When the nail sticks out, it gets hammered down. Although Japan continually leads as an innovative country, it is still a very traditional nation. While queer culture in Japan has been apparent since ancient times, it has always been overlooked. Even today, queer culture is almost entirely ignored in Japan.
In Japan today, most people in the queer community are not open about their sexuality. They will even marry someone of the opposite sex (if they are homosexual) to conceal their sexual identity. While there are currently no laws in Japan that completely prohibit homosexuality, there is one in place for ‘safety concerns’. This particular law regards to the age of consent, which is higher for homosexual adults than heterosexual adults.
Same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Japan. As of 2009 couples can now able to travel to countries where same-sex marriage is legal and get married there. However, these marriages still are not fully recognized in Japan. In modern Japan, there are a few individuals that are leading the way for a progressive queer community. Aya Kamikawa was one of the first elected officials that was a part of the transgender community. Just two years later in 2005, Kanako Otsuji (who was an assembly woman) came out as lesbian. Today, legal rights in the queer community are mainly overlooked in Japan. They are a very minor topic in Japanese politics and national laws do not extend to sexual identity discrimination. Although there has been little progress, Tokyo is leading the way in a progressive queer community. The city has banned discrimination based on sexual identity.
In Japan’s popular culture, a handful of ‘idols’ have come out as homosexual. However, they have almost all been males. The comedian Ramon Sumitami uses homosexual stereotypes to gain popularity. Increasing in popularity is the anime/manga category Yaoi which typically features two masculine men in an equal relationship. While this may have helped spread awareness for the queer community, the Yaoi genre is almost entirely pornographic. The Yuri genre focuses on lesbian relationships. Some shows and stories in the Yuri category do contain pornographic plots, however, the majority of the time it does not contain that so it can easily market to straight and homosexual (mostly lesbian) viewers. The majority of homosexual identity that Japan has access to is often hypersexualized and thus is looked down upon by the real homosexual community.
Because of the progress Japan has made over the years, I believe they will slowly move towards a day where the queer community can openly exist. For now, as long as queer culture stays a minor political subject and homosexuality is seen as a pornographic tool in popular media, it will not be taken too seriously. In Women’s Studies 247, queer culture is often discussed and readings date back to time periods in America when homosexuality wasn’t part of the public scope. However, Japan is progressing today in very different ways than America. They focus on technological innovations rather than the individual. As long as Japanese culture still follows traditional gender roles, there will likely be no progress. However, like the rest of the world, growth and change is inevitable, especially when so many other countries have already begun to openly accept the queer community.