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Gender identity disorder, sexual orientation discrimination, death row, depression and physical abuse: these are just a few of the hard-hitting subjects being dealt with at a manga exhibition for the promotion of human rights.

While people from overseas have grown more aware of Japanese culture through Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cool Japan initiative, the exhibition underway at the Tokyo Metropolitan Human Rights Promotion Center comes at a time when human rights-related challenges are gaining prominence here.

“People do not usually think about human rights in their everyday lives, but hopefully they will pay even a little attention to the issues,” said exhibition curator Ayumi Tamura. “For that purpose, manga is one of the best ways, since people can easily pick them up.”

Around 50 Japanese comic book titles are on display.

“New York, New York” is about a gay couple living in the Big Apple facing discrimination, while “Mori no Asagao” deals with communication between a young prison guard and death row inmates.

“With the Light” focuses on a family raising an autistic son and his challenges to communicate, whereas “Chiisai Hito” depicts a child welfare caseworker — a survivor of child abuse — who is working to improve the lives of troubled children. “Real” meanwhile features wheelchair basketball players.

“A wide age group of visitors has turned out for the event, and many of them stay at the exhibition all day long to read these manga on sofas,” said Tamura, adding that a group of teachers, mainly from elementary schools, has also visited the exhibition as part of their training.

Kazuma Yoshimura, director of International Manga Research Center and a professor at Kyoto Seika University, praised the exhibition’s “mass appeal.”

“Making full use of manga’s capabilities as an entertainment and media, the exhibition has mass appeal, providing visitors with clues undreamt of in thinking about human rights,” Yoshimura said. “Elementary and junior high school students hang out at the exhibition, and this indicates it has fulfilled a significant achievement.”

The exhibition, which is free to the public and runs through July 26, comes at a time when Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, has decided to start issuing certificates later this year recognizing same-sex partnerships as being equivalent to marriage.

If realized, it will be the first such move among Japan’s local governments. The central government does not recognize such couples.

The center, whose precursor was created by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1971, has worked toward raising public awareness of human rights issues, focusing mainly on vulnerable groups such as women, the disabled and the Ainu indigenous people.

Following the exhibition, it plans to let members of the public borrow the manga to the public and display them at schools and other educational facilities. For further information, call the center in Japanese at 03-3876-5372.

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