A Small Step In The Right Direction

The LGBT community lives in a bizarre hinterland in Japan. The public face of the community being its outspoken, popular ‘new-half’ presenters such as  Haruna Ai and Matsuko Deluxe and the private side of mass denial and FINGERS IN EARS LA-LA-LA-LA-LA!

Matsuko Deluxe
Matsuko Deluxe

There is a general consensus that although homosexuality is legal, lets not talk about such things around the dinner table please Taro!  Gay couples regularly face discrimination when trying to rent apartments or getting visitation if the other is in hospital.

This week the Shibuya district in Tokyo announced it will start to issue certificates that recognize such relationships as “equivalent to marriage.” Although the certificates are not yet legally binding they will hopefully put pressure on businesses, landlords and hospitals into providing the same level of service as heterosexual couples.

Same-sex marriage is currently not legal in Japan. Marriage is defined legally as “based only on the mutual consent of both sexes.” Compared with the west there is very little activism happening to fight that.  The certificates will be open to any resident of Shibuya Ku over the age of 20. It will give the couple next of kin privileges and they will be able to become each others guardian. It will be annulled if the couple breaks up.

Openly gay politician Taiga Ishikawa praised Shibuya and said that ;

“Cases overseas suggest that local municipalities’move to grant same-sex couples more legitimate status sometimes affects national policies. So I’m very happy about it,”

Famous LGBT activist Koyuki Higashi has said she is “over the moon” and plans to get a certificate as soon as they become available.  Higashi and her partner held the first same-sex marriage at Tokyo Disney Land in 2013. Although the marriage has no legal basis.

Higashi has said;

“We’re virtually married. But without legal backup, it’s still very difficult to live in this society. Prejudice remains deeply ingrained in Japanese society. But I hope this move will become the first step to turn Japan into a society more accepting of the idea of diversity.”

Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Matsuhara's 2013 Disney wedding
Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Matsuhara’s 2013 Disney wedding


China is angry

Just west of Okinawa, just east of Taiwan lie the Senkaku Islands.
A grouping of small uninhabited islands that are at the centre of an international debate due to the rich deposits of oil and natural gas lie just beneath them.

The Chinese claim ancient heritage over the islands, the first record of the islands can be found in  Chinese literature dating from the 15th century. In 1895 they were annexed by the Japanese government.  There were fisheries and processing plants until the 1940s. From 1945 to 1972 the islands were under American authority. When they were handed back to Japan (with much consternation from Taiwan) the islands were then sold to a family in Saitama Ken (next to Tokyo). The family is paid “rent” by the Japanese government provided they do not develop the islands. Regardless of this agreement  a Japanese right wing party erected a Lighthouse in 1978 and a Shinto temple in 2000.

There are laws in place that prohibit boats docking on the islands and there are constant patrols to keep foreign boats out of the surrounding waters.

Leaked footage showed the Chinese trawler ramming into the patrol boat.

In 2010 a Chinese fishing boat collided with patrol boats near the islands. The captain and crew were held in custody in Japan pending possible charges, China strongly protested and the crew were released after a week. 





Speaking at a think tank forum in Washington the outspoken and generally odd Governor of Tokyo Ishiihara announced the Tokyo Metropolitan government’s plans to buy the islands from the family. 70,000 private donations were received totalling just over one billion yen (12.5 million dollars).

“Tokyo will protect the Senkaku Islands. No matter which country dislikes it, no one should have a problem…..It would be best if we could buy the islands with donations because we wouldn’t have to use taxpayers’ money”

There is talk about how the sale and purchase could be illegal and it has enraged the Chinese central government. Liu Weimin (Chinese foreign ministry spokesman) told reporters

“Some Japanese politicians have been making petty moves to try to make trouble, but their actions will not alter the fact that these islands belong to China,

The oil and gas fields are the biggest reason these islands are so coveted The fact remains that Japan has a very limited supply natural resources. Energy resources account for 14% of its total  imports and 60% of its oil is imported from the Persian Gulf.

Another reason both countries refuse to back down is the frosty relationship the countries share. Japan and China are like siblings that refuse to speak. A 2012 survey showed that almost 85% of Japanese people had a negative view of “selfish” China and 65% of Chinese had unfavourable views on “nationalistic” Japan.

Dear Leader, who is a perfect incarnation of the appearance that a leader should have

Shintaro Ishihara is our dear leader.

The bizarre septuagenarian has been the governor of Tokyo since 1999 and so far shows no signs of being voted out (last year he won with a million vote majority).

He is extremely outspoken on the role of foreigners in Japan and how Japan has lost its traditional roots. He wants Japan to turn away from its western imposed society and return to its Asian roots. He also believes homosexuality is a degenerative disease and that the Japanese Diet (government)  has been infiltrated by foreign elements.

Other beautiful gems from the man in charge;

  • “If Japanese hadn’t fought the white people, we would still be slaves of the white people. It would be colonization. We changed that.”
  • In response to China’s first successful launch of a man in space: “The Chinese are ignorant, so they are overjoyed. That spacecraft was an outdated one. If Japan wanted to do it, we could do it in one year.
  • “I hate Mickey Mouse. He has nothing like the unique sensibility that Japan has. The Japanese are inherently skilled at visual expression and detailed work.”
  • “I have to say that it should be no surprise that French is disqualified as an international language because French is a language which cannot count numbers.”
  • “With Sangokujin and foreigners repeating serious crimes, we should prepare ourselves for possible riots that may be instigated by them at the outbreak of an earthquake. As police is not always fit for handling all contingencies, the Self-Defense forces should be ready to respond to threats to public security besides natural disasters.” (Sankokujin means third-country nationals, a seriously derogatory word for those whose parents, grandparents or even great grandparents were Korean, Chinese or Filipino who were brought over to work during the war)
  • “There is a marked increase in the number of cases in which some foreigners who enter Japan on working and other visas remain in the country illegally to commit heinous crimes.”
  • “Roppongi is now virtually a foreign neighborhood. Africans who don’t speak English are there doing who knows what. This is leading to new forms of crime such as car theft. We should be letting in people who are intelligent.”
  •  ”People say that the Japanese made a holocaust but that is not true. It is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan, but it is a lie.” (on the Rape of Nanking).
  • (To a well-known women’s magazine) “old women who live after they have lost their reproductive function are useless and are committing a sin,”

Micro aggressions

Last month an article was posted on The Japan Times. It was written by Debito Arudou (出人有道、a naturalised Japanese citizen who rallies against the “Japanese only” mentality of Japan). The article dealt with the idea of micro aggressions. These were described as;

“the brief and everyday slights, insults, indignities, and denigrating messages sent to (visible minorities) by well-intentioned (members of an ethnic majority in a society) who are unaware of the hidden messages being communicated.”

Most first time interactions with Japanese people are the same. “can you use chopsticks?” “can you eat raw fish?” “you speak such good Japanese!” (after all you have said is 2 words). Many non-Japanese (NJ) who have been here for longer than a normal visit will have heard these questions so many times the responses come automatically. First time encounters can be run on autopilot. Finding a real conversation is rare and usually happens with someone who has had experiences outside of Japan.

That is not to say Japan is not welcoming to foreigners. There is not the violent aspect attached to the racism that can be found in other countries, trains, restaurant menus, buses (in Tokyo at least), police stations, museums, and countless other services have English help (and a handful of cases Chinese or Korean).

There is a very strong undercurrent of Us vs. Them, and enjoyment of Japanese institutions such as sake, onsens and sushi is regarded as a cultural phenomenon (what person doesn’t enjoy alcohol, baths and healthy fast food?).

Being asked if you can use chopsticks is a small issue. It gets more depressing and alienating when people would rather stand than take the seat next to you on a crowded train or (a personal experience) seem visibly terrified when sharing the elevator in the building you have lived at for 3 years. Another micro aggression that grates many people is the automatic omission of the suffix -san, foreigners often find themselves relegated to first names only in a country that highly respects social standing, to turn the tables and omit the honorific for a Japanese person would be seen as social faux-pas. If this is ever mentioned or other annoyances over the separate treatment NJ get are voiced, the foreigner is labelled as over-sensitive, or it is remarked “I’ve heard foreigners are difficult to deal with”.

The social commentator and activist Debito has faced harsh criticism on his stance of forcibly entering “Japanese only” establishments (as a holder of a Japanese passport he believes that these signs are not about citizenship but about blood lines) and one time suing an onsen for refusing him service. He calls out for a wider understanding of what it means to be pigeon holed by deep-seated stereotypes. His main critics say that he chose to live in Japan, if you don’t like the status quo, feel free to leave. Debito claims that the fight is not for the NJ who come to Japan but for the growing number of mixed children that are not given the choice of what society they were born into.

Are you going to let Japanese society “microaggress” them into The Other, gaijin category, just because they look more like you than your Japanese spouse?

The underlying problem in Japan is looks. Uniforms and outward appearances are extremely important in every day social interactions. As are black and white judgements that are ingrained into the social fabric.

For a country which only open its doors in 1854 (and only then because it was forced) Japan has come a long way to foster internationalism. It is an extremely easy and comfortable country to live in as a foreigner. I personally have never been refused service anywhere and have only experienced minor confrontations usually with a drunk member of the older generation. Japan’s younger generation is definitely more focused on change than the old establishment. In the summer of 2012 the old seperate system of alien registration will come to an end. For years foreign people who wished to stay in Japan for longer than the tourist allowance of 90 days had to sign up for an alien registration card which was to be carried with you at all times and presented if you were asked without question. This year foreign residents will be offered the standard juminhyo. As big as a change as this is, it has not been unknown for towns and cities to give honorary juminhyo status to animals, characters and statues. In 2002 the Nishi ward of Yokohama gave a bearded seal who has taken residence in the river a juminhyo. This provoked NJ residents to paint whiskers on their faces in protest.

Princess diaries


Princess Mako of Akishino, first born granddaughter of reining emperor Akihito has announced her plans to study fine arts at the University of Edinburgh.

Princess Mako became an unlikely Internet superstar in 2004 when pictures of her in sailor fuku where broadcast on TV.


She will continue in a long line of Japanese royals to study at UK universities. Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Crown Princess Masako both studied at Oxford colleges.

The Japanese Far Right.

Japanese right wing rally outside Ikebukuro station, Tokyo

Fiercely nationalistic, militant and angry Japan’s far right are know for their hatred of China (or any non-Japanese in general).

Although they only have a relatively small following (just over 100,000) they are one of the most visible and active political groups in Japan. In recent years Japan has had a quick succession of weak prime ministers who resign before they even have to dry clean their inauguration suits. This political apathy makes the devotion of the far right even more pronounced. Their trademark black vans, daubed with slogans such as “respect ancient Japanese school” (敬愛倭塾) can be seen racing through Tokyo blaring the Japanese national anthem and inflammatory political speeches.

What they basically want is all foreigners out (duh), for Japan to return to the days of the samurai, and for the emperor to reclaim his rightful position as a living god (a role he has personally denounced). Their main haunt is Yasukuni Shrine where the souls of the war dead (including many notorious and convicted war criminals) are honored as Shinto deities.

Mostly they look like pathetic old men with a few young buck toothed yokels thrown in, but many of the groups have strong ties to the yakuza and are involved in more sinister activities like kidnapping, assassinations and violently picketing foreign embassies.