Gay Country Rank: 75/193
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in Japan face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Same-sex sexual activity was criminalised only briefly in Japan's history between 1872 and 1880, after which a localised version of the Napoleonic Penal Code was adopted with an equal age of consent. Same-sex couples and households headed by same-sex couples are ineligible for the legal protections available to opposite-sex couples, although since 2015 some cities and prefectures offer symbolic "partnership certificates" to recognise the relationships of same-sex couples. Japan is the only country in the G7 that does not legally recognize same-sex unions in any form. In March 2021, a district court in Sapporo ruled that the country's non-recognition of same-sex marriage is unconstitutional under the Constitution of Japan, though the court’s ruling has no immediate legal effect.
Japan's culture and major religions do not have a history of hostility towards homosexuality.
A majority of Japanese citizens are reportedly in favor of accepting homosexuality, with a 2019 poll indicating that 68 percent agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, while 22 percent disagreed. Although many political parties have not openly supported or opposed LGBT rights, there are several openly LGBT politicians in office. A law allowing transgender individuals to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery and sterilization was passed in 2003. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is banned in some cities, including Tokyo.
Tokyo Rainbow Pride has been held annually since 2012, with attendance increasing every year. A 2015 opinion poll found that a majority of Japanese supported the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Further opinion polls conducted over the following years have found high levels of support for same-sex marriage among the Japanese public, most notably the younger generation. However, a 2020 survey of over 10,000 LGBT people in Japan found that 38 percent had been harassed or assaulted.
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Japan is a fascinating county, rich in culture, tradition, exotic beaches and boasting one of the most famous cuisines in the world. The traditional cuisine of Japan, called washoku, is so well regarded, it was added to UNESCO’s intangible heritage list in 2013. The Japanese are very welcoming, eager to please and well mannered. Every greeting comes with a bow, a smile and a willingness to help you, whether English is spoken or not. For this reason, it is a very easy country for LGBTQ+ travelers.
Japanese society is overall conservative. Sexuality is not publicly displayed by opposite or same-sex couples and there is no same-sex marriage law in place. However, by Asian standards, Japan is one of the most progressive countries with regards to LGBTQ+ laws. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1880, unlike most countries on the continent where being gay is still illegal and a huge taboo. In addition, transgender individuals are permitted to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is banned in certain cities.
There is an LGBTQ+ scene in the big cities, especially in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. The capital also has its own gay pride event called Tokyo Rainbow Pride in April or May. LGBTQ+ travelers are sure to fall in love with Japan, its culture, food and especially its warm-hearted people.
Is Japan LGBTQ+-friendly?
Japanese society places more emphasis on group identity and values than personal expression. Sexuality – homo or hetero – is considered a private matter; It’s not flaunted in public displays of affection or discussed. Because of this, much of local gay life is not just hidden – it’s inaccessible. This is even more so for lesbians in Japan, who remain invisible.
That said, homosexuality is legal in Japan, with small protections for gays, lesbians and even transgender people enacted mostly on a local level. Japanese travel providers are also starting to recognise the gay travel market.
Travel to Japan is perfectly safe for queer visitors, but just hard to find. Tokyo has hundreds of gay bars, but only a handful welcome foreigners. As openly gay travelers (who used the word husband, but didn’t hold hands in public), we felt completely comfortable and welcome.