As the city gears up to host the 2020 Summer Olympics, new relationships are being constructed between East and West, gay and straight, old and new. These new dynamics are exciting, and the energy is palpable. A few years ago, I went on an international marathon tour. You can learn a lot about a city from how it cheers on its runners. Bostonians handed out plates of oranges and shouted positive encouragements. Tokyoites offered hand-carved chocolates and homemade sushi, and bowed to the runners.
Gay Tokyo offers something unique and different from many other big cities. In Tokyo, the extremely ancient meets the extremely modern, and those juxtapositions play out in everyday life. Photographer Cassidy DuHon and I visited Tokyo earlier this year. During our week there, we met with LGBT rights activists, male geishas, and Japanese drag queens. We sought out the newest luxury hotels and spas, the most popular gay bars, and the freshest slices of sashimi.
Some people say that Tokyo is similar to Taipei or Seoul. On the surface, it may look so, but scratch below the kimono and you quickly find tastes, sights, and sounds in Tokyo that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.
From the moment I boarded the plane to Tokyo from Washington, D.C., the All Nippon Airways (www.fly-ana.com) staff only spoke to me with smiles. At some point I had to remind myself that I didn’t always have to smile back. Auspiciously, I turned on our inflight entertainment to find an LGBT movie called Close-Knit, which tells the story of a Japanese transgender woman and the relationship she builds with her boyfriend’s niece. It’s beautifully directed and includes an emotional scene where the heroine of the story burns 108 colorful wool-knit penises on the beach, symbolically breaking from her former male identity.