We recently met up with Ryusuke Kawahara in Kawasaki, Japan. Coming from a mixed race background, Ryu has a unique experience as a Gay person in Japan. His mother is Filipino and his father is Japanese, giving him a multicultural upbringing and an international outlook on issues surrounding LGBT people. Rye shared some thoughts with us as we asked him questions about LGBT life in Japan.
How long have you lived in Japan?
Let’s see… about ten years now. I was living with my Grandmother in the Philippines and she brought me here to be with my parents.
What do you like most about Japan?
Manners. I love that Japanese people have a general sense of manners and respect for other people. Maybe because it’s taught in school, but it is something that I really love about Japan.
What about your least favorite?
Ah, well I think that people pay too much mind to things. People care too much about little things and it can get annoying. People seem to worry about making the right impression or doing the best that they can, that they miss out on the simple joys of life sometimes. It’s OK to not be perfect.
What does LGBT mean to you? Do you Identify with it?
I haven’t really thought about it actually. I don’t care about different labels so it’s not something that has ever crossed my mind. I’m Gay, but I don’t care if Im labeled Gay, or whatever. It’s just not something I think about.
Do you think that Japanese people know about LGBT people and the issues facing Queer people in Japan?
I think they know about it. Most people have some idea that LGBT people exist and are part of society, but people just don’t talk about it. It’s cultural to not talk about personal issues in public so you don’t hear much about it.
Are you out?
To my friends yes, but I feel that in certain places like work, it’s best to not talk about those things. As for the friends that I have come out to, about half have accepted me warmly and the others no longer wanted anything to do with me.
What is life like for you as a Gay person in Japan?
For the most part it’s OK. There have not been any noticeable discrimination or problems except when it comes to dating. Coming from a Catholic mother, she is having a hard time coming to terms with me dating guys. When I do go out on dates or have boyfriends, we can’t hold hands or kiss in public which makes me sad. I want to express my feelings openly but I don’t like all the stares that come with it.
Tell us more about your mother and how she deals with you being Gay-
She isn’t taking it so well. She feels like it’s not a “normal” life so she hopes that it is just a phase and I will change. She still holds on to much of her Catholic beliefs although she does not practice it often. Also, she has lived in Japan so long that she tends to act like a Japanese person, meaning she is not open to talking about sex or relationships. We are ok, despite some tension but I know she loves me and she will come around on her own time.
Do you think that other LGBT people in Japan face any challenges?
Not really. I think it’s because not many people come out, so it seems like there are “not that many” Gay people around. Once more LGBT people are seen out and open, then there will be more chance for challenges. People won’t assume you are Gay or Straight so they won’t treat you any differently.
What do you see for the future of LGBT people in Japan and general acceptance in the country?
It’s moving along. I personally don’t see any major changes coming soon, but maybe in 10 or 15 years we will start to see development. Like Tokyo Rainbow Pride, it used to not be covered in media, but as years go on, more and more news programs talk about the festivities. It’s just going to take time. A lot of time.
What do you see for your own personal future? Do you want to stay in Japan?
I definitely don’t want to live in Japan. I feel that as a Japanese person, I don’t have enough freedoms, there are too many rules and restrictions set by society. I want to go abroad, perhaps Spain or somewhere in Europe that has more freedoms.
Anything else you would like to share?
I want Japanese people to feel more free to be themselves and open. I want all the LGBT Japanese to feel comfortable to come out so that the masses can see that it is OK to be Gay and that we are normal just like everyone else. The LGBT community should not be afraid to come together and show our faces, if we group together we can work on bringing acceptance of LGBT people in Japan.