Be Inspired By People; Think About Diversity; Think About LGBT
Japan Is Not The Most Diverse Country; That’s Why Mediators Are Valuable
Making it on the top 30 countries of the United Nations Development Report’s 2018 Statistical Update, which defines a country’s development by measuring human development in a country, Japan is considered one of the developed countries in the world. However, although Japan is an advanced nation, there are still many issues that the country needs to work on; one of them being diversity.
In the 2014 international research by Gallup on the most LGBT-friendly countries in the world, Japan ranked in as 50th out of 123 countries. According to this research, Japan is far from being as LGBT-friendly as most European countries (such as the Netherlands, Spain and Norway), where they are more accepting of the LGBT community at legal and personal levels.
Another example is the number of vegetarian restaurants available in the country. According to a research by Oliver’s Travels, the United Kingdom has 4,433 vegetarian restaurants and Australia has 3,016 but Japan only has 962.
After calculating the number of vegetarian restaurants per person in the UK and Australia, we found that the UK has more than three times the number of vegetarian restaurants per person than Japan, and Australia eight times (calculated by dividing the number of vegetarian restaurants by population). English proficiency, is also an issue.
On a 2018 research testing English proficiency conducted by EF Education First, Japan ranked 49th, out of 88 non-English speaking countries. Finding people who would be willing to have long conversations in English is challenging in this country.
For these reasons, we found that very often, travelers need help in overcoming various barriers they come across while traveling in Japan. That’s where we, EXest, come into the picture. We would like to think of ourselves as an open company that helps travelers beat the barriers they may find in Japan, by connecting travelers to the right local guides or mediators*. We have a growing community of diverse, open-minded mediators; some of who are gay, others of who are vegetarians, and all of who are fluent in English or some other language along with Japanese.
Japan will be hosting many sports events in the near future. In September, the first ever Rugby World Cup to be held in Asia will be held in Japan. In 2020, Tokyo will be hosting the summer Olympics. Japan is being forced to change with an increasing number of people with various needs arriving to Japan from overseas.
Today in this interview, we think about sexual minorities in Japan. This is a talk session where two people discuss this issue; a WOW U mediator who calls himself “tokyo gay boy”, Tetsuya Tashiro, and Gon Matsunaka, president of a certified NPO organization, “good aging yells”, an organization that focuses on bringing together the sexual minority and the sexual majority.
*WOW U-mediator: Local guides who have something specific they feel that is “WOW” and special about Japan and are enthusiastic about sharing it with travelers from overseas.
Pride House Tokyo 2019, a LGBT Hospitality House Opens in Harajuku, Tokyo
Pride House Tokyo opened a hospitality house for LGBT athletes and allies during the Rugby Worldcup in September, 2019. The house opens from September 20 (Friday) to November 4 (Monday, national holiday) at a community space created for donations and community services “subaCO,” located in Harajuku, Tokyo.
Pride House Tokyo has various materials at the hospitality house, including pamphlets such as 10 rules on how everyone can enjoy sports, and children’s story books on LGBT. They have a booth for people to make paper cranes, and will also be hosting a variety of participative events mainly on weekends. The hospitality house is not only a venue that shares information on LGBT, but also a place where LGBT athletes and allies can mingle together. There is also a team of specialists who can offer advice on sexual health.
Click here for more information!
Realizing That They Were Not Part of the Sexual Majority
-Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Tetsuya Tashiro (WOW U Mediator):
Sure. I used to work for a human resources company until half a year ago, but now I am mainly a dancer. I used to practice jazz dance when I was little, and I also have experience as a background dancer on TV, but from about three years ago I’ve been doing Ankoku Butoh, a world-famous dance. I am also a WOW U Mediator, and I take tourists to gay bars in Tokyo’s most famous gay district, Shinjuku Ni-chome. Being gay myself, I started to be an activist for the LGBT community called “GLOW”, a group of sexual minorities, when I was in University. Starting from there, I’ve been working as a LGBT activist for about 8 years now, mainly within communities of sexual minorities.
I am the President of a certified NPO organization called the “good aging yells”. At “good aging yells”, we hope to help sexual minorities to feel more at ease in our society, to not feel ashamed of their sexuality, and continue to age while being true to themselves. Through our activities and events like Pride House Tokyo, where we aim to make it a easier place for sexual minorities to live, we hope to contribute to making Japan a place where everyone can respect each other regardless of sexual orientation. In other words, we want both the sexual minority and sexual majority to be able to respect each other and become more accepting of each other, regardless of their sexuality.
-when did you realize you were gay, and what are some of the struggles you experienced?
I realized that I probably like boys in about 10th grade. I went to an all-boys high school and since I looked gender-neutral, I was sort of treated as a feminine figure, which I did not dislike. But since I was serious about my dancing career, I was not sure if I should be open about my sexuality. I was scared it might hurt my career. When I went to university, I joined the aforementioned group “GLOW” to find out about my sexuality, and I ended up becoming President of the community. I also struggled when everyone started job-hunting. One of the matters I put effort into at University was the activities at “GLOW” but I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it at job interviews. At the same time, I didn’t want to lie about my sexuality so I was stuck, and didn’t know what to do. Usually in Japan, you find a job before you graduate from university, but I didn’t. I decided to take some time to re-think about my career.
I realized I was gay when I was in 5th or 6th grade. I was at a bookstore with a group of boys when we saw books on gay couples. I just knew then, that this was it, that I liked boys. I grew up in the countryside, and I firmly believed there was nobody like me in my neighborhood, so I kept quiet. I knew I had to go to university in Tokyo, but I continued to keep quiet about my sexuality. I came out when I was in Australia for a study abroad program during university. It was easier for me to talk about my sexuality since I was overseas. It felt wonderful to be able to be fully open about my sexuality, and be my true self. Back then, most gay people in Japan were not open about their sexuality. I came back to Japan and started to work for an advertising agency in Japan.
How was working there? Were you able to come out to your colleagues?
I was not open about my sexuality at the company. I did not feel like I had to tell my coworkers about my sexuality either- in fact, hiding my sexuality seemed like the normal thing to do. When I was working for the advertising agency, there were a lot of parties and dinners I had to go to, which I could not miss because often we would discuss business at these places too. Many times I felt uncomfortable, but it was just the way things were.
Being a Sexual Minority in Japan
-Through your experience, do you think Japanese society has changed in recent years? What kind of world does the LGBT community aim to become?
I feel like how Japanese society sees the sexual minority has changed in the last ten years. At my previous workplace, I was open about my sexuality to all of my coworkers, and I was grateful when they would tell my clients about my sexuality. Everything was out in the open, which made it easier for me in many ways. Also, recently after logging on to TikTok (video platform for mobile phones), I was surprised to see that a wedding of two young boys was the first video that came up as a recommendation! This too, is change. Now the younger generations feel they can have weddings truly for themselves, not as part of a demonstration for understanding toward the LGBT community. Having said that though, I don’t believe negative opinions toward LGBT will ever disappear completely. Even if they are careful, there’s a possibility that their words would end up hurting somebody. We, as sexual minorities, need to learn how to deal with times like that. I think that if we find different ways for the LGBT to live in this society, it may become a solution for other minority groups living in this country too.
I agree that Tokyo has become very open toward sexual minorities. Unfortunately, that’ not the case in rural areas. It is still very difficult for sexual minorities to come out. I think that people can come out, depending on their surroundings and environment, and it’s not about how much that person tries. I want to change that and make it easier for all people to come out.
One other thing I want to mention is, there is this image of family that most people have, where there is a mother and father and maybe two children. But that family can have two fathers, or the mother and father don’t have to be married. There is no “right” answer to how a family should be. I hope that the LGBT community can change this image we all have of family, and be accepting of new types of families in society.
I think that if the LGBT finds new ways to live and improve their lives, it will lead to various other people also finding out how they can improve their lives too.
Hopes for the Future of Japanese Society
-What kind of society do you want our society to become?
I don’t want everyone to stop their thinking process at, “Everyone is unique and that’s okay.” What I mean by that is, I don’t want people to say, “that person is different so just let him or her be” and stay away from them. I want people to step in a little further and find out what’s good about that person, what the real issue is beneath the problem they are facing. Not thinking about an issue is the worst action. I want people to continue to think about the issues we face, and the differences we have. Restrooms, for example. Some places are thinking of making gender-free restrooms, but do they really understand what the underlying issue is? Have they really thought hard about what the true issues regarding restrooms are? I don’t think so. Many people face issues with restrooms. Fathers with daughters don’t know which restroom to use. Instead of making restrooms with handicap marks, I believe we should make restrooms with a universal mark for those who, for whatever reason, feel uncomfortable using the men’s or ladies’ restrooms.
The LGBT has come this far in Japan. I hope that we can continue to find ways that would end up benefiting sexual minorities and as a result, other minorities in Japan live a better life.
WOW U-- An Ally Of All People
WOW U will continue to look for mediators with different backgrounds, gender, age, race, ethnicity, nationality, culture, and abilities so that we can connect our guests to a mediator who would be able to best provide for their needs and give our guests the best answers to any questions they may have during their travel in Japan. We at EXest, consider all “differences” as a trait that makes each of us unique. We welcome all people including those who would like to work without hiding who they truly are. Please contact us if you are interested.