In the suburban side of Tokyo at Mitaka lies a university where its very foundation is to advocate peace. Its students composed of not just Japanese but of different nationalities from around the world. Each students are unique and have their own advocacies; from the school of liberal arts to champion human rights or through school of science by promoting the end of global warming. One student however, an ally of LGBTQ+ community is championing their rights in the field of corporate structure.
At 11am, the dark clouds hovered over ICU and gave a gloomy ambience within the confides of its walls, the once crowded halls are now an occupied empty shell; spring break has started.
But not for the 24 year old Mami Sasaki, a first year graduate student who came back to campus for her teaching assistant job, and for this one on one interview where we focused about her thesis. With her pursuit on gender studies master’s degree at ICU, her thesis focuses on LGBTQ+ community’s situation in Japan, specifically on companies and their policies made to protect them.
I started asking her how she came up with such topic.
Evan: “How did you come up with such topic? What was the story behind it?”
Mami: “During my freshman year as an undergraduate student, I studied about gender-studies specifically women’s rights. My initial impression towards it was that it was solely reserved for feminism when in fact it is a broad subject. At the time I had no knowledge of what LGBTQ+ means. My interest was furthered when I had my exchange program in Los Angeles, California at University of California Los Angeles for a year studying gender-studies.”
Evan: “Oh wow, for a year, how was the experience?”
Mami: “One year felt like a blink of an eye for me, but it was an immersive experience! During the first day of class, the professor asked us one by one regarding our preferred pronoun; whether we wanted to be called he, she, they, them or even it! It was a very new concept for me.”
The concept was fresh for Mami, not even at her home University in Japan where such practice was taught to her. Feeling giddy and excited she jumped to the differences of what's it like in Los Angeles compared to Tokyo.
Evan: "But a lot can happen in a year, what did you loved the most being there? "
Mami: "The pronouns was nothing, in LA, same-sex couples are free from judgement; holding hands, kissing and all forms of expression of love are everywhere."
Mami: "In Japan, it's very different, you couldn't even tell who's a part of the LGBTQ+ community unless you're in Shinjuku-NiChome, people tend to be very discreet about it."
Evan: "Why do you think so?"
Mami: "Japan is making an effort to welcome such diversity but not everyone is on board with the idea, some people still has some reservations towards it. It's also the very reason why some culture or traditions in Japan are well preserved, new concepts takes time to be welcomed, but we are seeing progress."
Evan: "What about in the context of your thesis, companies advocating that they're LGBTQ+ friendly yet it does not reflect reality, so far what have you covered from your research regarding this matter?."
Mami: "Reports of LGBTQ+ members quitting their workplace caused by discrimination are still prevalent, and these are the companies who claim that they too are an ally for they underwent training and seminars geared for anti-discrimination and accepting everyone in the workplace regardless of gender preferences. Such events however usually last for more than a day, but in such companies who'd opt for a whole day event to cut budgets, which in itself is not enough to make a change, I should know since I had worked for an NPO specializing in this."
Evan: "Do you think these efforts are futile or fruitfull?"
Mami: "The seminar's content is to educate the people how one can be an ally in terms of being the voice for the LGBTQ+ community and sustaining such knowledge and passing it on by advocating change, the goal is to erase the stigma and turn it into a norm where a couple regardless of preferences can enjoy their freedom to love and live a life free of fear, free from discrimination. So far Japanese people who are part of the community and even allies are paving ways to get their voices heard, the key is to keep the conversation going, that this is not just another fad that would be forgotten and pass in time, but an ongoing talk until we reach our end goal, which is equality."
Evan: "In Japan, how do you think are the people responding towards this? or to you advocating for this movement"
Mami: "Mixed emotions I'd say. I have friends and family who applaud me for what I stand for, of course not everyone are on board, some question me for it isn't the norm and that I'm not even an LGBTQ+ member, so for them it means I have no say in this matter. Although, the more I hear this, the more I would champion my cause for there's a need to it; you don't have to be gay to defend them, what they ask for is acceptance and as a human in general, it is the humane thing to do."
Evan: "We do know such change would not happen overnight, but do you see it happening in the near future or in our lifetime even?"
Mami: "People are becoming aware now, that we have this kind of situation and what's needed is understanding and compassion. I'm advocating this because I have friends who are a member and needed their voices to be heard. I have the means to help so why shouldn't I? Indeed change is hard and in the context of Japan traditions and norms are harder to change, but I think we have a chance for we see the effort around us, 2 days ago an LGBTQ+ event called Rainbow Marathon was held prior to the Tokyo marathon yesterday. 479 runners joined and the age varied from teenagers to senior citizens, I think that speaks for itself. If this discrimination is the rain, then the outcome of acceptance will be the rainbow amidst it".
Mami Sasaki is currently working for Good Aging Yells as an intern, the same NPO to open Pride House, a safe haven for LGBTQ+ community where they can seek support through various means in Tokyo's 2020 Olympics.
March 4, 2019
5:30 pm Monday, Tokyo (GMT+9)
LGBTQ+, human rights, equal rights, feminism, Japan
About the author
Evan Derick Valdoz
Our Editor - In - Chief and go to guy anything related to I.T. from dissecting your laptop for hardware problems or recovering your files out of software issues. You will usually find him at ICU's Othmer library glued to his laptop making proposals for various clients or his term papers for he tends to take an excess of 14 credits per term, he's approachable though.