| length: 8 min. |
|Visiting the Pride House in Tokyo, Japan|
by Norbert Splint in Travel and weekendtrips , 28 January 2020
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length: 8 minuten
In 2020, the Olympic Games will be organized in Japan, one of the most paradoxical countries on earth. Tradition and innovation, beautiful geisha’s and dishevelled bums, zen and violence, meditation and the death penalty: the elongated, mountainous country has it all.
The traditional cornerstone family is key, but the amount of (gay) porn you can download is as high as the Fuji volcano. In Japan everything is communicated through screens, traffic signs, announcers (m/f) and apps, but what the forces behind them are remains incomprehensible.
The same goes for dealing with homosexuality, says Gon Matsunaka (43), founder and President of Pride House Tokyo. “We allegedly live in a liberal country, but the rights of GLBT people are not yet properly regulated.”
However, a type of certificate was established in 2015 as proof that you are partners. “Legally, it means nothing at all,” Gon sighs, “but it may be the first step to same-sex marriage. It is a matter of time, as is usually the case in Japan.”
They Are All DJs
Just like everywhere else in the world, the situation in Japanese cities is different outside the larger cities. But in Tokyo, according to some calculations the largest city in the world, everything is just a bit bigger and a little different, while there is no such thing as a countryside in Japan. “That makes it so distressing. We want and can do everything here in Tokyo, and we even have complete gay neighborhoods. But the national government does little for us and there is a lot of ignorance.”
Tokyo centre, roughly consisting of the Chuo, Shinjuku and Shibuya districts (each about the same size as Amsterdam), is indeed quite gay. In Chuo, one top department store rubs against the other, each one with an assortment that would make Harrods look like a branch of Primark.
Rolls Royces and Bentleys, obviously not driven by the owner, are parked in a long queue at these mega shops. But simple pubs and karaoke bars also do good business. In the heart of Chuo there is even a successful pub the size of a wardrobe. Furthermore, everyone is welcome.
Shinjuku has officially been the new centre since the 1960s: its west is known as skyscraper city, but to the east of the station (the largest in the world), low-rises are the most seen form of architecture. This is where the gay hospitality industry is located, including an exclusive lesbian bar with the meaningful name Goldfinger.
Shibuya is a paradise for fashion freaks or worse. Bizarre items of clothing are sold for absurd prices or anything that is supposed to be clothing. Androgynous hipsters and adolescent girls dressed as Minny Mouse or a Manga heroine (accompanied by their pencil-thin friends) circle around the Kyattosutorito (Cat Street) or the extension of it, the High Street. If you talk to them, it appears that they don’t actually do all that much, or are all DJs. In the midst of that madness, Pride House Tokyo is located in a pop-up store.
Gay Rugby Party
Pride House is a household name. It has been organized since the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and always takes place during a major sporting event. Sometimes the local government cooperates with the Pride House, such as in countries like Brazil and Canada, and sometimes not, such as during the Games in Sochi. The aim is to provide GLBT+ information in cooperation with other organizations and to offer assistance to GLBT+ athletes.
“We wanted to have a Pride House Tokyo during the World Cup Rugby, which took place from the end of September until the beginning of November 2019. Rugby is of course a very masculine sport, but also a real pastime activity for men. We thought it would be a good combination. We also organized a gay rugby party in a fancy hotel around the corner, where go-go dancers and drag queens alternated on stage. Why not?
This year, our Pride House team, sponsored by twenty large companies such as KLM and supported by thirteen Embassies - including the Netherlands, is active during the Tokyo Pride in April. We have to organize it a little earlier than usual. Normally the Pride is in July, but then of course the Olympic Games take place here, with many of the streets closed for the transport of athletes.”
At Pride House Tokyo, films were shown, as well as GLBT+ children’s books and photo exhibitions, and beautifully designed educational material was distributed. The team was smiling and ready to answer the most diverse questions.
Letters to the King
August last year, Gon and his people (m/f/t) visited the Amsterdam Pride. During the week, they visited as many events as possible and they took part in the boat parade.
Any ideas? “I think the key word is ‘public.’ Of course, Amsterdam does not yet have a population of 900,000, but there are half a million people cheering the people on the boats. In Tokyo it is exactly the opposite: we have more than thirty million inhabitants, but no one shows up at Pride. That needs to change. One of the things that we are going to do is make this Pride House a permanent GLBT+ institution, not in the pop-up store we had last year, but in the gay district of Shinjuku. That will make Tokyo the first city in the world with a permanent Pride House.”
Gon does not fail to emphasize the excellent relations between the Netherlands and Japan. “Don’t forget: this year it is 420 years ago that the first Dutch ship docked here. That ship was called “De Liefde” (The Love). To me, that is a symbol: let’s celebrate Love. The Tokyo Pride and the Olympics are the places to do that. I also hope that when your King Willem-Alexander visits in his capacity as honorary member of the IOC, a conversation with our Prime Minister Abe about GLBT+ rights will start. He also touched on that subject in a speech before the UN meeting, so why not in Japan. Please write letters to your king to convince him, I would say. You never know if it might actually work.”
Mrs. Miho Nishimoto about the Dutch Embassy’s Support
The Pride House Tokyo is supported by the Dutch Embassy. Policy advisor Mrs. Miho Nishimoto spoke to us.
What does the Dutch embassy’s support of Pride House Tokyo involve?
“The Dutch embassy has been involved with Pride House Tokyo from the start and supports the project through a financial contribution, the introduction of the project to stakeholders, the promotion of the Pride House Tokyo project through the social media of the embassy, and the donation of Dutch-language children’s books about GLBTIs.
In addition, the embassy, together with the municipality of Amsterdam, supported the participation of Pride House Tokyo in the Amsterdam Canal Pride on August 3, 2019.”
What was the reason for this support? Japan is known as a liberal country with a lot of freedom, prosperity and excellent healthcare.
“Homosexuality is not punishable in Japan, but the conservative nature of society does not always allow GLBTI people to disclose their sexual orientation. By giving examples about the Netherlands, known as an GLBTI-friendly country, the embassy is trying to contribute to improving the legal position and acceptance of Japanese GLBTI people in society.”
“But there is more. The borough of Tokyo, Shibuya [where the permanent Pride House will be] was the first municipality to introduce a ‘same-sex partnership.’ The number of municipalities with this system implemented now has grown to thirty, but marriage is not (yet) an option for same-sex couples in Japan. By giving the example of the Netherlands, where same-sex marriage has been successfully introduced, the embassy is trying to encourage GLBTI organizations and activists to continue their efforts to improve the legal position of GLBTI people in Japan.”
“The embassy also tries to bring information about the Netherlands to the attention and to stimulate the discussion about the position of GLBTI people in Japan by participating in conferences and lectures (for example the ‘Rainbow Parliament’), organizing GLBTI related events at the embassy and support Japanese and international human rights and GLBTI organizations. The embassy also posts GLBTI-related messages on social media and we focus on cooperation with local organizations, for example Shibaura House’s NL/Minato Project.”
Will this collaboration be continued? As you know, there are plans for a permanent Pride House in Tokyo (Shinyuku) and the Pride 2020 is also imminent.
“The Pride House Tokyo has many similarities with what the Netherlands stands for in the area of GLBTI rights and emancipation. In these areas, the embassy is doing its utmost to continue supporting the Pride House. In the meantime, we closely follow current GLBTI developments, and we also focus on all kinds of other initiatives that promote GLBTI emancipation in Japan.”
Tokyo Rainbow Pride
The embassy will also participate in the Tokyo Rainbow Pride itself. The Tokyo Rainbow Pride is the largest Pride of Japan. The number of visitors has increased annually, from 105,000 visitors in 2017 to 150,000 visitors in 2018 and 200,000 visitors in 2019. In 2020, 250,000 visitors are expected.
The NL/Minato Project is an educational platform established in 2017, with the aim of creating a dialogue from social, political and cultural perspectives. The embassy and Shibaura House (a “community space” in the Minato district of Tokyo) work together to organize events. Themes are GLBTI, gender, media, culture and sports (https://www.nlminato.org/).
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