Take our user survey and make your voice heard.



Tokyo elects first openly gay politician in the history of modern Japan

By Lee Jay Walker

It is hoped that Taiga Ishikawa will soon become known for being a politician rather than the first openly gay individual to enter political office in Japan in the modern period. After all, when this happens, then the people of Japan and throughout the world will know that sexual discrimination is being tackled openly and this applies to discrimination against homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

This issue is important because Japan is a democratic nation, but like many nations, open discrimination against people from different sexual backgrounds is the norm. Therefore, Ishikawa -- who was elected in Tokyo's Toshima ward -- is breaking ground in a mainly conservative nation as have other politicians in other nations who are openly gay. It shows that steps are being taken in the right direction in Japan.

In an ideal world, the electorate should not care about the sexual orientation of an individual; the only important factor should be his or her policies and if that candidate is highly motivated about representing his or her constituency.

Harvey Milk in America also broke fresh ground when he became elected to public office because he was the first individual to be elected who was openly gay. Unlike Ishikawa, Harvey Milk was based in a political hotbed of gay activism in San Francisco. Ishikawa, on the other hand, was elected on a much quieter ticket and thankfully the electorate chose him because they deemed him to be the most suitable candidate.

But is this a new awakening and a move toward sexual equality? If we look at Ishikawa's election in a historical context, Japan before and during the Edo period was very open about sexuality. Several important figures in Japanese history had bisexual tendencies or preferred men and in art and culture you can find depictions of homosexual sex and so forth. The Meiji period (1868) was much more conservative and sexual orientation became more important within the structures of society. Therefore, it could be argued that Ishikawa is re-connecting Japan to its past tolerance of sexuality.

After his election, Ishikawa stated that “I hope my election victory will help those like me to have hope for tomorrow, as many of them cannot accept themselves, feel lonely and isolated and even commit suicide.” He went on to add: “Many LGBTs, or sexual minorities, realize the fact when they are at elementary and junior high schools, many of which are operated by the municipality. As a ward assembly member, I would like to reinforce support to LGBT children at schools.”

It is obvious that Ishikawa wants to raise serious issues related to LGBT rights and this is clearly understandable. However, it is hoped in time that he will become known for being a politician who represents the electorate in Toshima Ward. He is 36 years old and is the author of "Boku No Kareshi Wa Doki Ni Iru" (Where Is My Boyfriend?). His youthfulness is welcomed because the younger generation needs to get involved in politics and break the stranglehold of politics by association.

Ishikawa said that he will do his best to make Toshima Ward friendly toward the younger generation and foreign residents. This is welcome because there is a lot of political apathy among young people in Japan; they feel alienated or have lost their faith in politics.

© Modern Tokyo Times

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

It is remarkable not just for being gay but for being young. Young people don't vote so young politicians don't get elected. Well actually, young people get elected if they are inheriting office from their father and all the old constituents vote for him/her (like Obuchi's daughter, just to mention one). So policies are all geared toward old people and young people get squat. Good luck!

0 ( +0 / -0 )


0 ( +0 / -0 )

Because he's breaking new gound he'll be watched very closely and will hopefully set a good example. And it's good for the future of Japanese politics where most people still come from a similar backgound.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Make me feel, mighty real!" Agreed, youth is the real surprise here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Technically, I suppose the "first openly gay politician" moniker is accurate enough, if you restrict "gay" to mean a homosexual man, and "openly" to imply that he was out to his electorate prior to his being elected. However, Kanako Otsuji served in the Osaka Prefectural Assembly from 2003-2007, came out as a lesbian in the middle of her term, and succeeded in getting LGBT-friendly housing legislation passed in what had previously been a market notoriously conservative about such issues.

His relative youth and his willingness to be open about his sexuality are good signs, but, I think, hardly a sign of major social progress. While transgendered individuals have seen certain rights established in law (they suffer from an "official" disorder, after all), gays and lesbians (much less same-sex couples)still do not exist in the eyes of the law here, and thus are afforded no legal protections, rights, or recognition. Change, when it does come, will show up first at the local/municipal level, though, so we can at least hope that Mr. Ishikawa will be an agent of that change to the extent his new position makes possible.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"It is hoped that Taiga Ishikawa will soon become known for being a politician rather than the first openly gay individual to enter political office in Japan in the modern period"

Then the article goes on to rave about what a fabulous gay fella he is, and not mention even once that even what political party he ran for (SDP).

This reminds me of Tsurunen - the first naturalized caucasian MP in the Diet - foreign press got so wrapped up in that he was white (naturalized Japanese, originally a Finnish citizen) and what a step his election represented for foreign rights in Japan (as if there has never been a naturalized Chinese or Korean politician before...) when he insisted he wanted to just be a good representative.

And as it turned out, that is what he was.

I think if Taiga takes steps to further the equal rights movement, that's great, but it's patronizing to paint him as a one issue caricature. He obviously got elected based on more than just that. And congrats to him.


0 ( +0 / -0 )

No, No, bias or agenda in this article.... Being a pervert is EXACTLY why someone should be disqualified from holding office. And what the hell is "Transgendered"? Of course it is an official disorder!!! Why should we be legally forced to accept a freak's psychotic delusions? In any case, they have exactly the same rights as everybody else.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

For all Japan's faults, at least gay-bashing is very rare here. That cannot be said of Dubya-country. I hope things do improve here for everyone, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, race or religion. The venom from conservatives and physical/verbal abuse and killings seen in countries like the US and UK is really disgusting. And it's frightening to think gay people are executed in other countries. Sorry Dubya, but gays really are 'born this way'. The perverts are the ones who delight in killing.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Dubya: If Mr Ishikawa has the same rights as anyone else, why do you demand that he should be disqualified from office? Don't you want him to have the same rights as "everybody else"?

It appears that you only want candidates you personally approve of to be allowed to run for office: what kind of a democracy is that? That sounds like the way they do things in Iran. Perhaps you would be happier living there.

The people should be allowed to elect whoever they want. I don't want anyone telling me who I can and cannot vote for.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Dubya has stated in the past that he thinks gay people should have fewer rights than others. Fortunately, such views are becoming rarer in civilised societies.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

who cares if he is gay, being 36 and a politician in Japan is the news story here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Dubya has stated in the past that he thinks gay people should have fewer rights than others. Fortunately, such views are becoming rarer in civilised societies.

Dubya's probably so far in the closet that he has adventures in Narnia. It's a common source of/reason for gay-bashing...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Many commentators have remarked about the commonalities between US conservatives and the Taliban. We see them here in Dubya's attitude towards this young, gay politician (and gay's in general). Yep, total Taliban.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I disagree with the beginning of this article. There is so not homophobia in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Thank you, shirokuma2011, I was trying to think of Kanako Otsuji's name. I knew Ishikawa wasn't the first openly gay politician. Despite Dubya's apparent segregational desires, I hope Ishikawa has a long and illustrious career as a competent (bribe-free) statesman.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great news, but I just hope he didn't use his "gay notoriety" to just get elected, but to actually achieve something for his constituents...the real work starts now...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is so not homophobia in Japan.

Hmmm...I wonder if that's the actuality. I can hardly imagine performing a self-introduction at the office welcome party and announce my homosexuality like I could mention that I'm married to a woman. Japanese language textbooks when introducing family matters never mention gays or lesbians or transgendered persons. How does one cope in Japan when talking about family and say casually, 'I have two fathers'? My Japanese partner got his PR here in Australia based on our de facto gay relationship that we had to document (like a straight de facto couple too). I cannot get PR in Japan based on my de facto relationship (of over 5 years). This is a kind of homophobia. When I visited my partner's family in the country we had to remove our rings due to the so-called 'seken-tai' what would people think thing that's common in Japan. Again homophobia. Depictions of gay men on Japanese TV as effeminate over the top girlie types seems acceptable but if that stereotype is not broadcast, which means gay men can be the regular type of man you sit next on the train, this is also homophobia. Much homophobia is subtle and is rife in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


You mention some luxurious worries, as they say in Japanese. When I was a kid I remember a friend of a friend came over to hang with us and joyously recounting how he and his other friends had snuck up on a "queer" with a hockey stick and thrusting it between his legs and yanking up into his crotch, then pulling back so the end of the hockey stick struck the guy again and also knocked him over. I forgot if they beat him up anymore than that, but he was impressed with his ingenuity with the hockey stick, and with the fear of the guy on the ground.

One thing you might remember is these two gay officials were elected with relative ease, and no resistance or protests or threats due to their being gay. No-one I have met here can even remotley relate to (never mind have in themself) the hatred that exists in the west, accompanied by violence or not, the idea of dirtiness or perversion or unnatural in a sinful way (whether religious or not, that is the kind of feeling I get from homophobes). The few times it has come up in conversation I usually get a puzzled look "why?" As in "Who cares?" (If someone is gay). They can understand violence in a dispute, or violence of finding one weak individual to bully, but can't even understand hatred against an anonymous class of ppl composed of ppl they have never met. Again, thse officials in the story, were not attacked to my knowledge.

I would really urge you to rethink all you wrote in the context of "Japan" instead of "gay" and not easily comparing it with how things are in your country. ppl here, (yes depending on the person, and depending on the group), will really not say very much about themselves in a self-introduction that we would say in the west, gay or straight. Anything relating to romance or sex, or partners especially so. ppl can be ashamed of admitting that their hobby is golf (not a joke), and for really various possible reasons. They can be shy or ashamed or embarassed about anything. And that culture breeds a tendency to give ppl space in not asking anything that we don't have in the same way, at least not in America, which in turn breeds a real impulse (necessity) to not ever pronounce, or emphasize things you do, especially not correctness. In other words, even if you have no shame or fear about your private life (whether gay or golf), you must toe the line of privacy, because everyone else is to be polite. I don't know if I made that clear in 3 sentences on the net, but to me it is not homophobia.

TV- that is a whole nother story, simply put everyone here knows j TV is stupid and b) everyone gets made fun of in stupid degrading ways except maybe singers. Fat for being fat, woman for woman, stupid for stupid, skinny and weak for can never get a date, etc. Not homophobia, just a part of the stupidity of TV. (I'd say visibility and popularity of gays and transexuals is actually going to be a big part of change and acceptance in the culture tho, they are not all manga characters. And , these officials have been elected.)

Marriage- you want to introduce yourself as married, like everyone else, you want to wear a wedding ring downtown, go and do it. Be the first one and change everyone's mind. Just recognize the resistance for what it is, how J society works in many contexts, not only gay.

I"ve written meself an essay, hope you read it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Dear kittyjump...thanks for responding...i agree with much you have written but i also stick to my original post. Yes things are different in Japan and it might be unfair to compare it with Australia but to suggest there's no homophobia in Japan is naive. Despite the advances (if that's the correct word) in Australia, there's still homophobia: individual, social and institutional. I understand that there's is the notion of 'homo-gari' where (like in Sydney) groups of typically young men hunt gay men and bash them up. That's homophobia in its most violent form. While the word 'homophobia' seems to be culturally and linguistically problematic, negative actions towards gay men and lesbians can still be motivated through irrational fear and hatred despite the cultural milieu one lives in.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I suppose we will have to agree to disagree then.

THis aritcle mentions Milk, compare him to the pols in jpn in this article and comments. They didn't have to go through the campaing he did,p Protests and demonstrations (even tho he came from a "gay" town). I see it (their gayness) as a non-issue to the voters, and the ppl I know couldn't care less if someone was gay. I don't see any negative actions to lgb ppl, just no action. There is silence which might be frustrating esp for an outspoken westerner but I personally can't distinguish it from the silence about anything else here and so hesitate to call it hatred. I find ppl very accepting of others here, tho on the surface it often appears to be the opposite. Tho there are those that don't accept one thing or another in their way. It can seem a harsh place.


0 ( +0 / -0 )

I had a chat with my Japanese partner about the discussion here, in particular the use of 'homophobia'. We tried to work out the difference between intolerance, discrimination and homophobia. When I told him about my exchange with kittyjump, he sided with kittyjump because he reckoned the word 'homophobia' is being used as a general word inferring something quite different. Last night just by chance there was a discussion program on TV about being gay in school and we listened carefully to the ways that 'homophobia' was being used - a sort of in-context listening activity - and it seemed to be used to mean intolerant and discriminatory practices. The point of this? Rather than homophobia (I concede to kittyjump on this then), my hope (even as a complete outsider but not as an outspoken Westerner trying to promote and impose some neo-colonial agenda) is that Mr. Ishikawa helps to combat intolerance and discrimination that exists in Japan, in particular pertaining to gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual identifying people.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Discriminaton is a negative judgment toward a person's gender, age, religion, race, nationality, sexual preference or height. People who discriminate lack self-confidence. When a person fails to find a way to make him feel adequate and when that is combined with his lack of desire to work hard to exert effort he tends to look for an easy way to elevate his worth such as downgrading others. Some times the person's values might prevent him from doing so to others and so in such case he tries to elevate his self worth by claiming that he belongs to a group that has high status. In that case also the person will feel he is worthy not because he has achieved something but because of believing that there are many others who are less worthy than him. After knowing that the main reason for discrimination is related to the discriminator's personal problems you should never feel bad when someone attempts to act superior to you. People who discriminate don't feel worthy and that's why they do so. In short, many of those who discriminate or judge others do it in order to feel good and not because others are really less worth then him. Hence, if you found yourself decimating others than you must take serious steps to build your self-confidence.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Who cares if he is Gay, what matters is that you have the best person for the job. Sexual preference is of one's own choosing and what you and I think is irrelevant.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

WildWill at 07:38 AM JST - 4th May. that Mr. Ishikawa helps to combat intolerance and discrimination that exists in Japan, in particular pertaining to gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual identifying people.

The principal focus being essentially that by closeting their sexuality and often times voting against gay issues, they’re not only living a lie but actually hurting some of their constituents. The belief is that it will help the issues they’re affected by if gay politicians are forced out of the closet, and there’s probably a lot of truth to that. This has to be looked at in a different light but it still treads an interesting moral ground, especially in deep culture Japan. The gloves are off and it raises alot of issues that are important to alot of people to the surface.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites