Tokyo temple offers graves for same-sex couples
A Buddhist temple in Tokyo has devised a grave that can be shared by sexual minorities and their partners.
The temple, Shodaiji in Edogawa Ward, is receiving an increasing number of inquiries about the grave for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
“We’d like to care for people of diverse sexualities and help those who are worried about their graves,” a Shodaiji official said.
There are no legal restrictions in Japan on unmarried couples being buried together, according to Mutsumi Yokota, chief researcher at the All Japan Cemetery Association, which conducts research and offers advice on cemetery operations and related issues.
However, such burials are uncommon due to opposition from relatives and reluctance from cemetery operators who fear that problems could occur in the future, Yokota said.
“As far as I know, there are no graves same-sex couples can share,” said Joji Inoue, the 43-year-old chief priest at Shodaiji, who proposed the new grave, adding that his temple wanted to change the concept of graves in Japan, which is now strictly bound by the country’s family registry system.
He named the grave for LGBT couples “&,” pronounced “ando” in Japanese, which means a sense of relief, in the hope people can rest in peace with their loved ones after death.
The 1.2-meter-high cylindrical tombstone is made from white marble, with customers able to have either their real names or nicknames inscribed on it.
Shodaiji has allocated space for the new graves at cemeteries in Chiba and Saitama prefectures.
Assuming that many LGBT couples may not have children or grandchildren to take care of their graves, the temple plans to transfer their ashes to a group burial facility six years after they are interred.
Gordon Hayward, a 37-year-old American who married a Japanese man in California, where same-sex marriage is allowed, and currently lives in the city of Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture, recently attended a meeting organized by Shodaiji for monks and LGBT people.
Hayward said he had been worried that he would be unable to share a grave with his partner no matter how much they love each other, due to problems with religion and the family registry.
Miki Kogure, a 26-year-old female corporate worker in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, also is facing difficulty sharing a grave with her partner, a man who was born female and is registered as a woman in the family registry.
“If a same-sex couple share a grave, that will do no harm to other people,” Kogure said. “In reality, however, there are a lot of obstacles.”
She said Shodaiji has raised questions about the current grave system.
As well as issues related to graves, the temple plans to give LGBT people advice on other subjects, while promoting understanding of sexual minorities in Japan.
“Buddhism doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sex or impose an idea of what a person should be,” Inoue said.
“I hope to eliminate prejudice and discrimination” against sexual minorities, he added.