LGBT lingo in Japan

Published April 27, 2016

Depending on the context, you will encounter different kinds of terminology for LGBT issues in Japan. Similarly to English, there are more formal and academic terms which are commonly found in newspapers and news programs, and terms which are used more casually. Here are some of the terms that are used in Japan.

Words used in news programs or news articles in Japan:

  • LGBT

The term “LGBT” is generally used in the same way as it is in English. Often seen in news headlines for stories about LGBT issues (however the “QIA” is not added).

  • 性同一性障害 (seidouitsusei shougai)

This term means, “Gender Identity Disorder” and is often written next to the word “LGBT.” The word 性同一性障害 (gender identity disorder) is used in combination with the word “LGBT” to offer clarity to readers who are unfamiliar with the English acronym “LGBT” (even though it is not the same thing). In news articles, it is common for a Japanese or Kanji word to follow after Katakana or foreign loan words to help older readers to understand the meaning.

  • 性的少数者 (seiteki shousuusha)

Literal translation of the term, “sexual minority.” The popular use of this term in newspapers could be explained by its vagueness which allows it to cover all LGBT individuals. The term is also Japanese (not a loan word from English) which is means that it is easier for older Japanese people to understand. The word is sometimes also written as 性的マイノリティー (seiteki mainoriti). Also it is more casually referred to as セクマイ (sekumai).

  • 性的指向 (seiteki shikou)

This is the term for “sexual orientation” however there is still very little understanding in Japan regarding the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.

  • 性自認 (seijinin) or ジェンダー・アイデンティティ(gendā aidentiti)

Not a commonly used or well-known term due to the lack of awareness or understanding about this subject.

  • 同性愛者 (dousei aisha)

“Dousei aisha” is the Japanese word for homosexual individuals. The katakana word, ホモセクシュアル (homosekushuaru) also exists.

  • 両性愛者 (ryousei aisha) or バイセクシュアル (bai sekushuaru)

“Ryousei aisha” is the Japanese word for bisexual. The term, “bisexual” ( バイセクシュアル) also exists.

  • トランスジェンダー (toransujendā)

Same as the English, “transgender.” Many news articles particularly focus on transgender individuals and their experiences in Japan.

Casual terms used on variety TV shows or in the LGBT community in Japan:

  • オネエ言葉 (onee kotoba) and オネエ (onee)

A literal translation of オネエ言葉 (onee kotoba) would be “older sister speech” or “older sister language.” It refers to the feminine or flamboyant speech and mannerisms commonly associated with homosexual men or trans women. The term, オネエ (onee) on its own, could refer to any heterosexual man, homosexual man or trans women who speak in this manner.

  • ニューハーフ (nyū hāfu)

The term, “new half” generally refers to a trans woman or a cross-dressing man (the word implies that the person is half man and half woman). This term was probably first coined in the context of night entertainment businesses and cabarets, and has been in use since the 1980’s. Due to the popularity of many “new half” TV personalities, “new half” individuals are generally perceived as being fun, lively and glamorous people.

Although some trans individuals may accept this term, many also do not feel that this term is respectful as it does have an exotic connotation. Be mindful and do not use this term if you are not sure that a person is comfortable being labelled in this way.

  • ストレート (sutorēto), ヘテロ (hetero) and ノンケ (nonke)

All of these terms mean straight or heterosexual in casual Japanese.

  • ゲイ (gei)

Same as “gay” in English, except that the term only refers to gay men in Japanese.

  • レズビアン (rezubian), レズ (rezu) or ビアン (bian)

Same as “lesbian” in English and obviously refers to lesbian women in Japanese.

  • オカマ (okama)

The word “okama” generally refers to homosexual men, trans women or heterosexual men who are considered feminine or flamboyant (similar to “onee” or “new half”). The Japanese wikipedia page on the word states that it was a slang term from the Edo period and that there are several differing theories about its word origin. It may have been a word that was used to refer to the anus or anal sex in the Edo period but a more obvious association would be with the word “kama,” meaning “iron pot” (used for cooking rice). Apparently the word may have been coined to refer to the “roundness” of the backside of trans or cross dressing men.

This word was commonly used on television 10 or 20 years ago but is now generally acknowledged as being a derogatory term today. It is rarely heard on TV programs except for when LGBT TV personalities use the word. So that is one small sign of progress in terms of consideration for LGBT individuals in the media.

However, in real life it is not necessarily uncommon to hear that word being used derogatorily in Japan. Many older Japanese people do not realise how insensitive the term is and may still use it quite unreservedly. And it is also a very common insult used by school children in Japan.

  • ジェンダーレス

  • Xジェンダー (ekkusu jendā)

“X gender” refers to genderqueer or non-binary individuals in Japanese

  • カミングアウト (kamingu auto)

From the English expression, “coming out.” It can have the same meaning as English (i.e. “coming out of the closet”) but it is also often used to refer to a confession about almost anything, e.g. admitting to the unusual way you eat noodles.

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