Imagine, if you will, this situation. You're a man in a public washroom in Japan when, out the corner of your eye, you see that the person next to you is not some other guy who's going to make the distinct sound of collecting mucus only to spit it into the urinal before using it, but a very attractive person who you would not expect to see in a "Mens" washroom. What do you do? Do you look? Do you ignore them? Do you run from the scene in the event it's some new extortion attempt?
Depending on how much of the other person we see, it might not be an easy question to answer.
Over the last two years, there have been an increasing number of trans-gendered people gaining popularity on the daily variety shows, as well as in advertisements and magazines. While I can certainly appreciate the difficulty some males might face to pull off the difficult task of appearing female, I cannot fully understand why so many of them have reached such fame and popularity in a country that currently forbids same-sex marriage.
IKKO (豊田 一幸 | Toyota Kazuyuki)
One of the first "New Half" celebrities I had seen in Japan goes by the name of IKKO. She (?) has been a prominent person for over 20 years, first getting a start as a hair dresser and later moving into the TV realm. Her famous catch phrase for the last few years has been "どんだけー" (or "just dull") which has, thankfully, become less prominent recently. Aside from appearing on variety shows she's been a regular on fasion shows as well as the quiz circuit, most notably Quiz Hexagon.
How well does she pull off the appearance of looking female? I'd give her a 7 out of 10 as her face, neck, and hands are still a dead giveaway to her birth gender.
愛はるな (Ai Haruna)
When my wife first told me that Haruna was actually a man, I didn't believe her. The appearance is just too convincing, even on HDTV programs. But, interestingly enough, it's true. Ai Haruna was born Ken Oonishi in the ever-popular city of Osaka, and decided to make the permanent switch to the fairer sex in 1995. Despite knowing she's really a he, every time this person is on the television, they consistently look better than the natural-born women that appear on the same TV show. Perhaps this is done on purpose, or perhaps I'm just a little too curious about this person's physiology. Either way, she is very popular at the moment and should have another few years on the variety and quiz show circuit before burning out from lack of sleep.
How well does she pull off the appearance of looking female? Aside from the occasional slip up with her voice, I never would have even guessed she was actually a he. For that reason alone, I'm forced to deduct a single point, which means Ms. Ai (which is not her legal name) comes in at a 9.9 out of 10.
Let's hope I never meet her in a mens washroom.
The New Half Phenomenon
The rising popularity of trans-gendered individuals in this country seems to be somewhat of an anomaly in many countries. Aside from Thailand, there is no other country I'm aware of where a group of people who chose to change something so fundamental to their identity can gain such fame and fortune. Does this mean that Japanese people are more open and receptive to people who are different from the rest of us? Perhaps. Unfortunately, I think this current popularity might just be for entertainment's sake, and not as a gradual means of making the public accept such a thing as common place.
What do you think of this recent trend in Japan? Will this be another short-lived fad, or something that will become much more commonplace in society?