In January 1999, a Shinto priest unofficially married two men in a shrine in Kawasaki, an industrial city near Tokyo. Literally “the way of the gods,” Shinto is one of Japan’s major religions, but it does not influence modern Japanese life the way that Christianity dominates in the United States. Rather, it’s more a matter of a shared culture of ritual practices and belief in spirits against which some people define themselves.
The ceremony took place at Kanamara Shrine, best known for its annual Festival of the Steel Phallus, during which participants pray for easy childbirth or protection from sexually transmitted diseases. Hirohiko Nakamura, the priest who performed the rites, told local media then that this was probably the first time a wedding ceremony had been held for two men in Japan. “This may become a call to seriously think about the diversity of sex,” he said.