Thoughts on Tokyo Pride

Mar Freeman
June 4, 2018

I was asked to write an article on Tokyo Pride for my program. It took me a long time due to the nature of modern day Pride. The header image is a screen capture of the following video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_uvF5owlf0 

On May 6th, 7,000 people participated in the parade for Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2018. Even more people crowded the streets of Shibuya Ward, to watch, wave flags, chant, lend support, and enjoy the colors. Pride officially started in Tokyo in 1994, put on hiatus from 2008-2010, and was back in 2012 under a different organizer, and has been ever since. The new company organizing Tokyo Pride takes after modern Pride in America - booths and floats from corporations, government and military presence, and carefully positioned parade pathways so as not to interfere with residents’ daily lives. As someone who has been to Pride in America a couple of times, however, there were distinct differences in the atmosphere, the organization, and the attendees. To give more context on Pride as a whole, first some history.

Pride did not start as an officially sanctioned event, but as protests in the streets of New York following resistance from against police brutality and raids on queer bars. Black Trans Woman Marsha P. Johnson and Latina Trans Woman Sylvia Rivera are allegedly the first to take action, actively resisting the police violence wrought upon them. This sparked the Stonewall Riots, an intense protest that lasted several nights. The Stonewall Riots are considered to be the predecessor to modern day Pride.

Fast forward to today, Pride looks a little different. Few people think of violence when they think of Pride, which holds especially true in Japan where the history of Pride is almost entirely unheard of. Instead, the streets are filled with rainbows - flags, clothes, fliers, all merchandise you could possibly think of. And it’s undeniable - the attention garnered by Pride nowadays is substantial in Japan. My classmates at KUIS, most of which are cisgender and straight, knew that the parade was happening and wanted to go. I could understand why: Since 2012, Pride has been a spectacle. Of course, it is inherently political and queer, but for many it is a space where they could go and enjoy the outward presence of queer people, or at least a narrow view of it in the form of rainbows, flamboyant outfits, and people in company uniforms with pins. They could live this for an afternoon, perhaps learn something, and head back. In my opinion, this can be a valuable event, and one that I actively encouraged my friends to experience.

At the same time, Japan fails to offer proper protections for queer healthcare and job security, forces sterilization of Japanese transgender people, and (everyone’s favorite) has no marriage equality for queer people. This juxtaposition of seeing a large float for Deadpool 2 at Tokyo Pride is disheartening for me, and I know it is for other Japanese queer people. A friend of mine told me that she and her friends went to Tokyo Pride, enjoyed walking down the sidewalks (the streets were not blocked off), and looking at queer people. But at the same time, she felt like there would be serious backlash for her to come out as bi to her friends.

I remember being able to see Pride as a young queer kid: I saw not only the elaborate displays of hardworking drag artists and heard not only the loud and unapologetic chanting and protesting of parade-goers. I also experienced a way in, through the onlookers who had yet to be educated about queer issues, queer history, queer lives. Counter-culture critical to being queer, but not few people start out there. And these people falling on all spectrums of investment to the community, of outspokenness, were at Tokyo Pride and American Pride alike. It is encouraging to see others where I once stood - as an onlooker. I just hope that people are able to go beyond just looking, in whatever capacity they’re able to.

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Mar Freeman

<p>I'm an engineering student with a dedication to music, accessible politics, and supporting the communities around me. I am a&nbsp;trans person, I live in a cooking and art co-op, and I enjoy exploring nature.</p>

Destination:
Term:
2018 Spring
Home university:
Tufts University
Hometown:
Los Angeles, CA
Major:
Engineering - All Types
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