Edges of the Rainbow: LGBTQ Japan

Photographer Michel Delsol and journalist Haruku Shinozaki curated a collection of more than 150 color and black-and-white photographs of LGBTQ people in Japan, accompanied by insightful interviews with members of this proud and resilient community, who still live on the margins of Japanese society. Published by nonprofit public-interest publishing house The New Press, Edges of the Rainbow both documents contemporary queer life in Japan and celebrates its people. So naturally, Geeks OUT wanted to take a closer look.

What were your intentions, hopes, and plans for this project?

The intent is to interview and photograph some self identified LGBTQ Japanese individuals, couples or groups as to how their day to day life is in Japan. Our focus was on their work, family, legal and social aspects. Because of logistical reasons and limits of time, we knew that this could not be a comprehensive understanding, but rather a beginning, for example we limited ourselves to subjects from the island of Honshu (Japan's largest Island). We wanted to show how beautiful and proud they are living even as they often have had to face social pressures, also one of the purposes of this book was to bridge one country’s culture to another.

What inspired you to present this intimate look into Japanese queer culture through photography?

This book of photographs and interviews on the LGBTQ life in Japan was commissioned by the Arcus Foundation and is part of a larger series of books on the particularities of LGBTQ issues throughout various countries in the world, such as Mexico, Australia, Poland, Argentina, Serbia and the cities of St. Petersburg and Delhi, as well as books focusing on the Pride March in NYC and the children of LGBTQ parents in the US. Each book is produced by a different person/team and in our case, by one journalist and one photographer. Photography, especially in our internet connected and iPhone world, is a universal language, but photographs are more than just a surface, as they render the subconscious of a personal and social situation by the gestures and context presented. Of course there is always a subjective element, by the selection of location and the post-shooting editing. Some of the time while Ms. Shinozaki was conducting the interviews, or during the unfolding of some events such as a religious service in a church or a musical concert at a club, I would photograph in a discrete manner without giving directions and at other times I would work with a special black and white film (Polaroid type 665 negative) and a 4 x 5 camera (old fashioned camera type with bellows, needing a tripod and long exposures), where every detail of the photograph would be art directed, such as the pose, the clothing , the lighting , etc. These two visual languages complemented each other and offered a more rounded approach and gave the book a specific visual rhythm.

What does your title mean to you? What does Edges of the Rainbow signify?

Edges not solely as a flat continuum from one side to another, but seen in a polydimensional aspect and considered from various vectors, such as age (from college age to senior citizens), social environment such as subjects from the metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka, to smaller rural villages. Edges as a plural noun because our subjects self-identify as lesbians, gay, trans women, trans men, bisexual, queer, and intersex. Some of our subjects were couples, some living in less formal relationships, while other subjects are happily (or not so happily) single. Multiple edges also in their professional occupation, as they span from blue collar jobs to office workers, from students to entrepreneurs, from artists to members of the religious orders. Edges in a poetic sense, as the edges of a rainbow dissolve into the surrounding atmosphere, so the edge itself is present but also quite ethereal. As for rainbow, it is all for all that a rainbow can be.

How did you find your subjects for this book?

Starting from Google searches, such as for various LGBTQ groups in Japan centered on one or a few interests, such as politics, sports, education. We also had some personal connections we had developed in Japan from prior visits who introduced us to some subjects. Once in Japan, often one subject would indicate another area of research. Importantly we also made time for unpredicted and lucky encounters.

What are some of the biggest differences and similarities between Japanese queer culture and that of the US?

The most important are legal, even as civil partnerships are legal in some districts of Tokyo and some cities in Japan, marriage is still not legal, also for anti-discrimination legislation such as for housing and adoption. But also, cultural and historical, as Japan does not have a Judeo-Christian moral legacy in regards to sexuality and pleasure. Additionally Japan has a well known tradition of same gender love within the religious and warrior orders.

What would you like readers to take away from your book?

That individuals are individuals , each one original and different. One of our trans man subjects is quite "macho" with a mustache, three-piece suits, and a membership in a Gold's gym, while another trans man subject feels some days quite feminine and other days more masculine. Some of our subjects are somewhat conservative socially and others are radical in their activism, but at the same time, they are united as a community by the laws and a very traditional culture that represses what it considers outside of its norm.

What advice might you give to an LGBTQ person who is still in the closet and not yet comfortable with their identity?

We think that accessing information on local LGBTQ culture and activities and communication either with an LGBTQ organization or with a trusted friend are vital. In Japan as in some many other countries it is difficult to come out because of family and job reasons. While in some other countries it remains very dangerous to come out.

Edges of the Rainbow: LGBTQ Japan by Michel Delsol and Haruku Shinozaki
The New Press
April 2017
192 pages
ISBN: 9781620972892