Paula Fernández, our Deputy Editor-in-Chief, wrote an article on LGBTQ rights in Japan. Her research includes gender and sexual minorities for her MSc and PhD. The OxForest Web Magazine does not only feature the environment and sustainable development, but also the issues that shape people’s lives around the world. Gender equality and LBGTQ rights are the theme of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 5.
The LGBTQ community serves not only as a support group and a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and queer individuals, but it also acts as a source of information for those who want to explore and know more about gender identity, sexuality and sexual health education.
Let’s learn the difference between sexuality and gender identity
‘Male’, ‘female’ and ‘transgender’ are gender identities, as these three terms refer to the body perception of the individual. ‘I see myself as female’ ‘I am in the wrong body’ ‘I was born female but I feel male or I feel neutral’ are thoughts related to the gender identity of the individual.
In the case of sexuality, ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ are types of sexualities, as they indicate the sexual attraction of the person towards others, the same as ‘bisexual’ (a bisexual person is someone who can feel sexually and/or romantically attracted to both men and women).
Quiz time: Do you think that a person can be considered gay and transexual at the same time? Let’s see. For example, if a person was born male and feels that he is ‘trapped in the wrong body’, this person is said to suffer from gender dysphoria, as this person’s biological gender does not match with his gender identity. This individual has a male body but feels female. These individuals frequently develop feelings of rejection towards their own body. They can go to therapy and through chirurgical operations and have their gender reassigned. In addition to this, this same person can feel sexuality attracted to women, men or both. In summary, gender identity and sexuality do not necessarily have to match. A person can be bisexual and transgender at the same time, gay and transgender, etc.
- Within the scenario of LGBTQ rights in Japan, marriage is currently a legal right given just to heterosexual couples. In other words, only the union between a woman and a man is legally recognized in Japan. Since the year 2015, however, several Japanese municipalities and prefectures have been introducing partnership certificates for same-sex couples.
- The first ward that introduced the same-sex partnership certificate was Shibuya ward, in Tokyo, in the year 2015. At a prefectural level, Ibaraki-ken became the first Japanese prefecture that started to issue same-sex partnership certificates, in 2019. In addition to this, Chiba City became the first city issuing this partnership certificate, also in 2019.
- To be eligible for this partnership document at Chiba City, for example, this city requires both partners to be at least 20 years old and also to reside in Chiba. Currently a total of 57 municipalities and 2 prefectures in Japan offer partnership certificates for same-sex couples. (A list of these places will be included at the end of this article)
- The issuing of these partnership certificates has gained popularity in the last year, to the extent that in the first five months of 2019, the number of prefectures issuing these same-sex marriage certificates doubled.
These partnership certificates, however, are not legally binding. That is to say, they are not yet legally recognized at a national level or outside of the municipality or ward where they are issued. It is due to the limitations of these certificates that the Japanese NGO Famiee Project has initiated their own certification program for LGBTQ couples, in order for same-sex couples to be recognized outside of the municipalities.
Furthermore, another weak aspect of these partnership certificates is that they are not fully equivalent with heterosexual marriage in Japan, as they present more limitations in terms of civil rights, such as rights of inheritance, taxes and visitation rights in the case of hospital emergencies. These limitations, however, vary depending on the municipality where issued. For example, Shibuya ward offers equal rights for same-sex spouses at hospitals and also for apartment renting. These benefits, however, are not necessarily the same as those offered by Chiba, Fukuoka or Osaka prefecture.
For the time being, even though Japanese municipalities are starting to offer some limited benefits for same-sex couples residing in Japan, the reality is that many civil rights are still not being addressed, such as same-sex adoptions. In 2017, Osaka prefecture recognised a same-sex couple as foster parents in Japan, becoming this the first case. However, same-sex adoptions are not legally addressed or recognized at a national level yet.
Due to this lack of protections, several companies, such as Mizuho Financial Group, are independently promoting initiatives to provide equal benefits to their employees and partners, regardless of whether they are in a same-sex relationship or a heterosexual relationship. At the end of 2020, Japan Airlines also announced that this company will start implementing pro LGBTQ initiatives such as the use of gender-neutral greetings in their flights to be more inclusive towards their passengers.
Overall, it could be said that, even though LGBTQ rights are gradually starting to be recognized through the partnership certificates initiated by municipalities in the last decade, and several important Japanese companies are also independently advocating for LGBTQ rights, these individuals are still not being fully protected in legal terms at a national level, as they are not yet being addressed in legislative terms.
Same-sex couples have not been integrated yet into the futsuu (normal) system. Instead, alternative paths are being created for them. Real equality will just arrive when all couples are processed through the same system and are given the same rights, regardless of their or their partner’s gender identity or sexual orientation.
To conclude, Japan does seem to be, step by step, moving forward in the direction of tolerance, especially in the last decade. The year 2019 has indeed been a year of very interesting LGBTQ advancements, not only with the same-sex partnership certification system, but also through the establishment of some interesting organizations such as Marriage For All Japan, whose groups of lawyers are aiming to achieve the mission to attain the very well deserved equality for same-sex couples in Japan.
The year 2020 seems to keep on moving on this same track, as on the next 11th of October, Pride House Tokyo will open Japan’s first permanent LGBTQ center in Shinjuku-Nichōme.
This center will also contribute to support the advancement of LGBTQ rights and freedoms, whilst acting as an ibasho, a place where one can be oneself, in order to guarantee the so much needed protection for these individuals.
Written by Paula Fernández
List of Japanese municipalities and prefectures where same-sex partnership certificates are being issued:
In Tokyo Prefecture: Shibuya (2015), Setagaya (2015), Nakano (2018), Toshima (2019), Edogawa (2019), Fuchū (2019), Minato (2020), Bunkyō (2020), Koganei (2020), Kunitachi (2021)
In Hyōgo Prefecture: Takarazuka (2016), Sanda (2019), Amagasaki (2020), Itami (2020), Ashiya (2020), Kawanishi (2020), Akashi (2020), Nishinomiya (2021)
In Chiba Prefecture: Chiba city (2019), Narashino (2020)
In Osaka Prefecture: Osaka Prefecture (2020)
In Kanawaga Prefecture: Yokosuka (2019) and Odawara (2019), Yokohama (2019), Kamakura (2019), Sagamihara (2020), Zushi (2020), Hayama (2020), Kawasaki (2020), Miura (2020), Fujisawa (2021)
In Hokkaido Prefecture: Sapporo (2017)
In Fukuoka Prefecture: Fukuoka city (2018), Kitakyushu (2019), Koga (2020)
In Mie Prefecture: Iga City (2016), Inabe (2020)
In Gunma Prefecture: Oizumi (2019)
In Okayama Prefecture: Sōja (2019)
In Okinawa Prefecture: Naha (2016)
In Kumamoto Prefecture: Kumamoto City (2019)
In Ibaraki Prefecture: Ibaraki Prefecture (2019)
In Tochigi Prefecture: Kanuma (2019)
In Miyazaki Prefecture: Miyazaki (2019), Kijō (2020)
In Aichi Prefecture: Nishio (2019), Toyoake (2020), Nagoya (2021)
In Nagasaki Prefecture: Nagasaki (2019)
In Kagawa Prefecture: Mitoyo (2020), Takamatsu (2020)
In Shizuoka Prefecture: Hamamatsu (2020)
In Nara Prefecture: Nara (2020), Yamatokōriyama (2020)
In Niigata Prefecture: Niigata (2020)
In Saitama Prefecture: Saitama (2020), Kawagoe (2020), Sakado (2020), Kitamoto (2020), Koshigaya (2020)
In Tokushima Prefecture: Tokushima (2020)
In Okayama Prefecture: Okayama (2020)
In Kyoto Prefecture: Kyoto (2020), Kameoka (2020)
In Aomori Prefecture: Hirosaki (2020)
In Hiroshima Prefecture: Hiroshima (2020)
In Kagoshima Prefecture: Ibusuki (2021)
In Nagano Prefecture: Matsumoto (2021)
In Gifu Prefecture: Hida (To be decided)