🏳️‍🌈 LGBTQ rights in Japan and the same-sex partnership certificate

Paula Fernández, our Deputy Editor-in-Chief, wrote an article on LGBTQ rights in Japan. Her research includes gender and sexual minorities for her MSc and PhD. The OxForest Web Magazine does not only feature the environment and sustainable development, but also the issues that shape people’s lives around the world. Gender equality and LBGTQ rights are the theme of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5.

European exchange student at Keio University advocating for LGBTQ rights at Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2018. (Image: Paula Fernández)

 The LGBTQ community serves not only as a support group and a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and queer individuals, but it also acts as a source of information for those who want to explore and know more about gender identity, sexuality and sexual health education.

Let’s learn the difference between sexuality and gender identity

 ‘Male’, ‘female’ and ‘transgender’ are gender identities, as these three terms refer to the body perception of the individual. ‘I see myself as female’ ‘I am in the wrong body’ ‘I was born female but I feel male or I feel neutral’ are thoughts related to the gender identity of the individual.

 In the case of sexuality, ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ are types of sexualities, as they indicate the sexual attraction of the person towards others, the same as ‘bisexual’ (a bisexual person is someone who can feel sexually and/or romantically attracted to both men and women).

 Quiz time: Do you think that a person can be considered gay and transexual at the same time? Let’s see. For example, if a person was born male and feels that he is ‘trapped in the wrong body’, this person is said to suffer from gender dysphoria, as this person’s biological gender does not match with his gender identity. This individual has a male body but feels female. These individuals frequently develop feelings of rejection towards their own body. They can go to therapy and through chirurgical operations and have their gender reassigned. In addition to this, this same person can feel sexuality attracted to women, men or both. In summary, gender identity and sexuality do not necessarily have to match. A person can be bisexual and transgender at the same time, gay and transgender, etc.

  • Within the scenario of LGBTQ rights in Japan, marriage is currently a legal right given just to heterosexual couples. In other words, only the union between a woman and a man is legally recognized in Japan. Since the year 2015, however, several Japanese municipalities and prefectures have been introducing partnership certificates for same-sex couples.
  • The first ward that introduced the same-sex partnership certificate was Shibuya ward, in Tokyo, in the year 2015. At a prefectural level, Ibaraki-ken became the first Japanese prefecture that started to issue same-sex partnership certificates, in 2019. In addition to this, Chiba City became the first city issuing this partnership certificate, also in 2019.
  • To be eligible for this partnership document at Chiba City, for example, this city requires both partners to be at least 20 years old and also to reside in Chiba. Currently a total of 57 municipalities and 2 prefectures in Japan offer partnership certificates for same-sex couples. (A list of these places will be included at the end of this article)
  • The issuing of these partnership certificates has gained popularity in the last year, to the extent that in the first five months of 2019, the number of prefectures issuing these same-sex marriage certificates doubled.

 These partnership certificates, however, are not legally binding. That is to say, they are not yet legally recognized at a national level or outside of the municipality or ward where they are issued. It is due to the limitations of these certificates that the Japanese NGO Famiee Project has initiated their own certification program for LGBTQ couples, in order for same-sex couples to be recognized outside of the municipalities.

 Furthermore, another weak aspect of these partnership certificates is that they are not fully equivalent with heterosexual marriage in Japan, as they present more limitations in terms of civil rights, such as rights of inheritance, taxes and visitation rights in the case of hospital emergencies. These limitations, however, vary depending on the municipality where issued. For example, Shibuya ward offers equal rights for same-sex spouses at hospitals and also for apartment renting. These benefits, however, are not necessarily the same as those offered by Chiba, Fukuoka or Osaka prefecture.

 For the time being, even though Japanese municipalities are starting to offer some limited benefits for same-sex couples residing in Japan, the reality is that many civil rights are still not being addressed, such as same-sex adoptions. In 2017, Osaka prefecture recognised a same-sex couple as foster parents in Japan, becoming this the first case. However, same-sex adoptions are not legally addressed or recognized at a national level yet.

 Due to this lack of protections, several companies, such as Mizuho Financial Group, are independently promoting initiatives to provide equal benefits to their employees and partners, regardless of whether they are in a same-sex relationship or a heterosexual relationship. At the end of 2020, Japan Airlines also announced that this company will start implementing pro LGBTQ initiatives such as the use of gender-neutral greetings in their flights to be more inclusive towards their passengers.

 Overall, it could be said that, even though LGBTQ rights are gradually starting to be recognized through the partnership certificates initiated by municipalities in the last decade, and several important Japanese companies are also independently advocating for LGBTQ rights, these individuals are still not being fully protected in legal terms at a national level, as they are not  yet being addressed in legislative terms.

 Same-sex couples have not been integrated yet into the futsuu (normal) system. Instead, alternative paths are being created for them. Real equality will just arrive when all couples are processed through the same system and are given the same rights, regardless of their or their partner’s gender identity or sexual orientation.

 To conclude, Japan does seem to be, step by step, moving forward in the direction of tolerance, especially in the last decade. The year 2019 has indeed been a year of very interesting LGBTQ advancements, not only with the same-sex partnership certification system, but also through the establishment of some interesting organizations such as Marriage For All Japan, whose groups of lawyers are aiming to achieve the mission to attain the very well deserved equality for same-sex couples in Japan.

 The year 2020 seems to keep on moving on this same track, as on the next 11th of October, Pride House Tokyo will open Japan’s first permanent LGBTQ center in Shinjuku-Nichōme.

 This center will also contribute to support the advancement of LGBTQ rights and freedoms, whilst acting as an ibasho, a place where one can be oneself, in order to guarantee the so much needed protection for these individuals.

Written by Paula Fernández

List of Japanese municipalities and prefectures where same-sex partnership certificates are being issued:

In Tokyo Prefecture: Shibuya (2015), Setagaya (2015), Nakano (2018), Toshima (2019), Edogawa (2019), Fuchū (2019), Minato (2020), Bunkyō (2020), Koganei (2020), Kunitachi (2021)

In Hyōgo Prefecture: Takarazuka (2016), Sanda (2019), Amagasaki (2020), Itami (2020), Ashiya (2020), Kawanishi (2020), Akashi (2020), Nishinomiya (2021)

In Chiba Prefecture: Chiba city (2019), Narashino (2020)

In Osaka Prefecture: Osaka Prefecture (2020)

In Kanawaga Prefecture: Yokosuka (2019) and Odawara (2019), Yokohama (2019), Kamakura (2019), Sagamihara (2020), Zushi (2020), Hayama (2020), Kawasaki (2020), Miura (2020), Fujisawa (2021)

In Hokkaido Prefecture: Sapporo (2017)

In Fukuoka Prefecture: Fukuoka city (2018), Kitakyushu (2019), Koga (2020)

In Mie Prefecture: Iga City (2016), Inabe (2020)
In Gunma Prefecture: Oizumi (2019)

In Okayama Prefecture: Sōja (2019)

In Okinawa Prefecture: Naha (2016)

In Kumamoto Prefecture: Kumamoto City (2019)

In Ibaraki Prefecture: Ibaraki Prefecture (2019)

In Tochigi Prefecture: Kanuma (2019)

In Miyazaki Prefecture: Miyazaki (2019), Kijō (2020)

In Aichi Prefecture: Nishio (2019), Toyoake (2020), Nagoya (2021)

In Nagasaki Prefecture: Nagasaki (2019)

In Kagawa Prefecture: Mitoyo (2020), Takamatsu (2020)

In Shizuoka Prefecture: Hamamatsu (2020)

In Nara Prefecture: Nara (2020), Yamatokōriyama (2020)

In Niigata Prefecture: Niigata (2020)

In Saitama Prefecture: Saitama (2020), Kawagoe (2020), Sakado (2020), Kitamoto (2020), Koshigaya (2020)

In Tokushima Prefecture: Tokushima (2020)

In Okayama Prefecture: Okayama (2020)

In Kyoto Prefecture: Kyoto (2020), Kameoka (2020)

In Aomori Prefecture: Hirosaki (2020)

In Hiroshima Prefecture: Hiroshima (2020)

In Kagoshima Prefecture: Ibusuki (2021)

In Nagano Prefecture: Matsumoto (2021)

In Gifu Prefecture: Hida (To be decided)

What is “OxForest”? towards animal welfare in our industrial agriculture

What is “OxForest”? 

 It is a coined word meaning “cow (= ox) forest”. The name is based on the ideal image of cows, which are often recognized as mere livestock animals, running around freely in a forest. It contains our hope that the world’s deforestation and climate change will be stopped, while animal welfare will be enhanced.

OxForest


 The burner logo of OxForest Web Magazine is designed with the motif of a baobab tree that grows widely on the African continent. In the savanna of East Africa, where many giant baobab trees are found, the Massai value their cows and are known as “cow herders” who live with them, unlike how our industrial agriculture treats cows and produces greenhouse gas emissions.

Kouprey

 In Southeast Asia, the word “forest ox” actually exists, and in Khmer language it is called Kouprey[1], which was once distributed in the forest areas of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. However, due to poaching and depletion of forests as their habitat, it is now said that about 250 forest oxen live in Cambodia or are already extinct. Since 1996, it has been listed on the IUCN Red List as “Critically Endangered[2].

Animal Liberation

 The fate of cows including forest oxen in Southeast Asia is just an unaccetable reality. Australian philosopher Peter Singer wrote a 1975 book “Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals[3] and called “speciesism” which refers to the differing treatment or moral consideration of individuals based on their species membership.

 After 40 years from Animal Liberation, Yuval Noah Harari, the author of the bestseller “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014)”[4], wrote a 2015 Guardian article under the title “Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history”[5] and called “the fate of industrially farmed animals is one of the most pressing ethical questions of our time.”


 Some recommended documentaries to get to know behind the scenes in our industrial agriculture

Written by Takeshi Inagawa


References:
1. Wikipedia: Kouprey
2. Timmins, R.J.; Burton, J. & Hedges, S. (2016). “Bos sauveli”. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T2890A46363360.
3. Singer, Peter (1990) [1975]. Animal Liberation, New York Review/Random House.
4. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (London: Harvill Secker, 2014) ISBN 978-006-231-609-7
5. “Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history”, Yuval Noah Harari. The Guardin: 25 September 2015

From Asia to rural Africa – my journey through the forests and the development sector

Xue Weng, our new Deputy Editor-in-Chief, wrote an excelente article along with photos from Nairobi, Kenya (read her profile).

 My name is Xue, and I am honored to join the OxForest Editing Team as a Deputy Editor-in-Chief. On this unique web platform, I look forward to sharing my work with like-minded people in Japan and abroad, and to exchanging innovative ideas about conservation, rural development and green economy. I hold a BA in International Politics and Economics from Middlebury College, Vermont, U.S.A., a MSc in Environmental Change and Management from University of Oxford, U.K. I am also currently working toward a PhD at the School of Environment and Natural Resources at University of Freiburg, Germany in conjunction with my work at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) Nairobi.

 Below, a little bit about myself, and my journey through rural communities in Asia and Africa and how I ended up in Nairobi.

 First, my childhood surrounded by rice paddies and mountains in rural Japan sits at the heart of my connection with nature, and my passion for conservation. I grew up in Kyushu, Japan where my Chinese parents had moved for their PhDs and research work. Looking back, even though I was young, I think the abundance of greenery, clean air and water along with the rural Japanese culture of stewardship of nature – which contrasted greatly with the grey and polluted landscapes of my Chinese hometown going through rapid industrialization at the time — planted an idea for my future: I would like to help preserve such beauties of rural landscapes in places going through rapid economic changes.

 Fast forward twenty years. By a twist of fate, for my master’s dissertation at the Environmental Change Institute (ECI) of University of Oxford, I had the privilege to travel to Cameroon to conduct field research on illegal logging. That was my first time setting a foot in a tropical rainforest. It was also my first time in Africa. The cacophony of noises, colors and scents inside the rainforests and in urban Yaoundé astonished me – and I think I have been ‘hooked’ ever since by their contrasting beauties between the serene nature and the vibrant society. It wasn’t just these colorful impressions. In fact, my research in Cameroon flipped my world view upside down – on what is illegal, and what is legitimate.

 For an academic detailed version of the story, you can read here (cifor.org). But the gist of the story, with a personal take, is this. I went to Cameroon looking for ‘illegal loggers’ trashing the precious forests of the Congo Basin, the world’s second biggest rainforest after the Amazon. What I found in the forests were local community members desperately trying to stake a claim on the resources about to be snatched away by corrupt politicians. To get some economic benefits on trees and land that have been passed down through generations, to pay for school fees for their children, to avoid hunger…and to simply ‘survive.’ These people were labeled as ‘illegal loggers’ by their own government, international development workers, and conservation activists. The reasons behind this cannot be elaborated fully due to lack of space, but you can search for an abundance of writing on elite capture, state corruption, legal pluralism in Africa’s natural resources sector.

A giant 100-year old ‘bubinga’ trees standing in 2013 – possibly already cut down and sold to Asia.

And those magnificent large trees when they are converted to timber for export

 Suffice to say that this mind-twisting reality that I encountered on the ground, where I went to look for the ‘bad guys’ and to save rainforests but instead came out wanting to help them secure their claim but feeling helpless about the fate of the glorious tress I had seen, was the beginning of my journey on sustainable rural development in Africa. Over the last 7 years, I travelled to rural communities in Cameroon, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania for research and worked with various African NGOs, researchers and policymakers in those countries, China and other countries for a sustainable future. The longer I work on this continent, the more questions I encounter and the solutions I have in mind for the community, the continent and the world keep changing. But I suppose that’s a good thing – it is a humbling reminder to me, as a development worker on a foreign soil, that every time I enter a community, they teach me something new, something unique about preserving natural beauties in the midst of economic changes. Those are the favorite moments in my job.

Interviewing rice farmers in Uganda

Working with local researchers in cotton-farming communities in Zambia

During a fieldwork on illegal logging research  in Zambia

Women in mining communities in Tanzania

 I am currently a Research Fellow with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), based in Nairobi where I continue to learn and grow as a researcher, development worker and a multi-cultural person. I still call Kyushu my home and trace my environmentalism to those rice paddies and mountains, but years of study, work and travels through North America, Europe, Southeast Asia and now Africa continue to broaden and transform my identity. In my spare time, I enjoy cooking, yoga and learning new languages – currently learning German and Kiswahili to add to my repertoire of English, Chinese and Japanese.

Written by Xue Weng