Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Cross-dressing in Shinjuku Ni-chōme and Transgender Culture in Japan

           In Area 2 of the Shinjuku district of Tokyo known as Shinjuku Ni-ch ōme there are a cluster of bars and cafes that cater to self-identifying straight men that go to cross-dress. In these safe spaces men can pick out cloths, wigs, and makeup to transform into women. The men can then take pictures, socialize with each other, and feel comfortable to express themselves. These places exist to fulfill the curiosity of men who wonder what it is like to be a woman. Unlike the transgender community who identify with a gender other than there biological sex at all times, the cross-dressing men see transforming into a woman as a hobby that does not conflict with their otherwise conformist lives. Among transgender Japanese people there isn't a strong consensus over how there niche cafes affect the community at large. Some believe that self-expression is important for everyone while others see it only as reducing the idea of being trans down to a hobby. 

         Outside of the small LGBT centered city districts in large urban areas the transgender community is invisible for most of Japan. While those who have had sex-reassignment surgery can change their legal gender the term "gender identity disorder" is still widely circulated. Furthermore the transgender community has criticized Japanese society for "rigid binary gender system that does not acknowledge that gender expression can be multiple and varied and is not reducible to simple categories of “male” or “female” (McLelland 16). Even the cross-dressing cafes do not include giving straight men the opportunity to explore their gender identity outside of the male/ female binary. Everyone who does not fit into stereotypical notions of what men and women should look like are only visible in the entertainment industry and the hardships that they face are not openly discussed. Similarly to the why gay men are portrayed in the media trans individuals are fetishized for their "hobbies" and only express their identity behind closed doors. 
Mark McLelland, Japan's Queer Cultures, in Theodore and Victoria Bestor (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Japanese Culture and Society, Routledge, New York, 2011, 

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