Despite the sometimes unreliability of Kyushu weather, the sun was out in full swing on Sunday, November the 22nd, ready to celebrate a new kind of movement in Fukuoka. This time last year, Fukuoka was the talk of the town as it held it’s very first gay pride, otherwise known as Kyushu Rainbow Pride. Having shamefully missed it, I was determined to participate this year, ready to show my support for a cause I’m passionate about.
With this only being the second pride to take place in Fukuoka, I had no idea what to expect. Would anyone even show up? I was more than pleasantly surprised. The parade would start and end at Reisen Park, just a stones throw away from Canal City in Hakata. I needn't have worried, however, for the park was jam packed with stores and people alike, all chattering and smiling; welcoming. Warm hugs were given out freely while people of all ages gathered around to have the various LGBT flags painted onto their skin. Gay, bisexual, transgender, you name it, the list goes on.
Musicians and drag queens performed on the flatpack stage, coming out of their shell and showing their colours proudly to the world. Like a butterflies shedding it’s chrysalis, they flourished without their societal mask. The atmosphere was electric.
After talking to some wonderful people and getting my own colourful face paint insignia, it was time to get ready for the parade. Registration for the parade is usually done in advance, or on the day if you come early enough. Thankfully, however, with all the excitement and support, it was possible to just join in on the end of the line. After all, the more smiling faces supporting, the better. I was a little apprehensive, I must admit, to walk the streets between Hakata and Tenjin. With Japan being more than a little behind when it comes to gay rights, I had to ask myself, how would people receive such a display of sexual freedom?
My nervousness was preemptive. As I looked around, I realised that the majority of the people looking back were waving and smiling, some holding up their own iconic LGBT rainbow flag in support. Children shouted hello, while others waves from buses. Some even came onto their balconies to call out words of encouragement, of support. One pair of siblings in particular stole my heart as the two year olds cried out a fond hello to a fellow parade goer with rainbow hair, giving him the very apt nickname of ‘Rainbow-chan’.
And if supporting the right for everyone to love wasn't enough for you, food vendors from all over Fukuoka also came to gather under the shade of the trees to feed the hungry. Cups were filled with hot wine while boxes were jam packed with meats and breads in various forms. They say a good ol’ party is nothing without good food and company, and Kyushu Rainbow Pride lacked in neither.
Gay rights, however, is still a relatively new movement in Japan, and gay marriage is not legally recognised, despite current efforts to change it. Proud to its core, Japan is seen as a pillar of strength, with it’s people coming together as one. However, it is this oneness, this unity that can sometimes form confining chains for those who are seemingly different from the collective, for those who go against the grain. This however, just makes Kyushu Rainbow Pride all the more important.
To see everyone happy and talking, free of prejudice was wonderful. People from all walks of life, Japanese or not, came together under this one unifying event and accepted one another without question. I was reminded just how important pride festivals are, and how freeing acceptance can truly be healing.
In a world with so much conflict and strife, in a country where rules and regulations are the foundations of an society run like clockwork, seeing people set aside their prejudice and welcome others without fear was like chicken soup for the soul.