An American man who moved to Japan to be with his husband can stay in the country, a judge has ruled, but cannot access permanent residency.
In a decision published at the end of September, the Tokyo District Court ruled to deny US national Andrew High both a long-term visa and sought damages of 1.1 million yen.
High filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government in 2019.
He has applied for a long-term residency five times on the grounds that he is married to a Japanese national, but has been denied on every occasion because same-sex marriage is not legally recognised in Japan.
High met his partner Kohei in 2004 and married him in the US in 2015, shortly after same-sex marriage was nationally recognised in the country.
But when Kohei was forced to return to Japan due to financial difficulties, the two opted to move together, with High living on a temporary student visa and eventually a business visa.
Despite denying his long-term residency, presiding judge Yoshitaka Ichihara decided High was eligible for a “designated activities” status – which is often granted to foreign same-sex married couples – so that the couple could lead a stable life in Japan.
“When it comes to residency, there is no logical basis for placing same-sex couples comprising a Japanese and a foreign national on an inferior footing to a couple comprising of two foreign nationals,” he said. “It is against Article 14 of the Constitution, which ensures equality under the law.”
The designated activities visa granted up to a five-year stay in Japan and is renewable, but has restrictions on employment opportunities. Comparatively, the long-term visa has no restrictions at all.
In a news conference after the ruling, High told Japan Times that while it was a “positive step forward”, he was still disappointed with the court’s decision.
“It’s hard to believe that this is a success, and that’s why you’ll see that we’re not all smiles,” he said.
In an interview before the ruling was announced, High said: “I don’t feel that I have a personal claim to live in Japan or the qualifications to be in Japan independently. We just understand ourselves, as I think many gay and lesbian people do, as being essentially the same as heterosexuals.
“Our 18th anniversary is coming up in about six weeks,” he continued. “During this entire time, we’ve never been able to really have a picture beyond a year or so that felt secure.”
What's life like for LGBTQ people in Japan?
What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Japan? Let’s take a look at some of the key equality measures.
Is homosexuality legal in Japan?
Yes. Same-sex sexual activity has never really been addressed by Japan’s penal code.
Are there anti-discrimination protections in place for LGBTQ people in Japan?
Yes. Major cities have anti-discrimination provisions that protect against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, but there’s not a comprehensive national framework.
Is there Marriage Equality in Japan?
No. Some city-level authorities have introduced partnership certificates which extend some legal recognition to same-sex relationships.
Japan’s constitution and civil code explicitly restrict marriage to opposite sex couples.
What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Japan?
While Japan can seem ultra-modern, underpinning Japan’s culture is a socially conservative and traditional view of the world.
Generally, Japan is fairly welcoming and accepting of LGBTQ people.
In larger cities, there is a visible LGBTQ community.
What’s the history of homosexuality in Japan?
Homosexuality and same-sex relations have been documented in Japan since ancient times.
In the pre-Meiji period, relationships inside Buddhist monasteries were typically pederastic. The older partner (the nenja) would be a monk, priest or abbot, while the younger partner (the chigo) would be an acolyte – an adolescent boy. The relationship would be dissolved once the boy reached adulthood or left the monastery. Both parties were encouraged to treat the relationship seriously and conduct the affair honourably, and the nenja might be required to write a formal vow of fidelity.
During the Tokugawa period, some of the Shinto gods – especially Hachiman, Myoshin, Shinmei, and Tenjin – came to be seen as guardian deities of nanshoku (male–male love).
Same-sex sexual activity was also common among the samurai – the warrior class. Among the samurai, it was customary for a boy in the wakashū age category to undergo training in the martial arts by apprenticing to a more experienced adult man. The relationship was based on the typical nenja, who loves, and the typically younger chigo, who is loved. The man was permitted, if the boy agreed, to take the boy as his lover until he came of age. These relationships were expected to be exclusive, with both partners swearing to take no other lovers.
Miyamoto Musashi – a legendary swordsman of the samurai era – is one of the most famous practitioners of the same-sex warrior lover tradition.
As Japan progressed into the Meiji era, same-sex practices continued. However, there was a growing animosity towards these practices. The practice of nanshoku began to die out after the Russo-Japanese War. Opposition to homosexuality did not become firmly established in Japan until the 19th and 20th centuries, through the Westernisation efforts of the Empire of Japan.