Japan’s women’s colleges grapple with shifting views on gender

It was at the end of 2015 when an all-girl junior high school affiliated with Japan Women’s University received an inquiry from a mother of an elementary school student, asking if her daughter would be eligible to apply for enrollment.

The mother said her daughter has been diagnosed with gender identity disorder and is listed as male on the family registry.

After a few months of consideration, the school’s officials concluded the child couldn’t be admitted because the school didn’t have a system or the knowledge to provide adequate support for GID students.

But the unexpected inquiry prompted the all-women university to launch a working group this year to consider for the first time opening its doors to students who were born male but identify as female.

“It will be a challenging task. But I also believe this will be a chance for us to think about the significance of being a women’s university. … It’s an opportunity to update our campus as a place to truly think about gender equality in the context of diverse sex,” Satoko Oyama, a professor at the university and head of the working group, told The Japan Times in a recent interview.

There are many things to consider and overcome before the school can broaden its admission policy on gender, said Toru Miura, another vice president at Ochanomizu.

In addition to the issue of how to judge applicants’ gender other than by using official family registration records, the school needs to gain the acceptance of other students and their parents as well as alumnae. Other issues to consider include whether to add special changing rooms or gender-neutral bathrooms, Miura said.

He said given the long list of factors to consider, it will take at least until fiscal 2019 before Ochanomizu can change its admission policy. Read more via Japan Times