LGBTQ in Tohoku

Japan is divided into 7-8 regions such as Hokkaido and Kanto, but when it comes to Japan’s gay scene, it must be said that Tohoku is a lonesome region that is very lacking in activity. At present, Tohoku is the only region in which no gay club parties are held whatsoever. In terms of the number of gay bars, the entire Tohoku region has only 20-30 in total; even Naha City has more than this. (Tohoku has a population of 900,000 people, whereas by comparison Naha City has only 320,000.)

But that does NOT mean that the Tohoku region is destitute.
Within Tohoku’s central city of Sendai, there has been a thriving community for over 10 years now. The ‘Yarokko’ (meaning ‘Boys’ in the Tohoku dialect) HIV prevention and public awareness organization has established a small community center, gay bars within the city distribute free newspapers and condoms, and the city’s community center even hosts lively events featuring Japanese drum performances and recitations of the memoirs of HIV-positive individuals. Lately, even Sendai’s lesbian bars are showing signs of activity.

In 2011 the Great East Japan earthquake struck the Tohoku region, claiming countless LGBTQ individuals as victims, who still bear the painful memories of seeking refuge today (lack of spaces for transgender individuals, inability to treat partners as family, inability to get HIV medications.) Following this, LGBTQ circles and organizations in all parts of Tohoku stood up and made their voices heard, bringing life to communities in cities outside of Sendai.

For recent examples, through the joint sponsorship of between the city of Sendai and concerned groups, the public awareness event “Sendai Rainbow Day” was held on Tanabata in order to deepen citizens’ understanding of gender diversity. An LGBT movie festival and pride parade were held in Aomori City, and starting this year a pride parade will be held in Morioka.

In 2015, the “GRANDECO” snow resort in Urabandai suddenly lost nearly all of its customers due to misinformation; they hosted LGBT events (as the only LGBT ski event within Japan), and as this also served to aid in the revitalization of Tohoku, visitors flocked from all over Tokyo and overseas, making the events a great success. Unfortunately, these events are no longer hosted at GRANDECO, but similar event is planned for March 2019 at a different location. (Details will be available in the future.)