In Tokyo Pride marches are like buses. You wait for over a year and then two come along at once. Although with Tokyo's excellent transport system, the analogy doesn't translate so well. Anyway, in 2011 there were no LGBT Pride marches and 2012 has two, one on August 11 (Tokyo Pride) and one this Sunday 29 April (Tokyo Rainbow Pride).
The troubled history of Pride in Tokyo since its first march in 1994 has been well-documented by Time Out Tokyo and the whys behind the current doubling up are well-explained by The Japan Times. To summarise, the fallings-out often found behind community-run Pride festivals and lack of communication seems to be the main reasons.
But two is better than none. In fact Pride marches are not mundane and banal like buses but joyful and celebratory like birthdays, so why not do as the Queen of England does and have two a year? Gay Star News speak to Lauren Anderson one of the organisers of this Sunday's Tokyo Rainbow Pride about what to expect.
What have you got planned for Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) on Sunday?
Before the parade, there will be performances on the events stage in Yoyogi Park and booths selling all kinds of things from rainbow face-painting to Champagne.
The parade kicks off in the early afternoon from the events stage and continues through Harajuku and Shibuya. The floats are divided by the different colours of the rainbow. The route loops round back to the events stage, where we have guest speeches and more entertainment.
We’ve got a wide range of performances lined-up, including burlesque, drag queen shows, traditional Okinawan dance, reggae and hip hop. As the closing finale, we will all sing Ayumi Hamasaki’s song How Beautiful You Are. There are also two pre-parties and an afterparty.
Our guest speakers include Japanese politicians Taiga Ishikawa and Wataru Ishizaka, the first two openly gay politicians to be elected in Japan, as well as Aya Kamikawa, the only openly transgender official in Japan. There will be speeches by politicians from the Democratic Party of Japan and the Social Democratic Party. The US Consul General of Osaka, Patrick Linehan, will be attending with his husband and will also be speaking.
How many are you expecting to march?
We’re expecting 5,000 people. We’re welcoming anyone who wants to come along to support us and celebrate diversity and individuality. We’re encouraging people to dress up to make the parade as colourful as possible and we expect a lot of cosplayers to attend. Some people will even be dressing up as our mascot, Toby, a flying squirrel with a rainbow cape.
How many marched at the last parade?
This is the first Tokyo Rainbow Pride and the first Pride event in Tokyo in two years. I would hesitate to put a figure on the attendance figures for any other event, sorry.
What groups are sponsoring floats?
There are floats sponsored by Audi, Red Bull and Tokyo Gay Night, but most floats are sponsored by smaller groups of volunteers or friends. There’s even going to be an unofficial Nyan Cat float!
What are the aims of TRP?
We believe that Pride parades have come to be seen as an indication of the maturity of their city, country, and culture. We want to showcase a spirit of tolerance and an understanding of diversity and prove that Tokyo is a world-class city.
Through this event, we aim to help bring about a society which extols the LGBT community and the diversity that it represents, and in which everyone can enjoy the benefits of that diversity. We want to focus on a celebration of the full spectrum of the LGBTQ rainbow.
Is TRP mainly organised by Japanese people or foreigners?
It’s almost entirely organised by Japanese people. We have a grassroots philosophy and anyone can turn up to our meetings and contribute. However, we are making very specific efforts to include the international community and we are working with organisations like Stonewall AJET which support foreigners who identify as LGBT in Japan.
How is TRP funded?
Our sponsors for 2012 include Grand Marnier, Belvédère, Audi, Red Bull and a Japanese bagel company.
Since the organising committee was formed in May 2011, there have been ten countdown parties, which have acted as fundraisers as well as a chance for us to have fun and share ideas. Some of the volunteers have also contributed a lot of their own money towards the event.
Why are their two pride marches this year?
There were no Pride marches in Tokyo in 2008, 2009 or 2011. Tokyo Rainbow Pride was established in 2011 to create an annual Pride parade based on a more reliable system and a sustainable model.
We endeavour to be wholly inclusive of all the LGBTQ rainbow. We aim to support both the comparatively young LGBT movement and to raise awareness of issues affecting sexual minorities within Japan.
Are LGBT people becoming more visible in Japan?
The election of two openly gay politicians in 2011 is a clearly step forward. In particular, the internet has certainly increased awareness by leading to online communities and a greater dissemination of information. It has enabled a different kind of organisation, based on a similar purpose rather than geographical convenience. There are volunteers from all over Japan who have independently decided that Tokyo Rainbow Pride is something they want to make happen.
However, broadly speaking, there has not been much progress made. There are very few public officials or celebrities who are openly LGBT in Japan, and there are many problems that LGBT people face still on an everyday basis, including prejudice and discrimination. Some people are reluctant to use their real name or have their photograph taken, and some people wear masks to conceal their identity when they go to LGBT events. The lack of societal recognition and understanding of LGBT issues has been highly detrimental. This is something we’re trying to change. Tokyo Rainbow Pride is a chance to remind everyone in Japan that we exist.