Discriminatory remarks by a close aide of Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida have revived discussions about LGBT rights in Japan, the only G7 nation without legislation prohibiting discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. Masayoshi Arai, who served as Kishida’s executive secretary focusing on economics, said earlier this month that he’d “hate to live next door” to an LGBT couple and would “hate to look at them.” Kishida, sacking Arai, said the comments by his aide were “completely out of line with the Cabinet’s approach to respecting diversity and creating an inclusive society” and don’t reflect the official stance of his administration on the issue.

Battered by scandals

The scandal has come as yet another blow to the Kishida administration, whose approval rating has hit a record low. Polls show that 57% of the Japanese public believes the firing of Arai will have negative consequences on the image of the Kishida government, while only 33.6% expressed support for the administration’s overall direction.

Arai, however, is just one in a string of politicians of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who come under fire for controversial comments about the LGBT community. In 2018, lawmaker Mio Sugita said same-sex couples are “unproductive” for they cannot have children, and “do not contribute to the prosperity of the nation.” The prime minister also said in February, days before Arai made his remarks, that same-sex marriage may “change the concept of family values as well as society.”


Photo Credit: Getty Images

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stands next to the G7 Hiroshima Summit countdown board during a ceremony at the prime minister’s office on in Tokyo on January 5, 2023.

Passing legislation “promoting the understanding of LGBT” has taken on a new urgency as the G7 summit in Hiroshima approaches. While Kishida’s LDP expresses caution, both its junior coalition partner, the Komeito, and the largest opposition party, the Constitutional Democratic Party, are now openly calling for the bill to be passed before the summit in May.

In dragging its feet on protecting LGBT rights, the Kishida government seems to be going against public opinion. A recent poll by Kyodo news agency finds 64% of respondents in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in Japan. Social media polls in 2021 and 2022 also showed 78% and 88% support for a same-sex marriage bill.

Conservative voters

The LDP has publicly announced that the party is, in principle, not opposed to the idea of passing new legislation protecting LGBT rights and is currently discussing within the party how to move forward with the bill meant to “promote the understanding of the LGBT community.” But, some senior members have called for removing the words “not tolerating any discrimination” from the bill and replacing them with “understanding of their needs.” Opposition parties have seen the request as a way the LDP seeks to water down the significance of any LGBT legislation.

The unwillingness of the LDP to use more progressive language is grounded in its voter base’s aversion to change. Analyses of the voting records show that the LDP has earned the highest voting share among Japan’s youngest and oldest voters, who are more concerned with maintaining the status quo rather than enacting social changes. Voters in their late teens and 20s credited the LDP for its experience in preventing social upheavals and maintaining Japan’s current standard of living. The youth’s lack of expectations that Japan can or should change has led to the LDP’s focus on social continuity.

Could Japan follow Taiwan?

Resistance to social change hampering the protection of LGBT rights is not unique to Japan. In the years before the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan, plenty of civic groups had taken to the street to oppose the legal move on grounds of protecting family values. Even after same-sex marriage was legalized, conservative groups expressed fear about how the next generation will be educated on the issue and the LGBT community as a whole.

But there’s hope for Japan to follow Taiwan in expanding LGBT rights. The consequences of rapid aging and low birthrate have challenged the definition of family based on traditional roles . And as Taiwanese culture makes its mark on Japanese society, there’s a possibility that Taiwanese attitudes toward LGBT rights would also find resonance in Japan.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou (@thenewslensintl)

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