The LGBTI community in Tokyo celebrated the crowning of the second Mr Gay Japan at an intimate event in the heart of Harajuku on 31 March.
But what made this event particularly significant was the activism and strength of individuals to make a change in a country where LGBTI people live a relatively closeted life.
Having spent a few days in Tokyo, I noticed that the city has a thriving gay scene. It also regularly hosts club nights, Pride and events like Mr Gay Japan.
Although it’s safe to be LGBTI, there is a lack of visibility in Japanese society so most remain hidden. This is largely due to a lack of positive representation in mainstream media.
Television and press (as in most of Asia) depict LGBTI characters as a point of humor or comedy. Things are changing, but rarely will you see LGBTI individuals or couples celebrated amongst mainstream television and the media.
It’s just one of the many reasons why events like Mr Gay Japan are so important to create visibility.
Surprise marriage proposal
The community’s current agenda focuses on pushing for marriage equality in Japan. A cause close to the heart of last year’s Mr Gay Japan, Shogo Kemmoku.
To the surprise of the audience, Shogo got down on one knee and proposed to his boyfriend Geoff. This moment highlighted the imminent need for marriage equality and recognition of same-sex marriage in Japan and throughout Asia.
Away from his Mr Gay Japan duties, Shogo is a school teacher who actively promotes LGBTI diversity, equality and inclusion among his students.
He is now looking to the future to provide resources and support for HIV and better sexual health provision in Japan. This includes the international U=U campaign (undetectable = untransmittable) that hopes to educate people with the fact: ‘If you are living with HIV and on effective treatment, you can not pass the virus on to others’.
NHS England is currently resourcing the campaign in Japan.
— ✺°•◦Ꭶham°•°₩araich◦•°✺ (@Sham_WRcH) April 9, 2019
Mr Gay Japan 2019
A combination of an audience vote on the day, social media voting and a panel of esteemed judges — who identify or align themselves with the LGBTI community in Tokyo — chose the Mr Gay Japan 2019 winner from a selection of five finalists.
The title of Mr Gay Japan 2019 went to 21-year-old LGBTI activist Tiger Shigetake, from Tokyo.
With his proud parents in the audience and tears in his eyes, he addressed the crowd in English. He then thanked his family, friends and the community for their continued support.
I caught up with Tiger after the show to find out more about his activism.
View this post on Instagram
Using his own experiences, he aims to tackle stigma faced by the wider Japanese society.
He previously chose to ‘come out’ on Japanese TV after facing ‘injustice and bullying in his own school’ for identifying as a gay man.
Tiger said: ‘When I told my teacher I was being bullied, the teacher told me [to] deal with it amongst yourselves.’
The majority of Japanese society still sees homosexuality as a mental illness. LGBTI education is not part of the school curriculum or even discussed.
Mr Gay Japan 2019: ‘I don’t want to sit back and wait for a change’
Passionate about his activism, Tiger would like to advocate for better equality in Japanese society where suicide rates are high, women have limited rights for sexual harassment and also mixed race Japanese individuals can be harrassed simply for the color of their skin.
He recently used his activism to address the Japanese ambassador at the UN Humans Rights Watch. Tiger paid for the ticket himself to attend the event and address the lack of LGBTI support and visibility.
He told me he ‘doesn’t want to sit back and wait for a change’ that may never come.
Tiger speaks Japanese, English, and also self-taught French and German. He’d like to use Mr Gay Japan as a platform to get people ‘to spread awareness for LGBTI equality’.
His ambitions led him to directly tackle this by encouraging the Japanese Ministry of Education to incorporate LGBTI education into schools, where they currently do not have accessibility and resources to provide the knowledge and learn about LGBTI issues’.
Having faced many personal stumbling blocks, he hopes this new-found title will allow him to accomplish a small change within Japanese society, as the government have so far been unsupportive.
Tiger wants the hidden LGBTI people of ‘Japanese society to be able to have a voice and speak out freely’.
He also mentioned one of the driving forces to enter Mr Gay Japan. Tiger describes, in his own words, he comes from a privileged background, where his mother ‘invested a lot’ to give him all the educational opportunities to succeed.
He said: ‘If I don’t use this privilege to do something good then I don’t deserve this privilege’.
Tiger hopes his language skills will allow him to connect and build networks with other activists. He wants to communicate the needs of the marginalized LGBTI people in Japan.
He will now compete against delegates from around the globe at the Mr Gay World 2019 competition in Cape Town, South Africa next month.