Aya Kamikawa- Reformation in the land of conformity Scholars have suggested that in the modern Japanese society, transgendered individuals (transgendered individuals and transsexuals are interchangeable and are referred to in the context of the Japanese society) are only valuable to the entertainment industry (Mackie 412, McLelland 167-168). In a country where mainstream conformity is promoted and preferred, any career outside of the entertainment and sex industries would seem impossible to pursue for a transgendered individual (Mackie 411-412).
While transgendered individuals are more than welcome in the entertainment and sex industry due to the curiosity of the audiences and clients (Mackie 412, Mitsuhashi 211-215, Rosario 94-95), in the mainstream society the individuals tend to keep their transgender identities hidden (Mackie 414-415). An area that remains undiscussed is the relationship between transgenderism and politics. My research will give particular attention to Aya Kamikawa-the first and only transgendered individual elected as the municipal official in Tokyo, which happened in 2003, and her influence in the government regarding the transgendered community.
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I will examine her struggles and achievements through various news articles and blogs. Is having a transgendered politician beneficial to the Japanese transgendered community? How difficult and inconvenient is it for transgendered individuals to live in the country and how did Kamikawa improve their living conditions? And how does the general public react to a transsexual government official? Do they approve or disapprove? Background Information on Aya Kamikawa
In 2003, a transgendered individual challenged the extremely conservative and conformative Japanese society by registering as an election candidate under the gender that’s listed differently from her family registry; her name is Aya Kamikawa (Setagaya). Kamikawa was born as a male in 1968. He worked in the PR (Public Relations) for a charitable organization after graduating from Hosei University the School of Business Administration (Aya). He resigned five years later due to the overwhelming stress from working as a male.
After realizing trying to fulfill the social roles assigned to men are both exhausting mentally and physically, he began his transition into a woman through hormonal treatment (Aya). Just three years after, Kamikawa was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (here after referred to as GID) and started working as a female staff at a private company. During those times she fought for the rights of transsexuals in Japan by organizing petitions and knocking on politicians’ doors-which all led to failures in the land where conformity and uniformity are viewed as virtues.
Until one day she received some valuable advices from a member of the Diet (The Cabinet in Japan) stating that her voice will remain unheard unless she steps forward publically and declares her identity. The advice from the Diet member triggered Kamikawa’s decision of running for public office (Setagaya). She eventually won a place in the local assembly of Setagaya, one of Tokyo’s biggest local government areas. Transgenderism in Modern Japanese Society Life of a transsexual in Japan can sometimes be severely uncomfortable.
From discriminations to employment issues, transgendered individuals face many obstacles in their everyday life that many of us can’t even begin to imagine. The existence of transsexuals in the mind of the average Japanese population is only acceptable in the entertainment and sex industries (McLelland 167). Comedians and gagmen who dress up as the opposite gender are welcomed and even praised in variety shows. They usually portray transsexuals as sexual deviants, trashy, and often made fun of for comic relieves (Mitsuhashi 202-204).
Mackie adds that the popular media treats gender variant individuals as curiosities or exploit them for their entertainment values (Mackie 412). These stereotypical images regarding transgenderism helped in creating a false perception of the transgendered population. The conformitive state of the Japanese society does not welcome transgendered individuals with open arms; instead they are outcasted into the marginal society-leading many to live a life in secrecy (Matsubara). Mackie stated that gender identity is intimately linked to citizenship.
Someone whose gender identity is ambiguous will have problems with all of the social system that monitors individual identity. Thus lead to the difficulties in gaining stable employment opportunities (Mackie 411). Since employment is one of the important aspects of citizenship, the lack of a stable employment furthers the marginalization of the transgendered population in Japan. But most transsexuals feel the need of remaining employed due to the transition and maintenance expenses.
Thus many tend to hide their transsexual identities in workplaces due to the fear of discrimination or spoken to negatively by the coworkers if they discover his/her real identity (Mackie 413-415). Due to the complication of paperwork and fear of being the center of office gossip, many transgendered individuals choose to work in the entertainment and hospitality industries, where the paperwork is fairly looser than permanent full-time occupations (Mackie 411).
Aya Kamikawa once said in an interview “I have avoided full-time employment ever since I decided to live as a woman, as it involves pension and health insurance registrations, which would reveal my original gender to colleagues,” she said. “Many transsexuals live with a strong fear of their past being found out and are forced to live a socially unstable life” (Larkin). Since there’re no laws protecting transgendered individuals from employment discrimination, exposing their original gender to a working environment would most likely result in dismissal from the position due to the fear of scandals (Tang).
Political contributions After securing a seat in the local assembly as an official, Kamikawa started on her revolution road to fight for transgendered rights which changed the lives of the transgendered population in Japan. During an interview after her election win, she states “As long as we keep silent, nothing is going to change. We need the courage to make a society which respects diversity” (Matsubara). Changing the Japanese Family Registry system One inevitable issue that transgendered individuals face is the complications brought by the Family Registry (Koseki in Japanese).
Japanese law requires all Japanese households to report births, acknowledgement of paternity, adoptions, deaths, marriages and divorces to the local authority, which then compiles the informations into a document called Koseki. The Family Registration Law stated that the Koseki can only be correct when “mistakes” are found. (e. g. incorrect spellings, incorrect birthdays etc. ). The law prohibits the individuals who have undergone sexual-reassignment surgeries from changing their registered gender (Matsubara).
When a family registry lists a gender different from a person’s appearance, life becomes complicated. Getting a passport, signing contracts for housing, securing a job or getting married become awkward, if not impossible (Matsubara). Many in the transgender community avoid visiting hospitals because they must show their insurance cards, which specify their original gender. Some only work part time so they can avoid submitting their residence certificates to their employers (Sanders). Another issue regarding the Koseki is that the change in gender would affect the fate of the whole family (Mackie 411).
Japanese culture especially stresses on the social “chain of being”, in school, family, workplaces, government agencies, the roles of the older and younger, experienced and inexperienced are strongly emphasised. In the Japanese household, children are listed according to their birth order and sex: oldest son, second son, oldest daughter, second daughter and so on. Thus, for one to change their gender on the Koseki would lead to the disruption of the family’s “chain of being”, creating problems for the description of the younger siblings (Mackie 412).
Just three months after Kamikawa stepped into office, she started pushing Law 111. Law 111 states that a person suffering from GID can undergo sex reassignment surgery. Two or more physicians competent in this area must make the diagnosis (Sanders). In order to gain a change in personal documents regarding the birth gender, the individual must meet the following criteria: 1) 20 years or older 2) Unmarried at present 3) No children 4) Sterile 5) The body should have the external genital features of the opposite sex.
If the above requirements are met, upon the approval from the Family Court, the registry can be changed with the respects to sex (Sanders). This Law was enacted on July 16, 2003, and later came into effect in July 2004 with the official name “Exceptional Treatment Act for People with Gender Identity Disorder”. July 29, 2004 left a monumental mark in the transgender history in Japan as this day marks the first transgendered individual to successfully change their gender on the Family Registry (Sanders). Re-election and Social issues
After a successful first term, Kamikawa decided to run for office for a second time in 2007. The positive media attention and supporting public resulted in the success of her re-election. She was ranked number 2 of the 71 candidates running for the 52 seats (Aya). Kamikawa, now more determined than ever, vows to make life of the transgendered individuals more comfortable and accessible. She vows to change the extreme comformative and conservative view of the Japanese general population (Larkin). In an interview, Kamikawa states that “I’m not fighting for transsexual rights; I’m fighting for human rights.
The special law (changing gender on the Family Registry) has contributed to leading the public to see GID as a human rights issue. On the other hand, however, people tend to accept the sufferers’ gender awareness only after they change their registered sex” (Larkin). Rosario once said that transsexualism is not a pathological or a disorder, but a “normal”, natural variant of the human sexuality (Rosario 90). One of the cases that stresses about transgenderism and human rights was with a transgendered prisoner in Japan, where the trans-woman convict was placed in the men’s cell and forced to wear men’s clothing.
When she requested to be transferred into a woman’s cell due to the extreme discomfort she felt being categorised as the male gender she was rejected by the facility; she was later reported for having suicidal thoughts. The lawyer group considered the treatments from the prison facility as infringing on the inmate’s human rights and recommended the facility to treat her as a woman with her sense of gender identity (Larkin). Kamikawa emphasizes that the sufferers of the human rights violation are widely diverse; the special laws could only give relief to some of them.
The others who did not undergo gender reassignment surgery are not protected by the special law, however they should also be respected because the “acceptance of each person’s gender awareness is essential in human rights protection” (Larkin). Conclusions Kamikawa have become one of the the most influential political figure in the Japanese transgender history. In my research, I have explained the difficulties a transgendered individual faces in order to live a normal life in Japan. I also provided informations on Kamikawa’s background and her views regarding the current state of transsexualism in Japan.
And I emphasized on her works towards changing the law regarding the Family Registry. Not only that she’s fighting for the rights of the transgendered community, she’s also fighting for the rights of other minorities including women and children. She has gained praises and approvals not only from the transgendered community but the general public as well for bringing transgenderism onto the bigger picture. Now planning to run for re-election for the third time next year, she’s slowing reforming Japan-the land of comformity into a land that accepts people of all kinds and grants them with equal rights.
My research has its own limitation which is that there are currently no scholarly articles regarding transsexualism and politics in Japan; meaning that all the information about Aya kamikawa and transgender politics in Japan have came from different news paper articles, websites, and other internet resources which all have no legitimate approval from an authoritative establishment such as a research facility. The current state of knowledge about transgender politics is still very insufficient. There is still a lot of researches that needs to be done in this area not just in Japan, but all around the world.
Work cited “Aya Kamikawa’s Profile. ” Rainbow Setagaya. n. d. Web. 25 Nov. 2010. < http://ah-yeah. com/profile_e. html> Larkin, Thomasina. “Gender Identity Transformed from ‘Freak’ into Rights Issue. ” The Japan Times. The Japan Times, Tokyo, Japan, 23 January 2007. Web. 25 Nov 2010. < http://search. japantimes. co. jp/cgi-bin/fl20070123zg. html> Mackie, Vera. “How to Be a Girl: Mainstream Media Portrayals of Transgendered Lives in Japan. ” Asian Studies Review. 32. 3 (2008): 411-423. Matsubara, Hiroshi. “Transsexual Out to Change Family Registry Law. ” The Japan Times.
The Japan Times, Tokyo, Japan, 02 March 2003. Web. 25 Nov 2010. < http://search. japantimes. co. jp/cgi-bin/nn20030302a7. html> McLelland, Mark. “The Newhalf Net: Japan’s “Intermediate Sex” On-Line. ” International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies. 7. 2/3 (2002): 163-175. Mitsuhashi, Junko. “The transgender world in contemporary Japan: the male to female cross-dressers’ community in Shinjuku. ” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies. 7. 2 (2006): 202-226. Rosario, Vernon A. ” ‘Que joto bonita! ‘: Transgender Negotiations of Sex and Ethnicity. ” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Psychotherapy 8. /2 (2004): 89–97. Sanders, Douglas. “Document Change for Transsexuals in Asia. ” Trans Ilga. 08 Oct 2010. Web. 28 Nov 2010. < http://ilga. org/ilga/en/article/myIPjL71eF> “Setagaya OKs Transsexual’s Election Bid. ” The Japan Times. The Japan Times, Tokyo, Japan, 21 April 2003. Web. 25 Nov 2010. < http://search. japantimes. co. jp/cgi-bin/nn20030421a5. html> Tang, Janice. “Transsexual Begins Process to Run for Ward Assembly. ” The Japan Times. The Japan Times, Tokyo, Japan, 26 March 2003. Web. 26 Nov 2010. <http://search. japantimes. co. jp/cgi-bin/nn20030326a5. html>