A 32-year-old woman who brought the issue of gay rights to prominence in Japanese society has failed in her bid to be elected to the country’s parliament.

Kanako Otsuji, 32, had conducted a colourful and positive campaign for office, at one stage holding a marriage ceremony with her partner.

She generated intense interest from the national and international press.

She was a candidate for the Democratic Party of Japan, who took control of the upper house in a crushing election defeat for Prime Minister Shinze Abe.

The coalition led by Mr Abe retains control of the lower house of the national Diet.

He insisted he will stay in office to carry through reform programmes.

Ryuhei Kawada, a 31-year-old HIV-positive activist who contracted the disease through a blood transfusion, won a seat.

Conceding defeat to a room packed full of crying supporters, Ms Otsuji said:

“I hope to continue until I see the day that we look back and say, ‘This is a historic day in the history of sexual minorities.’

“We will remember this day because it is the day we grew stronger.”

Ms Otsuji was elected as an Osaka Assembly Member in April 2003.

In August 2005, she came out of the closet in her book Coming Out and marched in the Tokyo Pride Parade along with about 2,500 people.

In her book, Ms Otsuji said:

“I believe coming out is the best thing that I can do for society to encourage people.

“I want to establish a society where everybody can be who they really are.”

In May 2006 she worked with the organisers of Tokyo Pride, the Rainbow March In Sapporo and GayJapanNews for Act Against Homophobia.

The major political parties in the country, including the Democrats, are reluctant to directly support gay rights, preferring instead to concentrate on wider discrimination issues.

Homosexual male sexual conduct is not illegal, but some regions (prefectures) have an unequal age of consent. The age for heterosexual consent is 13.

In October 2005, Osaka Prefecture started the House Sharing System which allows gay couples and other forms of couples that are not legally recognised as family to live in residences managed and operated by Osaka Housing Supply Corporation.

In 2005 and early 2007, Ms Otsuji submitted two statements about people with Gender Identity Disorder in cooperation with the New Komeito Party and other groups.

These statements were adopted by the Osaka Assembly.

Democrat leaders said they decided to endorse Ms Otsuji as an official party candidate to “bring society’s attention to the discriminated people.”