Tokyo Rainbow Pride planning a bright future for Japanese gays and lesbians

GSN meets the organizers of Tokyo Rainbow Pride

I met Inui Hiroteru, co-chair of Tokyo Rainbow Pride at the Park Hyatt hotel near Shinjuku.

‘Call me Hiro’ he said politely as we shook hands; 33-year-old Hiro’s English was perfect, my Japanese non-existent.

It was happy hour in the New York Bar, so we chatted over beers while admiring the spectacular lights of of the city below us.

Tokyo’s first pride parade was held in August 1994, but due to budgetary and organizational challenges the event has only been held 10 times in the intervening years.

Why has the Rainbow Pride organization been established?

We have three main purposes: We want to make Tokyo Pride sustainable, we want to make it Asia’s number one pride parade by 2016 and we want to expand Pride’s focus beyond the LGBT community and be inclusive of all elements of diversity.

We also have a fourth ‘hidden’ purpose – we want pride to be a huge party, not a protest. Pride should be something that everyone can enjoy.

What are some of the challenges in making Tokyo’s Pride Parade sustainable?

The main factor is cost. With only limited sponsorship funding available, we have had to dramatically reduce costs and use our resources on only the essential things required for the parade.

It’s not only financial resources though, human resources are also very important. It takes an enormous amount of work to put on an event like this and everyone is a volunteer. We need to try and get more people involved to spread the burden of the organizing tasks so that everyone can contribute and enjoy the parade.

How achievable is it to aim to be Asia’s number one Pride parade by 2016?

Tokyo is such a big city but in terms of diversity and LGBT rights it is weaker than other Asian cities.

We are working hard to increase participation in the pride parade. Since 1994 the number of participants has been stagnant at around 3,000 people. In the 2012 parade we had 2,500 marchers and 2,000 spectators, in 2013 we are looking to increase that to a total of 10,000 people.

Why are you looking to expand the pride parade to include a wider sense of diversity?

Pride used to be closed and limited to only the LGBT community. We want to celebrate the concept and idea of diversity and welcome anyone who can agree on the idea of diversity and the diverse way of living – sexuality, race, nationality, and social diversity.

Why are you deliberately avoiding making pride a political or protest event?

In Japan parades are generally seen as a form of social activism and generally really political. Our main priority is to show ourselves, to enjoy ourselves and to celebrate diversity.

Our plan is to build pride into a week long festival of events – a platform for Tokyo’s LGBT organizations to get involved in and use it as a focus for activity.

Who are the people behind Tokyo Rainbow Pride?

We are a group of LGBT and straight people – generally we’re of the younger generation in our late-20s to early-30s, so we know how to utilize social media.

We also have the support of a number of older people who have been involved in previous pride parades, so they advise us and help us with their networks and knowledge.

Is it difficult to attract sponsors to support Pride?

We have had some support from international companies such as American Apparel, Moet & Chandon, Hennessy, Red Bull, and Armani.

However most Japanese companies see supporting Pride as a reputation risk, something that could damage their brand image.

We are working though to change that perception – recently Dentsu (a large advertising agency) did a huge survey of the LGBT community. Some early results from this survey is that 5.3% of Japanese people identify as LGBT – this represents a market value of ¥6trillion ($73.2m €57m), which is equivalent to the market for alcohol in Japan.

Also business magazines Toyo Keizai, and Diamond have recently run features showcasing the value of the LGBT market in Japan.

I am confident that things are changing, but change will be slow.

How important is international support to try and encourage change for LGBT people in Japan?

In Western countries the rights of LGBT people are seen as more of a human rights issues – this isn’t the case in Japan. There’s very little public or media support and discussion about LGBT rights or equality, and the Japanese government is resistant to change.

International companies in Japan like IBM and Goldman Sachs are organising LGBT employee networks, no Japanese companies are doing this.

We’re also getting a lot of support from Patrick Linehan – the US Consul General for Osaka-Kobe. As a gay man he has been very supportive and encouraging and that has given us confidence.

In 2013 we are planning a larger exhibition space in Yoyogi Park and we will invite all the LGBT friendly embassies – including UK, US, Denmark, Canada, and Australia. We want them to show their flags so that Japanese people know that countries around the world are supporting LGBT people.

What’s it like living as a gay man in Tokyo today?

It’s getting easier for the younger generation to say ‘I am gay’.

The older generation have generally used code names in order to protect their identify, but younger gay people are using their real names.

But while telling your friends that you’re gay is getting easier, telling your company or school is still really difficult and there is no legal protection. If you lost your job due to discrimination on the grounds of sexuality there is no legal protection for that.

I am currently looking for a new job – I have an offer from an international company and I’m trying to figure out if I’m going to tell them that I’m gay. I want to be open, I want to be honest, but I don’t know.

In 2012 the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade marched through the neighborhoods of Yoyogi, Shibuya, and Harajuku.

Tokyo Rainbow Pride’s logo and mascot is ‘Toby’ – a kind of flying squirrel that is native to Japan. The name is derived from the Japanese character for ‘flight’ and the English verb ‘to be’, reflecting a desire for a society in which LGBT people are naturally accepted and free to be who they truly are

by Gareth Johnson
Source – Gay Star News