He placed 21st out of the 22 seats contested in the election. “It was a tight race, I still haven’t really processed it”, Hosoda said, surrounded by supporters as he received the news Monday morning.
Hosoda has stated that he does not just want to fight for LGBTQ rights, but also for the rights of the disabled and the elderly, by playing his part in constructing a system that embraces diversity and helps minorities.
“Until recently, people have acted as if sexual minorities do not exist. We have many hurdles to overcome, but I hope to live up to everyone’s expectations”, Hosoda stated, adding that he has received many messages of support and gratitude from LGBTQ individuals ever since he announced his run for city council.
Hosoda came out and transitioned while attending Teikyo University’s Department of Clinical Laboratory Science, and changed his name and gender in the family registry in 2015. While a student, he expressed his desire to raise awareness and work to prevent and treat sexually transmitted diseases in Japan (Source: http://lgbter.jp/tomoya_hosoda2/), and participated in various LGBTQ events such as Out in Japan to enhance trans visibility (http://outinjapan.com/tomoya-hosoda/).
Hosoda is the first LGBTQ candidate in the history of Saitama prefecture, and the second transgender politician to be elected in Japan (following Kamikawa Aya in 2003).
This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of the Connect magazine. For more information about Connect and their engaging articles written by and for the ex-pat community in Japan, please visit their website.
“Closeted –Adjective / klɒzɪtɪd / Keeping something secret, especially the fact of being homosexual.”
If you have ever been (or indeed still are) closeted, you can agree it is no bed of roses. Having to conceal your sexuality and a part of your identity from family, friends, colleagues, and peers can leave you feeling isolated, confined, and frustrated.
There is a reason why the term “closeted” is used with regard to those who are keeping their sexuality a secret from those around them. It is dark. It is restrictive. It is suffocating.
My time spent in the closet was awash with confusion and anguish, on both a mental and emotional level, as I tried my best to circumnavigate across the spectrum of my own sexuality. Even now when I reflect on my experiences being in the closet, I cannot help but grimace.
Flashback to my high school days. I am sitting with my female friends in the canteen, engrossed in enjoyable conversation. “Mate, are you, like, a faggot or something?” one of the popular, athletic types suddenly probes. Silence. Those around stare. Silence is soon replaced with sniggers and slurs. My words fail me as I desperately try to salvage a fragment of my crumbling heterosexual façade. Deeper into my closet I withdraw.
This was just one of the day-to-day experiences that I encountered during my youth which made me feel like I would never be able to escape the dark solitude of my closet.
Fortunately, however, my closet was only a temporary abode. I was able to step out of the darkness into a warm and accepting welcome from all of my family and friends, to which I am extremely grateful. The positive reaction from those around me left me wondering what it was that had made me so fearful to come out during my younger years. The world outside the closet was bright. Liberating. I could breathe, finally; I had cast off my shackles and bid adieu to the isolation of my closet for once and for all. Or so I had thought.
Before leaving for Japan on the JET Programme, my sexuality was the last thing on my mind. During Pre-Departure Orientation, lecturers kindly gave speeches discussing the difficulties that incoming JETs can face after arriving in Japan — mainly culture shock. Given the geographical distance between Britain and Japan, I tried to mentally prepare myself as best as possible for the impending culture shock which awaited me in the land of the rising sun.
Much time was spent considering the challenges that await foreigners in Japan. However, topics which were never discussed were the challenges which lay in wait for me as a homosexual male.
With Tokyo Orientation over all too soon, I suddenly found myself behind my desk at work on the first day of my new job. An uncomfortable mixture of nerves and jet lag, matched with the stifling heat of the Japanese summer, meant my once freshly-cleaned shirt was drenched in perspiration as I began to make my rounds greeting different people within city hall. After many introductions and an excessive amount of bowing, one particular gentlemen mentions my biggaijinnose and compliments my physical attributes. This was met with laughter from my new supervisor. “Relax! He’s not a homo. Don’t worry!”
My throat ran dry.
My words failed me.
I decided to smile graciously and let the comment slide as playful office banter.
After a long first day at work, I was quickly ushered to a local izakayawhich was filled with the faces of my new work colleagues. It’s my welcome party. The smell of cigarette smoke and sake filled my nostrils as I took my seat within the venue. After a few words of greeting, a couple cans of Kirin Ichiban, the conversation turned to relationships.
“Nick, do you have a girlfriend?”
“Nick, what is your type?”
“Nick, what do you think of Japanese girls?”
The barrage of questions was quick and relentless. In that moment, I was offered two choices: tell the truth or lie.
I regrettably chose the latter.
Like a repeat offender, I find myself being frog-marched back into my closet once again. Though many years have passed, my closet remains unchanged and the familiar darkness greets me like an old friend. Only this time, my closet feels smaller and more cramped than I remember. I awkwardly contort my body, trying to squeeze into the same space which my 14-year-old self would have had no problem fitting into. My brief spell outside of the closet had enabled me to grow in many more ways than I could have imagined.
I had once naïvely thought that stepping out of the closet would be one of the hardest challenges I would face in my life. However, admittedly, stepping out of the closet, enjoying the taste of liberation, and then being forced back into the same closet is undeniably even more challenging.
However, this is of course not just limited to myself. I imagine that many members from the LGBTQIA living in Japan are faced with similar situations on a regular basis. Living in Japan for any minority can be a stressful and at times frustrating experience. However, members of the queer community are statistically more likely to be faced with additional anguish and strife. Unfortunately, this mental and emotional burden can often lead to low self-esteem, alcohol/drug abuse, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Finding solace and refuge within a queer space can be an excellent way to reduce the stress and anguish of everyday life. From an outside perspective, the bars, clubs, discotheques, and other queer spaces as found in Shinjuku Ni-chome and Kita-ku might appear to be nothing more than a place where gay men drink vodka and twerk to the likes of Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj on a superficial level. However, these queer spaces are much more than this. These queer spaces offer sanctuary. Safety. Family. Home. It is a place to step out of the proverbial closet and present the most authentic and honest version of yourself.
Unfortunately, for those who do not reside in big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, queer spaces and communities are seldom found. From my experience, this can heighten one’s sense of isolation and solitude while living in the inaka of Japan. Though you can surround yourself with many close friends within the local community and among fellow JETs and alumni, the lack of a queer space to retreat to can leave you with an unshakeable feeling of loneliness. My incarceration within the closet seems perpetual.
However, the worst was yet to come.
On June 12, 2016, an assailant walked into Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, armed with an SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol. Opening fire, the gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a heinous hate crime. This was both the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman and the worst attack against the LGBTQIA in United States history.
Pulse was a gay nightclub. It was a queer space. A place which people retreat to in search of acceptance, unity, and love, had in that instance been desecrated into somewhere of discrimination, stigma, and hate.
The LGBTQIA community worldwide was in mourning.
My alarm sounds at 7 a.m. on a seemingly ordinary dreaded Monday. I stir. I yawn. I stretch. I reach for my iPhone and begin scrolling through Facebook as I steal a couple of extra minutes in bed. Expecting the usual stream of selfies and memes, I pause. Stunned. I frantically read through article after article feeling a surge of different emotions, even a world away.
My clock now reads 07:32 a.m. Work beckons me. It is in that instant that I realize that similar to my sexuality, my emotions too must be left firmly sealed within my closet.
As with any other Monday, I routinely pull out my trousers, shirt, tie, and jacket from my closet and begin to get dressed. I apply cologne, style my hair, and put on my watch. My last accessory to apply is the most important — my mask of heterosexuality. With a heavy heart, I cower behind this mask.
Wanting to grieve but not being permitted to because of societal values and norms has been my toughest challenge to date. Forcing a smile, I try to feign normality. It was in this instance that I felt my closet was at its darkest. However, to quote a well-known proverb, “the darkest hour comes just before the dawn.”
As I sit pondering my desolation inside my closet, a faint voice calls out from the darkness: “You are not alone.”
Like music to my ears, my heart leaps as my eyes scan my closet trying to distinguish who had called out to me from the shadows. My search is in vain as I see nothing but darkness: “It gets better.”
A different voice calls out from another corner of my closet, only louder: “We are here for you.”
A chorus of encouragement erupts from within my closet. Suddenly, a light switches on and I see that I am not alone. Faces smile at me and I recognize these people as my comrades of the LGBTQIA cause. These are of course the faces of Stonewall Japan and other allies. Comment after comment fills the page from people offering support and love for those in need. My anger is replaced with determination. My loneliness replaced with togetherness. My sorrow replaced with pride.
I realise as I sit in my apartment amongst the Japanese rice fields, that to escape the darkness of my closet, all I had to do was remember to turn on the light.
Nick Lavin is a 3rd year CIR and the AJET Vice Chair located in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture. He majored in Japanese Studies at the University of Manchester, and has an interest in linguistics and queer culture. He wrote his thesis regarding queer identity through the medium of the Japanese language. Nick likes to spend his weekends drinking good coffee, hanging out with friends, and endlessly watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. Also, food. Lots of it.
It’s that time of the year when Stonewall Japan needs volunteers! If you want to get more involved in the LGBTQIA+ scene here in Japan, do some voluntary work, be part of a dynamic team, then this is the opportunity. Stonewall is growing each year, so the need for regular volunteers is only increasing. Unless specified below, all that we ask for is that you live in Japan, and are willing to learn and help-out!
All positions detailed below are open for application. Positions start on April 1st, and we ask that you fulfil the role for at least a year. To run for a position, answer the 10 questions below and send them to us at email@example.com before 11:59PM of Friday 3rd March! If you have any questions, want more information, or hesitant and want some encouragement…we’d love to hear from you, so please message Louis at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Unlike previous years, Block Leader and Prefecture Rep positions will NOT have to go through an election process. Only Leadership positions will go through a voting process and election.
1. What is your name/pronouns?
2. Tell us a bit about yourself.
3. What is the position you’re applying for?
4. How long have you been in Japan?
5. How long have you been a part of Stonewall Japan?
6. What are you doing in Japan?
7. Where do you currently live?
8. How’s your Japanese?
9. Why are you the best person for this position?
10. What do you hope to accomplish by the end of your term?
The president is responsible for:
1. Acting as lead executive toward both the efficacy and efficiency of administration for the good of the membership of Stonewall Japan.
2. Acting as the external liaison and representative of Stonewall Japan to other organizations including but not limited to non-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations, and public and private service providers.
3. Facilitating all internal meetings with Leadership.
4. Coordinating communications.
5. Keeping contact with National AJET, other chapters of AJET and Special Interest Groups (SIGs).
6. Executive decisions and settling disputes.
7. The treasury.
8. Creating agendas for the meetings.
The Vice President is responsible for:
1. Working with the President toward both the efficacy and efficiency of administration for the good of the membership of Stonewall Japan.
2. Facilitating all internal meetings with Block Leaders.
3. Acting as liaison between Block Leaders and the Leadership.
4. Assisting the president in various duties, including treasury issues.
5. Communicate with the secretary regarding clerical records (mailing list, contacts, etc.) and membership.
The Treasurer is responsible for:
1. Accessing the ‘Stonewall Japan’ bank account.
2. Maintaining records of all revenue and expenditures and ensuring that generally accepted accounting practices and controls are in place.
3. Providing the Stonewall Japan Leadership with a monthly financial report.
4. Creating an annual budget.
5. Transferring access of the aforementioned bank account to the succeeding Treasurer as a final duty.
*The Treasurer will not withdraw money without permission from either the President or Vice-President.
Diversity & Awareness Officer
[2 positions are available to share responsibilities]
The Diversity & Awareness Officers are responsible for:
1. Moderating the Stonewall Japan Facebook group using the Safe Space Guidelines and protocol.
2. Conducting outreach activities in-person or online making Stonewall Japan a more inclusive and safe space.
3. Attending monthly leadership meetings.
4. Checking the Stonewall Japan Facebook Group(s)/page and email account on a regular basis.
5. Participating in group discussions.
6. Assisting in succession planning.
[2+ positions are available to share responsibilities]
The Web Coordinators are responsible for:
1. Updating and editing Stonewall Japan’s official site using WordPress.
2. Tweeting from the official Stonewall Japan twitter account.
3. Writing, accepting and editing contributions for the website.
4. The start-up and development of any other web-related projects that would enhance Stonewall Japan’s web presence.
5. As the position tenure nears its end, the Web Coordinator is expected to assist in succession planning.
Requirements: An understanding or committed willing to learn about wordpress, HTML, CSS and Bootstrap. A level of Japanese would be helpful, but not necessary.
Stonewall Block Leader
The Block Leaders are responsible for:
1. Checking the block e-mail account and the Stonewall Japan Facebook group.
2. Attending Google Hangouts meetings.
3. Sending out a monthly ‘Block Newsletters’ detailing upcoming events/information.
4. Helping promote and assist in Stonewall member’s events
5. Looking out for queer-friendly places and assisting in updating online resources
6. Being open to signpost members to sources of further support.
7. Assist in succession planning.
[Unlimited positions available]
Prefecture Reps are responsible for:
1. Help the Block Leader in gathering information about the prefecture.
2. Be a general helping hand.
3. Help out, or organise local Stonewall events.
Being on the leadership for Stonewall this year has been rewarding and enjoyable for all of us, and I would certainly recommend it. So come and join the team! We’re looking forward to hearing from you.
This article was originally published in the February 2017 issue of the Connect magazine. For more information about Connect and their engaging articles written by and for the ex-pat community in Japan, please visit their website.
LGBT Beyond Tokyo: Doing Your Best With Less
Every time I read an interesting, informative LGBT-themed manga, one thing sticks out: Tokyo. It seems like everything happens in Tokyo. All the best stories, all the TV shows, the biggest pride events, the hottest bars, it’s all about Tokyo. Sure, there are LGBT communities in places like Osaka, Yokohama, Fukuoka, Nagoya, and Sapporo. But they aren’t Tokyo. They don’t get the same publicity, draw the same crowds, or have the most resources. For example, in 2016 the Kyushu Rainbow Pride (1) and the Kansai Rainbow Festa! (2) had a turnout of 5,000-6,000 people, while the Tokyo Rainbow Pride attracted over 70,000 and was reported on in worldwide news services like the UK Daily Mail. (3)
And then there’s me. You see, I live in what people would call the inaka. Of course an area with around 300,000 people isn’t exactly a shack in the woods, but if that area is two hours from Tokyo… it might as well be nowhere. “But!” you may say, “I hear there’s lots of great apps you can use to meet people!” This is where the differences between my reality and other parts of LGBT reality collide head-on.
I guess a little information about me is needed to make sense. My name is Michelle, and I am a transwoman who identifies strongly as a lesbian. This is where the initial conflict arises. I think “LGBT” as a concept in Japan is much more fractured and compartmentalized than it is in some other countries. You could blame it on any number of potential reasons: the small LGBT population numbers, the patriarchy, a lack of education in LGBT issues, or plain old prejudice if you want. However, the truth is that each letter in LGBT (as well as the left out letters, like Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) are really their own individual fiefdoms in Japan, and they can be very exclusive.
Take for example, Shinjuku Ni-chome, known as a popular hub for the LGBT community — in Tokyo, again. Most of the bars are segregated by gender or sexuality, and sometimes anything that blurs those lines can be challenging. I’ve been to lesbian bars where I, as a fully out and transitioning transwoman, could only get in if I was accompanied by other cisgender lesbians. Meanwhile, the same bar allowed several transmen in, which I still don’t understand.
On one of my rare visits to Ni-chome, I met a very friendly bisexual woman who spent the evening taking me and another foreign lesbian that she met to different bars. She talked at length about how stifled she felt in the social climate of Japan, even among the small LGBT community. She said that sometimes, especially if she mentioned having recently gotten out of a relationship with a male, women would say she was a “fake” or just ignore her completely afterwards.
A similar thing happened to me, too. At one of the bars, I was talking with the patrons and the bartenders about being transgender, and they were all praising me for being out and representing LGBT issues in rural Japan. They asked questions about my lifestyle, hardships, and the whole process of transition. It felt like they had an urgent desire to understand, and that was a positive thing that I was happy to oblige.
However, when it came to relationships and sex, the conversation shifted. What struck me the most was that it seemed none of the women in the bar that night (as well as other Japanese lesbians I’ve talked to) had ever considered transwomen as capable of being lesbians. There was a compartmentalized view, as if to say “lesbians are this” and “transwomen are that.” There was no intersectionality, no concept that the two weren’t mutually exclusive ideas. There was a disconnect between accepting trans people as an aspect of the sexual minority community and accepting them as a valid component of the lesbiancommunity.
When the bartender was asked by her friends if she would date a transwoman, she paused for a bit to think about it. After some consideration, she said (roughly translated): “I respect them and all, but I couldn’t ever date one. That’s not my thing.” I get that. Everyone has their own feelings and preferences, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people are really open to a variety of experiences, while others can’t quite move beyond simple biology. Attraction is what it is, and I don’t judge anyone for that. Still, it hurts sometimes to hear it. More important than my feelings, though, the fact that the concept of a transwoman identifying as a lesbian had never crossed their radar highlights how much more education Japan needs on trans issues, even among the larger LGBT community.
And it’s not that these were bad places, because they certainly weren’t. Once inside, I felt the same friendliness as anyone else would, though inwardly I also felt sort of isolated. It was like being a very welcomed guest, but not a full-fledged member of the community. However, three-and-a-half years ago, I visited a women’s only bar in Fukuoka where I felt right at home, fully welcomed by the women there, and even hit on by a few. I went again to Tokyo’s Ni-chome, during the 2016 Tokyo Rainbow Pride, as a guest speaker for a panel discussion on overcoming difficulties in LGBT life. This time I certainly felt more connected, but it was other foreigners in the community who were paying me attention.
Meanwhile, out here in the “countryside,” one’s relationship potential seems to depend on whether or not you’re a gay male. Many of my gay friends talk about how they have decent options, going on dates from time to time, and in some cases having serious, long-term relationships. But whenever I talk with my few lesbian friends, all I hear is “Yeah, I haven’t been on any dates in a while.”
I asked a gay male friend of mine about this recently, and his response was that it’s the same everywhere. He said that essentially, men have most of the freedoms in the world, while women have most of the responsibilities. Of course, this isn’t completely true, but on some level, it persists as a social construct. After all, women are expected to bear children, take care of the house, get coffee with their girlfriends, and gossip about men. That pressure to bow to domestic social rules tends to bear more of its weight on women than on men. That means that, on some level, society devalues women who aren’t getting married and having children.
Let me give you an example. I work in a high school, and for the past two years I have had my third-year students write an essay on any one of four social issues. Out of the 129 students who choose to talk about the same-sex marriage issue, only 6 said they were against it. First, let’s take a step back and recognize that 123 out of 129 students (of voting age in a few months) said they were for same-sex marriage! However, one thing that persisted throughout most of the essays was that many students thought allowing same-sex marriage would hurt Japan’s drastically declining birthrate. (4)
It was apparent that many of the students viewed overarching social obligations as equally or more important than personal happiness. What was interesting was that very few of these students considered the possibility of surrogacy or in-vitro fertilization. A recent article from Advocate.com (5)relates the difficulties that LGBT couples face in getting IVF or legal recognition in surrogacy cases. Same-sex couples are barred from receiving IVF by Japanese doctors, and they cannot adopt children under 6 years old.
The article also says that a child born to a Japanese couple via a surrogate mother in the US would still likely be legally considered the surrogate’s child in Japan. Despite not having any part in the relationship, and not even being a legal mother in the US, Japan would place the responsibility on the woman, taking it away from the child’s legal parent. This highly traditional viewpoint promoted by the government brings home this idea that the woman’s job is to have children, and that’s that. When you think about the social pressures on women, it’s no wonder many Japanese lesbians are secretive about their sexuality.
A year ago, I was determined to overcome this problem and meet a girl online. I did some research, downloaded some apps, and dove into it. First of these was Tinder, which might as well be called “Dwindle” since there seems to be little fire ready to burn. Put in “Girl looking for Girl” and countless profiles pop-up, of which maybe one in 40 is an actual lesbian/bisexual girl. The other 39 profiles are straight girls just looking for a “bestie” to teach them English, for free of course. Many of these women actually state in their profiles that they are not interested in relationships/hookups, and anyone looking for that should “swipe left” to pass on them.
I then tried Spindle+, advertised as an app specifically for lesbians. What I found was a few people in my area, less than 10 within a 30 km radius. Of course all of them spoke Japanese only, and the whole app was very confusing and difficult to navigate. I couldn’t figure out how to message or connect with anyone, and nobody has paid any attention to me in the year I’ve been on it. I gave up on that.
What’s next, then? OkCupid, of course! This was a different app; this one was full of real lesbian/bi/pan women seeking other women! In Tokyo. Nearly everyone I’ve seen on the app who pops up as “in my area” is in Tokyo, and furthermore, it’s almost all foreigners. And that’s not really a problem, love is love after all. But it doesn’t move you forward when your goal is to find and connect with the Japanese LGBT community.
I guess it comes down to the question of “What do I really want?” A part of me still can’t decide if I want to be part of a community, or if I just want a girlfriend. It feels as if the community is the part of those manga which interested me the most, and pulled me towards Japan in the first place. What I’ve seen of the LGBT community in Japan, both from manga written by lesbians and from my own experiences, is a small, tight-knit realm where people are generally compassionate and friendly. Perhaps that contradicts some of my earlier stories on some level, but I’m optimistic enough to believe that these are either exceptions to the rule or social misunderstandings. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
But once again, that all happens only when I visit Tokyo. Back here in my little burg of 300,000 people, I find myself feeling alone and isolated. I have plenty of friends among the English-speaking community here, but none of that really connects back into the LGBT community I long for. I find myself searching for expression and for a place where I feel like I can have an impact.
In fact, I long for those things so much that last year I joined Stonewall Japan (6), a national LGBT organization, as the leader of my area. In the end, though, I found the same problems. As much as I tried to connect locally, create events, and cultivate a community, the base just wasn’t there. The biggest cities had all the members, all the events, and all the focus. This wasn’t the organization’s fault, as a lot of work was put into trying to solve this issue. Even now that I’m no longer a leader, I intend to help my successor continue building up the small community in my area. Still, under my leadership, that community just didn’t quite coalesce.
Maybe I didn’t try hard enough. However, it feels sometimes like it’s impossible to push back against the force of a world-class city bearing down on you, like an ant avoiding footsteps. As an ant, you really only have two options: either run to the side and climb onto the foot, or get crushed. But as much as I talk about how nice it would be to live in Tokyo and be a part of that community, the truth is I don’t really want to leave my nice little area. I have a good job, a less stressful daily life, and a drastically lower cost of living. There are plenty of anime and game shops to attract my attention away from my sorrows, and I can still go down to the local bookstore and buy used lesbian manga for 100 yen.
But it isn’t the same, and perhaps it never will be. There’s only one Tokyo.
Michelle Belmont is the first openly transgender teacher in Shizuoka. Hailing from the controversially anti-trans North Carolina, USA, she enjoys her slightly too peaceful life in rural, yet suburban Japan. Her pet hamster Camille, named after a lesbian in the movie When Night Is Falling, has been a constant friend for two years. She is currently assisting her successor in Stonewall Japan as a Prefecture Rep. for Shizuoka.
Thank you so much to everyone who joined us on January 14, 2017 for our first-ever Chubu New Year’s Party! The event began as a cozy dinner of 8 people at Queer+s in Nagoya, Aichi, and things got pretty spicy with kimchi nabe, appetizers, and delicious drinks! [http://queer-s.info/] Our beautiful Chu-boos and guests enjoyed talking about LGBTQ outreach in more local communities, sharing dating news, and even playing multilingual rounds of “Never Have I Ever!” If this makes you think, “Wow, that sounds like a hot time; sure beats making a human burrito out of myself and my bed like I did instead of going,” then be sure to join us for the next event! Or, don’t be afraid to take the initiative and create your own assembly of Chubu members for an even more unbelievably amazing get-together!
To continue reminiscing about this past event, the revelry only snowballed (literally) into more fun. For the partiers who decided to stay in Nagoya all night (including our very own Stonewall Japan President, Louis Williams), our event next made its way to the Nagoya METRO Club for its monthly throwdown! [https://www.facebook.com/events/693725234122801/] There we were able to bond with each other by no-shame dancing to classics like Toxic by Britney Spears and also to two performances by drag queen Miku Divine!
This November, Kumamoto City held its first-ever Rainbow Parade. I felt very fortunate that such an unexpected event happened during my tenure as an ALT and that I was able to participate in it. About 200 people came from all over the prefecture to participate – which was quite a bit over the expected turn out. We gathered in a local park beforehand to take pictures, write messages, and in some instances be interviewed by local media. (I may have come out on prefectural television…whoops). Buzzfeed Japan was even present (you can find their photo album of the event here), the reporter having come down from Tokyo for the event. It was surprising, but very exciting, to see such widespread media coverage from newspapers to television. Check out this video KKT News took of the event below!
The energy of the day grew as more and more people gathered to prepare to walk in the parade. Local citizens and Stonewallers gathered together to celebrate. The route would take us directly through the heart of the shopping districts in Kumamoto. They set up three sections for the parade, each with their own music for dancing. A fellow ALT and I were in the middle of a television interview when they announced they were ready to begin. I was ushered off ahead of the group as a volunteer to direct the flow of the parade. My energy was ill-contained at my post and when I saw the parade approaching me in the distance I was overcome with pride to be part of this magnificent community. Much bouncing ensued.
As the end of the parade passed my post I was able to join in with the last group. As we entered the covered shopping arcades the music would be paused from time to time to allow one of the volunteers to explain who we are and why we were parading. The lineup of this group of brightly colored individuals seemed to garner a few quizzical looks, but mostly it seemed the response on the street was one of positivity. Admittedly I toned down my outfit for Kumamoto – less shiny gold hot pants and sequins, more fully clothed but nonetheless rainbow coat and scarf – to avoid too much shock value for the inaugural parade.
We walked for about an hour before gathering at another park north of the parade path. We took several group photos to commemorate the day, some for use within the group and some that were safe for use in the media. I had forgotten amid the celebration that while we were cheering and showing the world who we are, there are still some for whom it isn’t safe to come out. Though it was a brief jaunt through town I hope the Kumamoto Rainbow Parade will be a step in the right direction for us all.
The festivities continued into a few parties that night. They were terribly good fun, but what I will cherish the most is the memory of meeting wonderful new people and sharing this historic event with people that I love. I hope that the Kumamoto Rainbow Parade will continue next year and grow into the amazing event I know it can be. I think there’s a bright future for Kumamoto, you can definitely see a rainbow on the horizon.
The Kansai Rainbow Festa was a delightful success and a good time was had by all! Despite the surprisingly hot October weather, we met many people across a wide area and enjoyed interacting with both locals and other members of the broader community.At the Stonewall Japan booth we offered rainbow face (or due to the hot weather-arm) paint in the colours of the rainbow. Louis, I, and a large number of fantastic volunteers chatted and made friends with many new people. People came not just from the Kansai area, but also from prefectures in other regions of Japan. We managed to raise approximately 7,000 yen.
In addition to our booth, a large number of other organisations were also present, showing the real vibrancy of our community within Osaka. A stage was set up for performances and a multitude of food and drink stalls were there too.
The parade itself was also a success. We held up a large banner for Stonewall Japan and marched together, drawing the eyes and attention of many curious locals. The response was overwhelmingly positive (I think it was fairly clear what the parade was representing). The parade went around the Doyama district of Osaka and took a little over an hour as there were a large number of traffic lights.
Following the festivities during the day, we got together as a group and went out for dinner at an izakaya located in Tenma. The rest of the evening was spent dancing away (there may have been karaoke involved) at several bars in the Doyama area.
Overall, the event was a great success and I hope to see it grow larger in the years to come. It is always great to meet new people and to learn more about the community. While the atmosphere is reportedly less lively than other celebrations in Japan, I still think we all view as a fun time. In the coming years, I look forward to seeing what we can do to expand upon and improve the event.
The 3rd edition of the annual Kyushu Rainbow Parade/Pride in Fukuoka took place on 6 November in Reisen Park. The event was launched in 2014 by students from University of Fukuoka. Local LGBTQ activist Masahisa Miura (MarriageRings 4 LGBT) has taken over the responsibility of running the Pride since 2015, officially changing its name to Kyushu Rainbow Pride.
Unlike previous years, the Pride event was extended to two days to include the very first Kyushu Queer Movie Festival on the day before the Parade. The event was organized by Rainbow Soup and was attended by around 40 people in Factory Unvelashu (Fukuoka). Four LGBTQ-related movies were screened, followed by a half-hour-long review and talk show. The Out in Japan project was also exhibited at the venue.
The largest LGBTQ event in Kyushu region, the Kyushu Pride continues to attract more and more participants year by year. According to the official statistics, over 6000 people came to the venue, and 450 people walked in the parade. In addition, over 20 LGBTQ-related organizations and LGBTQ-friendly companies sponsored and presented their booths at the venue, including Stonewall Japan.
In addition to our usual Stonewall Japan “line-up” (face-painting and the donation jar), Stonewall member Ashford Kerr came up with many cool new concepts and ideas for the booth, such as the Pride Banner, the Stonewall photo frame, the Genie bucket, musical chairs, etc., which brought a lot of energy to the booth.
Our booth welcomed many new friends as well as some old ones: Stonewall Japan Secretary Ioana from Nagoya, and Stonewall Kyushu South Block Leader George, as well as former Kyushu Block Leader Karmen came all the way from Kumamoto to show their support to the Pride. On top of that, many Stonewall members offered to volunteer at the booth. We are so grateful for everyone’s contribution and devotion!
Last weekend, a group of 10 Stonewallers met up for a weekend break in the scenic Atami, Shizuoka. For some it was the first time to come to such an event, and for others, they had particpated in many ‘queer’ events across Japan. Trepidations are understandable when you have planned to share a room and weekend with strangers, but the ‘Stonewall LGBT+ Atami Weekend’ brought like-minded strangers together, and much fun was had…
Participants were mainly from the surrounding area of Tokyo, but people as far as Miyagi and Mie came too. We met at Atami station, exchanged names and started on the first sight of our short tour around the city. Our first stop was Kinomiya Shrine which boasts to have the largest tree in Honshu. Despite a stand taking photos, there we met a kind man who was adamant to help us take our group photo.
Next we went down to the harbor to watch the sun set, and dip our toes into the ocean. As we walked down the hill, zig-zagging through lanes and streets, we were able to see the right out to sea. Arriving at the beach, it was obvious why Atami is a hub for tourists alike; the shore, the sea air, the surfers…
After , what felt like, a short hike up and train ride to Atami station, we bought some refreshments and took a shuttle bus to the hotel. After checking-in and discovering a free ‘janken-tournament’ [じゃんけん大会] we revised our evening plans and headed to our rooms. Atami is famous for its onsen and it was first on the list for some of us. By this time the first-time-meeting nerves had melted away, and I personally enjoyed relaxing in the many warm baths the hotel had to offer.
The buffet dinner seemed to accommodate everyone in the group, so pescetarians and vegans were able to eat. A favorite of mine was the seafood rice dish and plates of sliced steak. The food was pretty darn tasty in general. Straight after dinner we all entered the janken tournament. Despite losing the practice match, out of 60+ hotel guests, I won the game! I do feel a little sorry for the four elderly women I beat though… After that moment, many a hotel guest congratulated me throughout the evening.
After janken we headed for an hour of karaoke, played some games and chatted in our rooms, and attempted to have a table tennis tournament. I didn’t see any potential Olympic competitors between us, but some of us could play a mean game of billiards and air hockey! As the evening drew to a close, people started to head to beds to sleep.
The next morning, some of the group headed off early to visit Atami castle, others went back for another dip in the onsen whilst I was locked outside the room on the balcony. Only for a few minutes though! We had breakfast, walked to a viewing spot near the hotel and then headed off back towards Atami station. I came from afar and decided to leave early, but the majority stayed to browse for souvenirs, eat lunch and breathe in the coastal air before they return to their various hometowns. [That may have been stretching the truth a little].
Overall, it went better than expected. As one half of the organisers, and someone quite active with Stonewall, I honestly did enjoy spending time with other like-minded people from various parts of Japan. I’ve been to many Stonewall events, and I still enjoy meeting new people, meeting people I’ve spoken to through the Facebook group and or reuniting with those that I haven’t seen in months and years. I hope to see you at the next one, and for those who came, thanks for coming. Last but not least, a big shout-out to Yuki for being the main organiser and instigator of this fab weekend. When’s the next one?
As a gay Caucasian man living in rural Mie, the double minority status can feel quite isolating. This is why the first ever Mie Rainbow Festa (みえレインボーフェスタ), held in Ise last month, was such a joyous day out! Stonewall Japan organised an opportunity for LGBT+ people and their allies to interact with other like-minded people. We watched numerous musical and dance acts, grabbed some local Ise food, and enjoyed meeting some of the most prominent LGBT activists currently working in Japan.
Organisers Shoichi Yamaguchi(山口颯一), Ichikawa Takeshi(市川武史) and Ota Yuuya(太田有矢)successfully planned and executed it, and as it was in my home prefecture, I had to attend. A group of Stonewallers met in front of the station, and managed to get to the event just in time for its opening remarks. The prefectural governor, mayor of Ise, and the mayor of Iga said some words along with the organisers. Iga was the first city in the Kansai/Tokai region to recognise same-sex couples, so maybe Ise may get some ideas…
Held in the Ise City Plaza, in the centre of Ise, Mie, the venue was full of attendees. The hall was decorated with love-filled messages from local elementary school children, rainbow painted bamboo candle holders and the smiles of supportive friends and family.
We’d seen the event officially start, and then decided to grab some lunch at a nearby restaurant. Whilst we were eating, a panel of distinguished LGBT+ activists had a talk about the current status of LGBT+ equality in Japan. Some stayed behind to watch the discussion. For others, we had a nice catch up with old friends and met some new faces over some delicious food.
After our meal, we returned to the event. The city had really shown its support by decorating the main street that leads from the train station to Ise Shrine (Gekū) with rainbow flags too. We made it just in time to watch some performances from some local musicians and further afield dance groups. Emceed by the drag artist Raira(ライラ), the array of acts was well received with applause. Some special guests included Nijigumi Fight (虹組ファイツ), Rowan, X-ways, NSM = (LIVE) to mention a few. Some emotional words were expressed from the organisers, and the event closed with a group photo. We even managed to speak to Mr. Yamaguchi and grab a photo with him.
Afterwards, a few of us stayed behind to watch the sun set and get to know each other better. I was exhausted by the end of the day, and slept the whole train ride home. But, I can’t wait till next year! In a country that still has no unambiguous, constitutional protections against homophobic or transphobic discrimination, I am thankful to have been part of this event. Thank you to everyone who came.