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LGBT Acceptance Spreads from Shibuya
[2018.09.21]

In November 2015, Tokyo municipalities Shibuya and Setagaya began issuing domestic partnership certificates to same-sex couples, instigating a process of greater acceptance of LGBT persons in Japan.

Surveys, such as those conducted by Dentsu and the Japan Trade Union Confederation, indicate that about 8% of the population of Japan self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. This adds up to some 10 million people out of a total of 126 million. Even so, there are probably many Japanese who are unaware of LGBT people among their friends and acquaintances, even if they knew one or two in their class at school. Few people come out in Japanese society, due to the strong pressure to conform that makes it hard for minorities to thrive.

However, in April 2015, an ordinance came into force in Shibuya, Tokyo, for certificates to be issued to same-sex couples recognizing “relationships equivalent to marriage.” This pioneering move encouraged other local governments and businesses alike to take LGBT persons into consideration and proactively grant them their rights. Shibuya began issuing partnership certificates in November 2015, along with the neighboring municipality of Setagaya.

Cellular providers and the life insurance industry were among the first in the Japanese business community to respond. NTT Docomo, SoftBank, and KDDI extended their family discounts to same-sex couples in domestic partnerships recognized as equivalent to marriage. The Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company and Nippon Life Insurance Company have allowed same-sex partners to be designated as life insurance beneficiaries on condition that these certificates be supplied as part of any such application.

Thus, prerogatives heretofore available only to heterosexual couples as “families” are now also being made available to same-sex couples, which are not legally recognized as “families.” Other sectors, such as property and casualty insurance companies and banks, have also followed suit, offering policies and mortgages treating same-sex couples the same as those who are legally married.

As of September 2018, nine municipalities are issuing domestic partner certificates to same-sex couples, including the cities of Sapporo, Osaka, and Fukuoka. It is anticipated that the cities of Chiba and Saitama, among others, will also begin offering similar services in 2019.

Key LGBT Initiatives from Municipalities and Corporations

Domestic partner certificates issued by local municipalities November 2015: Shibuya (Tokyo), Setagaya (Tokyo)
2016: Iga (Mie), Takarazuka (Hyōgo), Naha (Okinawa)
2017: Sapporo (Hokkaidō)
2018: Fukuoka (Fukuoka), Osaka (Osaka), Nakano (Tokyo) (nine municipalities in total to date)
Others including Chiba (Chiba) and Saitama (Saitama) have announced plans to issue certificates
Family discount offerings November 2015: NTT Docomo, SoftBank, and KDDI extend cellphone family discount plans to same-sex partners
July 2016: ANA extends family sharing of frequent-flier miles to same-sex partners
Life insurance November 2015: Nippon Life Insurance Company and The Dai-Ichi Life Insurance Company allow same-sex partners to be designated as life insurance policy beneficiaries
Auto insurance January 2017: Tokio Marine Nichidō offers products extending to same-sex domestic partners the same spousal auto insurance coverage as married couples can receive
Mortgages July 2017: Mizuho Bank offers joint mortgages, which can be paid off together by married couples, to same-sex domestic partners
Other banks, including Rakuten Bank and Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank follow suit
Corporate policies June 2017: Yahoo Japan Corporation updates the definition of “spouse” in its company regulations, granting social welfare benefits to same-sex and common-law partners on par with legally recognized spouses
July 2017: Kirin Holdings incorporates prohibition of discrimination against LGBT persons into its compliance regulations, allows employees to use expired vacation days for sex reassignment surgery
March 2018: NTT enlarges scope of social welfare benefits to make same-sex domestic partners eligible for family dependent allowances and unaccompanied assignment allowances, and permits same-sex domestic partners to use company-provided employee residences

Compiled by Nippon.com, based on press releases from municipalities and corporations, as well as other reportage.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are spurring on these moves by Japanese corporations and municipalities. In 2014, prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation were written into the Olympic Charter by the International Olympic Committee. Japanese municipalities and official corporate sponsors involved in preparing venues now feel the need to put corresponding policies in place.

For example, in 2016, Olympic Gold Partner NTT began offering such benefits as wedding bonuses and wedding leave to same-sex couples. In April 2018, the company expanded the scope of this policy significantly to treat same-sex couples the same as heterosexual married couples, including allowances for dependents and employees working on long-term assignments unaccompanied by family members (tanshin funin), residence in company housing for families, and parental leave for same-sex couples raising adopted children. This kind of reform by a major corporation with some 200,000 employees groupwide is liable to cause ripples in other businesses as well.

(Originally published in Japanese on September 11, 2018. Banner photo: LGBT persons, members of other sexual minorities, and their supporters call for acceptance of “Diversity in Life and Sexuality” at the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade on May 6, 2018. © Jiji.)

  • [2018.09.21]
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