Special Feature: Kansai Rainbow Parade

‘There’s Pride in Osaka?’ My incredulity says something about my expectations of Kansai Rainbow Parade 2013; I had been fore-warned that Japan, wonderful as it is, is sometimes not the most tolerant or permissive of countries when it comes to certain personal preferences. So, it was with a little trepidation and cautious enthusiasm that I set off to rendezvous in Ogimachi Park with the rest of the Stonewall crew. Any misgivings I had were quickly dispelled by the sight of two Japanese women, four kids and buggy in tow, dressed head-to-foot in rainbow tie-dye with waist-length multi-coloured braids.Kansai Pride 3 They kindly offered to guide me to the station – an offer which was a little redundant, considering the cloud of viridian, scarlet and mauve balloons visible from half a mile away.

For those who have attended European or American Prides, Kansai Rainbow Parade may seem a little muted. It was certainly smaller in scale than the majority of western parades, with just two rows of stalls selling everything from face paint to badges, to free wine samples to sufficiently fortify yourself for the march ahead. On the stage various bands and acts performed everything from traditional drumming to covers of Cyndi Lauper and Queen (what march can begin without synchronised foot stomping to ‘We Will Rock You?’).

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Neither were roads blocked off, nor did heaving crowds gather. Instead an ungainly line wove its way a short distance through Ogimachi, enthusiastically waving to crowds of mostly bemused onlookers (asking at school the next day what they thought my rainbow badge represented, one student suggested ‘you like weather?). The only awkward moment came when the parade accidentally blocked the path of an ambulance: it would be unfortunate, we agreed, if, after years of campaigning against prejudice, all this blatant queer celebration did actually prove fatal.

Despite the limited scale of the event, the Rainbow Pride was one of the most enjoyable and open events I have attended. The participants were a balanced mix of Japanese and foreigners, LGBT and allies, contributing to a cosmopolitan feel. Cosplay Pokemon guysand costumes were prominent, from modest rainbow capes and discreet pins to the announcer, a middle-aged man dressed in a French maid’s uniform complete with six-inch glittery high-heels. There were steam-punks, cross-dressers, ravers and a flock of Pokémon dressed only in briefs and various fluffy ears and tails. Queer culture in Japan allies itself closely with various sub-cultures, giving this Pride a very different feel to others in the world. Rather than leather and spandex there was a performance from an AKB-48 offshoot troupe, complete with rainbow-coloured tutus.

If the parades pervasive air of effusive kawaii-ness displaced the more serious political undertones of most LGBT events, it nevertheless underlined how unusual such extravagant displays of identity are in Japan. At the end of the day, the MC invited the crowd to simultaneously release all the balloons which had been distributed throughout the crowd during the parade at once. ‘Change’, he proclaimed, as a friend translated for me, ‘can only come when we stand together’. Such a clichéd sound bite gained a new resonance in a community so often invisible in mainstream Japan. As a kaleidoscopic mass of balloons rose into the dusk, it seemed an appropriate metaphor; a small but defiant splash of colour against the grey Osaka skyline.

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Words: Lorna Petty

Photos: Lynn Lethin


Find out more about Stonewall events on their website.

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