Are There LGBT Families in Japan? What Is Their Situation Like?

  • Japan is a country of advancement, and in many aspects, it seems to be one step ahead of everybody else. However, there is one area in which this country is lagging behind. And that area consists of issues relating to LGBT.

    It was not until recent years that Japan’s outlook on the LGBT community started to change. Before, not many Japanese people even truly understood what “LGBT” means because it was such a taboo topic. Thankfully, more people are getting educated about LGBT issues and are becoming more accepting. In fact, in a survey done by research institute LGBT Marketing Lab in August 2016, almost 90 percent of the respondents said that they would be accepting of their children coming out as LGBT.

    However, despite the changing outlook of society, there are still some hurdles that the LGBT community in Japan has to overcome. One of the most controversial being the issue of same-sex couples having children and building a family.

    LGBT Families Do Exist In Japan

    Some people have the notion that children of same-sex couples do not exist in Japan, but that is a misunderstanding. Although there is no official data from the government, children from LGBT families do exist in Japan. This is supported by surveys such as one done by NHK in October 2015, as well as several articles in which LGBT families were interviewed.

    The Harsh Reality

    Japan has come a long way in accepting sexual minorities, but the reality is that it is still a struggle for same-sex couples in the country to start a family. Since same-sex marriage is not legally recognized in Japan, it is difficult for same-sex couples to conceive via assisted reproductive technology or to even adopt or foster children. This is because most of these options are restricted to married couples.

    Assisted Reproductive Technology

    Since Japan does not have a law regulating assisted reproductive technology, the guidelines issued by the Japan Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology are being followed by medical institutions in lieu of the law. These guidelines state that medical institutions and medical practitioners can only work with legally married couples when it comes to assisted reproductive technology such as artificial insemination. In the same guidelines, surrogacy is not allowed for anyone.


    In the case of adoption, Japan has two kinds – regular and special adoption. Regular adoption is more similar to foster care where the child can retain rights and privileges with the biological parents. This type of adoption is not ideal for most couples looking to build a family since regular adoption can be dissolved. Special adoption, on the other hand, offers more protection since in this case, the biological parents’ rights as legal parents will be transferred to the adoptive parents. However, just like with the assisted reproductive technology, special adoption is only available for legally married couples.

    Foster Care

    The existence of regular adoption does not mean that foster care does not exist in Japan. Same-sex couples can actually apply as foster parents since the law is vague on this front. However, for the longest time, same-sex couples are usually not considered for foster care. In rare cases, an LGBT person is granted to foster a child but even in these cases, there are differences. Legally, the child’s foster parent will only be that person and not that person’s partner.

    A Hopeful Future

    You might think that with all these hurdles, the future of LGBT people in Japan wanting to build a family doesn’t seem so bright. But that’s not the case. There is much to hope for the future if recent events are any indication.

    For example, in 2016, the opportunity for gay men to have children in Japan was openly discussed for the first time through a Family-Building Seminar specifically for LGBT people.

    Also, in early 2017, Osaka became the first city in Japan to certify a same-sex couple as foster parents. The couple expressed their joy in being recognized as a single household and essentially as one family.

    All of these little steps make us hopeful for a future where Japan will see LGBT families just like any other Japanese family. It makes us dream of a country where people value inclusivity instead of exclusivity. I have high hopes that one day, we will get there.

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