News | June 8, 2022

Pride Month: LGBTQ Life in Japan

By Lt. j.g. Annalise Bonner and Lt. Akshay Jakatdar

For both of us – two judge advocates serving at the Region Legal Service Office Western Pacific headquarters office – living in Yokosuka, Japan has been a whirlwind experience.  Japan is a beautiful, fascinating country that blends tradition and technology.  As COVID-19 restrictions have started easing, we have begun enjoying a wide range of activities, from visiting shrines and temples, to cheering on local baseball teams, to riding the fast, clean, and easily accessible public transportation en route to cities near and far.
 
One of us is a married female LGBTQ officer (Lt. j.g. Bonner) and one is a single male LGBTQ officer (Lt. Jakatdar).  We both have had mixed experiences forging a supportive community on base and integrating into broader LGBTQ life in Japan.  The language barrier initially proved challenging, and, since we are located on the largest forward-deployed base in the Navy, we find that, just as new friendships are formed, old friends depart on long deployments or return to the U.S.
 
Also, same-sex marriage is not recognized in Japan, though a majority of the Japanese public does support it.  However, several local governments have started legalizing and recognizing same-sex civil partnerships.  And although anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are rare, we sometimes encounter antiquated attitudes and discriminatory practices, such as hotels failing to offer double-occupancy rooms to guests of the same gender, certain clubs and bars denying access by gender, and dating app profiles that exclude from the person’s preference a particular race or nationality.
 
But, despite challenges adjusting to LGBTQ life in Japan, we are enjoying our time here immensely.  We recently attended Tokyo Rainbow Pride with our significant others and friends.  We weren’t sure what to expect, and we were pleasantly surprised to encounter many stalls promoting Japanese companies, human rights groups, artists, and food vendors.  It was an incredible experience, and we felt supported and included.  In addition, the Yokosuka Navy installation held its first Pride event this past year, where a small number of LGBTQ service members and supportive family and friends marched along a predetermined route, culminating in a well-attended festival on base. 
 
We also have benefited from the groundwork laid by LGBTQ service members who previously completed tours in Japan.  For example, we are part of a well-established, unofficial Yokosuka LGBTQ Facebook group for officers and some civilians, and its members routinely plan activities like brunch, film viewings, and getaway trips.  There are multiple U.S. military bases throughout Japan, and we have forged connections with personnel stationed throughout the country, whom we visit from time to time.  It is a tight-knit, welcoming community.
 
We both will be in Japan for at least another year, and we anticipate our appreciation for life in Japan and our integration into the larger LGBTQ community will grow.  We see signs posted on Yokosuka streets and in shopping malls, calling for people to join Japanese-led LGBTQ action groups.  These local, grassroots actions may soon result in wider recognition of same-sex partnerships.
 
As COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, we eagerly anticipate more opportunities to travel and experience the culture, food, museums, temples, and natural beauty of Japan, while also continuing to expand the footprint of the Yokosuka LGBTQ community.  If any JAG Corps members are interested in a particular billet located in Japan, they should not allow the – both real and perceived – differences between Western and Japanese LGBTQ life dissuade them.  In our experiences, there are plenty of friendly and welcoming locals eager to share their beautiful country, regardless of any differences.  And, as language translation smart phone apps become easier to use and more effective, language is not the barrier it once was.  If you have questions about living and working in Japan, please do not hesitate to reach out to us, via JAG Corps channels, at any time.  We look forward to welcoming you to Japan!
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