Tokyo Court Denies Transgender Parent Legal Rights To Own Child

Tokyo Court Denies Transgender Parent Legal Rights To Own Child

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Transgender people
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How an outdated Japanese law and no same-sex marriage rights denied one transgender parent legal guardianship of her own biological child.

The journey toward equality for the LGBTQ+ community in Japan has been something of a ping-pong match over the past few years. The country has indeed taken steps toward inclusion and equal rights, such as the recent establishment of the partnership system of same-sex couples. But just when we think we’re beginning to see a glimmer of hope, that hope is shot down by disappointing news, such as what one anonymous transgender woman recently faced.

According to Japan Times, the transgender woman in question was denied legal parental rights on Friday, August 19 by the Tokyo High Court – to her own biological child. The ruling comes from Japan’s outdated laws regarding legal guardianship. It also points out Japan’s lack of rights for not only transgender parents, but trans people and same-sex couples in general. [1]

Transgender Rights and Transitioning in Japan

Transgender rights are practically non-existent in Japan. While the government does allow for medical transition, it comes with a high cost. The cost to transition goes beyond the financial. One must practically give up their own human rights to bodily autonomy.

For many trans folks, a complete medical transition usually involves a combination of surgery and hormone therapy, and may include removal and restructuring of genital organs. However, in the western world, surgery is not a requirement. Those who do transition are free to decide what surgery they want and to what extent. This also makes it easier for any transgender parent to decide if, when, and how to conceive and bear their children.

However, according to Japan’s outdated practices, in order to legally change one’s gender, the individual must not only undergo full transition, but sterilization as well. This highly-invasive policy clearly impinges on the individual’s rights to bodily autonomy. Not to mention making it near impossible for a transgender parent to bear children in the future if they wish.

The requirements for legal gender recognition violate other fundamental rights, as well, including the right to privacy, freedom of expression, rights regarding employment, education, health, and the right to move freely. [2]


Japan’s Archaic Laws Prove Troublesome for Transgender Parents

Trangender heart
Picture: Canva

That law is the ‘Gender Identity Disorder (GID) Special Cases Act’. It classifies transgenderism as ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ (性同一性障害/GID). It goes against not only human rights but international medical best practices, too. Not to mention, it only reinforces negative stereotypes and promotes discrimination against trans people. [2]

Human Rights Watch has published three reports since 2016 covering transgender issues in Japan. According to one of these reports, at least 9,625 people have undergone the full process under the act as of 2019. [3]

The act took effect in 2004, at a time when discriminatory laws were still commonplace. However, since then, many countries have made improvements as the world has slowly become more open to and accepting of LGBT+ issues and rights, reviewing, revising, and doing away with outdated laws and practices. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) recently updated its International Classification of Diseases, removing ‘transsexualism’ and ‘gender identity disorder’ as mental disorders.

However, despite all of this forward progress around the world, Japan still seems to be stuck. [2][3]

Recognizing Transgender Parents and Same-Sex Couples in Japan

So what was the basis behind the Court’s decision to deny a woman legal parental rights to her own child? It all boils down to Japan’s lack of same-sex marriage laws.

Although Japan allows same-sex partnerships in many regions, legal marriage still remains out of grasp. This means that there are also no laws that can recognize same-sex couples as legal parents. In Japan, only a mother (female) and father (male) can claim legal parental guardianship of a child. (Some local jurisdictions have “familyship” systems for same-sex couples that afford some parental rights. But even that is fully at the local level.)

Now in her 40s, the woman in question was assigned male at birth. She completed her gender reassignment surgery in 2018, subsequently changing her legal gender to female on her family registry. Because of the sterilization requirement, she froze her sperm before transitioning in order to have a second child with her female partner afterwards. (The couple had their first child together naturally before the transition, of which she has legal parental rights). [1]

They had their second child in 2020 (after the woman’s transition) using her frozen sperm. DNA tests even confirmed that both children were biologically hers. Regardless, Presiding Judge Toshikazu Kino denied the transgender woman’s legal relationship with her second child, as her legal gender “was already female at the time of the child’s birth”.

As the natural birth mother of both children, only her partner (cisgender female) is recognized as the child’s legal birth mother. But with no law in existence to legally recognize another female as a second mother (regardless of biological relation), this outdated act not only discriminates against trans people and same-sex couples, it has basically reduced a child’s biological parent to little more than a sperm donor. 

The Uphill Battle for LGBT+ Rights in Japan

Japan is the only G7 nation yet not to legalize same-sex marriage, and still lacks any laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And unsurprisingly, the negative stigma surrounding parenthood and LGBT+ people still exists. (That being the irrational fear that the mere acknowledgement of a transgender parent or same-sex couple simply existing will lead to the collapse of the family unit as we know it.)[5]

As recently as June 2022, a Japanese court ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was ‘not unconstitutional’ in another case involving three same-sex couples facing discrimination. [4]

However, according to a 2021 poll by NHK, more than half (about 60%) of people responded that they were in favor of same-sex marriage, which to many, despite the long uphill battle towards LGBT+ equality in Japan, offers some promise. [6]

Pixiv Announces Reforms After Harassment of Transgender Employee


[1] 性別変更前に生まれた長女のみ親子関係認める判決 東京高裁. NHK 
[2] 日本:性同一性障害者特例法改正に向けた気運が高まる. Human Rights Watch JP
[3] 尊厳を傷つける法律. Human Rights Watch JP (Full report available in English and Japanese)
[4] Japan court says ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional. NPR
[5] 旧統一教会も「結婚は子を生み育てるもの」と主張。自民党のLGBTQ政策への影響は?専門家に聞いた. Huffpost JP
[6] なぜ日本では同性婚の議論が進まないのか? アメリカとの違いから見える日本の現在地. Business Insider JP

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Krys Suzuki

Krys is a Japanese-fluent, English native speaker currently based in the US. A former Tokyo English teacher, Krys now works full time as a J-to-E translator, writer, and artist, with a focus on subjects related to Japanese language and culture. JLPT Level N1. Shares info about Japanese language, culture, and the JLPT on Twitter (SunDogGen).

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