July 26, 2023
Japanese Pop Star Shinjiro Atae Comes Out as Gay
READ TIME: 3 MIN.
A major Japanese pop star has come out as gay. Shinjiro Atae, a J-pop idol who has been on a nearly two-year performance hiatus, spoke to 2,000 fans Wednesday night in a Tokyo auditorium about what he called "the challenge of my life," the New York Times reports.
"Standing onstage in a dark auditorium in front of 2,000 fans in central Tokyo on Wednesday night, the 34-year old revealed something he has kept hidden for most of his life: He is gay."
"I respect you and believe you deserve to hear this directly from me," he said to the crowd, reading from a letter he had prepared. "For years, I struggled to accept a part of myself. But now, after all I have been through, I finally have the courage to open up to you about something. I am a gay man."
The Times adds that his "announcement is extremely unusual in conservative Japan, the only G7 country that has not legalized same-sex unions. Earlier this summer, the Japanese Parliament passed an L.G.B.T.Q rights bill but it had been watered down by the political right, stating that there 'should be no unfair discrimination' against gay and transgender people."
The Times said his announcement was first greeted with "total silence. Then, there were shrieks, wild applause, weeping and shouts of "I love you!"
His reason for coming out? "I don't want people to struggle like me," he said.
He told the Times in an interview on Tuesday: "I thought if I was found out it would end my career, and so I couldn't tell anyone."
What led him to make his decision was living in Los Angeles for seven years, where he witnessed an openness he never saw in Japan. "Everyone was so open," he said. "People would talk about their vulnerabilities. In Japan, people think it's best not to talk about those things."
"Japanese society is not a place where people strictly state their sexuality," explained Satoshi Masuda, a researcher specializing in Japanese popular music at Osaka Metropolitan University, to the Times. "Rather, it naturally comes to be known."
Mr. Atae spent two decades performing with AAA, a hit Japanese pop group, before embarking on a solo career. "AAA debuted in 2005, with Mr. Atae, the youngest member, forgoing high school. He performed mostly as a dancer, and began appearing in TV series and movies," writes the Times.
But his sexuality perplexed him. "It was a time when on TV, comedians would say two men kissing was gross," he said. If anyone asked if he had a girlfriend, he just said he was too busy working.
When he moved to Los Angeles, where he attended entertainment business classes and studied English on his own, he lived in fear that he would be spotted at a LGBTQ+ event and be outed in Japan. "Gradually," the Times adds, "Mr. Atae made friends he could trust with his secret. He began to plan his public revelation. He would have to tell his family, his mother first. "It was the most nervous I have ever been in coming out," he said.
"I was super surprised, and I had never imagined it," said his mother, Suzuko, 66, who asked to keep her surname private to avoid harassment. While she supported her son personally, she balked when he said he wanted to go public. And was anxious about Mr. Atae facing online attacks or discrimination. Now, she said, "I am 200 percent supportive."
Coming out, he knew, would likely draw criticism. "Whatever you do, there will be haters," he said. "I can only focus on the people I might be helping."