Tangent on Sexual Minorities: Gay marriage trends worldwide, and how Japan’s Douseiaisha do it: Donald Keene’s marriage by Koseki adoption


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Hi Blog.  Today I’d like to take readers on a bit of a tangent, as this blog tends to focus on minorities in Japan in terms of “race”, social, or national origin.  We don’t talk much about Sexual Minorities, such as the LGBT communities in Japan (particularly the Douseiaisha, Japanese for Homosexuals), and how they are missing out on the wave of legalized gay marriage worldwide.  Consider this from The Economist:


Daily chart
Altared states
Apr 22nd 2013, 14:40 by Economist.com
More countries legalise gay marriage

TENS of thousands of people thronged the streets of Paris at the weekend to protest against a gay-marriage bill that is set for a second reading in the National Assembly on April 23rd. They are unlikely to stop its passage. The bill, which is an election pledge by the Socialist president, François Hollande, was passed by a large majority at its first reading in February despite fierce opposition organised by conservative and Catholic groups. France is not the only country where gay marriage has been on the legislative or judicial agenda in recent weeks. On April 17th New Zealand became the 12th country to legalise gay marriage, though the law will not come into effect until August. Uruguay, too, has passed a similar bill that awaits the signature of the president before it becomes law. And in late March the American Supreme Court began hearing arguments in a case on the constitutionality of the Defence of Marriage Act, which restricts marriage to a man and a woman. In all these countries—and indeed in much of the West—opinion polls show public support for same-sex marriages.

Debito.org applauds this trend of legalizing gay marriage.  Meanwhile Japan, as you can see above, to its credit has no law criminalizing homosexuality.  It, however, does not permit gay marriages due to the vagaries of the Family Registry (Koseki) System.  In short, only a wife and a husband by gender can create a married family unit.

But as has been pointed out here on Debito.org before, people find ways to get around this.  Gay couples, in order to pass on inheritance rights, adopt each other into the same family unit on the Koseki.  The problem is for international couples that non-citizens cannot be listed on a Koseki as husband or wife.

So here is how LGBT foreigners can get around it:  Naturalize and adopt.  As Debito.org previously suggested might be the case, famous naturalized Japanese Donald Keene has done it, and recently gone public about it:

ドナルド・キーンさんが養子縁組 三味線奏者の上原さんと
Sports Nippon, April 30, 2013, courtesy of Mumei






Congratuations, Don.  Seriously.  May you accomplish all the goals that remain before you in the years left to you.  My only requests, as I have made several times before, are that 1) you do not make a pandering show of it as some kind of “solidarity with the Japanese” kinda thing; and 2) you do not denigrate others (i.e., NJ, by insinuating statistically incorrectly that NJ are less likely to be loyal to Japan (as “Flyjin”) or more likely to be criminals).  Clearly the real reason you naturalized was a lot less selfless than you portray (which is fine, but let’s have a bit less public self-aggrandizing and self-hugging, please).  It is unbecoming of a person of your stature in Japan-related academia.

Anyway, that’s the template for how you do it.  Gay NJ who wish to marry Japanese and get the same inheritance rights should naturalize and adopt one another.  Or else, barring naturalization, go overseas to a society more enlightened about Same-Sex Marriage and get married.  Bonne chance.  Arudou Debito

16 comments on “Tangent on Sexual Minorities: Gay marriage trends worldwide, and how Japan’s Douseiaisha do it: Donald Keene’s marriage by Koseki adoption

  • Debito I like the basic sentiment but I don’t think adopting an adult is a solution that should be applauded. How would you decide who adopts who? that is not the basis of a healthy relationship dynamic and I cant think of many adults gay or straight that would want to effectively become a parent to their lover, that is messed up. The adopting an adult system is often used in the case of a disabled person being adopted by the carer who is not family member but isn’t an adequate alternative to gay marriage. So as long as gay people play along with the daft system of adopting adults then the politicians in Japan can go on pretending gay people either aren’t that common (apart from funny ones on TV that look like girls) or that gay people don’t wish to get married. Gay couples in Japan want the same as people anywhere in the world…love and stability. Minorities in Japan just kick up less of a fuss but it doesn’t mean they are fewer in numbers or their human rights are trampled all over.

    — What you’re objecting to me “applauding” is not what I applauded. Calm down and reread.

  • Roppongi082 says:

    I should note that I have never seen homophobia openly displayed in Japan to the extent that xenophobia has been, nor have I seen in Japan the coy, religious faith-inspired homophobia that exists in other parts of the world (cue to the blue-colored political divisions, aka States, in the upper right-hand side of the graphic above). I have witnessed a few people in Japan make disparaging comments about LGBT (in my experience, teenagers), but most of the people I’ve met seem to have a neutral opinion on the issue.

  • Colin Doyle says:

    Don’t you mean Donald Keene? Donald Richie is on record as saying he’d never naturalize, and seeing as he died a month ago, he seems to have kept his word.

    — Darn it, got it wrong again. Yes, Keene, as per the title of this blog entry. Sorry. Corrections made.

  • Jim di Griz says:

    This is a very interesting thread Debito!

    Donald Keene, the depths of his cynical hypocrisy seem to never end!

    If Keene hadn’t have made such a big public fuss about becoming Japanese after the 2011 disaster, I dare say that I wouldn’t have cared what he did, but the fact of the matter is that Keene cynically exploited the victims of the disaster by saying that he ‘felt it in his heart’ after seeing the disaster on TV in the US, to ‘spend his remaining days’ in Japan. Then straight after getting super-fast-track J-citizenship, he arrogantly proclaims that he is ‘one of the good gaijin’ and ‘not a criminal’, before leaving for an extended cruise!

    Keene could have just come clean and said that after seeing the disaster on TV he realized how much he was in love with his same-sex Jspanese partner, and wanted to be together for the rest of their days (after all, who honestly believes that at his ripe old age, Keene has a sudden yearning for the joys of fatherhood; playing catch ball, and passing on the benefit of his wisdom to his son, and fulfills this need by adopting a 62 year old?!). Keene could have used his respect and fame to raise the issue of the disenfranchisement of homosexual couples under Japanese law.

    But he didn’t. ‘He’s entitled to his privacy’, the apologists cry! They are correct, but this doesn’t explain Keenes actions, I think.

    What has Keene done? He has used his super-fast-track naturalization to get a kouseki, allowing him to adopt his gay Japanese lover, and take advantages of the inheritance tax system. Yes Keene certainly is not ‘a criminal like other gaijin’, but he is certainly not acting out of love for Japan, but rather for economic reasons. This must be a bit of an embarrassment for those who rubber stamped Keenes naturalization. Now he is ‘one of those gaijin who come to Japan to get something for nothing’, and ‘take advantage of the system’.

    Keene and his incestuous ‘son’ must be laughing all the way to the bank.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:


    “What has Keene done? He has used his super-fast-track naturalization to get a kouseki, allowing him to adopt his gay Japanese lover, and take advantages of the inheritance tax system.”

    Keene isn’t taking advantage of anything. Surely he will be the first of the two partners to die; he’ll be the one giving away substantial wealth, not acquiring it.

  • Nice. I hadn’t heard this yet. I do know that in the US, this was also a solution for some …especially those with lots of money to ensure their partners were able to inherit, make medical decisions, etc.

    With an adoption, though, a divorce is not ever an option. One can dis-inherit a son or daughter…but could never sever the tie legally…I don’t think.

  • What about criminal incest laws? From the moment you adopt your lover, could you be arrested for having illegal incestuous sex with your family member? This seems quite an unstable situation to me.

  • @Piglet
    Incest laws usually apply to blood relationships, not just ‘family members’. I, for instance, am guilty of sleeping with my very own wife on occasion… : )

  • A quick google suggests that incest laws sometimes do cover adoptive relationships (at least in UK and Australia), however Japan has no incest laws whatsoever. Of course the USA had the famous Woody Allen case, which was presumably legal.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Mark in Yayoi #5

    Keene could have left his partner unadopted, and just willed him all his assets after his death as a gift (on which his partner would then have had to pay tax), but instead, by adopting him, takes advantage of more favorable inheritance tax regulations. Yes, to be pedantic, in theory Keene will be dead when this takes place, but he is still colluding with his lover/son in order to use his naturalization and adoption to pay the bare legal minimum of tax to *the Japanese state* (and therefore, the Japanese people whom he so deeply loves?) after his death. Seems dishonest and cynical to me, and totally at odds with his pandering clap-trap of ‘we Japanese’ in ‘his heart’ schtick.

  • Fight Back says:

    Some people have mention the seeming ‘tolerance’ for homosexuality in Japan but I don’t think it is really the case. I have gay NJ friends who have been harassed in the street for holding hands, had teenagers follow them chanting ‘AIDS AIDS’ and who have been told to ‘go home’ to stop ‘bringing sickness to Japan’. Perhaps this is more prevalent in Osaka where foreigners are routinely harassed by the locals but I can’t help thinking it is indicative of the Japanese mindset in general.

  • @Jim Di Griz #10

    Wow – if how much tax you want to pay is a measure of your loyalty to the state, then there are a hell of a lot of very disloyal natural-born Japanese already. When it comes to schtick, I think your line of reasoning takes the cake!

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @DJS #12

    Unlike Keene, I haven’t been using my fame to bang on in the press and on TV about how ‘Japanese I am’ in my heart, about how I feel so much for the victims of the disaster, about how much I love this ‘great country’, about how much I want to live in this ‘special and unique place’ until I die, nor have I been banging on about how much better than all those rule breaking ‘bad gaijin’ I am. Keene did do all of those things. He did that, then sought to pay as little tax as possible by adopting his lover. He should be happy to pay a load of tax, based on his statements, shouldn’t he?

  • @Fight Back #11

    I have never heard of anyone I know (and I know a lot of gay people in Kanto and Tohoku) being harassed or attacked in the way that sexual minorities are in many other countries. It’s interesting to hear about that happening in Osaka.

    But while this might be just semantics, I don’t think the correct word for how Japan, generally speaking, treats homosexuality is ‘tolerance’: I think it’s ‘indifference’. I don’t think anyone really cares until it comes down to their own families and, particularly in the countryside, how to explain why someone isn’t married. In fact–and this is very much anecdotal–quite of few of the gay men I know or am acquainted with through friends in Tohoku go ahead and get married out of a feeling of duty and then fool around with other men for their sexual kicks. For these people ‘gay’ has the limited meaning of only being for sexual acts, whereas for many of us outside that view it has a broader meaning that leads to partnerships.

    And speaking of anecdotes, I’ll relay the story of when I came out to people I worked with at city hall in a small town in Tohoku. They had been kind of pushing me on why there wasn’t anything going on between me and the woman who sat next to me in the office. We were good friends and were often chatting. They asked if she had a boyfriend and I said “No, but I do” and the conversation moved seamlessly into whether or not he also lived in the town and how we met. No one cared or even missed a beat in the conversation. I would call that not tolerance, but just general indifference. The fact that having a boyfriend made me into some other category of person was simply not important.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Did Keene really even say ” how I feel so much for the victims of the disaster,”?

    The first thing he said he thought of when he heard of the 3/11 disaster was some beautiful temple located nearby the affected coast.(Have commented on this on this site before with exact quote).

    J apologists tend to be selective as to which aspects of Japan they are interested in, and these tend to be quite narrow, e.g. love anime, J pop, the onsen, the temples. Very few would say “I love Japanese society” or even, “I love the work opportunities Japan offers non Japanese”, especially nowadays. Back in the 80s Japan certainly did offer a good rate for teaching for instance, but those days are mostly gone and even then, there was often no health insurance or tenure, etc etc…

    This is by necessity as most non Japanese will never accept e.g. Japan’s wartime record or the re-writing of history as part of a “package deal” of loving Japan, warts and all, and it is also encouraged by the images that Japan’s spin doctors purposely put out overseas.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Baudrillard #15

    Did Keene really even say ” how I feel so much for the victims of the disaster,”?

    Nah, I was paraphrasing.


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