Representing the LGBTQ+ Community for Japan

Trends / Realness
Yuri Endo
Jul 7, 2021
Support for the LGBTQ+ community has recently grown in Japanese society. As a result, according to Dentsu Diversity Lab, of the 60,000 people polled in Japan in 2019, at least 8.9% self‑identified as LGBT. This is almost equal or even higher compared to the global stats.

Increased LGBTQ+ visibility in media and marketing by big corporations such as Pantene Japan, Panasonic, Uniqlo and Google is also pushing forward the integration of the community in the public discourse. With that, 77% of Japanese consumers agree that people should accept that there are more than two genders which is stronger than the global average of 67%. This is more strongly felt with Gen Zs and Millennials, who agreed with this 85% of the time. But even with this growing public acceptance, representation of LGBTQ+ individuals in Japanese media often lean into a degree of fantasy that is limited to false or outdated stereotypes and frequently fails to represent the full spectrum of people that make up this community.
77% of Japanese consumers agree that people should accept that there are more than two genders
According to our Visual GPS data, 75% of consumers in Japan agree that they want to see true lifestyles and cultures, and to move beyond tokenization—they feel it isn’t enough to have people of various ethnicities, backgrounds, and appearances in advertisements just to have them. However, there seems to be a divide between the political sphere and public opinion when it comes to recognition of LGBTQ+ rights. Just two months before Tokyo is due to host the delayed 2020 Olympics, Japan’s ruling party is being accused of violating the Olympic charter over LGBTQ+ rights.

Japanese society and its legal system still don’t recognize the LGBTQ+ community, and their identities are still largely marginalized with very little to zero legal standing. Since 2015, certain Japanese municipalities have been issuing  "partnership certificates" to same sex couples but same sex marriage is still not legal in Japan. Japan is the only G7 state without anti‑discrimination laws on grounds of sexual orientation including in the workplace, and same‑sex adoption is not legal. And, under the current Gender Identity Disorder Special Cases Act (GID) in Japan, transgender people must undergo forced sterilization for their gender identity to be legally recognized – this is contrary to international human rights law and international medical best practices.
Looking at our top‑selling visuals from the past 12 months, only 0.5% include people with LGBTQ+ identities; regardless, our top downloads for Japan usually portray LGBTQ+ people as anonymous or symbolized simply by the Pride flag. Personalities like Matsuko Deluxe are incredibly popular in Japanese media and have become the face of the community and are what the Japanese public conjures in their minds when thinking about the LGBTQ+ community. This creates a version of the community that is loved, but seen as flamboyant and comedic, far from what most members of the community are like in reality. On occasions where Japanese movies, TV shows and BL (Boy's Love) mangas and novels have LGBTQ+ characters, they are often sanitized or portrayed as a spectacle. In contemporary Japan, LGBTQ+ characters are largely portrayed by actors who represent the community despite not being LGBTQ+ themselves (at least publicly), such as in Close‑Knit and What Did You Eat Yesterday. Although these are commercially successful examples of LGBTQ+ representation which have been positively accepted by a wide range of Japanese audiences, there is an underlying feeling that those representations may not be grounded in reality. In the current Japanese social and legal landscape, some people from the community are inclined to say that some representation is better than no representation, but it is important to keep in mind that representation which doesn't encourage the audience to consider LGBTQ+ reality doesn’t help a path towards validating the LGBTQ+ community as they are.

So, how do we truly begin addressing these observations in order to be more inclusive when visualizing the LGBTQ+ community in Japan? How can we visually support the validation of the full spectrum of gender expressions? The key is to celebrate diverse lifestyle choices, be inclusive of LGBTQ+ people at every intersection of identity, and showcase a more comprehensive visual representation of this community. It is critical to always check back in with yourself about whether you are unconsciously choosing stereotypical representations of the community.

When choosing visuals of the LGBTQ+ community in Japan, ask yourself:
  • Are you using actual LGBTQ+ individuals as opposed to actors or models to represent the LGBTQ+ community in your visuals? 
  • Moving beyond Pride, are you showing LGBTQ+ individuals living fulfilling, positive lives, and having shared experiences both within and outside of their communities? 
  • Are you showing non‑partnered LGBTQ+ people living full lives? 
  • Are you giving space to various expressions of  “gender”? 
  • Are you representing members of the trans community in your visuals? 
  • Are you focused on aspects of trans individuals life experience beyond the fact that they are transgender? 
  • Are you showing people who may not identify with a binary definition of gender? 
  • Have you considered how your visuals might be reinforcing gender stereotypes? 
Positive Masculinity for Japan