Monday, December 8, 2014

Social Progress in Conservative Japan

In the news today, Shunkoin Temple, a historic Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto, has publicly announced that it offers LGBT wedding ceremonies. It is the first temple in Japan to do so, at least in so public a fashion.

As the article points out, gay marriage is not legal in Japan. And homosexuality is an issue that has not yet come to the fore in domestic politics. Japanese anti-discrimination laws do not specifically protect the LGBT community and the UN has raised concerns earlier this year about the current state of legal protections available to the LGBT community in Japan. Although Tokyo has a gay district and although there is almost certainly a vibrant gay community, in the 10+ months that I have been here, I have seen less than a handful of openly gay couples, and in conversations with Japanese people, I have been shocked by how foreign (both literally and figuratively) the concept of homosexuality is to so many here.

Kudos to Shunkoin Temple for coming out in strong support of progress:

“Shunkoin Temple is against any forms of ‘Human Rights Violations’ in the world. No religion teaches how to hate others. Religion teaches how to love and respect others.”

Read more here:

Mt. Fuji: Honeymoon Hike

We rang in our first anniversary in July by watching the sun rise from the summit of Mt. Fuji. It was romantic, unforgettable... and grueling. In order to enjoy the view from the top we spent a long, sleepless night hiking to get there.

We hiked for 7 hours, from 8:30pm to 3:30am, gaining nearly 5,000 feet in altitude over a distance of just about 3.7 miles. I could attempt to put the incline in perspective in various ways, but suffice it to say it was so steep that it took us 7 hours to walk less than 4 miles!

Smiling at 12,380 feet above sea level as day breaks. 

The whole experience was more akin to a pilgrimage than a hike in the great outdoors. The trail, especially in the first few hours, pulsed with individual hikers and tour groups; however, the vibe was serene, spiritual and reverent. The tour groups (many composed of elderly Japanese) were headed by dedicated leaders who periodically called out to their respective flocks to provide energy and unity of purpose. At points the path bulged with such a volume of people that it was impossible to pass; however, as the night wore on and the crowds stretched out, there were also a series of peaceful, empty stretches where we spent the better part of our seven hours.

Vince looking into the crater of Mt. Fuji, an active volcano and the tallest mountain in Japan. 

The view was worth it; the feeling of exhausted accomplishment was worth it, and so too was the memory. Now, when we see Mt. Fuji, we exchange knowing and somewhat incredulous smiles recalling the laughs, grumbles and sense of awe we shared as we celebrated our first year of marriage --  "we climbed that thing!"

We were also accompanied by a very small dinosaur given to us
at our wedding reception in Sweden by a relative who delivered a lovely speech
as the toast master of our reception at Angavallen. Thank you, Adja!

Mt. Fuji from a distance, taken earlier in the year.