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The LGBTQ Legislation Passes in Japan and It Angers Everyone

What does this law mean, and what are the implications of the LGBTQ legislation in Japan? Does it have a future? Take a look with us.



Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade participants on April 23, 2023. (© JAPAN Forward)

On June 16, the Japanese parliament – the National Diet – approved a bill to promote further understanding of LGBTQ minorities. 

Yet, the legislation has gathered widespread opposition from both sides of the spectrum. The reason has to do with its watered-down wording on the one hand, and fears of lack of protection for women's rights on the other. 

How has this bill come about, and what makes it controversial? We unpack some of the background and key points below. 

What does the bill say? 

The proposal, passed in both chambers of the National Diet, aims to increase the understanding of diversity in gender identity and sexual orientation among the public. 

It uses the expression "gender identity" (in English, written in Japanese phonetic characters), among others. In general, the document recognizes that "public understanding of the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity is not sufficient."

The legislation goes on to specify that "individuals have a right to be respected irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity." Ultimately, it seeks to create a society where there is "mutual respect for people's individuality and personality." It aims for a society where "unfair discrimination shall not be tolerated" and "all members of society can live at ease." 

In addition, the document draws some general recommendations for the government and schools. If implemented, the recommendations would increase awareness of these themes going forward. For example, it recommends that schools work with local governments and parents. Together, it says, they should promote a greater understanding of issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. 

However, on the whole, the guidelines presented provide few concrete indications of the steps to take going forward.

Fumio Kishida speaks at the prime minister's press conference on June 13, 2023. (© Sankei)

How has this bill come about? 

In February 2023, the Fumio Kishida administration received some criticism from the press on this issue. An aide to the prime minister, Masayoshi Arai, was reported as saying he would not want to be a neighbor of an LGBTQ couple. The aide resigned after retracting his comment. 

Following the media storm, a draft bill to promote LGBTQ awareness was introduced into the National Diet. A similar bill had initially been proposed in 2021. 


Momentum to tackle the topic grew, especially while Japan was hosting the G7 Hiroshima Summit in May 2023. 

Who supports the bill? 

Originally the bill derives from a proposal made by the majority Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Revisions were made following debates with other parties in the parliament, like the Japan Innovation Party (Nippon Ishin no Kai).

Proponents of the legislation say that it helps create a more diverse society. 

International actors have also become involved in the debate. United States Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel openly called for Japan to approve a bill toward preventing LGBTQ discrimination. 

Who opposes the bill? 

A wide range of actors have expressed their opposition to the bill, and their arguments are briefly summarized below. 

LGBTQ activists: 

Several groups among the activists have shown strong opposition to the current law. They say it the language was significantly watered down compared to the original bill. In their view, it does little to nothing to improve the situation of sexual minorities in Japan. 

A major point of contention is the inclusion of the term "unfair" in front of "discrimination." This language change, they say, seems to suggest that, in some cases, discrimination might be justified.

In addition, many critics point out that the wording prioritizes the needs of the majority, rather than recognizing more rights for the minorities in question. For example, Pride House Tokyo Consortium argues that in the current law "activities and initiatives are grounded in the concerns of the majority," according to a statement published on June 18.

Gon Matsunaka, who heads Pride House Tokyo, was quoted in a June 15 article in Nikkei Business. In it, he said that, given the current status of the bill, it was limiting the rights of LGBTQ. 

JAPAN Forward spoke to Matsunaka in May. Even before the legislation passed, he expressed little hope for improvement in the bill. He said at the time, "As things stand now, we think the law should be scrapped altogether." 


Women's Rights activists: 

On the other end of the spectrum, organizations such as The Protection of Women's Spaces have also expressed concern over the new bill. They posit that the current phrasing doesn't protect women against malicious people who might pose as women and infiltrate women-only spaces. 

On March 27, there was a protest in front of the National Diet by members of the "Suginami Association for Women's and Children's Rights and Community Development."

A sexual assault survivor present at the protest spoke to The Sankei Shimbun about the issue. There was a worrying countertrend, the victims said, in the recent creation of genderless toilets in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward. Their concern was that the spaces are not dedicated to their use and therefore they do not feel safe.  

A split parliament: 

The bill has also caused a significant division among members of the National Diet. Discussions about it started in April and the bill was approved by the subcommittee after four meetings. 

According to a Sankei Shimbun report dated June 16, the bill moved along in part due to pressures from the Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP). The CDP is a major coalition partner of the LDP, and it wanted to see the bill go through. 

Even within the LDP, some party members were against some of the changes proposed in the later version of the bill. This underscored the divided situation the prime minister was juggling in the Diet. 

How has the media positioned itself in the debate? 

Most of the major newspapers have also condemned the bill. They, too, fall on both sides of the debate. Articles in The Sankei Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun aligned with women's rights organizations. More specifically, The Sankei Shimbun highlighted problems with the vagueness of the wording "gender identity." It also pointed out that "discrimination" was not well-defined. 

Other major papers, such as The Asahi Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun, raised issues similar to those of LGBTQ activists. 

The concept of educating children about LGBTQ issues has also generated different editorial perspectives. The Sankei Shimbun and Yomiuri Shimbun have expressed doubt about whether children should be educated on LGBTQ issues at such an impressionable age. 

An editorial in The Sankei Shimbun also pushed back against the international pressure brought by US Ambassador Rahm Emanuel. His LGBTQ advocacy was seen as "interference in domestic affairs."

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What About Same-Sex Marriage? 

Japan is currently the only country among the Group of Seven (G7) that doesn't have a national system recognizing same-sex unions. 

Neither Italy nor Japan have marriage equality. However, Italy has national legislation providing recognition for civil unions, while Japan has only a local partnership certification system. The Japanese system covers about 65 percent of the population. 

Japan's current legislation also fails to address whether "equal rights" includes being recognized as a spouse. This has been a specific point of contention by some LGBTQ activists. It is particularly important in the context of the rights of both partners in having children, caring for family members, and so on. 

Regarding the prospects for recognition of same-sex marriage, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed the issue in a press conference on June 13. He said that further discussion is needed to gain an understanding within the wider population, adding: 

If made into a law, it would affect the lives of a lot of people. While listening to a range of voices, we plan to fulfill our responsibility as a government. And [we will] consider legal developments or other steps.  

What steps can be expected going forward? 

The new legislation has helped raise awareness of the topic and created debate. 

It's unclear, however, how this new bill will be applied in wider society. Therefore it is difficult to predict its effectiveness going forward. 

Some lawmakers are also tackling the concerns of women and the debate about transgender men participating in women's sports. On this, a committee of lawmakers within the National Diet met on June 21 under the umbrella of "The Members Committee for Protecting the Safety and Security of All Women and the Fairness of Women's Sports."

Meanwhile, the legislation has sparked debate within a divided Diet. And the prime minister has publicly stated his determination to take further steps to increase public discourse on the topic. 

Stay tuned as we follow this issue going forward. 


Author: Arielle Busetto


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