Education about sexual minorities in Japanese schools is relatively non-existent. But one 6th grader named Ui is hoping to educate children about LGBTQ+ people with her picture book “So That Everyone May Smile” (みんな えがおになれますように).
Published in September by Gekkan, the 53-page book features whimsical art and interviews with LGBTQ+ people in a simple Q&A format. Along with everyday people, Ui also sat down with high-profile celebrities like former fencer and transgender activist Sugiyama Fumino and Japanese literature professor Robert Campbell.
Ui is no stranger to publishing. She already made a splash with “I Love School: What to Do Before and After Becoming an Elementary School Student” (しょうがっこうがだいすき ～しょうがくせいになるまでに、やるといいこと。しょうがくせいになったら、やるといいこと。), a fun preparatory guide for children just entering elementary school, which sold 100,000 copies.
Ui wanted her new work to be a picture book specifically geared toward children younger than her. “I did a lot of research and learned that a lot of elementary school kids, and even kids younger than that, struggle with gender identity,” she said. “I figured that if people understood from a young age that everyone’s a little bit different, then bullying would stop.” 
“Do People Like That Really Exist?”
Ui’s curiosity about LGBTQ+ people was first piqued in 3rd grade when she watched an online program about transgender people, prompting her to ask her mom, “Do people like that really exist?” The program left her with more questions than answers, so with encouragement from her mom, Ui decided to spotlight transgender people for her independent summer research project. The result was a booklet featuring interviews with 2 transgender people. “If children like me knew more, we could change things,” she thought .
The booklet led to Ui chatting in a Forbes Japan interview with Taiwan’s Minister of Digital Affairs Audrey Tang. Her talk with Tang, who is transgender and non-binary, made a great impression on her. Tang compared humans to rainbows, with subtle gradation that makes no one person alike. This resonated with Ui, prompting her to reflect on what makes her different from everyone else. “There may be people who resemble each other, but no one has the same face. It must be like that with people’s hearts, too.” 
In her new book, she asked general questions like “What do transgender people struggle with?” and specific questions tailored to her interview subjects’ queerness. Ui composed the questions herself and ran them by her mom. Understanding that some of her questions may broach uncomfortable territory, Ui made sure to preface tough questions with “This may come off as rude, but….” , showcasing an empathy many interviewers could stand to emulate.
LGBTQ+ Education in Japan
Ui is certainly not the only child interested in the lives and struggles of LGBTQ+ people. So what’s Japan doing to help kids like her eager to learn more?
Awareness and support are spreading, but education remains flimsy. In 2017, the government chose not to revise its curriculum guidelines to include sexual minorities, calling the topic “difficult” and citing a lack of understanding among parents and the public . Despite this, more textbooks are incorporating information on sexual minorities.
LGBTQ+ issues may not be officially covered in compulsory education. However, that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of interest in teaching it. Job Rainbow cites a 2013 survey where 62.8% of teachers in six municipalities believe LGBTQ+ education should be incorporated into classroom learning .
On a more concerning note, 40% of teachers surveyed subscribed to the outdated belief that sexual orientation was a choice. Clearly, it’s not just the kids, but teachers and school staff who need support and education as well.
Misunderstandings about sexual minorities also continue to cloud public judgment and slow reform. This includes everything from politicians attributing the country’s declining birth rate to sexual minorities to anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric circulating at political conferences.
Kids with LGBTQ+ parents have their own struggles and can be subject to bullying. Ui hopes to help kids and change the negative perception of sexual minorities with her book: “I want to create a world where anyone can live as themselves and where different sorts of people can become friends.” We, too, hope with her.
 「トランスジェンダーの人は、何に困っているの？」発売前に増刷も…小学6年生作家による“多様性の絵本”が話題. Oricon News.
 ＬＧＢＴ生徒への支援、政府は絶好の機会を逸す~10年に一度の学習指導要領改訂 LGBTに触れず~. Yahoo! Japan.
 何が違う？LGBTの教育事情【日本と海外を比較】. Job Rainbow JP.