Holding rainbow fans and grinning from ear to ear, couple – Koyuki Higashi, 30, and Hiroko Masuhara, 37 – were photographed in Tokyo this week with a very special document clutched in their hands: a marriage certificate officially recognising their same-sex union.

According to CNN, it’s the first of its kind in Japan.

Higashi, a Japanese model and television personality turned LGBT activist and her partner of four years and fellow activist, Hiroko Matsuhara were married in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward on Thursday morning.

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Shibuya’s legislators voted in March to grant marriage certificates to LGBT couples, making the ward the first in Japan to recognise same-sex unions. Setagaya, another of Tokyo’s 23 wards, voted to do the same a few months later.

The local ordinances recommend that same-sex couples be granted equal rights, including hospital visitations and apartment rentals.

Still, activists insist this is an important step forward for Japan, a country where LGBT issues remain taboo.

As CNN notes, despite “recognition and protection from some local governments, Japan still has no national laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination. Coming out can mean getting fired, evicted or denied healthcare.”

With her new wife by her side, Higashi said.

I’m so happy. When they gave us the certificate, I cried. Our friends cried.

I hope that this will be a step forward not only for Tokyo but for the whole of Japan to become a more comfortable place to live in, because there are LGBTs nationwide.”

Across Asia, LGBT rights are limited or in many cases, non-existent. In Southeast Asia, for instance, being gay is criminalized in several countries

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