tokyo: Gay employees at Japan's Panasonic will soon be offered the same family leave as their straight counterparts, the electronics giant said today, in the latest boost for same-sex couples in Japan.
Panasonic is one of the first major corporations in the country to provide equal benefits for sexual minority employees, along with Dai-ichi Life Insurance.
Japan still lags behind the US and many other Western nations in terms of gay rights and marriage, despite greater public acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in recent years.
"We are a global company, so we have already had cases in the United States and Europe, where homosexual employees were treated without discrimination," said Panasonic spokeswoman Yayoi Watanabe.
Workers with same-sex partners will from April receive the same family leave as those who are legally married, she said, along with a range of other equal benefits. Panasonic employs some 250,000 people at home and abroad.
Tokyo's Shibuya district last year started issuing "partnership" certificates to same-sex couples, in a landmark for the country's gay rights movement.
Another Tokyo district as well as the city of Iga in western Japan have also taken steps to accommodate same-sex partnerships.
Gay couples elsewhere in Japan complain that they may be prevented from visiting sick loved ones in hospitals or refused tenancy because their relationship is not legally recognised.
Panasonic is one of the major sponsors for the International Olympic Committee, and the Olympic Charter, which opposes discrimination against sexual minorities.
That sponsorship was one of the factors behind the change to Panasonic's benefit scheme, Watanabe said.
Japan has historically been broadly tolerant of homosexuality, with documented cases of samurai warriors during feudal times having male lovers, while same-sex relationships have been depicted in traditional art, such as ukiyoe, or wood block prints.
But as Japan industrialised and modernised from the late 19th century, Western prejudices against homosexuality were increasingly adopted.