Openness and Equality in Fukuoka
On Nov 16, an estimated 1,000 people gathered in Reisen Park in Central Fukuoka for the city’s first LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) pride parade. It was the culmination of over a year’s work by thirty students from the University of Fukuoka who, with co-sponsorship from the University of Fukuoka, Fukuoka City and the Prefectural Board of Education, made it their mission to create an opportunity for Fukuoka’s LGBT community to publicly and openly express themselves within the city.
To the soundtrack of the the morning’s Drag Queen Competition I spoke with Kyosuki Akage, who led the event from day one. In the parade’s HQ tent there was an audible level of excitement and this was noticeable in Akage, who was ecstatic at the huge number of people who had already assembled in the park with an hour still to go. He spoke of his pride at seeing his and his team’s hard work come to fruition and his hopes for the day, ‘that everyone would have a great time’ and ‘that Fukuoka will embrace us with open arms’.
The excitement carried through to the crowd of people outside the tent and the atmosphere was one of celebration, friends laughing as they enjoyed the morning’s entertainment and people decorating themselves with temporary rainbow tattoos given out by the parade staff.
As I wandered amongst the crowd and talked to people (with the help of my trusty translator Shoji) I got the sense that this parade was seen as a major turning point for Fukuoka’s LGBT community and a sign of the shift in wider Japanese culture towards accepting LGBT people. While the majority of participants were from Fukuoka, a significant number were not, with many travelling from as far as Tokyo to join the parade.
Many non-Japanese also attended the parade, travelling from across Japan to support what will certainly be an important moment in the history of Japan’s LGBT movement. For many of these internationals, the parade was also a personal first, having never attended a LGBT parade in their home countries. They spoke of their excitement at being part of the parade, telling me that ‘[it is] even more special because it is a first for Fukuoka and Kyushu as well’.
At 2pm the parade marched from the park into the city, a streak of vibrant colour against the streets of Fukuoka. Music blasted from support cars and participants and spectators alike were absorbed into the celebratory atmosphere. Spectators could be seen waving from buses and cars and shouting their support to the parade and this sought to heighten the mood even further.
As we marched, I found myself talking to Kasumi, one of the organisers of the Tokyo Pride Parade, which this year had the support of Akie Abe, Japan’s First Lady. She was hugely impressed with the organisation of the parade and its turnout, which beat even the first iteration of the Tokyo pride parade. Kasumi said she could not believe that the parade was organised by students and seeing them co-ordinate with the city, the police, the press and the parade-goers filled her with awe.
After an hour and a half on the streets of Hakata and Tenjin, the parade returned to Reisen Park for an afternoon of taiko drummers, stunning acrobatics and dance performances. Stalls representing LGBT support groups (see below) handed out information freely and even the US consulate set up a stall to show their support for the parade.
The day done, I spoke with Maiki Kuroda, another member of the organising team, who told me of his hopes for the future, ‘that the parade will be carried on next year by a new team of volunteers’. ‘The parade itself’, he told me, ‘was incredible, walking through the middle of Tenjin freely and openly is not something that can be experienced easily. It felt great, the start of a new era.’
Considering the support the parade received this time round, it is more than likely to become a regular feature of Fukuoka life and an opportunity for the city to truly embrace and show its acceptance for its LGBT community.
Rainbow Parade Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fukuoka.rainbow
LGBT Support Groups in Fukuoka:
FRENS (Fukuoka Rainbow Educational Networks)
Association that connects the families and friends of LGBT
Love Act Fukuoka (LAF)
Report by Oscar Boyd, with photos by Léo Fouchault
Oscar is a student from London, UK. He is a keen hiker and aims to summit every mountain in Fukuoka visible from his bedroom window. If you have any suggestions contact him on Twitter @omhboyd
More photos of the Fukuoka Rainbow Parade 2014: