Does homophobia exist in Japan?
Thinking about danger in the streets, I’d say it’s pretty safe. Japan itself is one of the safest countries in the world and people are not so nosy about other people’s lives. It’s not common to witness homophobia or any crime for that matter.
The way I see it, it is more difficult to be a Japanese LGBT rather than a foreigner one, due to society being very conservative. I rarely met Japanese that were out of the closet. Nonetheless, it’s not like homophobia doesn’t exist. It’s very rare to see physical aggression, but some public figures have expressed their dislike towards LGBT people in the past.
For instance, in August 2018 there was a famous case that got the attention of international news outlets. LDP lawmaker Mio Sugita questioned the use of taxpayers’ money for LGBT’s causes, like same-sex marriage because “these men and women don’t bear children — in other words, they are ‘unproductive’.” Around the same time, another member of the LDP, Tomu Tanigawa, suggested that same-sex relations are a kind of “hobby” and that legal measures to allow same-sex marriage are unnecessary.
The future is looking bright
Apart from all this hate, various local governments have taken action and legalized same-sex civil partnerships. The first one was Shibuya, followed by Setagaya (both in Tokyo). Since then, a few others have followed suit including Sapporo, Fukuoka, and Osaka. By 2020, 22 cities/wards will offer some sort of recognition. The bad news is that the central government does not recognize same-sex partnerships. Therefore, in practical terms, these certificates issued by local governments have little or no use.
On top of that, there are also other people trying to provoke the government. In February this year, on Valentine’s Day, 13 same-sex couples filed a lawsuit against the Japanese government, claiming that it was their constitutional right to be able to get married. Article 24 of the Constitution says, “Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis.”
LGBT Japanese voices still need to be loud in order to be heard, which leads us to Pride.
Like many countries, Japan also has its own version of gay pride, with the first event taking place in 1994. The main Pride takes place in Tokyo and is known as Tokyo Rainbow Pride (東京レインボープライド). It usually happens between April and May and is a 3 km-long parade around the Harajuku/Shibuya area. The event is not only a march. It is a one-week celebration organized by the LGBT community in Tokyo to support and promote awareness and equality. On the weekend, there is also an event fair at Yoyogi Park (代々 木公園) with stands of companies and organizations showing support and offering gifts, as well as food and beverage stands, along with a stage with presentations.
This year (2019), the event takes place on April 27 and 28, with the march itself taking over the streets on the 28th, starting at 2 pm. The parade departs from Yoyogi Park and ends in Shibuya.
There are other pride parades around the country, such as the Kansai Rainbow Festa. It is worth checking which is the closest to where you live or will visit.
The famous Nichōme
Despite the size of the country’s population, nightclubs and gay bars are rare, especially when compared to other countries and capitals. Even so, it is possible to have great fun, to drink all night and to get to know locals. Is there a better way to practice Japanese outside the classroom?
The most famous area in Tokyo associated with the LGBT community is called Nichōme (２丁目) in Shinjuku. The area has a great concentration of LGBT bars (around 300). The majority are very small, located on several floors of the buildings found in the area. These tiny bars have a warm, friendly atmosphere, centered around the bartender, who is usually the owner (or mama-san in Japanese gay slang). Usually, everyone knows everyone, and sometimes they even bring food from home to share. These bars can be a unique experience, but without much knowledge of the language, it’s likely that you will not understand much and feel out of place.
Among the most popular bars, where the foreigners usually go, it is worth mentioning Dragon Men, which is a bar/nightclub with its own small dance floor. Another famous bar is The Eagle, which recently opened a second bar, right there in Nichōme. Gold Finger is a bar focused on lesbians and on Saturdays, only women can enter. And finally, the most famous nightclub is called Arty Farty. It is hidden on the first floor of a building. One tip: a lot of people do pre-drinks in front of the Seven Eleven shop in the area before heading to the bars.
Other bars and clubs that are worth mentioning are Campy, AiiRo Cafe, Leo Lounge, FTM Bois (focused on transsexuals), The ANNEX and AiSOTOPE Lounge.
Dragon Men also has an event called Not Alone Café, which happens on the first Sunday of the month. It is an event open to anyone and can be a good way to meet new people when you first arrive in Tokyo. Also in Nichome, there is Akta, a community center for the LGBT community in Tokyo. Although almost everything is in Japanese, you can find people who can speak English.
Another LGBT event is the Rainbow Reel Tokyo film festival. The first edition took place in 1992. The festival usually happens in July, so keep an eye out for it around that time.
To learn more about what it’s like to be LGBT in Japan, I recommend the documentary Gaycation. It’s a series created by Vice showing LGBT life in various cities around the world, and the first episode is in Tokyo!
I hope that with this post I may have given a general idea of what the LGBT life is like in Japan. Not everything is perfect, but the future is promising!
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