Friday, 27 April 2012

T.G.I.F.: We're here, we're queer!

I wasn't actually researching activities for my TGIF post when I found out about this event this weekend. It was a friend who told me about this weekend's LGBT event in Tokyo, the Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade. When I tried to Google some more information, I made some startling discoveries. So a little explanation, I think, is in order...

Many cities in many developed countries hold gay pride rallies annually, consistently, like clockwork. The Sydney event in Australia happens to be one of the most exciting events on the city's social calendar. But I was surprised to find that Tokyo's own gay pride scene has not been so successful historically. Having watched a lot of Japanese cinema and television before ever coming to Japan, I got the impression that gay culture was probably more accepted in Japan than even Australia. Gay couples frequent many a manga or anime (just walk into a comic book/doujinshi shop in Akihabara if you don't beleive me!) but I have discovered that perhaps my own preconceptions about Japanese LGBT society have painted a picture in my mind that is a little more 'prouder' than reality.

The history behind Tokyo's gay pride rally has been dogged with disorganization, political dogma, and its own inner conflict over political allegiances. The rally has been on-again-off-again since its inception in 1994. The last rally to be held in Tokyo was 2010; no festival was held in 2011. Sexual minorities have appealed for greater pride from the gay population and so another rally was scheduled for 2012. This inconsistency in holding the event is surprising given the success of similar rallies in Osaka and Sapporo.

This article reports that many participants in past gay pride rally tend to huddle around the "no photos" float and obscure their faces with props to avoid being identified.  Sometimes the organizers intentionally schedule the event on public holidays when many civilians will be traveling to other parts of Japan. Although two gay pride events are scheduled for 2012, the first event is scheduled for early on in Golden Week (a week filled with many public holidays), a time when many Japanese usually travel to Hiroshima and Kyoto for sight-seeing.

Why is this happening? Is the LGBT community really lacking in its pride?

The problem, as far as I can see, lies in Japan as a society being composed largely of a very conservative, reserved, and (at times) conformist kind of mentality. Japanese people do not like to interfere with others and tend to keep their opinions to themselves. The majority are not flamboyant people. I know from experience that it is like pulling hen's teeth trying to get my students to enter into a debate about anything. They fear that their opinion may upset some unseen balance or offend someone irrevocably. Unfortunately, the LGBT community is not as widely accepted as I first thought and homosexuality is still a cultural taboo in Japan. Stepping outside of the norm in Japan can be grounds for receiving much more backlash compared with doing so in other developed nations. In Japan, there is a saying, "The nail that sticks out, gets hammered back in." Everyone must be uniformly unobtrusive and reserved.

I was speaking recently with one of my friends (who is gay) about the upcoming Tokyo gay pride celebration. She told me that already, organizers are predicting low numbers and lackluster enthusiasm and were trying to boost support on the official rally website. The current organizers of the event (Tokyo Rainbow Pride) formed in 2011 and are dedicated to creating annual events for the LGBT community. It's time Tokyo showed some real pride. Tokyo needs your help readers, get out there and support your friends!

The event takes place this Sunday, 29th April. The parade begins at Yoyogi Park at 1.15pm with performances starting at 11am. More information about the parade route can be found here. Visit the official Tokyo Rainbow Pride website for more information.

What will you be doing this weekend?

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