National

Japan’s wedding ring jewelers look to become more LGBT-friendly

by Kantaro Komiya

Contributing Writer

While same-sex marriage has not been legalized in Japan, some firms in the country’s wedding jewelry industry have started taking steps to make their products and stores more LGBT-friendly.

Primo Japan Inc. announced earlier this month that it has started to promote a “gender-free” concept in marketing its products by removing male- and female-specific labels from the descriptions of the two wedding ring brands it showcases on its website.

According to Yuki Yamashiro, a senior public relations manager with the company, Primo Japan was prompted to address the issue after a proposal was made by one of its store clerks. In a subsequent in-house survey, about half of its 87 stores said their staff had served LGBT customers.

Yamashiro referred to a report from its Nagasaki branch, where a lesbian couple told clerks about a bad experience they had at another shop. Staff members at the other shop reacted strangely when they told them they were shopping for wedding rings. The couple said wedding rings have a special meaning for them because they are not allowed to legally register their marriage.

Yamashiro noted that the incident, and similar accounts from other branches, convinced the jewelry company to take a further step to modify online descriptions and make its shops more LGBT-friendly.

Primo Japan also wants to embrace LGBT customers, once excluded from the wedding industry, as marriages have been declining overall in Japan. According to Health, Labour and Welfare Ministry statistics issued earlier this month, 2017 saw 606,863 marriages, down from 719,822 in 2007.

Starting this summer, Primo Japan will also replace gender-specific inscriptions on the rings and descriptions in printed catalogs and other product materials for the domestic market with gender-neutral expressions. Yamashiro said the changes are also a response to changing individual preferences, as more people seek nontraditional designs for their wedding rings.

Other jewelry-makers are also rethinking how they conduct business with LGBT couples.

K.uno, a Nagoya-based jewelry company, had its executives and store managers take an LGBT diversity training course in February 2017. The course was conducted by Letibee, a startup which aims to improve ties between companies and the LGBT community.

K.uno representative Megumi Kawamura said same-sex couples had visited its stores for two decades before the term “LGBT” became widely recognized and the legal discussion of same-sex marriage started in Japan. “Our staff had taken them to talk in private rooms, assuming such couples may prefer that, but we learned some customers don’t want special treatment,” said Kawamura.

Kawamura said the company will build an inclusive environment and offer rings catered to each couple.