Thanks so much for joining us, Ms. Ono. I would like to begin by asking you, ‘‘How did you get involved in LGBTQ+ activism?’’ Could you please tell us a bit more about your job?
‘‘As I began to grow my family with my partner, I quickly realized there was no support for LGBTQ+ families in Japan,’’ Ono began. ‘‘I wanted advice on raising my family, and I wanted to find LGBTQ+ activism and news. However, Japanese mainstream culture and media were very lacking.’’
In Japan, negative stigmas surrounding people who identify as LGBTQ+ are pervasive. It can be difficult for many LGBTQ+ people to find communities and support. ‘‘I wanted to make a more comfortable life for myself and my family,’’ Ono explained. The heart of Nijiiro Kazoku flourished from within Ono herself, as a way to honor her experiences. But, as she set out to provide social opportunities for LGBTQ+ families, she realized the immense importance of her work. Her own family consists of herself, her long-term female partner, and their four children. Ono realized that networking and socializing with other LGBTQ+ people opened up conversations around families for her children, too. ‘‘Children can talk freely, they have no barriers. They openly say, ‘I have two moms,’ and that is wonderful. But at school, many teachers hold biases,’’ Ono explained.
With this in mind, Nijiiro Kazoku began hosting K-12 school seminars, university lectures, and conversational spaces for LGBTQ+ families, as well as for non-LGBTQ+ educators and allies. The organization now supports hundreds of community members through social networking, events, and educational sessions. Nijiiro Kazoku also manages the Parent and Child Rest Area at the annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade, as well as hosts social picnics for LGBTQ+ families in Japan, and study sessions on the topic of creating more inclusive schools.
What are some of Nijiiro Kazoku’s recent events?
‘‘We host a variety of events and opportunities for LGBTQ+ families to meet, talk, and share information,’’ Ono explained. “It’s been difficult to do in-person meetings this year because of COVID, but we have hosted events online.’’ For example, Ono recently hosted a ‘‘Marriage Equality for Japan’’ activist event on YouTube. ‘‘And,’’ Ono continued, ‘‘we continue to support LGBTQ+ individuals who want to come out to their families. We also provide schools with information for LGBTQ+ students.’’
In recognition of Japan’s bourgeoning international community, Nijiiro Kazoku’s events are not limited to only Japanese participants. You can find their event schedule, for both Japanese and English speakers, on Twitter at @Nijiiro_kazoku or on their webpage, www.queerfamily.jimdofree.com
That’s all so exciting. What inspires you as you continue working for social justice?
‘‘Many LGBTQ+ people live and raise children throughout Japan, in cities and in rural areas, yet, it’s not easy to meet friends or make connections. Nijiiro Kazoku began with the desire to create a community where people could share their experiences raising children and living as LGBTQ+ people in Japan. We continue to do this work,’’ Ono explained.
Thinking about that, about ‘‘living as an LGBTQ+ person in Japan,’’ what is life like for LGBTQ+ people in Japan? What laws impact the LGBTQ+ community?
‘‘We are in the middle of social change,’’ Ono said with both acknowledgment and hope. ‘‘Just a decade ago, there was very minimal LGBTQ+ awareness or activism in Japan. The only thing people understood was the term ‘homosexual,’ which was erroneously conflated with the idea of ‘a man living like a woman.’ There was no respect. And we didn’t have the word for ‘coming out.’ It was difficult to talk about your experiences because the terminology was lacking. Your family might know about your identity, but…But even then, the concept was, and still can be, very socially difficult. It can be hard to ‘come out,’ especially to mama tomo (a hierarchical element of Japanese culture that literally means ‘friends of one’s mom’).’’
Although LGBTQ+ people and causes are gaining recognition and support in Japan, same-sex marriage remains illegal, same-sex partners cannot adopt children (or one another’s children), and there are no legal protections for LGBTQ+ couples. Chillingly, there is also the infamous sterilization treatment for those wishing to undergo gender reconstructive surgery, a practice has been heavily condemned by Human Rights Watch.
Luckily, social attitudes in Japan are moving in favor of LGBTQ+ support. At the time of this interview, Ono excitedly awaited the results from a Hokkaido court ruling that is set to declare same-sex marriages constitutional. She herself is one of the people spearheading the Tokyo-based side of campaign, which has sparked nation-wide discussion. As one of 28 plaintiffs, Ono is suing Tokyo courts for the right to same-sex marriage in the landmark court case, “Freedom ofMarriagefor Everyone”. Ono explained, “Japan is behind other countries in this regard. But LGBTQ+ support has spread across the nation. It began with two municipalities, and now has reached 100. The awareness of the necessity of legal protections and ethical rights for LGBTQ+ people are coming to light. We are keeping the momentum going. I’m hopeful.’’
Two days after this interview, Hokkaido courts ruled that the failure to recognize same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Ono, along with other LGBTQ+ people in Japan, now await the decision from the Tokyo courts.
We would like to deeply thank Ms. Ono for being a part of this interview, and for her work. Thanks to her advocacy and outreach, families all across Japan are finding information and communal support.
‘‘I really appreciate the opportunity to do interviews like these. It’s a great chance to be a part of a global conversation, so thank you for having me,’’ Ono says.
If readers wish to donate to Nijiiro Kazoku, donations help host informational and social events for LGBTQ+ parents and children in Japan. Donations also help facilitate a child rest station at the Pride Parade. This year, Tokyo Rainbow Pride will be held online. Nijiiro Kazoku is hosting a Zoom session called ‘‘Oyako Rest Area @ Nijiiro Kazoku ONLINE.’’ There are both Japanese and English events you can join. You can read more on their website here: www.queerfamily.jimdofree.com
Haru Ono is the founder and president of Nijiiro Kazoku. Her new book, Haha Futari De, Kazoku Hajimemashita (Two Mothers Began a Family), is the story of her life through marriage and divorce to remarriage with her partner and their children. It’s available in on Amazon.co.jp and elsewhere.
As an LGBTQ+ ally, Manae Yamaguchi worked with Kate Efron as a Japanese-to-English interpreter for this interview. She is a mother of two, has lived in the U.K. and Singapore, and currently resides in Kyoto.
Kate Efron is a teacher and a doctoral student in Antioch University’s Humane Education Program. She lives with her partner in Kyoto.