Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 08:59 GMT

Japan: Situation and treatment of transgendered individuals/transsexuals

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 6 November 2002
Citation / Document Symbol JPN40456.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Japan: Situation and treatment of transgendered individuals/transsexuals, 6 November 2002, JPN40456.E, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

According to a 26 May 2002 International Herald Tribune/Asahi article, the Japanese Society of Psychiatry and Neurology "estimates that there are anywhere from 2,200 to 7,000" individuals in Japan with "gender identity dysphoria." Two medical entities, the Saitama Medical School and the Okayama University Hospital, consider applications for sex change operations (International Herald Tribune/Asahi 26 May 2002). Since the first sex change operation was approved and carried out under new ethical guidelines formulated in 1998, 14 individuals have been approved for a sex change between the two hospitals (ibid.). Citing Dr. Yamauchi, chair of Saitama Medical School's ethics committee, the International Herald Tribune/Asahi reported that "more than 350 patients diagnosed since [1998] with gender identity dysphoria at gender clinics nationwide are receiving psychiatric counseling" (ibid.).

Transgendered peoples/transsexuals are reported to face difficulties because they are not legally able to revise their family registry to reflect their acquired gender (ibid.; The Japan Times 20 June 2001). According to The Japan Times, a female-to-male transsexual "still faces difficulties in many aspects of daily life because legally he remains a woman" (ibid.). The article states that:

The Family Registration Law stipulates that registrations can be corrected only when "mistakes" are found. Judicial authorities have repeatedly rejected petitions by transsexuals to change their gender registration, saying sexual identity is determined only by sex organs and chromatids (ibid.).

The International Herald Tribune/Asahi outlines the ramifications of being a gender different than that reflected in your family registry:

When a family registry lists a gender different from a person's appearance, life becomes complicated. Getting a passport, signing contracts for housing, securing a job or getting married become awkward, if not impossible. Many in the transgender community avoid visiting hospitals because they must show insurance cards, which specify their original gender (26 May 2002).

According to Japan Today, some transsexuals "work only part time" so they can avoid submitting their residence certificates to their employers (28 Sept. 2002).

In 2001, six transsexuals filed lawsuits to change their gender in what articles referred to as the civil registry (ibid.; The Japan Times 30 Aug. 2002), the family registry (ibid.; Mainichi Shimbun 29 Aug. 2002), and the family register (Asahi Shimbun 9 Oct. 2002). The Japan Times, reporting on the first court rulingconcerning these lawsuits, wrote that the case had been rejected by a family court (30 Aug. 2002). The judge was reported to have reasoned that the "Family Registry Law stipulates that a family registry can only be corrected if there is a factual mistake.... This case does not fall under that provision" (Mainichi Shimbun 29 Aug. 2002). The plaintiff, a female-to-male transsexual, has since appealed to a higher court (The Japan Times 30 Aug. 2002). No reports of the outcomes of the remaining five lawsuits nor the appeal were found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

On 28 June 2002, Japan Today reported that a company was ordered to pay compensation to a male-to-female transsexual after she had requested permission to work as a woman and been fired. The dismissal was ruled unlawful but the company appealed the decision (Japan Today 28 June 2002). According to a Reuters article posted on the Website of Amnesty International's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Group (Toronto), the ruling was "greeted by lawyers and activists on Friday as a landmark case in the conservative country" (24 June 2002). Reports of the outcome of the appeal could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

According to The Japan Times, a "popular TV drama" focusing on a student with a "gender identity disorder" and the acceptance, by a motorboat race association, of a female-to-male transsexual, has recently increased public interest in transsexuals (10 Apr. 2002). The Japan Times also reported that a "transsexual activist" had been hired as a part-time lecturer at a medical school of a public university (ibid.). The lecturer will "educate students on sexual identity disorder" as part of a larger teaching program which addresses diversity in sexuality (ibid.).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Amnesty International. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Group (Toronto). 24 June 2002. "Japan Activists Hail Ruling on Transgender Sacking." [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

Asahi Shimbun. 9 October 2002. "Red Tape Emerges as Woe for Transsexuals." (IHT/Asahi 10 Oct. 2002) [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

International Herald Tribune/Asahi. 26 May 2002. Chie Matsumoto. "He Always Knew He Was Really a She." [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

The Japan Times. 30 August 2002. "Family Court Dismisses Suit Over Former Female's Registry." [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

_____. Keiji Hirano. 10 April 2002. "Transsexual to Lecture at Medical University." [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

_____. 20 June 2001. Hiroshi Matsubara. "Sex Change No Cure for Torment." [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

Japan Today. 28 September 2002. Keiji Hirano. "Gays, Transsexuals Work for Understanding." [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

_____. 28 June 2002. "Firm Appeals Ruling on Dismissal of Transsexual Employee." [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

Mainichi Shimbun. 29 August 2002. "Court Vetoes Gender Change on Family Register." [Accessed 4 Nov. 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


World News Connection (WNC)

Internet sites, including:

Gay Law News

The International Journal of Transgenderism

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission

International Lesbian and Gay Association

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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