TOKYO (Reuters) - Like many Japanese women, Koyuki Higashi adores Tokyo Disneyland. So it was only natural that she would want to hold her wedding there, as many other couples have done.
“My partner and I just love going to Disneyland, so when we saw a pamphlet advertising wedding receptions by the Cinderella Castle in Tokyo Disneyland we called and asked if we could hold our wedding there,” Higashi told Reuters in a telephone interview.
But Higashi is openly lesbian and her upcoming commitment ceremony is being characterised in the media as the first “gay wedding” to be held at Japan’s Magic Kingdom.
While U.S. President Barack Obama came out in favour of same-sex weddings last week, such a political stance remains a distant dream in Japan, where civil unions are not legally allowed and simply being openly gay remains taboo for many, even though there are no laws against homosexuality.
When Higashi gave them details of her plans, the hotel initially had one request.
“When I explained it would be with my female partner they hesitated and asked that one of us wear a tuxedo as the sight of two people with the same wedding dress would make other visitors to the park uncomfortable,” Higashi said.
After she questioned this, the resort promised to check things out and get back to her. A week later, Higashi was told she and her partner would be allowed to both wear wedding dresses, or both tuxedos, if so inclined.
“We have never refused a request for a same-sex marriage,” said a spokeswoman at Milial Resort Hotels, a subsidiary of Tokyo Disney Resort.
“As for the issue of clothing, initially there was incomplete understanding on the part of our staff.”
After Higashi posted about the issue on her blog, a flood of social media commentary caught the attention of the media, which said that Tokyo Disneyland was now in the gay wedding business.
The spokeswoman said that while there were no special wedding packages on offer, gay couples could choose to take part in whatever reception plan they fancied. Higashi and her partner chose the “Disney Royal Dream Wedding,” which includes greetings by Disney characters and use of the Cinderella Castle.
Nevertheless, the twitter frenzy over the issue caught the attention of the local media both traditional and online, which all proclaimed Tokyo Disneyland now open for gay wedding business.
Higashi, who is also a gay activist in Japan, said she hoped her decision would help open public conversation about an issue that has yet to be broadly discussed socially as well as politically.
“There are no civil unions in Japan or any laws that would protect our relationships,” she said, noting that part of the problem lies within the still largely closeted gay community, which fears the repercussions of stepping forward.
“There is still a lot of prejudice at work and in people’s homes to prevent a lot of us from coming out,” she said. “Also when the only public gays you see are the comedians on television who are the butt of public ridicule, it’s hard to find a good reason to come out.”
For now, Higashi said she was looking forward to planning her wedding reception, though a firm date has yet to be set.
“We can only continue to press on for change and hope for change,” she added.
Additional reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Paul Casciato