RELIGION
12/12/2014 09:28 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Shunkoin Temple In Kyoto Helps Japan's Same-Sex Couples Tie The Knot

A Buddhist temple in Japan is offering LGBT couples a place to have symbolic wedding ceremonies -- even though gay marriage is still illegal in the country.

Japan allows same-sex marriage ceremonies within its borders, according to the Council On Foreign Relations, but these couples won't be given the legal rights and privileges that heterosexual couples have. Despite these restrictions, deputy head priest Rev. Takafumi Kawakami claims five couples have come the Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto since 2010 to symbolically tie the knot.

“I am not specializing the gay wedding here,” the priest told HuffPost via email. “I am just accepting every couple who would like to have their wedding ceremony here regardless of their faith and sexual orientation.”

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Japan’s constitution defines marriage as “mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as basis.” This gender-based language reflects the opinions of the majority of Japanese people. According to a 2013 Ipsos survey, only 24% of Japanese people believe same-sex couples should be allowed to marry legally.

Kawakami said that most people in his country don’t understand that these restrictions have a profound effect on LGBT people:

Actually, most Japanese people don't know about the LGBT issues in Japan. They think that LGBTs are only in foreign countries. But not in Japan. Just recently, Japanese medias started talking about the LGBT issues in Japan. But most of them talked about the LGBT issues in the context of economy, like LGBT tourism. Only few of them treat the LGBT issues as the human rights issues. So, I thought it is very important to make people think that the LGBT's rights are a very important topic to improve in this country. I thought that performing the same-sex wedding can make this issue more visible to everyone in Japan.

This fighting spirit can be traced back to the origins of the Shunkoin Temple. It was established in 1590 to honor the memory Kinsuke Horio, a warrior who died in battle. The temple specializes in teaching Zen meditation techniques to English-speaking visitors.

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Rev. Takafumi Kawakami at Shunkoin, a subtemple of Myoshinji Temple. The temple was one of the most important places for Japanese Zen Buddhism in the early 20th century.

Shunkoin is teaming up with Hotel Granvia Kyoto to offer special destination wedding packages for couples who would like to get married inside the temple.

“Japan is not recognized as a gay-friendly travel destination,” Shiho Ikeuchi, the hotel’s overseas marketing director, told HuffPost via email. “And I believe that it is important for us to inform our guests that we are LGBT friendly hotel and they can feel welcome here.”

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