A recent judgement made by the Supreme Court of Japan ruled that trans people must be sterilized before legally changing their gender. Same-sex marriage is still not recognized by Japan’s national government.
Yet at Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP), an annual gay pride event held in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, you would assume that Japan was overwhelmingly encouraging of the LGBTQ community. Each spring, queer people and allies alike gather at the events area in Yoyogi Park by the thousands. Walking around the venue, you can see crowds of people waving rainbow flags and holding up signs campaigning for gay marriage and better LGBTQ representation in Japan.
When I marched in the TRP parade for the first time three years ago, I was amazed by the enormous numbers of people who joined the parade and by the enthusiastic spectators who lined along the streets to cheer us on. The support didn’t end there — along the parade route we saw more than a dozen signs for department stores and shops that had been swapped out for a more colorful rainbow version to show their solidarity with the cause.
This year, TRP’s main event will be held from April 28–29 and there’s so much to do and see during this opening weekend of Pride Week (which runs through May 6). Let this guide help you get the most out of your next trip to the biggest gay pride event in Japan.
The Pride Parade
The pride parade is always the main event of the TRP festivities. This year, it starts from Yoyogi Park at 14:00 on April 28, with the route running through Shibuya and Harajuku. The parade consists of extravagant floats and people marching in groups based on shared interests such as sexual orientations, political messages or professional affiliations.
As a testament to how popular TRP has become, a whopping 7,000 people marched in TRP’s pride parade last year. The event has gained enormous momentum since it first started in 2012 with 2,500 attendees.
Last year’s theme was “Love and Equality,” focusing on better LGBTQ representation and marriage equality in Japan. This theme has carried into exciting developments. This past Valentine’s Day, 13 same-sex couples sued the Japanese national government, claiming that it is their constitutional right to get married. There are also more and more local governments issuing partnership certificates for gay couples, which are not legally binding, but do grant some recognition to same-sex couples.
Aside from the parade, another big attraction at TRP are the wide variety of booths open both days of the event. These booths can generally be divided into three categories: LGBTQ support groups, corporate sponsors and — of course — food.
The LGBTQ support-themed booths promote various community groups and political agendas. One of the most popular of these groups among expatriates is Stonewall Japan, which hosts regular queer-friendly events all over Japan for the international LGBTQ community.
Corporate sponsors that have hosted booths in the past include big names such as GAP, Shiseido and Google. At their booths, you can usually take photobooth-style pictures, grab freebies like plastic fans or buy rainbow-colored merchandise that promotes their brand.
Lastly, there is an area in the corner of the event space that hosts several food booths and features a variety of international cuisine. They are run by a mix of vendors and bars from Shinjuku’s famous gay neighborhood Nichome, so if you’re a regular there then you may see some familiar faces.
TRP starts off bang, with a band made up of LGBTQ and ally volunteers playing a wide array of wind and string instruments. They are accompanied by an incredibly energetic color guard dancing to the band’s music and waving rainbow-colored flags to add to the festive atmosphere.
There will also be well-known musical guests gracing the main stage. The initial lineup has already been announced with Japanese hip-hop sensation M-Flo and drag queen trio Hoshikuzu Scat headlining the bill.
While Japan still has a long way to go toward inclusion of LGBTQ individuals both socially and politically, the growing popularity of TRP shows a tendency towards better representation in Japanese society — and with all the color, sparkles and excitement that you can expect from a gay pride event.
Things To Know
TRP is free to attend. This year, it will be held from April 28–29 at the Yoyogi Park event area, which is about a 10-minute walk from JR Harajuku Station.
For more information about TRP, check out their official website (Japanese): tokyorainbowpride.com
Feature photo: ©Tokyo Rainbow Pride