The manifesto of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) includes a small paragraph declaring the party’s commitment to promoting understanding of sexual diversity.
This may seem a fairly small step in a country where LGBT rights are not covered in the Equal Opportunity Act but is another sign of a slow but determined change of attitudes to LGBT in the country.
In the 2011 general election, the country elected its first two openly gay male politicians, Taiga Ishikawa and Wataru Ishizaka. Recently, several municipalities, including two Tokyo districts, have offered household registration to give same-sex partners rights similar to spouses.
A host of Japanese companies are also offering equal benefits to LGBT couples such as health insurance for partners and wedding leave.
Gaku Hashimoto, an LDP lawmaker, said winning the hosting rights for the 2020 Summer Olympics had helped bring change.
The Olympic charter mandates equality, including on matters of sexual orientation. “The LDP has some very conservative aspects, and I believe there weren’t a lot of people aware of this issue, so without this outside pressure, things might not have come this far,” said Hashimoto.
“But at the same time, society has developed ... There’s a lot of debate on the issue, and local governments are taking their own steps.”
Critics say that while international pressure may bring about positive change, at its heart the LDP is not interested in equality legislation or same-sex marriage.
The ruling party is only interested in burnishing Japan’s image abroad and luring tourists, they say.
Public opinion on LGBT issues remain mixed. A 2015 survey by a research group led by Kazuya Kawaguchi at Hiroshima Shudo University found that while 51 percent of respondents supported the idea of same-sex marriage, as many as 53.2 percent said they were repelled by the idea of a gay male friend.