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My wife and I are raising 2 kids in Japan. Our marriage is not recognized here — but it still feels easier than back home.

My wife and I are raising 2 kids in Japan. Our marriage is not recognized here — but it still feels easier than back home.
  • Carey Finn and her wife Ali both grew up loving judo and met as adults living in Tokyo.

  • After marrying, the couple found a donor, and each gave birth to one of their two children.

  • Despite Japan not recognizing same-sex marriage, they think Tokyo is a great place to raise a family. 

When my kids are old enough, my wife and I plan to get them into judo gear.

It was judo that first sparked my interest in Japan. I was enrolled in an after-school class when I was 4, and it turned into a constant that brought discipline to my childhood. The cultivation of both physical and mental strength and the emphasis on manners shaped my daily life. I practiced for the next 13 years, in Cape Town, South Africa, where I grew up. My fascination with the martial art grew over the years and I was determined to visit its birthplace one day.

Since I never attained an Olympian level of success in the sport, it wasn't judo that brought me here — but rather the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. I came over to teach English in a public high school in my early 20s and did that for four years before moving on to other adventures in Japan.

When Ali, my now wife, and I matched up on a dating app in early 2020, I found out that it was JET that brought her to Japan in her early 20s as well. She had taken up judo as a kid in her own hometown in Canada. Ali's classes led to exchanges in Japan and eventually a degree in Japanese. Unlike me, she stuck with judo and is still training in Tokyo.

Having kids in Japan, as a same-sex couple, has been hard.

We started talking seriously about building a family early on, given that we were both already in our mid-30s and worried that waiting would diminish our chances of success. There was just one, multilayered, problem: we were two women, stuck in a country with strict border closures due to the pandemic at the time, and no clear idea of what the new normal would bring. But, with a shared sense of determination, we decided to try to make things happen anyway.

To get the ball rolling, we chose a donor. Then we got married. While neither the Canadian nor South African embassies could marry us, despite both countries allowing same-sex unions, we were able to get hitched at the British embassy, thanks to my dual citizenship.

The next few months were a blur of paperwork and fertility treatments, culminating in the birth of our daughter, who I carried, in 2022, and then our son, who Ali carried, almost exactly one year later.

Brother and babies sleeping on a futon in Japan
Finn gave birth to their daughter in 2022, and her partner carried their son the following year.Carey Finn

We both gave birth at the same clinic; a lovely little place staffed primarily by midwives. I transferred there at 27 weeks pregnant, on the recommendation of our doula. I gave up the option for an epidural at a university hospital — where I had felt pressured to be in the closet — in favor of somewhere we could be ourselves. The birth clinic provided such an affirming experience that Ali then decided to give birth there, too.

Despite the acceptance of our medical team, however, the Japanese birth certificates that we received list each of us as a single mom. Our local governments did what they could to get us both on the paperwork, but until the national laws change, we have to exist in a strange and unsettling space. Fortunately, we are recognized as the legal parents of both children by Canada and South Africa, though even that took a bit of work.

Japan is one of the best places in the world to raise kids

Couple in winter clothes and two children in a Japanese inn
The family of four wrapped up for winter at a Japanese inn.Carey Finn

Now that we have the tiny tots, I can see why friends have always said that Tokyo is a great city to raise a family. The healthcare is top-notch and free for children up to the age of 18. The city is clean and safe. The public day care, though sometimes tough to get into due to limited spots, blows my mind: the kids go on all sorts of outings, magically learn manners, and get a healthy lunch. It's also affordable, costing, on average, around $200 a month.

It's not clear whether we'll be here long term, or move someplace where queer families have more visibility — and legal recognition. As the kids get older, I suspect this might become more important.

For now, we're comfortably settled

Mother with two young children playing with leaves in Japan
Her partner Ali and two kids playing in the fall leaves in Japan.Carey Finn

For the most part, people have been understanding and kind. We don't feel that we are treated any differently than other families. Our daughter bows and says more Japanese words than English, though she seems to have a good understanding of both. Her favorite dish is udon noodles, and her little brother — who is still learning how to eat — is obsessed with boro, a Japanese biscuit.

Wherever we end up, we'll always be appreciative of what we've enjoyed in Japan — and the way it has shaped our family. Luckily, judo has become popular around the world, so we should be able to stick to our plan of getting the kids started wherever it is we end up.

Got a personal essay about living abroad or parenting that you want to share? Get in touch with the editor: akarplus@businessinsider.com.

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