Japanese LGBTQ Couples Turn to 'Photo Weddings' Amid Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Published On Tue, 09 Jul 2024
Tara Sinha
In Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, LGBTQ couples, unable to legally marry, are choosing to commemorate their relationships through elaborate "photo weddings," donning traditional kimonos and stylish formal attire. These meticulously planned photo sessions remain largely private in Japan's conservative society, where LGBTQ individuals often encounter prejudice and social stigma, sometimes even from their own families.
Over eight months, Reuters documented the experiences of couples at Onestyle studio in Tokyo and Yokohama. Couples shared their stories with Reuters under conditions of anonymity, fearing potential discrimination. "We haven't disclosed our relationship to everyone, like our parents or friends. We wanted a tangible memory just for us," explained a 40-year-old office worker, who, along with her 35-year-old partner, posed in matching wedding dresses in Yokohama.
They struggled to find a studio willing to accommodate a same-sex couple for the shoot, which they scheduled on the same day they applied for a partnership agreement with their local council. Despite public support and court rulings deeming Japan's stance unconstitutional, it remains the only G7 nation not recognizing same-sex marriage or offering legal protections to LGBTQ individuals.
While over 80% of Japan's population lives in municipalities allowing same-sex partnership agreements, these arrangements come with limited rights. Couples cannot inherit each other's assets or have parental rights over each other's children, and hospital visitation rights are not guaranteed.
The conservative government's attempts to pass anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ groups last year faced significant challenges. Reflecting on societal attitudes, a 53-year-old office worker who participated in a photo wedding with his 45-year-old partner noted a slow shift in perceptions but acknowledged that societal acceptance still lags behind legal and cultural recognition.
"I don't know when it will happen, but I hope one day it will be so commonplace that terms like LGBTQ won't be necessary," he remarked.
Established in 2015, Onestyle provides photo wedding services to over 2,000 couples annually, with about five percent identifying as LGBTQ, according to founder Natsue Ikeda.
"For us, these photos are precious," shared a 32-year-old graphic designer who, along with her 33-year-old transgender male partner, had their photos taken at Onestyle's Tokyo studio last August. "Even amidst daily online criticism, having these photos makes us feel like our lives are complete."
Although recent opinion polls indicate majority support for legalizing same-sex marriage, there is a notable generational divide in attitudes. A survey by Fuji TV last year revealed that 91.4 percent of respondents in their late teens and twenties favored same-sex marriage, compared to less than half of those aged 70 or older.
"My mother wants me to date a man and have children," explained a 27-year-old genderqueer office worker who, with their 31-year-old female nurse partner, held a wedding shoot at a traditional garden in Yokohama in March. "My grandmother warned me not to tell my dad and relatives about dating a woman because they might view me negatively."
The couple wore kimonos and custom-made wedding rings featuring each other's DNA. "For me, falling in love naturally happened with someone of the same sex," the office worker noted. "I understand not everyone shares this sentiment, and I don't expect them to." Some couples have found acceptance within their families. "My father initially had reservations about same-sex couples, so I was nervous about telling him we were living together," shared a 33-year-old woman in the service industry. "But he accepted it without hesitation."
She and her 32-year-old partner plan to share their wedding photos, taken in Tokyo last November, as gifts for their parents and with their friends. While Japan has made legislative strides, including a law last year aimed at fostering LGBTQ understanding, critics argue it lacks substantive human rights guarantees due to conservative opposition. In a significant ruling in March, a high court deemed Japan's same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, a decision now under appeal to the Supreme Court. Lower courts have issued mixed rulings on the ban's constitutionality.
Despite these legal developments, societal acceptance remains slow. An Ipsos poll this year found only 29 percent of Japanese respondents supported LGBTQ individuals openly expressing their sexual orientation or gender identity, ranking among the lowest globally. "Legal changes are positive, but they won't mean much until society at large normalizes the existence of LGBTQ people," remarked a 46-year-old office worker who posed with his partner in matching traditional blue haori jackets last November.
Disclaimer: This image is taken from Reuters.
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