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Inclusion and Diversity in Post-Olympics Japan

During the recent Japan 2020  Olympics, “more than 160 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer athletes” (Reuters, 2021) were scheduled to participate. With just the opening ceremony for the Olympics, a more inclusive atmosphere was present than the stereotypical traditional Japanese atmosphere. There was a display of those with disabilities being recognized as professional and respected athletes when Paralympic Tsuchida Wakako helped light the torch, while in her wheelchair, during the opening ceremony. Beyond recognizing those with physical disabilities, Naomi Osaka, an individual of both  Japanese and Haitian descent, lit the torch to officially start the 2020 Olympic games. This is a display that  Japan recognizes Ms. Osaka as a respected Japanese citizen regardless of her inter-racial identity.

Although we see a display of efforts to present a more inclusive atmosphere during the opening of the Olympics, some may question if Japan is doing it merely as a facade since the entire international community is watching. Although there have been controversies over whether or not Japan is actually moving to a more inclusive and diverse structure, we have seen Japan support the Human Rights Council resolutions in both 2011 and 2014, advocating for “an end to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender” (Human Rights Watch, 2021).  There have also been multiple attempts at implementing infrastructural changes to make daily transitions easier such as improving the accessibility to bullet trains. According to Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) Officials, the platforms for bullet trains have decreased the gap between the train and the platform used for boarding through the use of rubber padding so that there wheelchair users will be able to be more independent boarding and exiting the train. 

There also has been a larger push for buildings to adopt accessible bathrooms and entryways so that accessibility for employees or visitors of a building will not be a problem. However, in an interview with Mizuki Hsu, a community inclusion adviser and inclusion project manager at Google, she states, “... even if the inside of the building is accessible there is sometimes like a big step or some stairs at the entrance so that we can’t really go inside.” There is no point in implementing accessibility to utilities and residential or work areas if those renovations are not accessible by the demographic you are seeking to support. 

In the same interview Mizuki Hsu also references the mandatory 2.2% hire rate for those with a disability within a company. She states that when she was applying for a job she was met with, “‘Oh, we're not hiring people with disabilities now,’ or, ‘Would you be interested in a position for people with disabilities?’ instead of the role I applied for or something. It's very difficult.” The law in reference states “central and local governments are obligated to fill 2.5 percent of their overall workforce with people with disabilities. Businesses must meet a quota of 2.2 percent” (Siripala, 2018). Although it is advocated that the law is intended to normalize and promote the inclusionary hire for those with disabilities, based on Mizuki, although an individual experience, it potentially displays that companies will hire to fill a quota and not because you are essentially qualified. 

There is also no current law that establishes a ban for discrimination on sexual orientation or gender identity although they have advocated for it internationally. This has recently been highlighted on March 17th when a “court in Sapporo called Japan’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional” (Human Rights Watch, 2021). Although there is currently a conservative precedent in place, with the recent changes in public investments and the themes surrounding the Olympics, the Supreme Court may set a standard accepting same-sex marriage and moving a step closer to a more inclusive society.









Citation: 

Hida Hikari, Rich Motoko, Games Draw Focus to Treatment of Japan’s Disabled, New York Times, September 2011, A6

Japan Pass Equality Act Before Olympics, Human Rights Watch, March 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/25/japan-pass-equality-act-olympics 

Ogawa Takashi, Tokyo Station Shinkansen now more wheelchair accessible, The Asahi Shimbun, June 2021, https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14375725#:~:text=Shinkansen%20platforms%20have%20become%20more,(JR%20Tokai)%20officials

Reuters, Tokyo 2020 the most inclusive Olympic Games with over 160 LGBTQ athletes, ESPN, July 2021, https://www.espn.com/olympics/story/_/id/31861679/tokyo-2020-most-inclusive-olympic-games-160-lgbtq-athletes 

Siripala Thisanka, Japan’s Government Investigated for Cheating Disability Hiring Quotas, The Diplomat, August 2018, https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/japans-government-investigated-for-cheating-disability-hiring-quotas/ 

Transcript: The lowdown on being disabled in Japan,  BBC, August 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/disability-58360557 

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