An Insider's comments on Japan's high tech business world

* * * * * * * * * TERRIE’S TAKE – BY TERRIE LLOYD * * * * * *
A weekly roundup of news & information from Terrie Lloyd, a long-term
technology and media entrepreneur living in Japan.

General Edition Monday, Jan 28, 2019, Issue No. 977

– What’s New — Transgender Work-arounds in Japan
– News — Controversial stem-cell treatment for spinal-cord injury approved
– Corrections/Feedback
– Travel Picks — Live squid in Hakodate, ginseng in Shimane
– News Credits


+++ Transgender Work-arounds in Japan

Last week the Supreme Court (of Japan) upheld a law that requires
transgender people to undergo surgery to remove their biological
organs if they want to be recognized by the state as the gender that
they identify with. The ruling came after a challenge from one very
gutsy transgender Japanese named Takakito Usui, a transgender man who
had fought the legal system all the way up to the top court. He was
challenging a 2004 law that states that those wanting transgender
recognition to have a body that, “…appears to have parts that
resemble the genital organs,” of the gender they want to have
registered. For Usui, this means the removal of his ovaries, fallopian
tubes, and uterus – a major operation that is otherwise medically
totally unnecessary.

Actually, if we were to read this section of the law literally, it
would also mean that a person moving from female to male would have to
have a fake front-end as well – since the “parts” apparently need to
be visible. Or perhaps they can get by wearing a prosthesis every
day… Gender changing surgery from male to female has been around for
a while and these days you can even get donor uteruses. Such
operations apparently do not have a high success rate and are said to
be extremely painful during recovery. But at least they are possible.
On the other hand, going from female to male, there is as yet no
surgery available that reasonably replicates the male reproductive
organs. OK, sure there is the fake roll-some-flesh surgery that’s been
around for years, where you have to use an implanted air pump, but
frankly the complications of such amateurish efforts probably outweigh
the benefits. Tissue rejection, lack of functionality, scarring,
infection… the long list of negatives all add up to why Usui and
many others object to being forced to have surgery. Why? It’s not as
if anyone else can see the parts in question under normal
circumstances. And even at an onsen he could wear a prosthesis.

So in effect the law is saying, “until there is effective surgery, you
either have to lose your reproductive organs or wait until female-male
transplant techniques become available.” Yeah, right, and this could
take a generation of doctors to achieve – so the judiciary is really
just kicking the can down the road.

Usui’s suit claimed that the 2004 law is unconstitutional because it
violates the right to individual self-determination. In response the
four justices in their myopic (out of touch) wisdom countered that the
law is indeed constitutional because it “reduces confusion in families
and society,” a typical BS fall-back the judiciary here uses when they
know perfectly well that the complainant’s case is both logical and
compelling – but the court wants to protect the status quo. Actually,
this is one of the reasons why in Japan you never know how a law suit
is going to go, because the justices can make it up as they go along.

[Article continues below…]

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[…Article continues]

For Usui and other Japanese transgender individuals, the ruling wasn’t
all bad, though, because at least the chief justice did note that
societal values are changing and, “…doubts are undeniably emerging.”
Which “doubts” he was referring to wasn’t clear, but we presume it’s
that society now doubts the doctrine that transgender people are not
normal and instead are sick, and thus subject to interventional

It is a feature of Japanese societal control, through the courts, the
police and prisons, the education system, and the government, that
everyone is equal and for the benefit of society we should all try to
be the same. No nails sticking up – they are inconvenient, disruptive,
and “confusing”. But if you are going to be a nail and be noticeable,
then you’d better have a good Plan B to deal with your differences. As
with everything in pragmatic Japan, such work-arounds do indeed exist
– using either by being declared officially sick or being part of a
religion that requires you to be different as part of its doctrine.

The concept of transgenderism as a sickness is a holdover from the
1970’s when the World Health Organization was pressed to recognize
gender identity as a disorder. While this may sound like a bad idea
and one that reinforces the idea that being LGBT is a mental problem
and deviant behavior (which back then was the point of labeling such
people), in fact in Japan the concept of “transgender = being sick”
has been helpful. It has meant that: a) the Japanese medical
fraternity have been compelled to follow international practice and
thus Gender Identity Disorder (GID) has become a medical condition
which gives access to state-subsidized drugs (hormones) and surgery,
and b) you can now go to the doctor to get a note giving GID as a
reason why you should be able to avoid certain activities in order to
lead a normal life.

For example, in the following article by Buzzfeed, a transgender girl
at a Japanese public school was forced to do physical exercise with
the boys, at the same level as boys. Having a GID disorder allowed
that girl to circumvent the school’s own very narrow rule book and be
excepted from the workouts and peer group embarrassment. Now, as the
Buzzfeed story notes, the rest of the developed world has already
moved on from the idea of GID being a sickness, but the article posits
that transgender people here want to maintain current status quo
because they are worried that it will become more difficult for them
to lead a normal life if the illness classification changes or
[Buzzfeed article]

That brings us to another possible solution for transgender people,
which is to possibly use religion as an argument for being different.
We have practical experience of this in our family. When our kids
attended Japanese schools (we didn’t subject them to this for very
long – maybe 18 months), they were forced to eat whale meat in the
school bentos. They came home complaining that when they didn’t eat
the whale rashers they were scolded by the teachers. A call by the
wife to the school about kids having a cultural background that
respected whales as intelligent beings didn’t get any traction at all.
Then she had a great idea of telling the school principal that the
kids had a religion that forbids the consumption of whale meat. Well,
this was the magic bullet that trumped the school’s “everyone is
treated the same” syndrome. No more whale meat!

So it would seem to us that maybe Usui might want to start a religion
that holds as a central tenet the sanctity of one’s body even though
you may switch genders. It would be a creative and interesting way to
challenge the courts, and in particular would threaten the millions of
others who are in religion for tax reasons and who would hate to see a
court move against any religion which could threaten their own freedom
and independence.

However, perhaps another less tiring route for Usui and other
transgender Japanese is to simply leave Japan and find a country that
is much more accommodating – such as Australia or New Zealand. In fact
in New Zealand, Gender Dysphoria – a term that replaced GID about 5
years ago and which emphasizes that the condition is NOT a mental
illness – is actively supported by government institutions, ranging
from subsidized (nearly free) hormones and surgeries, to a passport
which is gender based on your own preference. Indeed, the government’s
web page on transgender care says right at the top, “Social
stigmatisation and discrimination, including within the health care
system, is a barrier to accessing health services and contributes to
adverse outcomes. Transgender people have the right to respectful
health care.”…
[NZ government transgender health care page.] [Australia’s
Medicare availability]

We can only wish that the Japanese authorities will some day have the
same open mindedness in supporting those who walk a different path in
this society.

…The information janitors/


+++ NEWS

– How big is anime in Japan? Try JPY2trn…!
– Big mascot trouble in Susaki, Kochi
– Controversial stem-cell treatment for spinal-cord injury approved
– Cherry blossoms early again this year
– Uber launches next city – Osaka

=> How big is anime in Japan? Try JPY2trn…!

The Association of Japanese Animations (AJA) has published its latest
report on the domestic animation industry and has stated that the
sector topped JPY2trn in sales for the first time ever. The actual
revenue amount was JPY2.1527trn (roughly US$20bn) and marks the fifth
straight year of revenue increases. This represents an increase of 8%
in the last two years, with the greatest sales jump happening in
exports to foreign consumers. In fact, without the foreign market
boom, the sector probably would have contracted, due to movie sales
being down 38.3%. ***Ed: Search Google with the single word “Japan”
and you’ll get some idea just how dominant the anime business is.**
(Source: TT commentary from, Jan 26, 2019)

=> Big mascot trouble in Susaki, Kochi

In a rather light-hearted news item last week, the New York Times
reported on a dispute going on at the Kochi Prefecture city of Susaki.
Apparently the city, like almost every other city in Japan, has
contracted with a local creative agency to develop a mascot character
(the type with a human inside). Their’s is called Shinjokun, modeled
on a now-extinct local otter. Unfortunately for the municipal council,
the creative agency developed an unauthorized second character, also
an otter, called Chiitan. This second character seems to have a
deviant personality, and has gone viral performing anti-social and
physically dangerous acts – something completely out of character for
a mascot that is supposed to entertain little kids. It seems that
Chiitan’s creators had good intentions, wanting to have the character
go viral – which it did, but the stunt with the grass cutter and the
air post bashing was just too much for the grandees on the council. So
Chiitan has been fired. ***Ed: Watch the last video clip of the
article, which shows Chittan losing it with an air-filled post and a
baseball bat. Nasty.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jan
22, 2019)

=> Controversial stem-cell treatment for spinal-cord injury approved

The Japanese ministry of health has given the green light to
neurosurgeons in Hokkaido to treat patients with severe spinal cord
injuries with stem cells to regenerate the affected areas. The
approval is being hailed as a huge step forward by Japanese scientists
but specialists overseas are expressing concern that the Japanese have
fast-tracked the treatment and should be doing a proper controlled
double blind study to prove whether the treatment really does work as
claimed. In particular, foreign specialists are pointing to the fact
that similar treatments overseas were not effective and in fact caused
complications in the lungs (even though the work site is the spine).
***Ed: This is a good article and points to the fact that either the
Japanese are on to a huge breakthrough, or that they are taking huge
risks that will backfire as patients suffer complications. The new
treatment is called Stemirac.** (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 24, 2019)

=> Cherry blossoms early again this year

Pity the poor foreign tourist trying to gauge when the best time to
visit Japan and catch its ephemeral cherry blossom season is. As in
2018, it looks like the blossoms will about a week early. The first
blooms of Japan’s distinctive Somei-Yoshino trees will be in Kochi,
which benefits from the warm waters of the Kuroshio current, somewhere
around March 18. Blooms are expected in Tokyo and Nagoya around March
22nd, and in Kyoto around March 25. Hokkaido will feature the last
blooms, in the first week of May. (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 15, 2019)

=> Uber launches next city – Osaka

It seems that Uber has figured out a legitimate business model for its
ride-hailing business in Japan. After being shut out of the market
early on by Japanese authorities, the company has now started creating
partnerships with smaller cab firms who are being steam rollered by
Japan’s largest taxi operator, Nihon Kotsu. In fact, Nihon Kotsu’s
JapanTaxi operation has been growing by leaps and bounds after
partnerships with domestic heavyweights (including DeNA and DoCoMo)
all over the country, and it now boasts a fleet of 70,000 vehicles.
This has their smaller competitors running scared and is driving those
firms into Uber’s arms. The latest city to feature an Uber partner is
Osaka, and according to Uber Japan’s general manager, Tokyo will
launch by the end of this year. (Source: TT commentary from, Jan 24, 2019)

NOTE: Broken links
Some online news sources remove their articles after just a few days
of posting them, thus breaking our links — we apologize for the



No upcoming events this week.


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=> No corrections or feedback this week.



=> Hakodate Fish Market, The little squid that could – Hokkaido

If the thought of eating a still “alive” squid makes you squirm, there
are other ways to get close to the freshest seafood this side of
Toyosu. In the middle of this compact yet diverse collection of market
stalls there is a small oval aquarium, a large blue tank with
see-through windows, where you can see squid swim in a circular motion
– a bit like a kindergarten racetrack where none of the “racehorses”
will do as they are told.

What happens next is a tragi-comedy. The class clown in your group, or
just someone who pulled the shortest straw, is given a simplified
fishing rod with a small bit of bait. His or her job is to catch one
of the few squid are swimming around. There are not that many squid,
so you just have to be patient. It isn’t an impossible task, but one
that takes long enough to build up a bit of drama. Remember, Hokkaido
is a place where people, and possibly squid, slow down. They didn’t
even have bullet trains here until March 2016.

=> Meet the Locals on the Volcanic Daikonjima, Shimane-ken

“Daikonjima” means radish island. Early farmers in the area chose the
name deliberately to discourage outsiders from visiting the island and
trying to steal its Korean ginseng crop. The black volcanic soil of
the island is rich in nutrients and is perfect for growing ginseng as
well as other valuable crops.

Daikonjima Island is located in the middle of Lake Nakaumi in the
eastern part of Shimane prefecture. It was formed by lava flows from
Otsukayama shield volcano around 200,000 years ago. Farming on the
island didn’t begin until about the Edo-period. The ginseng produced
by Daikonjima is among the highest quality in the world and is
exported at a premium. The major drawback of ginseng is that it
requires 5 or more years before it can be harvested. In order to
generate income in the interim period, Daikonjima’s farmers grow and
sell peony flowers and other fruits and vegetables, and take advantage
of the fresh fish Lake Nakaumi offers up.



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