Yesterday was a perfect sunny spring day, and it couldn’t have been better weather for jubilant gayness at Tokyo Rainbow Pride. N and I met up with my high school friend Mai and made our way to Yoyogi Park. With this event coinciding with the long Golden Week holidays, we expected a bit of a crowd to have to fight through. We stepped off of the train at Harajuku Station and were swept along by a sea of people making their way through one of the busiest cities in Tokyo.
The event itself was held right by the NHK stage in the park, and the plethora of rainbow flags and signs made it easy to find. Having lived in the U.S. for so long, I had only seen rare glimpses of life as a queer native Japanese in Tokyo. So when I found out that we would be here for Tokyo’s pride parade, I was ecstatic. In the past, the organizers of this annual event had struggled with participation and interest from the LGBT community, so we were shocked by the number of people who showed up. Wow, Japan, when did you get so gay?
The participants and spectators represented the diversity of the LGBT community in Japan, and it was refreshing and touching to see queer Japanese look so happy and comfortable. We walked around the booths, people-watched and waited for the parade to begin. Not surprisingly, all of the corporate sponsors were foreign companies: Alfa Romeo, Philips, Google, Reuters, IBM and Barclays. A few foreign embassies were also there in support, including Israel, Belgium and Sweden.
The booths themselves were mostly NGOs promoting their services, mixed with random retail shops serving a gay clientele. In a country where LGBT people often don’t feel comfortable being out in their every day lives, it was good to see that there are many organizations available to them.
Now the parade itself was a sharp contrast to the one we were used to seeing in New York every summer. One lane of a three-lane road was designated to the parade with cones, and police officers stood in the lane making sure cars stayed well away from the marchers. The parade loop was less than 3km (less than 2 miles), which probably makes it one of the shorter pride parades in a developed country. The parade was split into eight sections, so as not to inconvenience drivers in the area. The resulting effect was eight anti-climactic waves, which started fairly big (each with a “float” and music at a moderate sound level) and tapered off into silence at the end. There was at least a couple minutes of silence in between the groups of marchers while spectators patiently waited and talked quietly amongst themselves.
If Tokyo’s pride parade ends up not being the shortest in the world, then it’s certainly the quietest. There was no chanting or dancing and very little screaming. For the most part, participants smiled and waved, all in a very quiet fashion. People near the smattering of tiny floats in the front of each parade group cheered when they saw a group of us watching, and there were high fives exchanged and “Happy Pride!”s thrown around.
Culturally speaking, Japanese aren’t known to be vocal about what they want. This extends into fighting for minority rights, hence the quiet pride parade. I realized that what can be seen by a foreigner as lukewarm enthusiasm and discomfort with being out and proud might actually be an effective means of getting the message across, no screaming needed. By just being visible and forcing the general public to see that the LGBT community exists is enough to kick start change. It might be frustratingly slow for that change to come about, but it’s common knowledge that the Japanese government is slow to do anything.
As I watched all of the happy people marching and watching the parade yesterday, I hoped that a LGBT-inclusive Tokyo wasn’t far off. A city where it wasn’t weird to be out to family and coworkers, where our elected officials worked to create and pass legal rights for their LGBT constituents and where at a pride parade, we would find our mayor heading it up and companies scrambling to be a part of it because being gay is so not a big deal anymore. I can see it happening. Maybe not in the “we’re here, we’re queer, shut up and deal with it” way, but in the quiet and determined way that the Japanese are known for.
It was a beautiful day for change.
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