Same Sex Partnerships in Tokyo

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In most socially progressive countries married women are able to maintain their maiden name and homosexuals are able to marry or sign civil partnerships and adopt children. And both females and gays play vital roles in society in positions such as teachers, sports personalities, cabinet members and so on. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may talk a good game regarding “womenomics” and equal opportunities but Japan seriously lacks in all of these departments.

In the push for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Japan has disappointed many social commentators with the continuance of socially insular and reactionary policies. Women and gays are regularly discriminated against and it paints a darker picture of a country aiming at welcoming millions of visitors to celebrate the world’s greatest sporting competition. It’s ironic that many of the visitors and sports stars who will attend the games are gay and female.

It’s a welcome beacon of hope, then, that some of Tokyo’s more forward thinking and socially inclusive wards are adopting more progressive policies regarding same sex partnerships. In the last year Shibuya and Setagaya wards in Tokyo and the city of Ta­ka­ra­zu­ka in Hyo­go Prefecture are the only places in the country which recognize and issue certificates regarding same sex partnerships. Although not legally binding the introduction of the policy is the first step in the push for total equality.

Shibuya is the only ward, however, which stipulates that services and businesses, such as hospitals and real estate firms, which fail to recognize and comply with the new ordinance, will be publicly named.

Nobuto Hosaka, Mayor of Setagaya ward, expressed hope that the move will be a step toward eradicating sex-sex discrimination. “Today is just a small first step,”he said. “But I believe it will lead to similar movements in municipalities, and trigger national-level discussions to revise the law. I will continue to make efforts to widen the understanding (of people who are in sexual minorities) from this piece of nonbinding paper and shed a light on the future.”

Takarazuka Mayor Tomoko Nakagawa reinforced this statement by stating “Municipalities can offer the biggest support to same-sex couples who face hardships in everyday life. We want to deliver this message: Don’t worry on your own, we are with you.”

People in same-sex relationships often face discrimination in areas such as housing, medical services and in areas relating to inheritance law, tax deductions for spouses and so on. In Tokyo, both Shibuya and Setagaya wards hope that the introduction of such tolerant and inclusive policies will make these areas more attractive for gay couples and families. And forward thinking retail, real estate, hotel and other services would be wise to change existing policies to include and encompass gay consumers who could make a very large contribution to the domestic economy.


Do you think gay residents would find these wards (Shibuya and Setagaya) more attractive to live in because of their more tolerant attitude?

Shibuya ward seems to be publicising their role in all this, perhaps somewhat as a way to attract some pink yen to the ward. If couples were seriously wanting to have 'official' acknowledgement of their relationship they might move, but day to day I don't think it's going to have much real impact on people's lives in the short term. The tolerance shown by the ward won't necessarily have much impact on the attitudes of residents and business owners.

Would you consider moving there because of this?

I already live in Shibuya, but at this stage - being single - I don't think the law would affect my decision on where to live. Hospital visitation rights are not an issue right now - and if I'm looking for a place on my own, my sexuality is not an issue. If I was searching with a partner I still don't know how much I'd tell the agent - again, the existence of the law doesn't mean you'd be treated reasonably by agency staff and owners.

Is Shinjuku Ni-chome still the gay center of Tokyo?

Yes. Nothing else compares to the scale and openness of ni-cho.

Are there any other places like it in the city?

Although I've heard there are quite a lot of venues for slightly older crowds around Ueno and Shinbashi. There are also some bars around ura-Hara who are holding occasional more gay friendly events.

How easy/difficult it is for gay couples/families to rent or buy property in the city? Any discrimination issues?

Anecdotally, it seems that most gay couples never mention their relationship when they're renting. Buying, I'm not sure. When my former partner and I were searching way back when, we found that - even though we never mentioned the nature of our relationship - many owners refused us simply because one of us was a foreigner. Or because we were two men. It seems they think single men are not a good proposition as tenants.

I have heard their are some gay friendly-ish real estate agents, but more are welcome - the problem is that I think it'll take a long, long time to get to the stage where many owners don't think twice about the sexuality, marital status, gender or race of tenants.

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