A large crowd gathered Tuesday evening in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district for a candlelight vigil to mourn the victims of the LGBT nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida.
The event near Shinjuku Ni-chome, Tokyo’s main LGBT neighborhood, drew over 130 participants. They gathered in Hanazono Nishi Park, located just outside of the district, at 8 p.m., where candles were distributed by one of the organizers, the international LGBT group Stonewall Japan.
The attack at the Pulse club early Sunday left 49 people dead, making it the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.
“It’s a real tragedy that this happened, and honestly, it could have happened to any of us, anywhere, anytime. This could have happened in Ni-chome as well,” said Sonal Malkani, 29, of Stonewall Japan. “I feel connection with those who passed away. They were expressing themselves just like they were. To have lost their heartbeat, we need to fight to protect as many hearts as possible. That’s why it’s important to stand together, even if we are far away in Japan.”
The group then marched around the district, holding handwritten signs with messages such as “Tokyo in solidarity with Orlando,” “Love to all our brothers and sisters in Orlando” and “To Orlando with love.”
“Since the incident happened, I’ve been just watching the news, getting the updates, just being devastated for not being there with the community with the family, with the friends that I love and care for. Living here so far away, I felt very helpless, and I had to do something,” said Steven Sakakieda, 35, who moved to Tokyo in 2014 after living in Orlando since 2002.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “I was basically terrified because I lived close to the club, been there so many times. I hope that all the people here saw the news and felt what I felt, regardless of if they know someone there or not. This is a good opportunity for us to be aware of what’s out there and unite as one and support each other.”
After the march, an open microphone session was held in Hanazono Nishi Park, where many participants expressed deep sadness and resentment over the incident.
“In some ways the world is getting so much better. America just got gay marriage rights, and suddenly this happens, so it invokes a sense of despair,” said David Chigusa, 54. “You’re given all these amazing rights on the one hand, but not only your rights but the actual life taken away on the other hand.”