania is a Japanese phenomenon. It’s not quite Beatlemania, but comes close. The official Japanese fan club is in the thousands and female fans tail the Trocks around the country, loitering in hotel lobbies, giving them presents, even proposing marriage. Bizarre, really, considering nearly all the performers are gay — a bunch of ballet-loving guys in tutus, performing classic ballets with a comic edge.

Now Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo are heading here to perform (and parody) acts from classic works at the State Theatre from Thursday night. It’s mid-July and The Age has joined the Trocks for a performance in week five of their annual Japanese tour. An ecstatic audience of 2500 watches as the curtain rises to reveal the statuesque, sinewy Ida Nevasayneva, demure in a white tutu. She begins to cast her spell, flitting and prancing atop her pointe shoes, delicately, ethereally, in Swan Lake.

The crowd wildly applauds the faultless solo of the Swan Queen, Margeaux Mundeyn, who flutters her long, long eyelashes in coy appreciation. There is a rapturous reception and then — laughter. This is no ordinary Swan Lake. Or Le Corsaire. Or Paquita. Woven into these highly skilled displays of dancing en pointe are some of the funniest sights you’ll see on a ballet stage. But beneath the tulle, these impossibly graceful ballerinas are all men who love their ballet as much as they love getting laughs.

"Some people think, ‘is it a dance company, a gay company, a drag show or what?’ But when people do see the show, they’re always surprised by how good it is,” says artistic director Tory Dobrin, 47. He has been with the New York-based company since 1980 and danced up until only two years ago.

The Trocks’ first performance was on September 9, 1974, in a second-storey loft theatre on 14th Street in Manhattan. The show was a sell-out. In the 26 years since, they have been Trockin’ all over the world, gaining more fans and greater prestige with every year. In 1999, for their 25th anniversary, the Trocks performed at the prestigious Lincoln Center in New York to more than 7500 people. They have appeared onstage with Royal Ballet principal Leanne Benjamin and on television shows ranging from a Shirley Maclaine special to The Muppets.

The company has toured Japan every year since 1982, one year twice. In the early years, it was just seven performances, but by 1990 it was 40, says Dobrin. In one year in the late1990s, the Trocks spent 15 weeks in Japan. "Everyone had nervous breakdowns, myself included,” says Dobrin. "So now we do about seven weeks.”

Bernd Bergmaier, for one, is confounded how some women get to so many shows. "I have no idea how they do it, but some of them are off (work) the whole time we’re here,” says the 23-year-old German. "You go from theatre to theatre and you see the same faces in the first row. Somehow, they get our schedule and our hotel lists. Sometimes they wait in the hotel lobby for hours until, finally, somebody walks by.”

I’m sitting next to him on the slowcrawling bus that is wending its way to the theatre they will perform in tonight. Any Priscilla-like visions I had of feather boas cascading out bus windows dissipate as everyone settles in for the ride. Dobrin plays a video of Giselle during the trip. Some dancers watch it while others chat and laugh. For Casey Herd, 23, he’s tuning out on headphones, to AC/DC’s Back in Black, no less.

His regular gig is with Pacific North-West Ballet in Seattle, but his best friend, Jason Hadley, who joined the Trocks in 1998, called him and asked if he’d like to come to Japan to perform the male roles. Not being a tutu-kind-of-guy, Herd agreed. It would be quite different to what he’s used to? "Mmm, yeah!” he laughs. "But I wanted to come back to Japan. I’d been here before with American Ballet Theatre a few years ago — and hung out with all these guys,” he laughs.

So how did he get into dance? "My mom talked me into it when I was a kid. I used to do it with the excuse it was going to help my football. Then it was like, ‘nah, forget it, I’m just doing ballet’. It’s taken me a lot of places, I get to do a lot of things — got me out of Utah,” he concludes with a grin. The dancers come from all over the world, although most are American. They range in age from early 20s to late 30s, with more younger dancers joining as the Trocks have evolved over the years from alate-career novelty to a very respectable early-career choice.

Bobby Carter, 26, joined in 1995, deciding at age 10 he wanted to be a Trock. "I love it, I’m spoiled. It’s a fun job and I get to travel, see the world.” Mark Rudzitis, 31, joined in 1993, after several years with New York’s Ballet of the Dolls. "I’d heard of Trockaderos since I was a little kid. I saw an audition poster for Trockaderos and I thought ‘oh my god! I have to go!’.” He says Ballet of the Dolls was a "fairly nontraditional” company. "We’d done drag numbers. And one time I did one piece with one pointe shoe.”

Is it that much harder for a man than a woman to dance on pointe? "Well, male bodies have a higher percentage of muscle mass and muscle’s heavier than fat,” he says. "Plus we’re not trained from little boys how to dance on pointe, so it’s just a different musculature.” But he admits, "Taking off your pointe shoes at the end of the night is the best feeling.”

Italian recruit Raffaele Morra, who only joined the Trocks in May, says the hard part is getting "softness” in the moves. "They are not male qualities of movement and that is what I have to practise,” he says. "I always did strong roles, male roles, before this.” So why did he join? "I love ballerina,” he says in a thick accent. "In the company before I was a repititeur, so I watched the ballet, learning the female roles before the male; I always love the movements of the female ballerina. For me, the dance is nothing without pointe shoes.”

As showtime nears, the dancers begin applying their makeup. Margeaux Mundeyn, aka Yonny Manaure from Venezuela, has religious pictures glued to the inside lid of his makeup case. "Chanel,” says Yonny lovingly, picking up a Coco lipstick. "You know, it’s really important to relax, to make the time for the makeup,” he says softly in beautiful broken English. "When you’re old, you don’t do too much makeup. No. You look more natural, younger and pretty!’ He is the elder statesman of the troupe, who all fondly call him Mama. So how old are you, Yonny? "Twenty-three,” he whisperingly lies, to the chortles of his colleagues.

Fans pay around 8000 yen — around $157 — for a ticket to the Trocks. Japan remains the unfunded company’s most important market, ticket sales being their sole income. And when it comes to seeing the Trocks, the Japanese don’t hold back. At the stage door, dressed in smart, conservative black, Yuko Naga, 31, has just seen her fourth Trocks show of this tour. Last year she saw them eight times. "I’ve seen them for 10 years,” she says shyly.

Despite their success and obvious skill, some people still refuse to take the Trocks seriously. World-renowned ballerina Sylvie Guillem is not interested in Trockadero at all, says Dobrin. "She says ‘I don’t need to see that’,” he says. But does it frustrate him when people can’t see the value, or indisputable skill? "No, because my motto is that it’s important to be able to function in the world, not necessarily fit in,” he says. "The thing about growing up gay and Jewish, you get a lot of bad energy coming your way when you’re growing up. So you don’t care, or you become bitter. I mean, who wants to be bitter?

"In the early’80s it was really bad, we had no respect from anyone anywhere, but now we get a lot of respect. Times have changed. Twenty years after Madonna and RuPaul and those drag movies, society’s completelychanged. The dancing’s definitely better, but the show was great back then.” Now they play in some of the finest theatres in the world. "If Sylvie Guillem deems us not worthy to see, yet we’re accepted at the Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Victorian Arts Centre, then that’s her problem.”
(Jo Roberts travelled to Tokyo courtesy of the Victorian Arts Centre)

Japan Times Tokyo ( )

June 29, 2001

Coming out at the workplace the next big challenge for gays

By Hiroshi Matsubara, Staff writer
During a party celebrating his election to a Tokyo ward assembly in April 1999, the candidate was being congratulated by supporters, as were his parents, who were hailed as the biggest contributors to the successful campaign. The candidate had mixed feelings, however, because he knew that the person who had most backed his campaign was actually his lover — others only knew him as the candidate’s friend and chief aide. "I could tell only a few of my supporters that I was gay and that my chief secretary was my partner," said the ward assemblyman, who is in his 30s and asked that his name not be given.

Although issues related to homosexuality are more openly talked about today and many gays have chosen to come out to friends and family, it seems much harder for them — and others with alternative sexual lifestyles — to maintain such open attitudes in their working lives, due to fears over how the news would affect relationships with colleagues, superiors and others they interact with at work. Junji Annen, professor of law at Seikei University, said that securing the rights of sexual and other minorities in the workplace is important not only from a moral perspective, but also for potential economic benefits. Annen was a member of a Tokyo Metropolitan Government advisory council for drafting guidelines on the promotion of human rights that took effect in November.

"The originality of an individual is what often provides their workplace with an advantage," he said. "I believe people cannot fulfill their ability unless they fully present their individual traits." The assemblyman left his previous job to care for an ailing family member, and decided to become a politician after coming to realize the shortcomings of the current public welfare system. He currently works to improve welfare services for ward residents. "As a gay person, I feel my mission is to push my ward to take steps to ensure the rights of homosexuals and other minorities," he said. "But it seems too early to even tell my supporters that I am gay." Referring to his "double-life," he said he is often aware of being hypocritical when confronted with the differing needs of ward residents and the gay community.

His story, however, is not that unusual. A Self-Defense Forces officer who works in an aviation-related section is another person who leads such a double existence, hiding his sexual orientation at work while living with his male partner in Kanagawa Prefecture. "I fully accept my sexual orientation now, but I still do not want to unnecessarily confuse colleagues," he said. "I’ll probably hide the fact I am gay from colleagues for the rest of my life." The officer added that the SDF is an ideal job for him, because there is almost no outside interaction, minimizing the possibility of his private life becoming known at work.

His partner currently works at a Tokyo dental clinic as an intern dentist. He is now searching for employment after his internship ends in March, and hopes to find a place where the relationship among employees is not too intimate. "If I become close to my colleagues, I may feel a sense of guilt for hiding my sexual orientation," said the dentist, who is in his 20s. "Work and private life cannot cross paths for me, but I think it is a common attitude for people of my generation."

But, of course, there are also exceptions. In 1997, Masahiko Honda, 33, told colleagues at his firm — at that time the Japanese unit of Internet service giant AOL, which has since become DoCoMo AOL — that he was gay after he volunteered as a producer for a member page for homosexuals. The firm had been ordered to launch such a page by its parent company, which successfully boosted membership through creating members-only Web sites designed for homosexuals, Honda said. "I felt so much better after I came out," he said. "It was very frustrating to hide who I was and completely separate my work and private life." Honda, a Tokyo native, concealed his sexual orientation throughout school and his first job at a Tokyo department store. Now, however, he even invites his boyfriend, a public school teacher, to a marathon event for company employees and their families.

"My sexuality is a part of my personality, which has helped me do certain jobs at work well," he said. "Hiding your personality is one way to get by, but I wonder whose benefit it really serves." Last month, a Justice Ministry panel debating the creation of an independent human rights watchdog revealed that homosexuals will be included among minorities whose rights should be protected, along with foreigners, HIV carriers and former patients of Hansen’s disease. "By suppressing minorities, we simply waste their abilities," Seikei University’s Annen said. "In the end, it is us who pay the price for our prejudices."

Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo, Japan ( )

March 24, 2001

‘Selectively out:’ Being a gay foreign national in Japan

by Elizabeth Floyd Ogata, Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Steve Dodd, 44, a lecturer in Japanese literature at London University, comes to Tokyo for a few months each year to do research. He became interested in Japan during a two-year job teaching English in a small town in Mie Prefecture more than 20 years ago. That first stay in Japan was certainly life-changing — not only because it led to a career, but because it convinced him he needed, for his own sake, to lead an open gay life.

"I had no idea really what the attitude toward homosexuality was in Japan, in the small town where I was teaching kids. I felt this terrible fear of being exposed," he said. Perhaps it was because he was still only about 20, he says. "But they were all saying, ‘Do you have a girlfriend yet?’ Or they were promising to take me to a prostitute or something. I can remember always living in fear that I would be dragged along to a brothel."

It was not until 1990 that his work brought him back for a second visit to Japan. This was after he’d spent almost a decade living a very open gay life in London and New York. He has resolved to be equally forthright in Japan this time around, with the academics and others he meets, and so far, he says he has not had any problems. He says simply, "I am much more in control of my destiny now." Assuming that everybody is straight in Japan, as anywhere else, the onus is on gays to tell people that they are "different," with all the stigma that can entail, particularly in a country that likes to claim that everybody is the same. No wonder then that some prefer to keep quiet, even if that means hiding what they really are.

There aren’t many people in Japanese public life — whether actors, athletes or politicians — who have publicly announced that they are gay, except for cross-dressers and the occasional activist. "People tend to think of being ‘out’ as an either/or thing — either you’re ‘out’ or you’re in the closet — but it’s not that simple," says George Mirren (not his real name), 37, president of the Japanese subsidiary of a multinational corporation. Originally from a small town in Arkansas, he has been living in Tokyo for 15 years. He speaks fluent Japanese, and has a steady Japanese partner. "There are varying degrees of outness. No one is completely out all the time."

Since he’s the president of his company, he doesn’t need to be concerned about being fired for his orientation, but he considers the topic personal and does not try to let people know. When asked if his staff of 10 know, he says, "Let’s say it’s an ‘open secret.’ I mean, they know that when my boyfriend calls, he gets put right through. They know, basically." Legal situation There aren’t any sodomy laws in Japan. Homosexual activity is not a crime as it is, for instance, in some states in the United States. Some people say this proves there is no discrimination against gays in Japan.

The lack of any legal sanctions — or legal protections — is just another aspect of invisibility of gay people in Japan, like the lack of respected role models. But although there may be less overt discrimination, social factors — especially the overwhelming emphasis on the so-called "traditional family" — can make life difficult for gays.

Matthew Phillips (not his real name), a tenured economics professor, says he was turned away by numerous real estate agents when he went with his Japanese partner to look for an apartment. "It took us four months looking every weekend, and we finally found one. But the landlord put an extra condition on our contract — that he will automatically take one month deposit at the end, no matter what." Phillips accepted that condition because he felt he didn’t have a choice. Kazuya Kawaguchi of OCCUR (Japan Association for the Lesbian and Gay Movement) in Tokyo, says that a lot of people would be not shocked, but puzzled, by the idea of two men living together. He says, "In Japan, people think that any full-fledged adult male who’s single should be living on his own two feet — in other words, alone. There’s no concept of two men living together. They might think, for instance, that neither of them had any money. Naturally, they wouldn’t want to rent to them."

Kawaguchi says that there has recently been some discussion in the media of adding gay rights to the human rights guidelines periodically issued by the government. However, he goes on to say that, ironically, if this does occur, he would expect more incidents of discrimination, since this would finally be official acknowledgment of the fact that some people in Japan are gay. Taking on a different ‘self’ Phillips is "selectively out"; he has told very few people at his university. He resents not only having to keep so much of his private life hidden, but also not having the same legal benefits with his partner that a married couple has, including health insurance or inheritance rights. He says, "I find it a terrible use of energy to have to keep hiding who I really am."

Mirren is also selectively out, but is not bothered by having much of his life be unknown to others. Mirren believes that in many ways,it’s easier to be gay in Japan than in the United States. "In America," he says, "we’re always seeking ‘the real me’ or ‘my real feelings.’ Everything here, on the other hand, is situational." In Japan, in other words, it’s considered natural to put on a different face for different situations, and for each one to represent part of the truth. "In America," Mirren suggests, "gay men spend a lot of time hiding their real self. So when you come to a culture where people aren’t interested in your real self, it’s a relief."

Daily Yomiuri, Tokyo, Japan (

March 24, 2001

Gay Iranian desperate to stay in Japan

by Harumi Ozawa, Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Shayda, an Iranian man who has been detained by immigration officials for almost a year at a facility in Ibaraki Prefecture, applied both for asylum and a special residency permit after he was arrested in April last year for overstaying his visa. He is desperate to stay in Japan because as a homosexual, he could face death in Iran, his home country.

Shayda (not his real name) came to Japan in 1991. Although he initially had tried to seek asylum in Western countries, which have granted asylum to homosexuals, his application was rejected due to his lack of English-language ability. The Justice Ministry turned down both his requests for asylum and special residency permit in July last year and gave the go-ahead to proceed with a deportation order. At the moment, Shayda is asking the Tokyo District Court to overturn the deportation order.

"This is the first case — at least that I know of — of a gay foreign national fighting for legal status in Japan and seeking protection from threats stemming from his sexual orientation," said Takeshi Ohashi, an attorney representing Shayda. Despite the unprecedented nature of the case, Ohashi stressed that Shayda should have had a good chance of gaining refugee status. "The fact that the Japanese government didn’t grant him asylum actually is surprising, because it should have done so in light of the fact that it has signed an international convention on the status of refugees," he said. The government’s position

Representatives of the justice minister last week submitted to the Tokyo District Court a statement explaining why the government is deporting Shayda. The ministry’s argument can be summarized as follows: . No cases of gays being penalized in Iran solely on the basis of sexual orientation have been officially reported.

Shayda has neither been prosecuted nor served an arrest warrant in Iran. Therefore, so long as he does not call attention to his sexual orientation, his homosexuality will not pose a threat to his safety in Iran. But the ministry’s first point is debatable, because gays in Iran are often prosecuted for their sexuality, almost always incorporated with other charges. Ohashi, who specializes in cases involving foreign nationals, points out that the second argument is simply unrealistic because it implies that homosexuals can enjoy safety so long as they don’t partake in sexual activity with members of the same sex. Although cases involving the oppression of homosexuals in Iran receive little media coverage in Japan, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees recognizes the persecution of gays in Iran. A UNHCR report on Iranian refugees and asylum seekers refers to homosexuals as one of five categories of vulnerable social groups in Iran. It reads: "Homosexuality is forbidden by Islamic law, and will be punished. Sodomy, defined as ‘sexual intercourse with a male,’ is punishable by death if both parties ‘are mature, of sound mind and have free will.’"

Members of TeamS, a Tokyo group consisting of friends and foreign labor union members supporting Shayda, have also researched cases regarding homosexuals in Iran through sources like Amnesty International, Homan — a magazine established in Stockholm by gays and lesbians exiled from Iran — an Iranian human rights group and Iranian daily newspapers. According to the group’s research, at least 14 people have been killed for sodomy or sexual deviation since 1990, although their charges were often incorporated with other allegations, such as espionage. Nassim, who works with Homan, elaborated on the reality that gays in Iran must face. "If I tell someone in Iran that I am gay, my family will not wait for the government to kill me, a member of my own family, with almost 100 percent certainty, will kill me and no one will ask him why," he said via e-mail.

To Nassim, the Japanese government’s position on Shayda’s case indicates "a typical Asian cultural view," and he condemned the passivity of the Japanese government and its people regarding the struggle of Iranian homosexuals for human rights. "The question is not to have a secret place…but to have your sexual orientation, homosexuality recognized in the law, and your love respected by society," he said. "(This) is what we are struggling for, because sexual identity is an important part of your human identity and that is why gay rights is part of human rights."

According to Ohashi, Shayda has already come out as being gay and is actively involved in the Iranian gay movement as a contributor at Homan, which in effect nullifies the defendant’s second argument. "Even if he were to hide his homosexuality, which would save him from persecution, he would be denying himself the freedom of expressing love in public, which would silence an important aspect of his identity for the rest of his life," he said. "It would be difficult for homosexuals in Iran to remain silent about their sexuality, but it would be even more destructive to revoke the freedom of sexual orientation from someone who already has begun a new life in Japan based on his true identity as a homosexual," he added.

For Shayda, however, staying in Japan is more than just a matter of a self-identity, because he could face great danger, even death, if the government does not retract its deportation order. Nassim urged: "If Japan will not let our Iranian gay friend to stay in Japan, it should not send him back to Iran, but let the UNHCR help him to find a safe place elsewhere." Caught up in legalities Shayda came to Japan alone. He made friends, worked and became accustomed to his new life, which offered freedoms that were unthinkable in Iran. Still, it took about eight years for him to come out as being gay, because he found it extremely difficult to declare his sexual orientation to the Iranian community in Japan. "In retrospect, though, he should have applied for asylum before he was arrested," said Masaki Inaba, a member of TeamS.

But according to Inaba, Shayda chose to wait for the UNHCR to recognize him as a refugee, rather than risk having the Japanese government turn down his application, and in the meantime, he overstayed his visa. It would be easy to blame Shayda for allowing his situation to turn from bad to worse, to the point of overstaying his visa and being arrested. Sure, he would be in a better position today had he come out as being gay and appealed to the government for asylum the day he arrived in Japan instead of after being caught overstaying his visa. "If only he could have acted with reason," Ohashi said sarcastically, referring to the "reason" of people who do not need to escape their own country.

"Back in their home countries, asylum seekers consider government officials as people who are working against their interests. How can you expect people who cannot even consult with their own lawmakers to put faith in Japanese government officials?" Ohashi said. "Most asylum seekers are not high-ranking North Korean officials, just ordinary people. It is unrealistic to expect people like them to arrive in a new country and seek legal help immediately." The next proceeding of Shayda’s case is scheduled for May 8 at the Tokyo District Court.

Daily Yomiuri Tokyo, Japan ( )

March 2001

Examining the marginalization of male homosexuality

by Scott Gordon, Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Male Homosexuality in Modern Japan: Cultural Myths and Social Realities’ By Mark J. McLelland, Curzon (Pub.)

Male homosexuality in Japan is a subject that few have ventured into and few have given any sort of reasonable treatment since, like in most societies, it is a subject that is usually marginalized. Mark McLelland, through personal interviews and a study of gay and mainstream media, enters this territory and finds some surprising conclusions. Instead of finding a Japanese homosexual identity, he finds that identity has little relevance to Japanese male homosexuals and he exposes cultural misconceptions and conventions that have a profound impact on the gay community and women’s place in Japanese society.

Male homosexuality has a long tradition in various cultures and societies. At times, there was little stigma attached to it. Indeed, among many martial societies, it was encouraged: If the man next to you in the line of battle is your lover, you will fight harder to save his life. Japan is no different. There are stories of samurai gay love and stories of samurai death. The latter, however, tend to outweigh the former because death outsells sex. There was — and still is in the gay media — a heavy focus on the older, more experienced, initiating the younger, as in the samurai stories. This may at first glance seem trivial, but it is one of the strongest forces that affects all aspects of Japanese society. This is true for Japanese sexuality and pornography as a whole, too, whether it is straight or gay.

This book is important because, despite its title, it speaks volumes about the position of women in Japanese society. The first half of the book is an investigation of how women see themselves in society in the media, and how the myth of the caring, sympathetic homosexual — as opposed to the all-too-often-true stereotype of the boorish, thuggish straight male — alleviates some of these pressures. By looking at manga and other magazines that treat homosexuals as the ideal lovers and husbands, the author has moved beyond homosexuality into heterosexuality. He even questions the term "homosexual" because his research, and that of others, has found that no such person exists. The appellation "same-sex desiring person" is cumbersome, but it truly describes "homosexual" behavior. And, in Japan, this label has truly profound implications.

This is because Japanese society has never recognized the possibility of someone being homosexual, but it accepts the existence of homosexuality. There are, of course, words used to describe such people, but few Japanese truly understand what homosexuality is, even though the media is at times awash in gay topics. There are books about how to spot a homosexual; manga depicting homosexual sex and homosexual behavior in university sports clubs. All titillation and little information, and popular. While leading the reader through this material, McLelland gives us some interesting information about the view of sexuality in Japan and how this affects the perception of homosexuality.

Example: In Japan, there are no laws against male-to-male sex, and the age of heterosexual consent is 13, according to the book. This rather lenient set of laws goes far in explaining Japanese pornography and sexuality — in general — and society’s view of it. According to the author, the rape of boys depicted in print is a common theme, especially in magazines that cater to teenage girls. He tells us why: Teenage Japanese girls love these publications because they are the only way they can see Japanese men get it in the end. No pun intended. They also provide a fantasy escape from a massively male-dominated society. In straight pornography and other media, Japanese women are used and abused, all for the titillation of men. This is about power, not sex or eroticism in any form. Power only. Whether they enjoy sex is not a common question asked of Japanese women. To see homosexual depictions of these same acts is to somehow ease the pain and strain of being a woman in Japan.

Although McLelland delves into women’s place in Japanese society, he uses this to set up his critique of the gay media and finds many of the stereotypes that typify straight pornography. But he also concentrates on its most vital importance to Japanese homosexuals: Information. Through int erviews, gay men explain their feelings about discovering their sexuality and how they went about exploring them. Their stories are at times heartbreaking, and all for the want of information. Some interviewees realized their sexual orientation, but could only act on it because they found gay pornography and realized they were not alone. It is said that sexuality is unknown to the average Japanese because of societal restraints. To discuss homosexuality would probably cause a meltdown.

Schools certainly are no source of sexual information of any kind, and it is impossible to ask friends and family. To come out is considered by the vast majority of homosexuals to be suicidal. Pornography thus becomes the only source of information. Not just about sex, but also about where to meet other homosexuals and to understand themselves. Many said they realized that to conform to society, they could not hint at their orientation. One man went so far as to have scattered around his apartment pictures of an American female friend who he claims is his fiance, so as to justify his unmarried state and also his frequent trips to the United States to visit his male lover.

The constraints on a homosexual Japanese man are enormous. Society demands that men be married by a certain age. If they are not, suspicion runs rife. Subterfuge is the name of the game. So it is not surprising that many homosexuals view other, less societally restrictive countries as havens. There, they feel, they can be themselves; in Japan they must conform. This leads to intense feelings of fear and insecurity.

However, by utilizing the gay media, they find refuge. Some of the subjects admitted, however, that they would conform to society and marry, but were unlikely to give up same-sex sex. This ambivalence toward sexual labels and self-perception is also reflected in the fact that, according to McLelland, many male university students work in the sex industry for spending money just as some female students do, but would never call themselves homosexuals or prostitutes. It’s just money and an hour or so a night. This ambivalence is shared, it seems, by Japanese society in general. The low membership in gay organizations reflects this because many Japanese gays see no need to advertise themselves or identify themselves as gay. To do so would be ruinous.

The male homosexual in Japanese society will, in all probability, remain marginal. The days of pornographic media being the only outlets for homosexuals are waning, and there is a glacial movement toward acceptance and understanding. But the fact remains that for most male homosexuals, their orientation must remain a closely guarded secret, or society, with all its ways and means, will crush them. Just as the burakumin (traditional outcasts of Japanese society) remain silent about their background, so do the vast majority of homosexuals, media star-wannabes notwithstanding. The nail that sticks up gets pounded down, and most see no reason to be the target. So they follow the rigid rules of Japanese society and hope they are not discovered. A not-too-grim prospect considering the social penalties, but it’s the only way to function in Japanese society.

Japan Times, Tokyo ( )

November 22, 2000

Gays included for human rights in Tokyo

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government on Tuesday restored the term "homosexuals" in its guidelines for promoting human rights measures after hundreds of Tokyo residents urged that it do so. The term had been scrapped from the draft guidelines unveiled for public comment in June on the grounds that various surveys indicated that Tokyo citizens "do not fully understand" homosexuals. An advisory panel to the governor suggested in December 1999 that homosexuals be included in the metropolitan government’s measures as they are a sexual minority.

The June draft attracted criticism from human rights groups, and metropolitan government officials said that of the roughly 700 opinions expressed by the general public, many voiced their desire to see the word put into the guidelines. As a result, the final version of the guidelines says there is discrimination against sexual minorities and that "there are various issues being discussed regarding homosexuals."

Japan Times
( )

November 6, 2001

Lesbian couple fight for rights Pair support their five children, battle discrimination

by Shinji Ogura
Sapporo (Kyodo) – Kumiko Nagamine and Naomi Mieno live together, run a cafe to support their five children and are actively working to win state recognition for the rights of homosexuals. Nagamine, 36, and Mieno, 38, run Peanut Hearts, a civic organization working to expand the rights of gay men and lesbians and put an end to discrimination. They accept telephone consultations, issue a publication and hold monthly study sessions at their cafe, Daima, which means "forever" in Swahili.

The couple have set their sights on realizing a Japan that gives homosexual couples the same rights as heterosexual couples on matters such as inheritance. They also want Japan to follow the Netherlands and Germany, where gay marriages are recognized by the state. When the couple moved in together in December 1999, they found themselves part of an instant family of seven: Nagamine has an 8-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter, and Mieno has two sons, 6 and 9 years of age, and a 7-year-old daughter. The children, who call Nagamine "Okaa-san," Japanese for "mother," and Mieno "Mama," say their two mothers are "very fond of each other."

Nagamine said she realized her attraction to the same sex when, at age 14, she fell in love with a female classmate. But when she revealed her fondness for the classmate to a friend, the friend, perhaps confused by the idea, told the classmate that Nagamine was simply her "fan." Disillusioned, Nagamine decided to remain in the closet as a lesbian. Choosing security over love, Nagamine married a man in 1989 at the age of 24. While the marriage produced two children, the distress caused by the gap between what she desired and the reality of her life caused Nagamine headaches and feelings of nausea.

Some years later, Nagamine met Mieno at the kindergarten where both mothers took their children. Her encounter with the already divorced Mieno further sharpened her pain. When she was 32, Nagamine told her husband she was in love with Mieno. He agreed to a divorce. Her former husband still takes their children camping and fishing. Nagamine and Mieno originally belonged to an active gay and lesbian rights group in Sapporo.

However, in 2000, they established Peanut Hearts to bring their activism into people’s daily lives. Nagamine, a former freelance writer, is the group’s leader. She was born in Yokohama but grew up in Sapporo. Nagamine and Mieno, who are partners in a family that has no legal rights, want the state to recognize same-sex marriages. If one of them died, the other would not be entitled to a survivor’s pension. Even if one of them worked for a company, the other would receive no dependent’s allowance. Nagamine and Mieno take their 3-year-old daughter to kindergarten at 9 a.m., pick up food for the cafe and work through until 10 p.m.

While the women are away from home, their four other children, all in elementary school, do household chores such as cleaning the bathtub and washing the rice. Although some of the mothers at the kindergarten used to distance themselves from the pair, the ice is beginning to thaw. "I think it is all right to have different types of families," said Hiroko Naruse, a nurse who has become their friend. "They have simply taken one of these options." Nagamine said she hopes that by the time her children are old enough to understand the discrimination they face, society will accept such same-sex marriages, and their children’s friends will understand homosexual love because the parents of their elementary school classmates were homosexual.

Nagamine and Mieno have assimilated into society in a natural way, according to Katsuji Nagata, a Peanut Hearts member. But while the family of seven may be happy, they are not recognized as a family in the Japanese social system, he added. The family would run into serious problems if something unforeseen happened, he said, adding that some sort of support system is needed for the children.

Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan

by Gary P. Leupp (Univ. of California Press) 1995

1997 Review By: Joseph R. Hawkins

Tokugawa Japan ranks with ancient Athens as a society that not only tolerated but positively celebrated male-male sexuality. Few scholars, however, have seriously studied the early modern Japanese homosexual tradition, sought to explain its origins, or explored how its particular conventions reflected class structure and gender roles in an especially dynamic preindustrial society.

Male homosexual behavior in Tokugawa Japan rarely constituted an exclusive lifestyle; bisexual behavior was the norm. Leupp argues that although some men were exclusively homosexual, "nurture" (rather than "nature") factors contributed to the male-male sexual behavior that was so conspicuous in this society. These factors included the absence of women form monastic society and their scarcity in samurai society, skewed sex ratios in Tokugawa cities, and the culture surrounding kabuki theater and the associated world of male prostitution.

Leupp’s work is the first thoroughly to examine this homosexual tradition, to place it within a global context, and to explore its implications for contemporary debates on the historical construction of sexual desire. Drawing on his broad knowledge of Tokugawa social history and his familiarity with the primary sources, Leupp has produced a dispassionate and persuasive explanation for the prevalence of male bisexual behavior in early modern Japan.

Gary P. Leupp’s book is the most comprehensive analysis of same sexuality in the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) to date. For that matter, this book is perhaps the most thorough English language examination of sexuality in Japan in any period. Leupp follows nanshoku , a word which literally means male colors but refers to male same-sexual practices, throughout the Tokugawa period in this largely archival work. Though all of the information that Leupp provides is not news to those interested in the history of homophile studies in Asia, his presentation is thorough and well organized and much of it is revealed for the first time to scholars in the West.

The first chapter deals with the pre-Tokugawa history of same sexuality in Japan, China, Korea and India, and the influences these and other areas had on Japan’s construction of a sexually variant imaginary. Leupp like a miner in the excavation of history shines his light onto various aspects of life, sex, gender and religion.

Chapter two of the book deals with the "commercialization" of nanshoku. Leupp says, "male-male sex became largely a commercial transaction devoid of the commitments required by earlier traditions of male homosexuality." Though it is perhaps true that prostitution was widespread, it does not follow as Leupp suggests that these commercial exchanges were so prevalent that they eclipsed non-commercial exchanges of love and affection. Non-commercial exchanges may have been just as popular but less recorded. The traditions of commitment that Leupp speaks of in the quote above: pacts of fealty, samurai bonds and the like, have long been a part of Japanese history and though they may have weakened during the Tokugawa period it seems unlikely that they were simply non-existent in that era.

This is a most difficult problem for those of us excavating this "archaeology of knowledge" regarding sexual variance. In our zeal to find the homopositive past we hope and believe that the information that we find is a representative sample. This is a dangerous assumption. It is an assumption that leads Leupp to make conclusions regarding the same-sexual practices of the Tokugawa that are often speculative at best. I do not argue with Leupp’s excavations but I dared to hope for more digging. Leupp’s excavation of the commercial in the Tokugawa period is interesting and extensive. He follows the formulation of the Tokugawa Pax and the attendant economic changes that left most samurai idle and created rifts within the class hierarchies of Japanese society. This left a space for the emergence of the floating world of pleasure. Thus, young boys, girls and women were commodified as purchasable goods. This created a new thriving market for prostitution.

Chapter three, "Tokugawa Homosexual Culture," is replete with illustrations and information. Leupp’s tour of the period illuminates the kabuki theater where pleasure and hedonistic completion were the goals. Whether this was found in the drama itself, backstage in the brothels or in peripheral worlds which sometimes were actually the main attraction, Leupp has been careful to follow various trends in the developments of the sexuality of the period. The kagemajaya, or teahouses, theaters and all the locations of the demi-monde are probed.

The hatred of women by some males reaches almost cult status in the Tokugawa period. The onnagirai or women haters are one part of the development of a homosexual culture in Tokugawa Japan. Leupp neatly divides homosexuals into two groups: those who hate women and those who do not. Somehow this oversimplification detracts from the possible psychological analysis of the complexity of the period. Leupp also fails to problematizes sufficiently the limitations provided by the materials he digs out. Though it is true that much of what is offered up illuminates a good portion of the culture of the time and from this extrapolations may be made regarding other possibilities, if there is a failure in Leupp’s work it is the failure to effectively place his excavations within the non-written historical context of the times. Widespread literacy did not flourish in Japan until later and thus there are people without voices in the works that Leupp has brought up for us.

Sexually explicit texts are sifted for the exegesis they provide regarding methodologies and an aesthetics of sexual praxis. Again, the information provided is excellent but the voices of the unheard are deafening. As with many studies of Japan this book concentrates on Edo (Tokyo) and provides little, by comparison, in terms of a view into the surrounding trade centers, daimyos and other major cities. It is good deal like writing a book about America in which one studies only New York. Perhaps the problematizing of this as an issue for further study would have been enough.

Chapter three’s title "Social Tolerance" is perhaps the book’s most questionable point as the word tolerance implies that the Japanese of the Tokugawa period "put up" with sexual variance. Leupp’s case regarding sexual practices of the period would seem to negate this kind of presumption. For example, Leupp refers to the widespread evidence for the prevalence of bisexuality among Tokugawa men, and yet, if this is true what does it say for the "construction" of gender in that time and place? How was bisexuality constructed? If people were bisexual does it follow that they "tolerated" same sexual behavior?

Leupp’s book offers factual information here but presents little in the way of a sound theoretical interpretation of the placement of the behaviors he illuminates. Likewise, in his examination of the Buddhist monasteries, where same-sexualities, as in most homosocial societies may have been more prevalent, the role of such institution is again not problematized sufficiently. Recent work suggests that Buddhist monasteries may have been a place where the exclusion of homosexuals from a wider social context might have been accomplished. Families not desirous of raising feminine sons may have shipped them off to the monasteries. Nunneries may have provided an equivalent space for females. What were the attitudes of the people or the society of the times? This is a question that Leupp courts with his illumination, flashing his light across hidden historical enclaves, but in the end mysteries remain in the shadows.

Part of this is not Leupp’s own lack of attention but the shear absence of good data available to examine. That having been said, a little more mention to these omissions could have challenged the reader to look beyond the facts presented. The next chapter "Nanshoku and the Construction of Gender" offers many interesting ideas on the "construction" of homosexuality. Discussions of homosexuality need not always frame themselves in the camp of the social constructionists or the camp of the biological determinists. Many of us are willing to admit at least the possibility of the influence of both and get on with the business at hand. This business at least in part is the revision of history to include sexually variant peoples and to provide advocacy for those who feel the ire of discrimination.

Leupp seems blessedly less interested in making a case for social constructions of homosexuality than with presenting archival data and historical views on the subject. He works diligently to avoid ethnocentricities here and comes a long way toward providing an emic perspective.

Japan Today, Tokyo ( )

January 6, 2002

Gay Magazine puiblisher writes book: Hen-Shu-Cho "Hiwa" (Editor’s "secret stories") by
Bungaku Ito

Review by Takanori Kobayashi
Since olden times, homosexual love has been considered a taboo or an obscenity in most parts of the world. As a result, gay people have been discriminated against and ostracized if they dared to come out. As gay rights campaigners have become more vocal in Western countries, homosexuals have gradually attained a certain status and gay communities are active in major cities around the world. Here in Japan, understanding of gays is also rising among heterosexuals because more people are able to access information about gay lifestyles through media and the Internet, and also because gays themselves appear positively in the media.

Nevertheless, most Japanese still harbor prejudice against gays so that many are obliged to hide the fact that they are gay. One gay who has been campaigning to gain acceptance and unify the gay community in Japan is Bungaku Ito, who started the magazine Bara-zoku (Rose-tribe), Japan’s first magazine targeting gays, 30 years ago. In his book "Hen-Shu-Cho ‘Hiwa’" (An editor’s secret stories), published by Bunshun Nesco, Ito recalls how difficult it was to start a magazine for gays in that era and how lonely gays are within. "At that time, homosexual love was taboo socially. In the publishing industry, no one thought books about homosexuals would sell and no big publishing company wanted to have anything to do with the topic," writes Ito.

Fortunately, Ito’s father was the president of a small publishing company and he eventually took over his father’s post. Although he was now in a position to publish whatever he wanted, Ito decided to test the market for a magazine first by publishing a few books about homosexuals. They all sold well. Ito was certain there were a certain number of people who would like a magazine on gay issues. Throughout its 30 years, Bara-zoku has targeted only gays. One of the letters Ito received from a young gay reader said, "I felt a lot better knowing there are so many homosexuals in society. For 25 years I have been attracted only to young men and never felt anything toward women. I used to wonder if I was mentally ill but when I found Bara-zoku, I wept for joy after I finished reading my first copy."

Since most gay men are usually forced to pretend to live as heterosexuals for fear of being discriminated against, it is easy to see how Bara-zoku eases their loneliness. According to Ito, six or seven among 100 people may be homosexual, meaning that Japan’s gay population would total about 3 million. The stereotyped images straight people have is that gays are only in the worlds of fashion, arts and the like, but Ito says gays are in every walk of life. He says the bigoted misconception straight people have is that homosexual men are attracted by any men. Just as heterosexuals have preferences, he writes, so, too, do gays. It might seem obvious, but many Japanese have not actually grasped this point. Most heterosexuals never bother to try and understand the gay mentality because they can’t get beyond the question of why do gay guys, for example, prefer men to women?

"Homosexual love is not an abnormality or mental illness," says Ito. "Between 70-80% of gays are born that way, and the rest become gay due to certain environmental factors or they try it and like it. In a nutshell, gay people are not really responsible for being homosexual." Also, Ito adds, "My driving force for founding and continuing to publish Bara-zoku is to let heterosexual people recognize that homosexual love is quite natural." However, as long as most people in the world are heterosexual, prejudice against gay people will never disappear. Ironically, that might be why Bara-zoku has been popular.

Sydney Morning Herald

3 May 2003

Transsexual stands proud in a land of conformity

Aya Kamikawa’s election to public office is a further sign that Japanese society is slowly opening its mind, Shane Green reports from Tokyo. In her fight for the rights of transsexuals in Japan, Aya Kamikawa organised petitions and knocked on plenty of politicians’ doors. It was a frustrating experience for Ms Kamikawa – who was born a male – in a country where conformity and uniformity are often regarded as virtues. Then came some advice from a member of the Diet, Japan’s parliament: unless she was prepared to step forward publicly and declare her identity, her voice would remain weak. Ms Kamikawa considered the advice, and took it one step further.

This week she became the first transsexual in Japan elected to public office, when she won a place on the local assembly for Setagaya, one of Tokyo’s biggest local government areas. With her victory, the 35-year-old wrote a small piece of history, but with big implications. "Japan is a society where you can easily live a ‘typical’ lifestyle," she said. "But Japanese don’t respect our real choice, our real personalities. As long as you are ordinary, you are safe in this society." Not only does her victory demonstrate her courage, it may also be an indication that old Japan is changing, and becoming more inclusive.

Ms Kamikawa has had many experiences of the old ways, following a decision in her late 20s to make the transition to becoming a woman. Still listed as a male on her family identity records, she found the basics of life such as renting a flat suddenly became extremely difficult. Then there was work. After university she had worked in full-time jobs as a male – including as a public relations officer. But, as a woman, difficulties arose because prospective employers needed family identity documents.

In the end, she could only find part-time work, where such documents are not required. There was also the day-to-day prejudice she encountered. People would ask her what stage she was at with her "construction" – a reference to operations to change her sexual organs. But Ms Kamikawa found welcome support from her parents, who also backed her when she told them she was planning to run for public office. "To become a woman, to be my real self, that’s my basis for living. "I can’t live in a society that doesn’t admit that. That’s why I decided to run in the election." The first hurdle was the election commission, which had to deal with the fact that her formal identity remains male.

In a display of progressiveness the authorities decided she could stand as a woman. Then there were the voters. Few people, even her supportive parents, doubted she could win. Initially, she found what she described as a "cold attitude". But as the campaign progressed, there were increasing signs voters were warming to her. Now a four-year term awaits. It is a great leap forward for Japan’s transsexuals, who Ms Kamikawa estimates number in their high hundreds, perhaps a thousand. But her election also carries a wider message. "As long as we keep silent, nothing is going to change," she said. "We need the courage to make a society which respects diversity."

July 11, 2003

Japan Recognizes Rights Of Transgendered

by Peter Hacker, Newscenter, Asia Bureau Chief Tokyo
Japan’s transgendered will be allowed to put their corrected sex and use their new names on official documents under a new law passed with unanimous consent Thursday by the House of Representatives. Births in Japan are listed in official family registries. The new law allows for the first time those entries to be altered. The legislation was authored by a committee of the ruling coalition and approved by the Judicial Affairs Committee before heading to the House for a vote.

The law is scheduled to take effect next year. But, altering official documents still will not be easy. In Japan the transgendered are referred to as people with " gender identity disorder". To change their documentation TGs will have to be diagnosed by at least two doctors as " having a different psychological makeup from their biological sex" and a desire to live as the opposite gender both physically and socially. Applicants must be at least 20 years old, unmarried, have no children, and no longer have functioning reproductive organs as a result of undergoing gender reassignment surgery. They must then go to family court for final approval. There is still a stigma attached to being transgendered in Japan, and many TGs encounter trouble gaining employment and voting because they appear to be one sex but their official papers indicate they are another.

Mainichi Daily News, Tokyo Japan
( )

November 7, 2003

Closet gays stiffed with cock-and-bull stories

by Ryann Connell, Staff Writer
Japan’s yakuza (mafia) are getting high-tech, blackmailing online auctioneers and swooping down on chat sites, bulletin boards and webmasters. But, unlike the punch-permed, Hawaiian shirt-clad, pinky severed real thing, Japan’s Net Yakuza are only playing at being gangsters, even though they’re deadly serious, according to Spa! (11/11).

Here’s the scenario. A regular on a gay chat site receives e-mail from somebody claiming to be "an underworld figure." Unless he receives an immediate cash payment of 30,000 yen, the mobster will expose the man among family and work colleagues – a potent threat in a country where "coming out" still largely means to leave some place indoors. "One look at the mail and it’s easy to tell the Kansai dialect it uses is weak and the sentence structure unclear.

The awful grammar shows just how stupid the writer is. If you think about it for even a minute, you’d never fall for this trap, but the Net Yakuza are targeting guys who live in constant fear of being revealed and would pay any price to keep their secrets just that," says Yoshi Meiken, operator of Web-110, a website dedicated to helping those embroiled in Internet-related problems. "At one time, gay sites were all talking about the yakuza threat to expose people, so whoever was doing it must have picked up addresses from their chat sites and sent it to as many people as they could."

Eventually, the "yakuza" who preyed on the homosexuals turned out to be just an unemployed man with no gang connections who was looking for some fast money. "People should always be aware of leaving any information they can be traced by on any site where unknown numbers of people can see it," Meiken tells Spa! "If you’re threatened with something you have no recollection of being involved with, you’re all right. But if somebody blackmails you over something you can remember doing, there’s a possibility you won’t act in the collected manner you should."

But beware! Net Yakuza don’t always target indiscriminately. "I’ve heard of a case of a schoolgirl who met somebody through a lesbian site who ended up blackmailing her. He pretended to be a gay man and finally won her over to such an extent that he managed to wrangle some private information out of her. Once he found that out, he threatened to tell her classmates and family unless she did exactly what he told her to," Meiken says. A man we’ll call Akira has acted as a Net Yakuza on behalf of his girlfriend, a woman of 20 who operates a ring of schoolgirl prostitutes.

When the young madam’s girls finished a job, it was Akira’s turn to send their clients an e-mail claiming to be a gangster. He demanded the john pay more cash and gave weight to his argument by citing mob connections and threatening to contact authorities about the man paying for sex with an underage girl. But Akira has also discovered that he didn’t really need to resort to being a Net Yakuza. "After all this time I’ve finally realized that rather than write some silly threats, a politely written letter can be much more frightening. And I send them in my real name," he says with a laugh.

"I’ve had no trouble so far, but, to be honest, if I ever had to meet with one of these people I’m threatening, I’d probably be pretty scared." Just as Akira found out that pretending to be a mobster isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, so, too do real yakuza shun the idea of online blackmail. "Real yakuza would never go around boasting of being a yakuza," Takeshi Natsubara, a freelance writer specializing in Japan’s underworld, tells Spa! "And there’s certainly none dumb enough to try extortion or blackmail by e-mail, where all the proof need to convict them would be right there in writing." . WaiWai stories are transcriptions of articles that originally appeared in Japanese language publications.

The Mainichi Daily News cannot be held responsible for the contents of the original articles, nor does it guarantee their accuracy. Views expressed in the WaiWai column are not necessarily those held by the Mainichi Daily News or Mainichi Newspapers Co.