Japan: NHK tries to clear up LGBT misconceptions

Last month, publisher Iwanami Shoten was criticized for its definition of “LGBT” in the newest edition of Kojien, which is considered to be the most authoritative dictionary of the Japanese language. The complaint was specifically about the meaning of the acronym’s “T” portion, which stands for “transgender.” Kojien lumped “transgender” in with “lesbian,” “gay” and “bisexual” as describing persons “whose sexual orientations are different from the majority.”

In fact, transgender describes a person whose gender identity differs from the one they were assigned at birth. Iwanami Shoten admitted the mistake and last week corrected the entry, but media reports have tended to point out that the inaccuracy reflected misconceptions that are widespread in Japanese society.

The four-part weekly NHK drama, “Joshiteki Seikatsu” (“Life as a Girl”),  which ended Jan. 26, was designed to help clear up such misconceptions. Based on a novel by Tsukasa Sakaki, the story centers on a young transgender woman named Miki Ogawa (Jun Shison), who works for an apparel maker in Kobe. Miki’s colleagues and boss know she is a transgender woman and while they may have been surprised when they first found out, they accept her for who she is. Miki doesn’t hide her trans identity, and on those occasions when people ask her if she’s a man, she puts up with it but is clearly annoyed.

A Jan. 17 Asahi Shimbun article focused on two recent TV drama series, “Joshiteki” and a Fuji TV show called “Tonari no Kazoku wa Aoku Mieru,”  in which LGBT characters are portrayed in a more diverse way. Japanese TV dramas have featured LGBT characters as far back as the late 1960s, but they tended to be included either for comic relief or as tragic figures. As the producer of the Fuji series told Asahi, neither partner of the same-sex couple on the show is “feminine” in the received sense of the word, and one is out about his homosexuality while the other is not. What the producer wanted to show was that everyone has their own way of addressing their “nature.” Read more via Japan Times