Tokyo's Shibuya ward, a municipality which is part of the larger Tokyo metropolis, is best known for its shopping and having the busiest crosswalk in the world. It is now taking steps to become even more notable: the ward government proposes to issue certificates to same-sex couples which it calls "equivalent to marriage."
Shibuya Ward is home to Tokyo Pride each year, and is one of the major areas of the city where an LGBT presence can be felt (another is Shinjuku, which includes the area of gay bars known as Nichome), so it's not surprising that it would consider a move. The ward is looking to the measure to increase gender equality and strengthen human rights for LGBT individuals in Japan (known as sexual minorities or sekumai), according to the Japan Times.
Next month, the proposed change in ward policy will be sent to the ward assembly for consideration, and if passed, it will go into effect on April 1. The ward's certificates would not be legally binding in a national sense, because same-sex marriage is not recognised here in Japan, something which has been remarked upon before on ROYGBIV.
While those around thirty years of age and under are overwhelmingly in support of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights in general, same-sex couples in Japan have faced enormous discrimination when seeking to rent apartments together or when attempting to carry out visits to hospital or take care of mutual financial decisions. Currently, couples end up with a parent-child adoption situation in order to get around these issues (this is explored, as is lesbian life in general, in the autobiographical comic honey & honey). The desired outcome is that with the certificates and city pressure, Shibuya area properties, hospitals, and businesses will treat same-sex couples as they would different-sex couples.
When the certificates finally become available, ward residents 20 or older could apply, as 20 is the age of majority in Japan. The certificate mirrors, somewhat, the arrangement currently used by couples who choose the adoption route, only the completed contract would stipulate that either member of the same-sex couple act as a guardian for the other. Certificates could be canceled if the couple breaks up, in the same way different-sex couples who choose to marry can seek a divorce.
Koyuki Higashi and her partner, Hiroko Masuhara, both Shibuya residents, have become rather well known outside Japan because they were the first same-sex couple to hold a wedding ceremony at the Tokyo Disney Resort in 2013, even though it had no legal recognition.
We're virtually married. But without legal backup, it's still very difficult to live in this society. Prejudice remains deeply ingrained in Japanese society. But I hope this move will become the first step to turn Japan into a society more accepting of the idea of diversity.
Higashi told the Japan Times that she and her partner would apply for a certificate when they become available to ward residents.
Image via AP.