National / Social Issues

NPO holds coming-of-age celebrations for Japan's LGBT youth

Kyodo

Special coming-of-age ceremonies catering to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people are growing popular in Japan, providing an opportunity for sexual minorities to celebrate and express their true selves.

A university student was among some 40 participants, including family members, who participated in an LGBT ceremony on Feb. 12 in the city of Saga to encourage and congratulate those who had reached the age of 20 over the past year.

The 20-year-old student, who was born male but identifies as female, has been living life as a woman since moving out of her parents’ home. Only close friends from her hometown know.

She wanted to take part in a coming-of-age ceremony in her hometown dressed in a long-sleeved kimono — the trademark fashion for young women participating in the annual event — but abandoned the idea, thinking others would give her “funny looks.”

The host of the Saga event loaned out kimono, dressing participants free of charge.

“I feel relief,” she said. “I had been unable to do what I wanted to do, but now I want to change myself.”

The nonprofit organization ReBit has been holding such ceremonies since 2012, urging LGBT people to celebrate the way they are and taking the first step to becoming the person they wish to be.

The events have been held in 15 prefectures so far, with more than 4,000 people attending.

This year, the ceremony has already been held at nine locations and another is scheduled for March 12 in Yurihama, Tottori Prefecture, with the support of many businesses, according to ReBit.

ReBit director Takeru Shimodaira, 24, urges support groups nationwide to work together in realizing a society in which “everyone can attend their local ceremonies wearing what they want to wear.”

Yosuke Kawano, 30, a vocalist, organized the first LGBT coming-of-age ceremony in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, this year after attending the ceremony in Saitama Prefecture last year.

“I thought there must be people in my hometown who endured bitter experiences attending a regular ceremony,” Kawano said.

Makito Ishikawa, a 24-year-old transgender man, was among participants in the ceremony in Saga. Ishikawa, who has changed his legal gender to male, said he sobbed when he attended the ceremony held in his hometown four years ago.

He did not want to wear a long-sleeved kimono but gave into his father’s wish in the end, he said. This time he took part under his new name and wore a suit and tie.

“I could be myself comfortably and it was fun,” he said.

Naoki Ogi, an education critic supporting the movement for spreading LGBT awareness, said society must take its cue from the spread of such moves.

“A coming-of-age ceremony must be transformed so that everyone can express themselves as they are,” he said.

A 2015 survey by major advertiser Dentsu Inc. targeting some 70,000 people found that one in every 13 respondents, aged 20 to 59, identified as LGBT.

In January, the municipal government of Sapporo unveiled draft rules for officially recognizing same-sex partnerships between LGBT residents of the city who are at least 20 years old.

Sapporo, which plans to start the program in the new fiscal year from April, would not only be the country’s first major city to set such rules, but it would also be the first municipality to certify partnerships even between heterosexual couples with gender-identity disorder, according to the city.