By Mizue Watanabe★
Tokyo’s LGBT community and its supporters held a lecture event January 14 to address the homophobic statements made in early December by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara. The two-part event saw politicians, LGBT activists, and even an openly gay manga artist speak to an audience of over 350 people, the majority of which were Japanese.
The meeting was held in reaction to comments made by Ishihara December 3 during a statement regarding a bill to put more stringent regulations on anime and manga. He said that “Homosexuals have been appearing on television as if it were no big deal. Japan is becoming too unregulated.” When a journalist from the Mainichi Shimbun asked Ishihara for clarification on these comments on December 7, Ishihara elaborated: “I feel that [homosexuals] are missing something. Maybe it has something to do with their genes. I feel sorry for them as a minority.” Recalling his experience observing a gay pride parade in San Francisco, Ishihara added that, “I saw the pride parade, but I just felt sorry for them. There were male pairs and female pairs, but I felt that something was missing.”
Perhaps reflecting the peripherality of LGBT issues in mainstream consciousness, only the Mainichi, the Asahi Shimbun, and the Tokyo Shimbun reported these comments.
The Association to Protest Governor Ishihara’s Homophobic Comments hosted the lecture event as a protest against the governor’s discriminatory remarks as well as a show of solidarity among the LGBT community and its supporters. The first part of the event featured a panel discussion of LGBT activists and community advocates discussing their reactions to the governor’s comments. This was followed by informal statements by three municipal politicians, including Aya Kamikawa, an assemblyperson for Tokyo’s Setagaya ward and the first openly transgender politician to be elected in Japan. The second part of the event focused on some of the daily struggles of the LGBT community in Japan, and featured manga artist Taiji Utaguwa’s rendition of recent gay history as well as a “close talk” with two gay couples.
Although serious in nature, the event involved light-hearted moments as well, such as when the opening discussant unleashed two giant balloon balls reading Ishiharasumento-kin (“Ishiharassment” Germ) into the audience. “Please be careful everyone, they’re highly infectious!!” she yelled, to the audience’s delight. Many of the participants, however, spoke of their serious concern with the governor’s comments, noting their distress that these comments were being made from the governor of Japan’s largest and most cosmopolitan city. One activist compared Tokyo to Paris and Berlin, which both have openly gay mayors.
A common sentiment among participants was that Ishihara’s statements make light of the difficulties that many LGBT individuals struggle with in their day-to-day lives, including within the home, at school, and in the workplace.
Although a date has not yet been set, an event organizer announced that the protest against Governor Ishihara’s statements would continue with a public demonstration scheduled for March.
Ironically, Ishihara’s remarks came during Human Rights Awareness Week in Japan, held annually from December 4 to December 10. Activists have pointed out that although the Tokyo Metropolitan Government had listed “eliminating discrimination based on sexual orientation” and “eliminating discrimination based on gender identity disorder” as two official goals, the comments by Tokyo’s highest elected official make a joke of this.
Since his election as governor of Tokyo in 2001, Governor Ishihara has become notorious in the domestic and international press for a string of disparaging comments, attacking women, the disabled, foreigners, and even – perhaps most bizarrely – the French language.
In May 2001, when addressing the issue of crimes committed by non-Japanese residents of Japan, Ishihara suggested that, “Foreigners have criminal DNA.” However, despite Ishihara’s tendency to couch his prejudicial views within “biological” terms, neither of these comments is known to have any scientific validity.
*For an amusing commentary on Ishihara’s commentary, check out this clip by transvestite celebrity, Matsuko. 「石原都知事は狂っている」（Governor Ishihara is crazy!)
★Watanabe Mizue is a sociologist researching human rights issues in Japan writing under a pseudonym. JSRC would like to thank her for contributing this article.