Being gay in Japan is not easy. On Sunday, April 28th, 2013, over 6,000 of spectators gathered in Yoyogi park and marched around Tokyo in support of gay rights and marriage equality in Japan (東京レインボープライド).
I was lucky enough to be a part of it. This was my first gay-rights parade, not because I haven’t been looking, but because I live in Tokyo – and Japan is not known for being supportive towards same-sex couples.
The event was divided into three main sections.
The first section, the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade, was the main highlight. We were ten minutes late, so we missed the initial departure of the marchers. We had to wait for about an hour – until they finished their parade loop through Yoyogi and Harajuku before returning.
I will write more on the Rainbow Pride Parade later.
It was heartwarming to see so many same-sex couples. As they returned from their march around Tokyo, they were met with calls of “おめでとう” (Congratulations), “おかえり” (Welcome home) and “お疲れ様” (Good job). A lot of couples broke down crying under such positive support.
The second section, the booths around the park, were a great way to spend the afternoon and learn new information. A woman at the US Embassy booth gave me several packets about same-sex marriage laws (and the steps being taken) for each state.
The Israel booth was handing out bags of tea and fans, and gave me the chance to “become a sexy, Israel lifeguard.”
Several other notable companies had booths where they were handing out products, stickers, and information packets. My favorite two were Google and Phillips (like the razors).
For those of you who are not familiar with Japanese laws, Same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan. There are also no laws against homosexuality. A lot of people consider it a “grey” area. However, many Japanese people, especially the older generation, can be classified as “very intolerant” towards homosexuality.
I have two friends (a gay man and a lesbian woman) who ended up (or are planning) to marry a opposite sex partner rather than come out to their family as gay. Cities are typically tolerant but out in rural areas, the isolation sometimes forces individuals to stay in the closet.
As of early 2009, Japanese individuals can legally marry a same-sex foreign partner, as long as it is performed in that foreign country, and that foreign country has legalized same-sex marriages. This was considered a huge step in same-sex marriage rights.
Since mid-2011, the head of the 420-year old Shunko-in Zen temple in Kyoto has announced that they will now perform same-sex marriage ceremonies (not government recognized) in their temple during the LGBT pride month every year.
Their ceremonies include:
- Changing of the Heart Stutra
- Vows lead by an official priest
- Exchanging of the rings and vows
- The Sake-sharing ritual
- Recitation of a special vow (written in both Japanese and English) which is a certificate signed by both partners
- Proclaiming the marriage
Following suit, since March 15, 2012, Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea have announced that they will also allow same-sex marriage ceremonies (not government recognized) in their famous Cinderella Castle Hotel.
Due to the fact that the Cinderella Castle is often booked half a year, if not more, in advanced, the first official same-sex marriage was held at the Disney Cinderella Castle on March 3, 2013.
The government in Tokyo has passed several laws that prohibit companies from discriminating (while hiring) based on sexual orientation. Other cities in Japan do not have such laws.
In 2003, the first openly transgender woman, Aya Kamikawa was elected into the Tokyo municipal office. She was the first transgender person to run or win an elected office in Japan. On her application, she left a “blank” space for the question “sex.” She has served two terms so far, and to this day remains the only openly transgender official in Japan.
The third section of the Tokyo Rainbow Pride event was the stage performances There were singers, dancers, choirs, motivational speakers, and a short, but moving speech from Aay Kamikawa (I think), the first transgender elected official.
The mascot of the Tokyo Rainbow Pride event made a couple of cameos throughout the day.
The Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade was amazing for a couple reasons. I’m not lesbian. I am a straight girl from Texas, engaged to a straight man from Japan. But between the two (Texas and Tokyo), I find Texas to be more supportive of same-sex couples.
And that disturbs me. I don’t think people should ever have to hide their love from the world. More and more marriages defy the “traditional” standards set hundreds of years ago.
My relationship with Ryosuke, my fiance and my best friend, used to be illegal too.
If we were both men (or both women), our relationship would still be illegal and I’m not ok with that. Love can’t be wrong. You don’t choose to fall in love with someone based on their skin color or gender, you fall in love with them because they make you feel alive.
I can’t even fathom what I would do if I people looked at my relationship with Ryosuke and called it “disgusting.” I am constantly in awe of same-sex couples, they are some of the strongest and brave people I have ever met. If I were born 100 years earlier, people would view my inner-racial marriage as illegal. And in 100 years, we’re all going to look back and wonder why same-sex marriage used to be illegal.
It just doesn’t make sense.
Japan isn’t perfect; it has a long ways to go in same-sex marriage legal (and personal) acceptance But I love living in Japan because I believe in Japan.
And I believe in Japanese people.
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