30th anniversary of the first pride parade in Japan

By June 10, 2024 Regional

The Tokyo Rainbow Pride event (April 19-21, 2024) was a major success and the largest yet, as it marked the 30th anniversary of the first pride parade in Japan.

With 270,000 people attending over the final two days, it was one of our most well-attended events. However, the first day was impacted by strong winds which posed a risk to attendees and visitors. The winds were so severe, they began to blow over tents, threatening the safety of attendees. As a result, we had to cancel the day’s events. Our commitment to providing a safe space for all, including physical safety, took precedence. Despite an initial setback, the weather was favorable for the next two days, leading to us making up for the missed day.

Our parade marked a record high with 15,000 registered participants marching down the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku. This achievement is particularly remarkable considering the parade’s classification as a protest march. This classification necessitates strict adherence to traffic rules and security regulations, which impose limitations on the size and complicate the logistics of organizing the march.

In addition, a record 314 booths from NGOs, corporate sponsors, schools, and even embassies at the Yoyogi Event Plaza complemented the march, inviting visitors to learn about diversity and various LGBTQ+ issues.

A visiting LGBTQ+ activist from overseas recently shared with me that they hadn’t anticipated a Pride festival being such a comprehensive learning experience. They expressed a wish for more educational content at other Pride events.

This year, our family spaces and programming received numerous compliments, as we made efforts to be inclusive of both rainbow and non-rainbow families.

This year, the stage area was once again filled with cheering crowds. Performers, drag queens, choirs, and famous Japanese entertainers all joined us on stage.

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What were some of the main advocacy messages coming out of your event, and why were these important?

The theme for Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2024 was a powerful and poignant one: “Don’t Give Up, Change Japan!” This was not just a slogan, but a call to action, a rallying cry to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to persist in demanding change despite the slow progress of LGBTQ+ rights in Japan. In recent years, while many nations worldwide and even in Asia have seen incredible advancements in LGBTQ+ rights, it is a sad truth that Japan has stagnated or even fallen behind in this aspect.

The 2021 OECD report, a reputable international study, ranked Japan a dismal 34th out of 35 nations for LGBTQ+ friendly policies. This ranking serves as an alarming wake-up call to the state of LGBTQ+ rights in Japan. Given the stubborn unchanged nature of these policies, it seems unlikely that Japan’s ranking has seen any improvement in the intervening years leading up to 2024.

However, all is not lost. There are undeniable signs, particularly in the form of court cases initiated by brave and tenacious LGBTQ+ activists, that pressure is steadily building against the ruling government authorities. These cases represent a growing demand for equality and respect, a demand that is becoming harder and harder for the authorities to ignore.

Moreover, societal attitudes are also shifting. Japanese society is gradually becoming more accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals, recognizing them as valuable members of the community who deserve the same rights and protections as everyone else. This shift in attitudes, while slow, is a crucial step towards a more inclusive and accepting Japan.

How were you able to involve different interest stakeholders to your event?

Even though Japanese policy makers continue to be unyieldingly conservative when it comes to addressing LGBTQ+ issues, there is a growing trend in corporate Japan that is increasingly recognizing the importance of diversity. More companies are now opening their doors and looking towards the LGBTQ+ community for partnerships and collaborations. This progressive change in attitude has been of immense assistance to our sponsorship program. Not only has it opened up new avenues for funding and support, but it has also paved the way for the wider Japanese community to join in and participate. This shift in corporate behavior has been instrumental in bringing about a positive change and creating a more inclusive environment for all.

We have utilized the significant influence of the media to our advantage and have occasionally implemented gaiatsu, a term in Japanese that translates to “foreign pressure”. This term dates back to the era when U.S. Commodore Perry’s black ships forced Japan to open its doors to the rest of the world. To provide context, the gaiatsu we employed was not of a confrontational nature, but a collaborative one. We invited foreign dignitaries and embassy staff to partake in our event, and their participation sent a powerful message to the Japanese society and policymakers. The spectacle of 25 ambassadors and more than 500 embassy staff members joining the parade and delivering speeches onstage was a significant highlight. This high-profile participation not only added weight to our advocacy but also played a crucial role in amplifying our message through increased and more positive media coverage.

What are some challenges for you in organizing your event?

Every year, we repeatedly face security and logistical challenges. However, our main difficulty lies in achieving a delicate balance between corporate sponsorship and the needs of our community. This is a complex task that we strive to achieve without falling into the trap of pink-washing, a concern that is particularly relevant in societies such as Japan.

In Japan, corporations often display a keen interest in supporting the LGBTQ+ community. However, they may not yet fully comprehend the intricacies of the issues at hand. Awareness and understanding are processes that take time, and it would be unreasonable to expect all companies to grasp every nuance of our diverse community from day one.

As such, our role extends beyond finding balance and avoiding pink-washing. We see ourselves as guides, helping these corporations navigate their way through this learning process. We endeavor to assist our community in communicating effectively with the private sector, ensuring their needs are understood and addressed.

We firmly believe that through patience, dialogue, and education, we can bridge the gap between corporate intentions and community needs. This, we believe, is the path towards creating a society where all members, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, can thrive.

How have you been able to meaningfully engage with the private sector?

Engaging with the private sector is an ongoing journey that is crucial to our minority cause’s efforts to foster understanding and empathy among the majority.

To build bridges and foster understanding, we’ve created numerous opportunities for corporations to gain a deep understanding of our community. One such initiative is our annual Pride Conferences, held every November, designed for corporations interested in the Pride Parade.

The Pride Conference is a full-day event filled with informative and interactive sessions. During these sessions, past participants share their experiences with the Pride Parade, its contribution to their company’s diversity initiatives, and the benefits they’ve seen from their involvement with Tokyo Rainbow Pride.

We also provide knowledge-sharing sessions on current affairs. We invite legal and social field specialists to share updates and insights on the latest legal and social trends related to the LGBTQ+ community. They cover a range of topics, from ongoing court cases to the evolving social landscape, offering valuable perspectives to our corporate attendees.

Through these conferences and other initiatives, our goal is to foster an understanding and collaboration environment between the private sector and the LGBTQ+ community.

How are you preparing for the next Tokyo Rainbow Pride event, and what exciting things can we expect?

As of now, we have already commenced with the preparations for the Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2025. The next year is especially significant as it marks the 10th anniversary of Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP), and we are committed to making it even more impactful than previous years, if not larger in scale.

However, we find ourselves in the midst of a challenging situation. The venue that has traditionally hosted our event has reached its full capacity, leaving us to navigate the logistical concerns of accommodating an ever-growing audience. We are actively exploring solutions to this issue, such as potentially seeking out additional venues or creatively reconfiguring our use of the current space to accommodate more attendees.

We are still in the early stages of planning for TRP 2025. As such, we are unable to provide specific details or confirm particular aspects of the event at this point in time. We appreciate your understanding and patience as we work to organize an event that lives up to the expectations of our community and allies. We are excitedly looking forward to celebrating a decade of TRP and showcasing the vibrancy and resilience of our community.

Anything else you wish to add?

Formerly when I wore my journalist’s hat, I had the opportunity to interview a Japanese activist back in the early 2010s. Our conversation revolved around the slow pace at which change was happening in Japan. She imparted an insight that has stayed with me since then: Japanese society, she said, tends to be extremely averse to risk and confrontation. As a result, the society as a whole is often hesitant to embrace change until it is fully prepared to do so. On the surface, this might seem like an obstacle to progress. But she added a crucial caveat – once Japan, as a society, crosses a certain threshold, it tends to adapt to change at a swift and comprehensive pace.

Like many of its counterparts in Asia, Japanese culture is deeply rooted in family values and tradition. While these traditions form the bedrock of Japanese society, it’s interesting to note that there are relatively fewer religious prohibitions against the LGBTQ+ community compared to other societies.

Here lies an opportunity for us to make a real difference. If we can succeed in convincing the key policymakers – that the LGBTQ+ community is just as capable of upholding these family values (ie: marry and have families of their own) and certain traditions, we would have overcome a significant hurdle. This would bring us a major step closer to achieving a society that fully respects and accepts the LGBTQ+ community.

I strongly believe that the day when we can celebrate this victory is not too far off in the future. It may require persistent effort and unwavering dedication, but I have faith in our ability to bring about this change for the better.


About the contributor:

Olivier Fabre

Olivier Fabre has worked to expand the global reach of Japanese LGBTQ+ activists by building relationships with embassies, international networks, and overseas visitors for Tokyo Rainbow Pride (since 2021), Pride House Tokyo (since 2019) and Pride 7 (2023). As the former head of Reuters Japan’s Tokyo video operations for 20 years and chair of the Tokyo chapter of the company’s LGBTQ+ ERG Pride at Work, he has covered numerous Tokyo pride parades and LGBTQ+ issues in Japan in the last two decades. Born in Paris and raised in Chennai and Tokyo where he resides, Olivier continues to await Japanese government recognition of his 20-year same-sex partnership.

Established as an NPO in 2015, Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) follows the legacy of several previous Pride organizations in Tokyo, dating back to the first in 1994. After a few years of informally organizing pride festivals, TRP has grown annually to become one of East Asia’s largest pride events, comparable to Taiwan Pride and Bangkok Pride. These events typically span two to three days. TRP’s mission is to underscore the importance of diversity in a country renowned for its perceived homogeneity. They aim to create safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community and advocate for various ongoing LGBTQ+ issues. Their ultimate goal is to foster a society where everyone can live authentically, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and be free from discrimination or prejudice.


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