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Israeli couple become 1st foreigners to hold same-sex wedding at temple near Tokyo

The Israeli couple say their wedding vows in front of the Buddha at Saimyoji temple in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, on April 6, 2023. (Mainichi/Takashi Nakamura)

KAWAGOE, Saitama -- An Israeli couple recently became the first foreigners to hold a same-sex wedding ceremony at a Buddhist temple in this east Japan city, north of Tokyo, and the temple plans to accept more sexual minority couples, with a priest supporting the teaching that "everyone can be happy."

    Saimyoji temple in Kawagoe, which held the "LGBTQ wedding," has apparently received a number of inquiries about same-sex weddings from abroad, and multiple other ceremonies have been booked. The temple hopes to "contribute to a society that embraces diversity and at the same time become a new base for inbound visitors to Kawagoe as an international hub for same-sex weddings."

    The Israeli male couple who recently held the wedding are editor Reiss Yoav, 58, and ophthalmologist Yoram Maryon, 68. Dressed in crested hakama, or formal men's divided skirts, the couple received blessings from those in attendance and faced the statue of the Amida Buddha, the main deity of the temple, as they embarked on a new chapter in their life. In lieu of wedding rings, the couple received rainbow-colored prayer beads, which symbolize LGBTQ and other sexual minorities, from deputy head priest Myokan Senda, and said their vows in front of the Buddha.

    After the ceremony, Maryon commented that he has been with Yoav for 30 years, and it was very moving to start their new relationship at a temple, which represents the Japanese culture they love.

    The pair are Japanophiles and have apparently visited the country seven times so far, including this time. Though they learned that the temple started performing same-sex weddings through an English-language newspaper website two years ago, their ceremony did not take place until this April because they had refrained from coming to Japan due to the spread of the coronavirus.

    The temple is scheduled to hold same-sex weddings for foreign couples in succession, including a couple from Hong Kong in June and another from Thailand in August. According to the temple, it has received more inquiries from people overseas than from those in Japan, and is exploring ways to tap into inbound demand, including that of attendees.

    Senda said, "Buddhism teaches that everyone can be happy, regardless of gender, depending on how one's mind is set. We would like to continue to explore ways for our temple to be involved in society in accordance with the times."

    (Japanese original by Takashi Nakamura, Saitama Nishi Bureau)

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