Japan Embracing LGBT Rights

Japan is embracing LGBT1 rights, and fast. As I write this we’re two days out from the main festivities at Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2016, and it already seems like there are rainbows everywhere. Lush has their rainbow pride signage out. Marui, one of Japan’s most prominent department store chains, has rainbow flags and banners all over the place at four of their stores in Shinjuku and Shibuya. And GAP went all out—rainbow logos in their store windows, pride t-shirts for their staff, and rainbow bags for their customers!

Japan is embracing LGBT rights, and fast. No fewer than four municipalities2 have followed Shibuya in providing official recognition to same-sex partners, and more are expected to come. The Ministry of Justice includes sexual orientation and gender identity disorder3 as focus areas in its human rights educational efforts, and they even have some painfully awkward and loooong videos on YouTube promoting understanding and acceptance of LGBT individuals.4 Yodogawa in Osaka has an active and ongoing outreach project to the LGBT community. In politics, the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party’s special committee on the LGBT community has recommended funding for local governments to support efforts to build an LGBT-inclusive society.

Japan is embracing LGBT rights, and fast. In the corporate world, Work With Pride, an annual conference aimed at HR professionals organized by the LGBT rights NPO Good Aging Yells, has seen its attendance grow almost exponentially over the past few years. Major foreign IT5 and financial6 firms, as well as a few stand-out corporations in Japan7 have been active around LGBT issues for some time. More recently, they have been joined by major Japanese corporations like Panasonic, Shiseido, and even the entire NTT Group—which employed more than 240,000 people in 2015. At this point making a full list of companies with LGBT-friendly policies in Japan would be nearly impossible; that said, a good start is Toyo Keizai’s list of 98 companies that indicated they had some LGBT-related activities in their 2015 CSR survey.

Japan is embracing LGBT rights, and fast. Held on-and-off since 1994, the pride parade in Tokyo is now larger and better established than ever. And with an estimated 58,000 participants at the parade and festival in 2015, the only larger march in East Asia is in Taipei.8 Beyond the parade, there are a number of robust organizations working on LGBT rights: Nijiiro Diversity provides workplace training and consulting services; Dentsu Diversity Lab (affiliated with one of the most prominent advertising and PR agencies in Japan) is doing important research on the size of the self-identified LGBT population and market in Japan;9 and Good Aging Yells, a well-organized NPO, has successfully realized countless projects, from an LGBT-friendly beach cafe to the Out in Japan photo project to aforementioned Work With Pride.

Japan is embracing LGBT rights, and fast. Most colleges in Japan have LGBT student groups. Young people are coming out, and not just to their closest friends—they’re out at school, and increasingly they’re out to their families. They’re starting NPOs, and they’re starting businesses (disclaimer/boast: the founder of JobRainbow is one of my best friends). And when they finish the notorious job hunting process, they’re increasingly coming out at work.

Japan is embracing LGBT rights, and fast. I repeat this phrase because it contradicts common assumptions about both the state of LGBT rights and the pace of social change in Japan. Things are moving fast, and if you don’t keep up you will be left behind.

Happy Pride!

  1. I’m using the initialism ‘LGBT’ here—as opposed to LGBTQ, LGBTIQ, MSGI, GSM, etc—because it is the most common term I see in use in Japan today. I understand its limitations, but I think it is contextually appropriate here. [return]
  2. Setagaya in Tokyo, Takurazuka in Hyogo Prefecture, Iga in Mie Prefecture, and Naha in Okinawa Prefecture at the time of this writing. [return]
  3. The term ‘gender identity disorder’ is significantly problematic, and I use it here only because the MoJ is using the equivalent term (性同一性障害) in Japanese. While this may accurately reflect the thinking of policy makers at the MoJ, the Wikipedia page for Gender dysphoria has a good summary of the criticism: “Many transgender people and researchers support declassification of GID because they say the diagnosis pathologizes gender variance, reinforces the binary model of gender, and can result in stigmatization of transgender individuals.” I tend to agree. [return]
  4. I jest, but their heart is in the right place:-) [return]
  5. Notably Google, IBM, and Microsoft (disclaimer: I currently work at Microsoft Japan and have played a key role in organizing our LGBT employee network in Japan and Asia). [return]
  6. Notably Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank, Thomson Reuters, UBS, and others through the Tokyo Interbank LGBT Forum. [return]
  7. Nomura Securities and Osaka Gas come to mind. [return]
  8. Attended by no small number of people from Japan. [return]
  9. In their 2015 survey they found that 7.6% of the population self-identified as LGBT, and they estimated the addressable market as 5.94 trillion yen. [return]