The Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade saw high levels of participation this year, with thousands of people marching through Yoyogi Park on May 7 and 8 to raise awareness of Japan’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
The march comes at a time when many LGBT Japanese people are still struggling with violence, threats and discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Last year, Tokyo made headway by acknowledging same-sex partnerships in its Shibuya and Setagaya Wards, but nationwide laws have not yet been reformed.
While social acceptance of sexual minorities is growing in Japan, young people who identify as LGBT are often harassed and bullied in Japanese schools, as noted in a recent report by Human Rights Watch. HRW cited inadequate teacher training as one factor that contributes to the rampant homophobic and transphobic incidents in the country’s schools, along with the government’s failure to protect marginalized students.
LGBT people also face prejudice in Japan’s rural areas, participants at this year’s Tokyo pride parade told HuffPost Japan. Parade-goers spoke of the dreams they have for their personal lives and for the country’s social and legal conditions for LGBT communities.
Scroll down to read personal stories from the parade.
Kiyo (left) and his cousin Goro (right)
Kiyo: Goro and I are cousins. Thank you, aunt and uncle! When I came out about 10 years ago, Goro was still dating a girl.
Goro: Kiyo took me to a gay bar, and the other people at the bar were hitting on me (laughs). Kiyo told them that I was straight, but inside, I felt like: "Huh? Could it be that I am gay?!" Then, gradually, I learned more about myself. When my girlfriend and I broke up, I took that as an opportunity to come out. I'm not particularly concerned that it be in the form of marriage, but I do want to go through life with a partner.
Kiyo: I've been working with an LGBT organization, doing things like teaching in my hometown of Tsuyama, in the Okayama Prefecture. In some rural areas, people who come out cannot get others to accept them. My parents and relatives don’t approve. But classmates from when I was in elementary school are cheering me on. When someone who used to tease me when we were kids sent me an encouraging message on Facebook, I thought "I'm glad I came out."
Tsubaki (left) and Azusa (right)
Tsubaki: My personal dream for the future is to have a wedding at Tokyo Disneyland, and for the two of us to have our own house! Last year I came out as bisexual. It took courage, but now I'm glad I did it. I realized that if I change, the world would also change. It is reassuring to think of all the allies out there. But someday, I hope we can have a society where it isn't a matter of LGBT people and allies, it's just people empathizing with and supporting one another.
Azusa: I am transgender, and Tsubaki is a childhood friend. We've been by each other's side since we were 3 years old! Now, I am thinking about our futures. I want us to go through old age at a leisurely pace together (laughs). My ideal life is a self-sufficient one.
Same-sex marriage? I'd like it to happen, if I happened to meet someone rich and good-looking! Whatever form it comes in, I think a system should be implemented quickly, and reforms made to correct any [legal] inadequacies. There are surveys that say that single people don't live as long as married people do, so I think gay people won't live as long compared with straight people. So even if you're just looking at it from a lifespan angle, same-sex marriage should be made a reality.
I think that there’s recently been a lighter mood at Tokyo Rainbow Pride. It used to feel like the only attendees were determined and hardworking drag queens and activists, but these days straight people, hot people, ugly people, they all come and enjoy themselves. Also, activists used to get called ugly, but these days they're attractive. I'm happy that light is being cast on gay minorities, but I'd like there to be more light cast on those gay people who are not as attractive.
It would be nice if society becomes a place where everyone could relax and live at ease, true to themselves, without being afraid of anything or of being bullied, and if they could embrace their individuality. People don't have to go around with Ls, Bs, Gs or Ts written on their faces, but I think it's strange that we have to hide it. I am transgender, and I want to be able to talk about that in a natural and casual way, as if I were talking about any other attributes about myself, such as being left-handed, my hobbies or where I live.
A lot more people are participating [in Tokyo Rainbow Pride] this year than last year or the year before. People who are here for the first time say that they're glad they came. Next year, I think I'll invite more of my friends and acquaintances to come too.
Nagano (left) and Yoshiko Nakazawa (right)
Nakazawa: I am straight, but I was invited to come by a gay friend. It's cool to meet people I wouldn't ordinarily get the chance to. When I marched in the parade, there was a lesbian couple from another country walking in front of me. I thought, "It would be good if society becomes a place that just naturally accepts those two."
Over the two days I spent here, I thought: "So there's this many gay people in Japan! But where the heck are they, usually?" It's wonderful that because there are events like this, everyone can come out into the open and have fun. But I think it would be a shame if tomorrow everyone went back to work or school and couldn’t talk about what they did today. I want it to be something both straight people and gay people can talk about. In America, my older sister and my younger brother bring their children and participate in a parade every year. The kids enjoy it because people dress up and there's music, and they get lots of hugs from everyone. I want society to become a place where everyone can love themselves just the way they are.
Tokyo Rainbow Pride
Fukushima (left) and Aozora Asano (right)
Fukushima: Right now, my dream is to live with my girlfriend, and raise children with her. I want kids. In vitro fertilization is an option, but I think I would rather adopt. If we did in vitro fertilization, the child would only have genetics from one of us. I have a feeling that it would be better if the child were not connected by blood to either of us.
Asano: I want to change the koseki (family register) and get married! The requirements for changing a koseki are very strict, so I'd like those requirements to be softened. If health insurance would at least cover sex reassignment surgery, that would be a big help.Today I helped out with a group called Crystal Community, doing sign language interpretation for those with hearing impairments. I feel that a lot more LGBT people with hearing impairments are coming to events like Tokyo Rainbow Pride than they were before. I want to make society such that more and more LGBT people with disabilities feel comfortable to come forward.
Hide (left) and Taka (right)
Hide: I would like to be able to marry my partner, but even before that, my biggest wish is for LGBT people to be treated with tolerance by society. But because we can't get married, sometimes I think: "Far in the future, after he dies, what will become of me? Or conversely, if I die first, what will become of him?" And thinking like that makes me feel uneasy. So, I want a proper system to be established. Societal understanding or a system for same-sex marriage... that might be a chicken-or-the-egg sort of situation. If there's progress on either one, that's good.
I want to change the koseki (family register) and get married! The requirements for changing a koseki are very strict, so I'd like those requirements to be softened. If health insurance would at least cover sex reassignment surgery, that would be a big help.
When the Eastern Japan earthquake happened in 2011, I came out to my family. My hometown is Kamisu, in the Ibaraki Prefecture. It's one of the disaster areas. I thought "I don't want to die without letting people know the truth about me." I also felt that I have a lot of love for my hometown.
I've started an organization for advancing understanding towards LGBT people in my hometown, and I’m doing activities such as giving talks to teachers. Life is harder for LGBT people living in the countryside than for those in Tokyo. There was actually an incident in my town where a high school girl with gender identity disorder stabbed a bisexual student. Because I think that the lack of understanding towards LGBT people is an underlying problem, I wanted to address the phenomenon myself -- so I started my organization. I want to make the countryside a better and better place.
Makiko Nagata and family
Makiko: I have gay, lesbian and transgender friends, and in the past I volunteered in the organization of the Tokyo Rainbow Pride. Today’s event was about sexual minorities, but I want a society where not just sexual minorities, but everyone -- people with disabilities, people from other countries, those who've lost their jobs, people in poverty -- are treated equally. I want society to become a place where minorities don't struggle.
This story first appeared on HuffPost Japan. It has been translated into English and edited for clarity.