Updated July 10, 2024

LGBTQ in Japan: Is Japan LGBTQ Friendly?

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Japan Dev Team

Japan Dev contributor

Being an island nation with a strong but rather conservative culture, Japan’s lack of cultural diversity may initially worry LGBTQIA+ individuals who want to move here. 

That said, while the country may not appear to be as queer-friendly as many Western countries, such as the US or Canada, it’s still very much safe for LGBTQIA+ folks. But this doesn’t say much about what living in Japan as a queer person is truly like.

To give you the full picture, let’s explore the reality of living in Japan as an LGBTQIA+ individual and talk about the status of same-sex marriage here. 

Since this is a complete beginner’s guide for foreign queer residents in Japan, I’ll mention some of the most notable LGBTQIA+ centered events and queer communities in the country as well. 

I’ll also explain what working in Japan as a queer individual is like and if there are companies with LGBTQIA+ inclusive policies in Japan.

Let’s begin by answering the most important question first.

Are LGBTQ People Accepted in Japan?

Yes, LGBTQIA+ individuals are generally safe in Japan. This means that queer-identifying people in Japan are unlikely to be under threat of violence. 

However, this doesn’t quite mean that queer people are accepted across the board in Japan. 

While many people in Japan are welcoming and kind, and the culture of politeness and maintaining societal harmony means you likely won’t be openly disrespected nor face hostile behavior, you’ll still find people with conservative values throughout Japan.

The conservative nature of Japanese culture becomes more apparent when you get closer to the countryside, or the “inaka”, of Japan.  

Big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto are generally LGBTQ+ friendly. I’ll talk about these cities more in-depth below, but for instance, the Shinjuku district of Tokyo has a colorful LGBTQIA+ scene, and you’ll find many other great queer communities in other big cities too.

Homophobia in Japan: Does It Exist?

Even if you go to Japan’s countryside, where people have more conservative values regarding sex and gender identity, you generally won’t face violent acts of homophobia. 

That said, living in smaller cities, villages, and towns in Japan might be a challenge for an openly queer foreign resident. While there’s still little threat of direct violence as a queer individual, the lack of diversity is largely due to the fact that smaller towns tend to be more even conservative with their smaller population. 

After all, it’s important to emphasize that Japan has not legally accepted queer people. I will explain in more detail below, but there’s currently no legal way for same-sex couples to get married in Japan, at least not in a way that’s recognized all throughout Japan.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have a happy life here, especially in the big cities. It just means that the change is still underway in Japan, and it may not yet be for everyone, especially if you often find yourself frustrated with heteronormative society standards.

That said, you should keep in mind that Japanese people usually hold foreigners to different standards. So, your experience as a queer foreign resident here won’t be the same as a queer Japanese person. 

Unfortunately, Japanese LGBTQIA+ individuals are generally under much more scrutiny and face more societal pressure, as they are more expected to conform to a heteronormative society compared to foreign residents.

Regarding Public Displays of Affection

While we’re on the topic of public acceptance, we should also discuss Japan’s stance on public displays of affection, or PDA, because it’s relevant to our topic.

Generally, public displays of affection, such as kissing and hugging romantically in public, are frowned upon in Japanese culture. This goes for everyone, including straight, cis, and queer people. 

So, considering this aspect, even if you’re held to different standards as a foreign resident in Japan, you’ll still want to steer clear of kissing in public or showing other signs of romantic affection if you want to be respectful. 

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The State of Same-Sex Marriage in Japan: LGBTQIA/LGBT Rights in Japan

As I’ve explained in my post about getting married in Japan, Japan currently doesn’t allow same-sex marriage. In fact, Japan is currently the only G7 country that hasn’t recognized same-sex unions in any way, shape, or form on a national level.

After all, you’ll still hear politicians argue in the news about the necessity of same-sex marriage or whether tax money that goes to LGBTQIA+ causes is a waste. So, there’s still a long way to go in terms of marriage equality.

All that being said, same-sex partnerships are recognized by individual municipalities all throughout the country. According to a recent report from Nippon, 60 cities in Japan currently allow same-sex unions

A Unionship System as a Solution

The “union”, which is supposed to be similar to marriage, provides partners with some benefits, such as being able to visit each other as “family members” in hospitals or applying for housing matters as a couple.

However, this partnership isn’t exactly legally binding. The system, which is called the partnership certification system, or 同性パートナーシップ制度 (dōsei pātonāshippu seido), is more of an honorary certification than a legal one. 

Institutions and individuals aren’t legally obliged to accept or recognize this certificate. So, even if you do have a certificate, your union may not be recognized, which makes this certificate more of a gesture by the select local governments rather than a concrete act of commitment to equality.

Still, the cities that do recognize such unions, especially Tokyo, with its queer-centric districts, are usually quite LGBTQIA+ friendly. So, despite it all, it’s possible to live happily in certain parts of Japan as a queer person as long as you can overlook the abovementioned concerns. 

A Glimmer of Hope For The Future

While I may have painted a somewhat bleak picture regarding marriage equality, not all hope is lost. After all, the increasing recognition of same-sex unions by local governments proves that the tides are turning, and there’s even more hope around the corner.

Recently, two local district courts in Tokyo and Sapporo have ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. These aren’t the only times the issue of marriage equality was brought to court, either. 

Since 2019, several other cases have been filed at local courts all over Japan. The first positive verdict in favor of equality came in 2021 in Sapporo, and the latest rulings have joined a series of other verdicts that could eventually lift the ban on same-sex marriage.

Considering the 70% public approval rate for a potential law that makes gay marriages possible, the change may happen faster than one might think. 

With all the politics and legalese out of the way, let’s see what cities and districts are the most LGBTQIA+ friendly and what their significance is to LGBTQ history in Japan.

Which Cities Are LGBTQIA+ Friendly in Japan?

As I mentioned, 60 cities in Japan currently have the so-called same-sex partnership system in place. As you’d expect, these are also the most queer-friendly places you can live in Japan as a foreigner.

Still, the ones that first did it deserve a mention. The partnership system was first launched in 2015 in Shibuya and, shortly after, in Setagaya, both of which are special wards of Tokyo.

Since then, several other local governments have joined in, including notable cities like Osaka, Fukuoka, and Sapporo. In 2022, the entire city government of Tokyo, with all 23 special wards, decided to recognize the system as well.

To see a complete list of all cities that have the same-sex union system in place, here’s a report detailing the issue.

Tokyo’s Nichome District in Shibuya

Nichome is perhaps the biggest LGBTQIA+-centric area in Japan. It’s located in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, where the first same-sex unionships were recognized in Japan. This place is a safe haven for all queer people in Tokyo, and is more than an entertainment district – it’s a community hub.

Here, you’ll find countless gay, bisexual, trans, and lesbian-oriented bars, as well as mixed ones. In fact, the total number of bars and clubs in the area is close to 300, which means there’s a place for everyone.

It may be in the center of a very cosmopolitan city, but don’t let the crowd of tourists you’ll see in the streets fool you: Nichome houses many local queer communities in Japan.

So, as a foreigner, especially if you don’t speak Japanese, you might feel like you don’t quite belong in one of Nichome’s many bars. However, this is because everyone knows each other, and these bars are sort of like a “clubhouse” for the locals who frequent.

Despite this, you’ll find lots of foreigner-friendly bars and clubs like Dragon Men and The Eagle as well, so don’t worry. 

Other LGBTQIA+ Friendly Notable Cities: Sapporo and Osaka

Besides Tokyo, another city that has a large queer community is undoubtedly Sapporo, which is located in the prefecture of Hokkaido. The city was among the first to accept same-sex unions, so it’s by far the most LGBTQIA+-friendly city in Japan after Tokyo. 

Known for its colorful nightlife and bars, the Susukino area serves as the queer hub of the city. Here, you’ll find local bars and clubs, as well as international ones like Lalatoo, which even has live cabaret performances in English.

After Sapporo, another big city with a huge gay scene is Osaka, with its vibrant Dōyamachō district. The area is known for LGBTQIA+ bars and clubs, many of which are open to international customers. However, similar to Tokyo’s Nichome district, this area also predominantly caters to gay men, although there are a few iconic lesbian bars. 

Thankfully, while most of the area is locals-oriented, some places like Explosion Club are open and welcoming toward foreign customers.

With an increasing number of cities in Japan allowing same-sex partnerships and a growing approval rate for gay marriage amongst the public, Japan has undoubtedly a strong queer community. Naturally, there are quite a number of events happening in Japan all year round. 

Let’s see some of these events, starting with the most important one, Japan’s main queer event.

Tokyo Pride and The Rainbow Parades

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Just like many other western counterparts, Gay Pride is also celebrated in Japan. In fact, the main pride event in Japan, which is in Tokyo, has been an annual affair since 1994. 

Officially called “Tokyo Rainbow Pride”, the event is usually held in April or March, which is earlier than the typical Pride Month celebrated in June in many countries. 

The week-long event includes a colorful parade, but thanks to the LGBTQIA+ communities in the city, many other events are organized throughout the week to celebrate Pride and acceptance.

In addition to many parties happening around this time, you’ll also find a celebration in Yoyogi Park with many food and beverage stands and entertaining performances on a stage. 

While Tokyo Pride is Japan's biggest Pride event, many others exist. For instance, the Kansai Rainbow Parade (Rainbow Festa!), which is another huge festival-like event, is held annually in Osaka. 

Sapporo Rainbow Pride is another notable event. Being one of the first cities in Japan to recognize same-sex unions, you can expect a jam-packed schedule spread out over a weekend.

Kansai Queer Film Festival

Another notable annual queer event in Japan is Kansai Queer Festival, which kicked off in 2007 and is expected to come back for its 17th addition this year. 

The festival schedule is spread out between the biggest cities in Kansai: Osaka and Kyoto. If you have the chance, I highly recommend going as you can find many films with English subtitles.

Kansai Queer Film Festival features both Japanese and international queer films. The festival usually happens in the fall, around mid-to-late September.

Rainbow Reel Tokyo

Tokyo’s international lesbian and gay film festival, Rainbow Reel Tokyo, is another big annual queer event. 

The festival has been ongoing since 1992 and is now bigger than ever, thanks to a growing number of international and local selections of queer films shown each year.

The event may be called Rainbow Reel Tokyo, but it has recently grown quite large, and is held in both Tokyo and Osaka now. The event has a two-week schedule, with the first week’s screenings being held in Tokyo and the second in Osaka. 

Closing Thoughts: Queer Work Life, LGBTQIA+ Inclusive Companies in Japan

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While gay marriage may not yet be legal in Japan, you can see how the country has a strong queer community, and the winds of change are growing loud and strong. So, living in Japan as an LGBTQIA+ individual today is quite peaceful. 

Of course, having a career in Japan as an openly queer individual is also very well possible today. There are many modern Japanese tech companies out there, like the ones we feature on the Japan Dev job board, and international ones with a diverse, multinational employee profile.

For instance, companies like Mercari, Cybozu, and Money Forward are known for their inclusivity and family-friendliness (see my post on family-friendly companies in Japan). They provide perks like childcare and parental leave to all parents regardless of their gender. 

So, while I conclude my thoughts on being LGBTQIA+ in Japan, if you’re considering moving to Japan and looking for jobs as a queer-identifying person, my guide to job hunting in Japan and our job board are at your disposal.

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Japan Dev Team

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.