“We would like to embrace sexual diversity by offering a grave to a same-sex couple.” ‘Shodaiji’ Temple, a temple of ‘Jodo Shinshu’ at Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, has announced a new service for same-sex couples who hope to share a grave together. In Japan, most people are buried at their family grave when they die. However, it has been difficult for same-sex couples to share a grave because same-sex couples are not legally treated as married.
There is no laws that prohibit unmarried unions from getting buried in the same grave in Japan. However, according to Yokota Mutsumi, a senior research fellow of All Japan Cemetery Association, the social norm that family grave must be passed only to family members has prevented people from allowing same-sex couples to be buried together. Temples in Japan has also rejected same-sex couples, thinking their grave-sharing is likely to cause troubles later.
“When we searched for services like ours, we could not find any. So we decided to challenge the norm and be free from rules of family registry in Japan,” Zyoji Inoue, the chief priest of ‘Shodaiji’ Temple, said.
‘Shodaiji’ Temple used to prohibit non-relatives from sharing the same grave except for a perpetual memorial service grave. However, Mr. Inoue started to receive voices asking for grave-sharing with friends or with a common law spouse a few years ago.
“I might have rejected LGBTQ people in the past,” he said. After realizing his temple had not fitted with the times, he made a new grave space where non-relatives can be buried together in his temple last October.
“I named the space ‘&’ because I want everyone to rest in peace with their loved ones after they die,” he said. (The word;’&’ and ‘relief’ are pronounced alike in Japanese.)
The gravestone is a cylindrical shaped white marble about 120 centimeters in height. It has the deceased’s name, date of death, and age inscribed on them. (The deceased’s name does not have to be his or her real name written on the family registry. His or her nickname is fine,too.)
It is expected that no family of the deceased will take care of the grave, so their grave will be moved to the perpetual memorial tower and they will be buried together about six years after the death.
‘Shodaiji’ Temple has not only started a new grave service for same-sex couples, but also had LGBTQ seminars for priests by inviting LGBTQ people to the seminars and exchanging opinions with each other.
Through the efforts, the idea that a temple has to be a place for everyone spread through the participants and they started to think more about the issues facing LGBTQ community.
“It is very rare that a conservative group like a temple has expended its services to LGBTQ community and held seminars to raise awareness of LGBTQ people among priests. We would like to learn more to offer more good services to LGBTQ people,” Mr.Funai, a public relation officer in ‘Shodaiji’ Temple, said.