National / Social Issues

A whole lotta love: Japanese lesbian couple plan wedding photos in 26 countries

by Sonia Elks

Thomson Reuters Foundation

A Japanese lesbian couple plan to stage wedding photos in every country around the world where same-sex marriage is legal, in a push to increase understanding of LGBT communities at home, they said on Wednesday.

Students Misato Kawasaki, 21, and Mayu Otaki, 22, hope to give other LGBT people confidence in their identity and raise awareness of issues such as the lack of equal marriage rights in Japan.

“Through this project, I want to cheer up a lot of people (and say) that there is nothing to be ashamed of just because you are a sexual minority,” Otaki said.

“It is important to speak out, but unless many people take an interest then I do not think society will change.”

Japan’s laws on LGBT issues are relatively liberal compared with many other countries in Asia. In the nation gay sex has been legal since 1880, having only been criminalized before that for fairly short periods, although being openly gay remains largely taboo.

While same-sex marriage is not legal, in some areas gay couples can get a certificate that allows them similar rights to married couples.

Kawasaki had struggled with her feelings for women,, she wrote on a fundraising page for the project, initially believing it was the “natural course” to be attracted to boys.

“Even now, it is hard to come out as a lesbian to friends who don’t know our project. That is because I am scared to find out what the other person thinks,” she said.

“However, once I started coming out it got better because I no longer had to lie to myself or my friends.”

The couple, who are both students at Utsunomiya University in Tochigi Prefecture, decided to travel to all 25 countries with marriage equality worldwide in a bid to increase awareness over the lack of equal marriage rights.

At the end of 2018, 25 nations recognized same-sex marriage, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) data, up from 24 a year ago.

Their “26 times wedding” project will take them to countries including Argentina, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, and Iceland, and they will also visit Taiwan for a 26th “ceremony.”

The island nation is the scene of a heated debate over marriage equality after the constitutional court ruled in 2017 that gay couples must be given equal rights to wed within two years.

However, more than two-thirds of voters said in a referendum in November that marriage should be defined as between a man and a woman, leading to fears that proposals for equal marriage rights may be watered down.

At each stop on their trip Kawasaki and Otaki will stage mock wedding photos, which will be posted on social media, and will carry out interviews with local LGBT campaigners and experts.

The couple only has about 1,000 followers on Instagram so far but has been the subject of numerous press stories.

“At the moment, LGBTQ+ people are not familiar to the Japanese. So we would like different people to look at the wedding photos we take and put on Instagram, and then think about the issue,” said Kawasaki.

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