Gender Norms and Sexual Minorities in Japan

by Akie Kuwano

Globalization has changed our lives in many ways. We now consume products imported from countries outside of Japan, while products “made in Japan” receive attention worldwide. Clearly, products are not the only thing that are exported and imported; we also trade values and norms at the same time. Gender norms are one thing that is deeply influenced by these exchanges of culture. In last few decades, gender norms in Japan have changed dramatically. More women are working outside, and still not many but more men are helping raising their kids compared to 1980s. However, when it comes to the debate of sexual minority, Japan is still conservative about their traditional sexuality of gender binary.

The recently elected and now the biggest political party in congress, “自民党” (jimin-toh) answered to a questionnaire made by a Japanese LGBT supporting group asking whether it is necessary to protect human rights of LGBT persons. Their answer was “it is important to set a law to protect transgendered persons, but not for homosexual and bisexual persons”. This idea seems somewhat radical, when thinking about the global trend of promoting rights of sexual minorities altogether, as the term LGBT is used in UN resolutions. However, the idea is widely prevailed in Japanese society at large.

One of the reasons why the Japanese people are more accepting about transgendered person than non-heterosexual is attributed to a character in famous TV drama “Kinpachi-sensei”. In the drama, the famous Japanese actress Aya Ueto performed the role of a transgendered female student suffering bullying in high school. This was shocking to Japanese viewers in two ways. In one way it was sensational that the drama openly talked about sexuality, which was usually regarded taboo in Japan at the time. In the other way it surprised Japanese people because the drama depicted the girl as having a gender disorder, and this created sympathy for the “poor girl.” From this drama, Japanese people became aware of the existence of transgendered persons, and at the same time became very sympathetic toward them.

After the hit of “Kinpachi-sensei,” transgendered people became active on TV shows in Japan, mostly in the fields of comedy. One of the famous figures of them all is Ai Haruna, who won Miss International Queen in 2009. Some TV shows featured and interviewed her suffering before she had sex reassignment surgery. This also gathered attention from Japanese people, and again created sympathy and understanding toward transgendered persons.

On the other hand, the Japanese are critical about homo- and bisexual persons. The former governor of Tokyo prefecture, Shintaro Ishihara, spoke to the media that homosexuals have something wrong with their genes and that they are defective in some way. Even some of the well-educated students studying around me openly say that homosexuals are disgusting that they don’t want those people around them. Japanese people have completely different feeling toward transgender people and toward homosexual people.

Now, we can see how countries are selective about accepting ideas from other cultures. Japanese gender norms have been changing, and we already became more open to transgendered persons while getting the information about values of other cultures where sexual minorities are respected. However, we still exclude homo- and bisexual persons. It is the same as the instance of Indian men, who welcome the imported image of men reinforcing his values, while complaining about the values liberating Indian women, although both of the values are from the same origin. From these instances, it is clear that the benefit of globalization is limited to some individuals. The influence from outside world is unstoppable, however, we can still be selective about which to take in and which to exclude.


『「同性愛者への施策は必要ない」自民 アンケートに回答』2012年12月5日retrieved from

“UN issues first report on human rights of gay and lesbian people” Viewed on December 22nd, 2012. Retrieved from

ゲイに優しい政党、嫌われる政党 Viewed on December 22nd, 2012. Retrieved from


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