Japan's Supreme Court Overturns Controversial Sterilisation Requirement for Transgender Citizens

Japan’s Supreme Court Overturns Controversial Sterilisation Requirement for Transgender Citizens

Tokyo, Japan – In a landmark decision, Japan’s Supreme Court has declared that the 2004 law requiring sterilisation for citizens seeking to change their official gender is unconstitutional. The decision represents a significant step forward for transgender rights in the country.

Historical Context

The controversial 2004 law stipulated that individuals could only officially change their gender if they possessed “no reproductive capacity.” This policy has faced staunch criticism over the years, with rights groups and activists labeling it as outdated and abusive.

A Victory for Transgender Rights

Human Rights Watch (HRW), an international rights organization, celebrated the ruling, terming it a significant win for transgender rights in Japan. Kanae Doi, the Japan Director at HRW, expressed her sentiments to the BBC, stating, “This judgment upholds the rights to health, privacy, and bodily autonomy of trans people in Japan.” The decision is seen as a culmination of years of relentless advocacy and legal battles to abolish this stringent requirement.

A Reversal of Prior Verdicts

This recent decision overturns a 2019 verdict by the same court, which had upheld the 2004 law as constitutional. Japan remains one of 18 countries worldwide that mandates sterilisation surgery for gender change, a practice opposed by the World Health Organization. The nation also stands out as the only G7 country that does not legally recognize same-sex unions.

The Battle for Recognition

The case that led to the landmark ruling was filed by a transgender woman whose plea was previously rejected by both the family and high court. Her lawyer argued that the years of hormone therapy she had undergone had already diminished her reproductive capacity. The surgery, he argued, presented both physical suffering and potential after-effects.

However, certain groups have expressed concerns about the potential ramifications of removing the sterilisation requirement. Their fears are centered around the safety of women and the potential for legal ambiguities.

Changing Tides in Japan

The climate regarding LGBTQ rights in Japan is gradually shifting. Recent opinion polls have indicated growing support for more inclusive laws. Despite this, resistance persists from conservative sectors of society and certain political figures.

Earlier in the month, a local family court ruled in favor of a transgender man, Gen Suzuki. Suzuki had sought legal recognition of his gender without undergoing the mandated surgery. The presiding judge, Takehiro Sekiguchi, opined that the existing law was in violation of Article 13 of the Japanese Constitution, which ensures respect for all individuals.


The Supreme Court’s decision marks a pivotal moment in Japan’s journey towards more inclusive and progressive legislation for its LGBTQ community. While the road ahead may still present challenges, this ruling serves as a beacon of hope for many.