National

Japan grants long-term resident status to transgender foreign national for first time

by Magdalena Osumi

Staff Writer

A transgender woman from Southeast Asia, said to be the first transgender person to receive special permission to stay in Japan, expressed hope that the decision will pave the way for improving international LGBT couples’ rights in Japan.

The government granted the 58-year-old a one-year long-term resident visa, which can be extended further, on Aug. 14.

“Her long-term relationship with a Japanese man may have been a decisive factor the Justice Ministry took into consideration while reviewing the case,” said Miho Kumazawa, a lawyer representing the woman, at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday.

Kumazawa added that the procedure had been performed based on the same conditions as those used in cases of legally married couples. “I believe the (ministry) viewed the couple as if they were married,” she said.

The woman, who refused to disclose her name and nationality, was assigned male gender at birth but has considered herself to be a woman and has lived as such since childhood. She came to Japan for the first time in 1981 using an entertainer visa. She said she became attached to Japan but wasn’t able to legally extend her stay. “At that time I didn’t have any valid reason to stay in Japan until I met my (partner),” she said.

Due to her gender background the woman was unable to return to her home country, where she had to put up with various forms of abuse, insults and even physical abuse that caused her severe trauma.

In 2002, the woman began a serious relationship with her current partner, and since then the two have claimed that they are a married couple but could not legalize their relationship because same-sex marriage is not allowed under Japan’s laws.

In May 2016 the two received a same-sex partnership certificate issued by a municipality, hoping that it would contribute to legalizing her stay.

The woman turned herself in to immigration authorities on March 15, 2017 requesting legal permission to remain in the country. The woman wishes to stay beside her partner “until the end of our days,” she said. Both are cancer survivors.

“I need to repay the kindness I’ve been given (by Japan) and I’ll do my best to keep my promise I gave when I was granted the visa” the woman said during Monday’s news conference.

She has high hopes the ongoing lawsuit in courts nationwide to challenge the same-sex marriage ban will help change the status quo. Once Japan allows same-sex marriage, she said, she will file for a marriage license right away.

On Feb. 14, an initial 13 couples sued the government seeking to force recognition of same-sex marriage.

Shigenori Nakagawa, another lawyer, stressed that LGBT couples in Japan continue to face challenges. “Japan is the only country in the Group of Seven that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage,” he said.

He hopes the government’s decision to grant the long-term resident status for a transgender person will become a step forward in Japan’s attitude towards LGBT rights.

“I just hope it will become standard practice,” he said.