Translated by Masaki C.

Same-sex partner code proposition: Shibuya ward’s “human rights” double-standard?

Different stances on sexual & gender minority and the homeless

In March, the Shibuya ward council will submit the bill that if passed would allow the local government to issue partnership certificates to same-sex couples who would then be recognized as having a relationship equivalent to a married couple. There is no doubt this ordinance is of an exceptional value in that it will protect the human rights of gender and sexual minority (LGBT) individuals; however, it is also important to note that the ward has been kicking the homeless out of its public parks. Such a contradiction that seems to many to be a human rights double-standard is causing confusion among some LGBT individuals. (Author: Chiaki Sawada)

LGBT is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. There is no legal recognition for same-sex couples in Japan, and same-sex couples, who thus do not belong to the same koseki, the family registry, face disadvantages in finding an apartment and attempting a hospital visit to their partner. The proposed bill would allow issuing partnership certificates to same-sex couples and seeking cooperation from citizens and local businesses.

While I feel tempted to praise the ward’s great awareness of human rights, the question arises as to how the ward has been treating the homeless people in its jurisdiction. In 2010, when NIKE Japan, the big sports-goods manufacturer who had obtained the naming rights for the ward’s public park formerly known as Miyashita Park located near JR Shibuya Station, embarked on its renovation plans for the park, the ward government forcibly removed the tents that were inhibited by homeless people. In 2011, it restricted access to the park during the night and locked the gates around the New Year season, interrupting the soup runs provided by support groups.

We still see many homeless individuals around the park today. One 52-years-old man says, “they’re kind to lesbian and gay people, all the while sweeping bad-looking people like me under the rug or even downright excluding us. Why can’t they even ignore-tolerate (translator’s note: the exact word in Japanese is “mokunin” lit.trans. as “silent approval”) our use of the park during the night and soup runs?”

Daisuke Kuroiwa of the support group Nojiren (Shibuya Free Association for the Right to Housing and Well-being of the HOMELESS) says in anger, “we have so many dreadful experiences with the local government. The ward and the members of the council are supposed to take equal care of the social disadvantaged. But they are biased and I can’t help questioning their sense of equality.”

A question by a council member Ken Hasebe at the June council meeting in 2012 became the catalyst for the partnership bill. Hasebe worked as the mediator for NIKE Japan and the ward and played quite a part in the park’s renovation project. Interviewed by Kochira-tokuho-bu (a team within the Tokyo Shimbun), the council member responded, “exclusion of homeless people is not what I want. The ward has provided public assistance and self-support programs, but unfortunately things remain as far apart (translator’s note: the exact word is Japanese is “heikousen” lit.trans. as “parallel lines” and the sentence is missing a subject, making itself ambiguous and the translation may not be accurate). I am suggesting that the ward staff try seeing things through homeless people’s eyes. I’m trying to get Shibuya diversified but having many homeless people around is not a good thing. I will demand the ward enhance its support systems.”

Izumi Yonezawa, a transgender individual, on the other hand responds to the diversification plans of Shibuya, saying, quite skeptically, “to be tolerant of no discrimination is to understand that we are all equal human brings who live in all sorts of different circumstances. Protecting the rights of gender and sexual minority people and saving the lives of the homeless are of equal nature, but perhaps Shibuya ward thinks otherwise. I can’t help but suspect that they may be using gender and sexual minority people for public relations purposes.”

Yuki Tsuchiya, a lesbian activist, sharply criticizes the ward, saying, “I do not feel comfortable when the government shuts out homeless people from Miyashita Park while proposing human rights bills like this. I am suspecting that, rather than as a human rights issue, the LGBT population was discovered as a fashionable trend coming from the West that provided utility value for the staging of Shibuya as the “it” city.”

Former Toshima ward council member Taiga Ishikawa, the first openly gay officeholder in Japan, appreciates the initiative taken by Shibuya ward. “They are there for LGBT people, listening carefully to what they have to say. They did not make the proposition for the sake of fashion,” says Ishikawa. He continues, “I hope that Shibuya is going to be kind to all sorts of minority populations. If they understand the LGBT issues and not homeless issues, it is saddening and disappointing.”

*Text hand-copied from the photo uploaded by @tomiyukix.

Translator’s comment

While I agree with the author in most parts of the article, there are some nitpicking that I have to do.

1. Regarding the expression, “of an exceptional value in that it will protect the human rights of gender and sexual minority (LGBT) individuals”: First of all, the ordinance will mean nothing to most transgender people, and second of all, for LGB individuals, too, the ordinance will not guarantee their human rights at all. So, all in all, it is not “of an exceptional value in that it will protect the human rights of gender and sexual minority (LGBT) individuals” when it’s only beneficial to a small fraction of LGBTQs.

2. Regarding Taiga Ishikawa mentioned as “the first openly gay officeholder in Japan”: When Ishikawa was elected, another gay man was elected, too. His name is Wataru Ishizaka, and I wonder why Ishikawa always gets a lot of media exposure as the gay pioneer politician while Ishizaka doesn’t. Also, if we stick to the English sense of the word “gay” as referring to both female and male homosexuals, then Kanako Otsuji of Osaka was the first openly gay officeholder in Japan.

3. It is not clear why Taiga is so positive that Shibuya ward “did not make the proposition for the sake of fashion.”

同性パートナー条例案 渋谷区『人権』使い分け?

性的少数者 対応に違い 野宿者









Masaki C. Matsumoto

A queer critic and YouTuber. UChicago MA dropout. My preferred pronouns are he/him/they/them. Read more


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