The First Place In East Asia To Welcome Same-Sex Marriage : Parallels Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district has become the first place in Japan – and all of East Asia — to recognize same-sex partnerships. It raises the possibility other parts of Japan will follow.
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The First Place In East Asia To Welcome Same-Sex Marriage

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The First Place In East Asia To Welcome Same-Sex Marriage

The First Place In East Asia To Welcome Same-Sex Marriage

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We are going to go to a city ward of Tokyo now. This spring it became the first Japanese municipality to grant partnership rights to same-sex couples. NPR's Elise Hu was recently there and reports the move is raising hopes that more of Japan will follow suit.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: All the emotions of your wedding day are hard enough to handle as it is, but throw in a throng of news photographers following your every move and thousands of strangers gathered to watch you wed, and it's enough to render a bride speechless.

REN: I am so nervous now (laughter).

HU: Ren, who's keeping her family name out of the festivities, is about to marry her partner, Yae, on stage during Tokyo's Rainbow Pride festival. This ceremony almost didn't get to happen at all.

REN: We didn't know this going to happen. (Laughter).

HU: When did you learn you could get married?

REN: Just one month ago.

HU: That's because it wasn't until late March that the Shibuya ward, a trendy district of Tokyo, passed an ordinance OK-ing partnership certificates for same-sex couples. Considered a marriage equivalent, the measure gives LGBT couples rights to hospital visitation and shared rental agreements.

TOSHITAKE KUWAHARA: (Speaking Japanese).

HU: Toshitake Kuwahara made it a point to come to this ceremony. He's the Shibuya ward mayor who oversaw the passage of the measure.

KUWAHARA: (Through interpreter) Everybody has right to become happy, and they should be equal in everything. But maybe for some people, in some way, there had been some feeling which blocks the attitude to have more understanding towards these things.

HU: Change has come slowly, partly because of a cultural paradox. The Japanese value harmony so much that the LGBT community hasn't faced overt discrimination.

FUMINO SUGIYAMA: (Through interpreter) For better or for worse, Japan is a place that doesn't have a lot of conflict.

HU: Fumino Sugiyama is the organizer of pride weekend. He's a transgender man who's now able to marry his girlfriend.

SUGIYAMA: (Through interpreter) If there were a lot of hate crimes or people felt danger, or if you weren't allowed to participate in the government because you were LGBT, we would be like, let's fight, but we're not really rejected. As long as you don't make a fuss, you can get by. That's, I think, one of the big reasons it hasn't been a bigger issue.

HU: Sugiyama and activists like him are raising their voices now against entrenched attitudes. Fifty-two percent of Japanese said they oppose same-sex marriage rights according to a Kyodo News poll last year. Jeffrey Trambley helped start the Equal Marriage Alliance in Japan to help change some minds.

JEFFREY TRAMBLEY: I think they are so bound to tradition in some ways, especially with the family and the way that they register their family, so any changes to that idea about the family, I think, is a challenge.

HU: Trambley's nonprofit is pressing lawmakers to consider granting rights to same-sex couples nationwide.

TRAMBLEY: We'll try every sort of way to get them to start thinking about it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Japanese).

HU: Shibuya's revolutionary move has made for at least one happy couple. Our bride and bride got hitched without a hitch.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Japanese).

(APPLAUSE)

HU: And the new ordinance is paving the way for other locales. Tokyo's Setagaya ward and the city of Yokohama are now considering similar same-sex partnership policies. Elise Hu, NPR News, Tokyo.

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