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March 26, 2017 10:34

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11:06 2 March 2017

FEATURE: LGBTs celebrating coming of age as true selves

SAGA, Japan, March 2, Kyodo

Special coming-of-age ceremonies targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are spreading in Japan as they enable sexual minorities to dress as they wish and celebrate their true selves.

A university student was among some 40 participants, including family members, in an LGBT ceremony to congratulate and encourage those who have reached the age of 20, held on Feb. 12 in the city of Saga, southwestern Japan.

The 20-year-old student, who was designated male at birth but identifies as female, has been living life as a woman since moving out of her parents' home. Only close friends from her hometown know.

She wanted to take part in a coming-of-age ceremony in her hometown dressed in a long-sleeved kimono -- the trademark fashion of the annual events -- but abandoned the idea thinking others would give her "funny looks."

The host of the Saga event loaned out kimono and dressed participants, both free of charge.

"I feel relief," she said. "I had been unable to do what I wanted to do, but now I want to change myself."

Nonprofit organization ReBit has been holding such ceremonies since 2012, urging LGBTs to celebrate the way they are and taking the first step to becoming the person they wish to be.

The events have been held in a total of 15 prefectures so far, with more than 4,000 people attending.

This year, the ceremony has already been held at nine locations and another is scheduled to be held on March 12 in Yurihama, Tottori Prefecture, with the support of many businesses, according to ReBit.

ReBit director Takeru Shimodaira, 24, urges supporter groups nationwide to work together in realizing a society in which "everyone can attend their local ceremonies wearing what they want to wear."

Yosuke Kawano, 30, a vocalist in Ibaraki Prefecture, organized the LGBT coming-of-age ceremony in Mito this year for the first time after attending the ceremony in Saitama Prefecture last year.

"I thought there must be people in my hometown who endured a bitter experience attending a regular ceremony," Kawano said.

Makito Ishikawa, a 24-year-old transgender man, was among participants in the ceremony in Saga. Ishikawa, who has changed his legal gender to male, said he was sobbing when he attended the ceremony held in his hometown four years ago.

He did not want to wear the women's long-sleeved kimono but gave into his father's wish in the end, he said. This time he took part under his new name and wearing a suit and a tie.

"I could be myself comfortably and it was fun," he said smiling.

Naoki Ogi, an education critic supporting the movement for spreading LGBT awareness, said society must take its cue from the spread of such moves.

"A coming-of-age ceremony must be transformed so that everyone can express themselves as they are," he said.

A 2015 survey by major advertiser Dentsu Inc. targeting some 70,000 people in Japan found that one in every 13 respondents, aged 20 to 59, indentified as LGBT.

In January, the municipal government of Sapporo in Hokkaido unveiled draft rules for officially recognizing same-sex partnerships between LGBT residents of the city who are at least 20 years old.

Sapporo, which plans to start the program in the new fiscal year in April, would not only be the country's first major city to set such rules, but it would also be the first municipality to certify partnerships even between heterosexual couples with gender-identity disorder, according to the city.

==Kyodo

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