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Tomoya Hosoda, a councilman in a Tokyo suburb, ran for office to help younger generations accept gender fluidity in a country where obstacles to it persist.
IRUMA, Japan — In addition to his name and title, the business card of Tomoya Hosoda, a city councilman in a suburb of Tokyo, bears a unique description.
“Born a woman, ” it reads.
Mr. Hosoda, 25, won his seat on the City Council in conservative-leaning Iruma in March, becoming the first openly transgender male elected to public office in Japan and one of only a handful around the world.
Japan has not experienced the kind of transgender moment that has swept the United States, where the politics of sexual identity have convulsed schools, popular culture and big-time sports in recent years.
The appearance of transgender Japanese television stars may convey the illusion of a culture at ease with gender fluidity. But this is a country where transgender people must be labeled as having a mental disorder in order to legally transition from one sex to the other, and where transgender people can struggle to rent apartments, obtain medical care or hold jobs.
Mr. Hosoda thinks that in his small way, he can make an important contribution simply by being public and confident about his identity, particularly for young people who may be confused about their own.
“I wanted to show children in elementary or junior high school that I exist here, ” he said in an interview in the Iruma office of the Democratic Party, which Mr. Hosoda represents on the Council. “I strongly felt that way, and that’s why I entered politics.”
Mr. Hosoda himself benefited from the activism of Japan’s only other transgender politician, Aya Kamikawa, who has sat on the council in Setagaya, a ward of Tokyo, for 14 years.
Ms. Kamikawa, a transgender woman, lobbied for a change in Japan’s law to allow transgender people to officially change their gender on the all-important family registry certificate that every Japanese citizen must hold, and that is often needed to rent an apartment or receive medical care or other services.
Under that law, only people who have received a diagnosis of “gender identity disorder” and have undergone sexual reassignment surgery may legally change their gender. Activists say the law makes it difficult for those who are transitioning or do not want surgery to live or work as the gender with which they identify and often leads to discrimination by those who recognize only biological gender.
In Mr. Hosoda’s case, growing up as a girl named Mika in Iruma she never met anyone who was transgender and did not even know it was possible to transition from female to male.
All she knew was that she did not feel like a girl. She hated being forced to wear a skirt as part of her uniform in high school. When it came time for her coming-of-age ceremony at age 20, she balked at having to wear a feminine kimono.

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