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Transgender students in Japan break barriers to women's colleges

Prestigious Tokyo school sets example with new admissions policy for 2020

Tokyo's Ochanomizu University will begin accepting transgender students from April 2020 -- a move the school's president described as "natural."

TOKYO -- Women's universities across Japan are gradually opening their doors to transgender students, reversing long-held policies of accepting only female applicants.

Ochanomizu University broke new ground on Tuesday, when it announced it would start enrolling transgender students in the year that begins in April 2020. Kimiko Murofushi, the university's president, told reporters this is a "natural" decision in a diverse society.

Murofushi said the Tokyo school will revise its application qualifications to include "people who identify themselves as female," in addition to "people who are listed as women on their family registers." As recently as 2016 and 2017, the university had responded to inquiries about transgender admittance by saying it would accept only the latter.

Nevertheless, the school began to seriously consider changing the policy, as prestigious women's universities in other countries have been doing so one after another. Now, Ochanomizu University's move is expected to encourage other women's colleges in Japan to accept students who were assigned the male gender at birth but identify as female.

Some universities are already headed in the same direction.

Ochanomizu University President Kimiko Murofushi, center, explains the decision to reporters in Tokyo on July 10. (Photo by Konosuke Urata)

In 2015, a transgender child expressed a desire to attend a junior high school affiliated with Japan Women's University. Upon consideration, the university decided it was "too early to accept" the child. Yet, prompted by the case, the university set up a committee last year to consider admitting transgender students.

Tsuda University also set up a committee for the same purpose in 2017. Nara Women's University is weighing the matter as well.

A panel of experts under the Science Council of Japan's law committee pointed out last year that denying transgender students admission to girls' schools and women's universities constitutes "an encroachment on their rights to learn." The panel includes representatives from women's colleges.

Ochanomizu University said it will ask transgender students wishing to take the entrance exam to explain their identity in advance. The university will then check whether they meet the application requirements. The school plans to establish a new committee to work out the details of the system before formally changing the policy.

Itsuki Dohi, a 56-year-old transgender woman who teaches at a Kyoto Prefecture-run high school, has held meetings with transgender youths. She said Ochanomizu's move is "significant because [transgender] students will also have their existence recognized."

Of the students who attend the meetings, Dohi said: "I want to tell them that there will be no problem if transgender people enter universities."

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