Japan is popularly characterized as a conservative society – in the cultural and social spheres as well as the political – bound by centuries-old traditions and customs.
“Edges of the rainbow: LGBTQ Japan” both confirms and questions this assumption. Samurai warriors and Buddhist monks were not deniers of homosexuality; a penis festival still takes place annually in Kawasaki; and the novelist Mishima Yukio was writing about gay love some seventy years ago, at a time when British or US American writers wishing to do so would have struggled to find a publisher.
When it comes to LGBTQ, the envelope of pubic awareness is being pushed more and more open. Bars for crossdressers are not difficult to find in Tokyo and onabe bars, for the city’s transgender community, have emerged from the shadows of discretion that kept them in the dark for so long.
In this book of photographs, you are introduced to interesting individuals, couples and groups who between them constitute an eloquent and joyful celebration of gender fluidity.
Tatsuki was designated at birth by doctors as ‘other’, registered as female at primary school but at high school joined boys’ or girls’ groups depending on the teacher.
He –Tatsuki now identifies himself as male, used either restroom according to how he felt on the day. When Eishin met Tatsuki, she proposed to him on their first meeting but Tatsuki wisely suggested they take more time to get to know one another.
Eishin didn’t know about his transgender distinctiveness but when she did it made no difference and they married a year after living together.
Keiki is a trans male, living with his wife in Niigata – only some 100 miles from Fukushima – and working to set up a support group for parents of LGBQT sons and daughters. Brought up a girl, confused about his desire to dress as a boy, he was almost twenty when he came out to his mother: ‘It’s your life. Do what you want….You have to be happy’, she said, and this provided him with the self-confidence to move on with his life.
Hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery in Thailand followed, and after the Fukushima earthquake Niigata’s main newspaper, running with the theme “How to live now”, accepted Keiki’s proposal to write about how in his life he had overcome personal suffering.
Natsue and Maika are civil partners and live in an apartment in the suburbs of Tokyo with Natsue’s father. He accepted his daughter’s lesbianism but her mother did not and she now lives apart from them.
Natsue and Maika met at work, became friends and then lovers and they have spoken about their life as a same-sex couple on television and radio.
Eishin, Tatsuki, Keiki, Natsue and Maika are just some of the people whose lives are photographed in this delightful book. All of them are determined to follow the advice of Keiki’s mother and be as happy as possible.
“Edges of the rainbow: LGBTQ Japan” by Michel Delsol and Haruku Shinozaki, is published by The New Press.