Pride vs. prejudice

by Jamie Findlay

Japanese people take 10 months to gestate, have longer intestines and higher body temperatures. And there are no gays in Japan.

If anyone still believes this last piece of rubbish, they are in for a shock if they find themselves crossing paths with the Tokyo Pride Parade in Harajukuor Shibuya this Saturday.

Several thousand lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgendered and their friends are expected to turn up for the event.

It’s a sight you’re more likely to expect in gay capitals Brighton or Sydney, which makes the Tokyo parade all the more refreshing.

After all, it’s possible to live in Japan all your life and see little evidence of a gay community.

So what is the Japanese attitude to homosexuality? Between Holland and Afghanistan, where does Japan lie on the scale of tolerance?

According to the Lonely Planet guide to these islands, Japan has “the most enlightened attitude towards homosexuality in Asia” bar Thailand. Yet the book “Queer Japan” claims that ” ‘doseisai’ (same-sex love between men) has never been legally nor (sic) socially accepted in Japan.” So where does the truth lie?

On the one hand, Japan has a large lesbian and gay community, and it’s becoming more visible. Two years ago, Osaka Prefectural Assembly member Kanako Otsuki came out as a lesbian and has since married her partner (though the marriage is not legally recognized). And Setagaya Ward’s Aya Kamikawa has become the country’s first transsexual politician.

Japan has no laws prohibiting same-gender sex, and Tokyo actually has a law banning discrimination on the grounds of sexual identity. Homosexuality was only briefly criminalized in the Meiji Era (due to Western influence), and there is little or no homophobic violence.

There are a number of high-profile gay celebs: the twins Piko and Osugi, drag queen Akihiro Miwa, and former pop idol Kenichi Mikawa, among others. However, their celebrity is often based on their sexuality — on their “difference” from their supposedly 99.9-percent straight audiences.

There is discrimination. No recognition of same-sex relationships exists in law; in Miyazaki Prefecture, antidiscrimination laws were passed in 2003, only to be repealed last year; and young people find themselves under great social pressure to marry, and are often forced to meet prospective partners through the arranged-marriage system; and people who are married (to the opposite sex) can earn higher salaries some Japanese firms.

Some politicians seem to believe that sexuality is an area where they can preach intolerance.

Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara has declared war on Shinjuku’s Ni-Chome area, as though it were somehow the gay equivalent of Kabukicho. And, most bizarrely, there is LDP Tokushima Prefectural Assembly member Motohiro Takeuchi, who declared that “Japan will collapse if it encourages homosexuals by listing the names of boys and girls together,” when plans were announced to mix the names of boys and girls on school registers. Quite how this could “turn” schoolchildren remains unclear.

These are all reasons why the Pride Parade in Tokyo is needed — to demonstrate the existence and strength of sexual minorities and their friends.

Like all such marches, the parade has no political agenda, just the desire to say, as the pamphlet declares: “We’re here! We’re happy!” Anyone is welcome, which is why this year the name of the event was changed from “Lesbian and Gay Parade” to simply, “Tokyo Pride Parade.”

Among the gay community in Ni-Chome, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm.

“I want to go to show Ishihara that I exist and pay his wages,” said Toshi, a Dragon pub regular.

At the London Pride parade, Mayor Ken Livingstone usually puts in an appearance, so — who knows? — on Saturday you might even get a chance to give Mr. Ishihara a piece of your mind.

The festival starts in Yoyogi Park at 11 a.m., and the parade kicks off at 3 p.m.