Homosexuality and JapanBy Anna Watanabe May 17, 2012 9:43PM UTC
President Obama’s decision to support same sex marriage may have been a big move for American politics, but it seems Mickey and Minnie Mouse are one step ahead.
Yesterday, Japan Today reported that a lesbian couple have been allowed to hold their wedding Tokyo Disney Land.
Koyuki Higashi, who has been documenting her and her partner Hiroko’s wedding plans on her blog, writes that she was initially told by Tokyo Disney staff members that the marriage could go ahead provided the couple dress “like a man and woman”.
According to Higashi’s blog, the staff member said a same-sex wedding where both parties wore bridal gowns or tuxedos would create “repercussions” among the visitors to the park.
However, Japan Today reports that several days later, Tokyo Disney clarified their initial response, saying same-sex couples could wear what they liked to their wedding. The only limitation placed on same-sex marriages is that they not exchange vows at the onsite chapel “because of Christian teaching[s]”.
“We have never refused an application for a same-sex wedding at hotels here,” a spokeswoman for Milial Resort Hotels, a subsidiary of Tokyo Disney Resort, told AFP.
“One of our staff members was mistaken when explaining about outfits for a same-sex wedding,” she said.
Although the happy couple can choose what to wear, the fact that a staff member suggested that they conform to such rigid social expectations highlights Japan’s interesting take on GLBT issues.
While the discussion of homosexuality and gay marriage is still closeted, Japan is generally very liberal minded about gender identity issues. Transgender entertainers have become increasingly popular on mainstream TV with singers like Ai Haruna leading the “new half” wave.
But, unfortunately, same-sex couples still have no legal status in Japan, and there are many homosexual people who enter a heterosexual marriage to keep their alter ego a secret.
In 2009, Japan passed a law to allow its homosexual citizens to marry their foreign partners in countries where gay marriage is legalized. Until that time, AFP reports that the Japanese Government refused to supply essential documentation for overseas marriages if both partners were of the same sex.
While this is good news for mixed-race couples, it means that Japanese nationals are still prevented from having their marriage legally recognized.
In 2007, Kanako Otsuji held a civil ceremony with her partner of four years, Maki Kimura, to become Japan’s first openly lesbian politician.
Otsuji told Pink News that she hoped her wedding, which was held during an HIV/AIDS prevention festival called Nagoya Lesbian Gay Revolution, would encourage more same-sex couples to be more open about who they love.
“Gays and lesbians are hiding themselves in society to protect themselves.
“I want people to know that gays and lesbians exist in society by looking at us (Kanako and Maki),” she said.
But even though many gays and lesbians feel they must hide their sexuality, GLBT culture is “unseen” in Japan. Recently, gameshows and talk shows who have popularized “new half” entertainers, allowing heterosexual Japanese to see how the other half live.
Hideki Sunagawa, president of Tokyo Gay Pride told Majorix News that while the presence of GLBT culture in mainstream media is welcomed, he questioned whether it was stereotyping gay people – particularly males – too much.
“It’s true that gay men are portrayed mainly as transgendered people. Even if they are not dressed like women, those who are on TV are very feminine in their behavior and in the way they talk. Many Japanese people think that gay men are basically the same as transgender people and transvestites. They are extreme and there’s always one who plays a female role in gay couples.”
Similarly, there are comedians like Razor Ramon Hard Gay, who is dresses in leather shorts and thrusts towards the guests on his segment, who negatively stereotypes gay men even though he is known to be heterosexual.
It seems that while entertainers like Ai Haruna continue to play to mass media’s expectations of what a gay, transgender or transsexual person “should be”, Japan’s acceptance and respect for GLBT culture can only go so far.
And while commentators on Japan Today’s website have suggested that Tokyo Disney are “only in it for the money”, perhaps this is the best way for Japanese people to see that there is more to a same-sex relationship that what they see on prime time television.