Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward Is The First Japanese District Recognising Same-Sex Relationships

LGBT rights have taken a major step forward in Japan as the Shibuya Ward in Tokyo becomes the first place within the country recognising same-sex partnerships as the “equivalent of a marriage.”

Shibuya Ward boasts a fairly sizeable population (about 217,000 residents, particularly drawing in younger citizens), but is just one of twenty-three city wards in Tokyo. But, it is perhaps one of the most vibrant and bustling – openly embracing both arts and creativity and a great number of visitors flock there wishing to enjoy the ward’s dining or shopping experiences.

Japan’s constitution currently identifies marriage as a union between “both sexes”; and while the country at large is fairly tolerant of LGBT individuals, same-sex couples are not afforded the legal protections of opposite-sex couples.

Because of this, LGBT couples face numerous problems in Japan, including hospital visitation rights of their loved one and even with apartment rentals. Landlords are able to refuse a couple’s tenancy agreement because their relationship is not recognised within Japan’s law.

The vote of Shibuya Ward marks a momentous occasion for the rights of the Japanese LGBT community and people hope it will spark similar movements in other regions up and down the country.

The ordinance is technically only a moral obligation and is not legally binding (violators will not be penalised or fined), but if a business does violate it their name will be plastered on the ward’s official website.

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Fumino Sugiyama, (who is legally a woman under Japanese laws) struggled growing up as a transgender individual in Japan, and was forced to attend an all-girls school. He is absolutely delighted with the news, finally able to marry his girlfriend after four years of dating. “We are not out to change the world, we simply want the right to be with the person we love,” he said.

Koyuki Higashi and Hiroko Masuhara are a lesbian couple who have been together for three years and moved to Shibuya just four months ago because of the same-sex partnership certificate.

“To marry the same sex is no different from marrying the opposite sex,” Higashi said, seen holding a rainbow banner outside of the ward’s office Tuesday. The banner, written in English said “Thank you, Shibuya.”

Unfortunately, the changes are not without opposition, many conservative politicians are unwilling to back the decision. “A great social ramification will be expected from such a decision,” said Mari Sato, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party. “We need much more time to discuss this issue.”

Largely, the Japanese public seems to support the move, with surveys by both the newspaper Sankei and television network Fuji news reporting that over half would support the legalisation of same-sex partnerships and nearly 60% support the ordinance in Shibuya.

The first certificates are expected to be issued in July of 2015.