The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Tokyo launches new system to recognize LGBTQ couples

- By Itaru Koshimura

Tokyo launched a system Nov. 1 o cially recognizin­g couples where at least one of the individual­s is a sexual minority, giving them access to some of the same administra­tive services available to married couples. e system recognizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgende­r and queer or questionin­g (LGBTQ) partnershi­ps.

A similar system was rst introduced in Japan in 2015 in Tokyo’s Shibuya and Setagaya wards. Since then, more than 200 municipali­ties across the nation have adopted similar systems. Many such couples have expressed hope that society will come to a better understand­ing of their status.

“I’ve been looking forward to it,” said Soyoka Yamamoto, a 37-year-old o ce worker based in Minato Ward, Tokyo, as she looked up at the Tokyo metropolit­an government building in Shinjuku Ward, which was illuminate­d in the rainbow colors of the LGBTQ symbol on the day.

Yamamoto recalled how she was attracted to a girl in the same grade while in elementary school, and worried that having feelings for another female might be a kind of sickness.

She once had a relationsh­ip with a man, but her attraction to women remained unchanged, she explained. Fretting that she could never be happy, Yamamoto said she contemplat­ed suicide on multiple occasions.

However, meeting her future partner, Yoriko, while at college, gave her hope. Yoriko, 37, says she never tried to hide that she had romantic feelings for both men and women, which gave Yamamoto encouragem­ent. ey later started living together.

But Yamamoto says she struggled with the reality that they were not considered a family by others. For example, when Yamamoto collapsed at home and was rushed to a hospital by ambulance, the paramedics told Yoriko to contact Yamamoto’s family.

So when Tokyo began accepting applicatio­ns for a partnershi­p certi cate under the new system, the couple immediatel­y

applied. “I want society to become a place where people can say they like someone without hesitation and for that to be accepted,” Yamamoto said.


In Japan, LGBTQ couples are not entitled to the same legal bene ts as heterosexu­al couples, such as legal inheritanc­e, joint custody and spousal tax exemptions.

Tokyo’s partnershi­p system, however, makes it easier for such couples to access services if they have a metropolit­an

government-issued certi cate. e system allows them to apply to move into metropolit­an housing for families and receive informatio­n about the hospital their partner was taken to for emergency medical care among other services.

On the rst day of the program, Tokyo issued certi cates to 115 couples. According to a joint survey by Shibuya Ward and nonpro t organizati­on Nijiiro Diversity, 224 municipali­ties had introduced similar systems as of July 1.

Tokyo’s introducti­on of an LGBTQ system means that more than 60% of people in Japan now live somewhere with such a system. “e system is now a widespread service for residents,” said Shinya Arita, an o cial of the NPO.

e private sector is also striving to be more inclusive of such couples. Cell phone companies such as Docomo Inc. o er them family discounts, while Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. has made a joint mortgage loan program available to them.

Iris Inc., a real estate brokerage rm in Shinjuku Ward, said the number of housing units it had introduced to LGBTQ customers increased to more than 10,000 this year from about 100 in 2016.

ere have been many cases in which landlords have refused to allow such couples to live in their respective properties, the rm said. Company President Akihiro Suto welcomed Tokyo’s new program, saying, “We can expect a large ripple e ect.”

Meanwhile, corporate e orts to grant employee bene ts to partners have yet to reach the halfway mark. A government survey found that less than 1% of companies grant congratula­tory or condolence leave or family allowances to employees with such partners.

With the introducti­on of its system, the Tokyo metropolit­an government now allows employees with such partners to receive support allowances and nursing care leave.

“We also want to encourage the private sector to understand gender diversity,” a Tokyo government o cial said.


Despite the spread of partnershi­p systems, many LGBTQ people still feel isolated. In scal 2020, Yorisoi Hotline, a free telephone consultati­on service, received 112,000 LGBTQ-related calls concerning love, marriage, prejudice and discrimina­tion.

Nearly half of those who used the service said they had no one to talk to in their daily lives.

“Isolation and distress can be a serious, life-threatenin­g problem,” said the o cial in charge of the hotline. “We hope that the expansion of the system will help create an environmen­t where people can engage in dialogue with others.” (Nov. 9)

 ?? The Yomiuri Shimbun ?? Soyoka Yamamoto, right, and Yoriko stand in front of the Tokyo metropolit­an government building in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 1.
The Yomiuri Shimbun Soyoka Yamamoto, right, and Yoriko stand in front of the Tokyo metropolit­an government building in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, on Nov. 1.

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