The Tokyo Partnership Oath System, for a More Comfortable Tokyo

The Tokyo Partnership Oath System began on November 1, 2022, with the motto, "Be themselves, in Tokyo." What does the implementation of this system mean for those whom it affects?
Nagamura Satoko (left) and Moda Mamiko (right) are partners. Their son, who was conceived with the help of a sperm donation from a male acquaintance, turned one.

A System to Help Create Better Living Environments for Sexual Minorities

Same-sex couples face various challenges in Japan, where same-sex marriage is currently not recognized. The Tokyo Partnership Oath System is a system in which the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) certifies that an oath and a notification of partnership have been made by two individuals. It is designed to allow couples of sexual minorities to utilize public services more smoothly. The hope is that having the TMG promote and educate the public about this system will help further understanding of partnerships of sexual minorities amongst those in the private sector.

How do Tokyo residents who are affected by this system feel about it? Nagamura Satoko and Moda Mamiko, who were the very first couple to establish a partnership under the partnership/familyship certificate system launched by Adachi City in April 2021, also became one of the first to utilize this system in Tokyo as well. We asked them about their journey thus far, and the changes they have (or haven't) seen in society.

—Could you tell us about your journey up to this point?

Nagamura Satoko (hereafter "Nagamura"): Mamiko was a customer at a store I ran. We dated for a while, and then in 2015 we had our wedding. She was immediately receptive to my wanting kids, and we started trying for a baby. In April 2021, the Adachi City partnership and familyship system—the first familyship system in Tokyo—was established, partly as a result of our lobbying efforts. And so we moved from our longtime home of Shinjuku City to Adachi City. This was also around the time we became pregnant.

Moda Mamiko (hereafter "Moda"): I tagged along with her when she went to the city office to pick up her Maternal and Child Health Handbook. When we showed the clerk the certification card we had received under the Adachi City partnership/familyship certification system, they understood our relationship right away, and the whole process went really smoothly. It was a huge relief.

Nagamura: I remember when we were talking about having a wedding, my parents asked me if that was really necessary. But no one ever really asks male-female couples that, do they? I do think that a lot of people who consider themselves sexual minorities have never believed in the first place that the people around them would celebrate their relationships. There were others who said our wanting kids was all ego—the ego of wanting to be a parent. So we set up kodomap, an organization that supports people in the LGBTQ+ community who want kids or who are currently raising kids. And we're working every day to help realize a society that's more comfortable for LGBTQ+ families.

The couple had their wedding in 2015. Nagamura's parents, who attended the wedding, saw the two being congratulated by their friends, and told them, "We'll support you from now on." Photo: Nagamura Satoko

—What does the Tokyo Partnership Oath System mean to you?

Moda: It makes me feel like we'll be able to live more safely and comfortably in the city. Like, let's say your partner is in an accident and is taken to the hospital. All you have to do is show your certificate to prove your relationship, and you will be allowed to see them just like any other immediate family member. That means so much. The fact that it's being offered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government means it'll help guide the policies of other municipalities. In that sense, I think this system represents the future.

But it's also true that there's no legal basis for this status, and it doesn't touch upon the essential problem. It also isn't mindful enough of kids. The way it is now, we're able to write our kids' names on the certificate under the "Remarks section." But overall, this is a system designed for adults, and I feel like it's insufficient for protecting the rights of kids. You know, Japan is the only G7 country that hasn't legalized same-sex marriage. It doesn't really feel right, calling a country that's behind in human rights awareness a developed country.

Nagamura: I think everyone is a minority in their own way. A city like Tokyo, where so many people live, is a collection of minorities. That makes it easier to find people you click with. I think this system being established in a place like Tokyo is so meaningful.

"The system's given a lot of couples the opportunity to think about their relationships, and that makes me so happy," says Nagamura. Moda adds "More people in the younger generations are thinking of having kids as an option in their own lives."

—How do you think society will change in the future?

Moda: There's more awareness now about sexual minorities, but I don't think the understanding is there yet. What we want people to understand is that you can be uncomfortable with people who are different from you, but you can't use that as a reason to take away the dignity of others. I think we all have to be responsible for our own feelings if we want to start being able to respect each other's differences.

Nagamura: More choice, less isolation. I want it to be the kind of society that's comfortable for people to exist in, even on their own. We have to create, and pass on to the next generation, the kind of society in which we all respect one another under the assumption that we're all different—instead of thinking that anybody who doesn't fit the "normal" mold is strange, or weird. A society that is kind to minorities is a society that is comfortable for anyone. And I would want any couple—regardless of whether they're opposite-sex or same-sex—to have the same kinds of choices legally. The Tokyo Partnership Oath System has no legal efficacy, but we're hoping that Tokyo moving in this direction will be a definite step towards the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Footbath Cafe & Bar Donyoku, run by Nagamura, is a space that is designed to be comforting, relaxing, and open to all—regardless of gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. In the back of the cafe/bar is a sunken floor-style footbath. Photo: Nagamura Satoko
Interview and writing by Imaizumi Aiko
Photos by Tonomura Seiji
Translation by Amitt