Social justice issues run rampant in North America, and always have since the introduction of white settler colonialism, back in the 15th century. They are clear and easy enough to understand: black rights (slavery, the prison industrial complex), women’s rights, Indigenous land rights, the list goes on. It is fair to say that social justice is a battle being fought all over the world, taking many different shapes and meanings, but it is an inevitable symptom of the toxic system of capitalism.
However, it is much harder to define social justice issues in Japan (in comparison to North America, at least). The Japanese culture is one of the most unique in the world, and this is largely in part due to its homogeneity; it has virtually closed borders to permanent immigration, resulting in purely genetic Japanese citizens. This brings a real sense of belonging to the greater culture of the nation, something that I think nations like Canada and the US strive for but greatly lack. Historically, there have been quite little social justice movements or even discussions on the matter, clearly not being of much importance to the Japanese people.
But of course, this does not mean that social injustices do not exist in Japan. It is obvious that sexism, racism, and homophobia are backbones of the Japanese culture: sexism evident through the Japanese government’s World War II policy of “comfort women” – forced sex slaves for Japanese troops; racism evident both through Japan’s pre-war imperial expansion in East/Southeast Asia, and through racism towards Korean-Japanese citizens residing in Tokyo’s Korea Town (The Japan Times News, 2014); homophobia is evident through the fact that same-sex marriage is illegal in Japan.
One particular social justice issue is being discussed in Japan right now, and it is shocking to me. Apparently, there was a law passed in 2003 (Law 111), designed to regulate legal gender recognition, and at the time, was a huge step forward for the LGBTQ+ community. Which is great. But, part of the law is a required sterilization for those individuals who choose to apply for a gender transition: they must have non-functioning sex organs if they wish to be legally recognized as the gender they are. That is absolutely heartbreaking to me.
The law has been in place for 14 years, and clearly has been questioned very little in that time, but this year, in the past couple days in fact, this law has been brought to the public’s attention, to raise flags about the forced sterilization requirement of the law. There was one man, Takakito Usui, who was born female and wanted to legally transition so that he could marry his girlfriend, but who still wanted the freedom to have children with her. He took his case to court, and lost (Agerholm, 2017). Human Rights Watch, a global organization which conducts research and advocacy on human rights, has officially urged the Japanese government to revise Law 111, in order to make it a lot less oppressive to trans folks.
I will be following this case in the days to come, as I find it very interesting for Japan. I believe the nation has a very far way to go, to become as socially equal as maybe some of the population believes it is now.
Agerholm, H. (2017, December 1). Japan urged to scrap law forcing transgender people to be sterilized before they can transition. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/japan-transgender-people-sterilise-before-transition-gender-change-lgbt-rights-a8086341.html
The Japan Times News (2014, April 7). Battling social injustice in Japan. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/07/battling-social-injustice-japan