Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Highlights Issues Facing LGBT Japan

The Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, which was held at two venues during the middle two weekends of July, finished its 17th annual run to packed houses and many accolades. The first weekend’s event—held at a movie theater near Tokyo’s famous gay district of Shinjuku ni-chome—was mostly a boy’s affair, with several directors in attendance for talk sessions: Thomas Gustafson (Were the World Mine), Lee Young-Hoon (No Regret), C. Jay Cox (Kiss the Bride, Latter Days), and Parvez Sharma (A Jihad for Love).

The second weekend, however, was all about the ladies. The international lineup of guests included Zero Chou, director of the Taiwanese film Drifting Flowers, together with producer Hoho Liu and stars Chao Yi-lan and Serena Fang; Otsuji Kanako, Japan’s first and only out lesbian politician, who spoke to the audience following a showing of lesbian-themed films Lez in Wonderland and Freeheld; and Cathy deBuono from the festival’s closing feature Out at the Wedding, together with girlfriend Jill Bennett, who also appeared briefly in the film.

While the issue of lesbianism in Japan has largely remained unaddressed by most media in recent years, this silence is slowly starting to be broken. This past spring, the Fuji television network aired a wildly popular prime-time drama titled Last Friends, which portrayed rising young star Ueno Juri as a motorcross racer struggling with her gender identity and romantic feelings toward a female friend. Due in large part to this program, issues facing sexual minorities were ushered into mainstream dialogue in a manner that was largely similar to the “Ellen” effect in the United States circa late 1990s.

Japan’s public broadcasting network, known as NHK, similarly ran a show around the same time titled “Haato wo tsunagou” (“Connecting Hearts”), which featured a panel of several LGBT activists engaged in an honest and often poignant discussion of their lives, including the difficulties that they face on a daily basis within present-day Japanese society. One of the panelists was Otsuji, whose run for the National Diet in August 2007—although unsuccessful—ultimately helped to bring issues facing LGBT individuals and communities into the collective consciousness of Japanese society.

Clearly, there remains much work to be done in this regard. Addressing the film festival audience after the showing of Freeheld (which documents the struggle for equality in Ocean County, New Jersy in the U.S., where a dying police officer is seeking retirement benefits for her same-sex partner), Otsuji remarked that the film carried a strong message for audiences everywhere. “The film portrayed a community coming together to ensure that this woman died with hope rather than despair, which is something that definitely rings true in Japan as well,” she commented. “Since despair will never do the work of changing society, the question we now need to ask ourselves is this: How can we can continue to cultivate hope?” 

--Kimberly Hughes

(Originally published in  LOTL magazine, October 2008)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Global Article 9 Conference to End War • Tokyo • May 4-6, 2008

"...rather than go backwards, we ought to move forward: towards a vision of a world without war. A world where every nation would have a clause No. 9 in its constitution."

-- Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Green Belt Movement

Standing Room Only: Around 3,000 people standing in line for entrance 
into the Global Article 9 Conference to End War had to be turned away 

In 2003, a global network of NGOs formed the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) to voice opposition to the US/UK invasion of Iraq. Two years later, GPPAC declared a global appeal to incorporate the Japanese Constitution's Peace Clause, Article 9, into efforts to support world peace at the Northeast Asia Regional GPPAC Meeting and at the GPPAC Global Conference, at which the Global Article 9 Campaign was founded. Peace Boat, a Japan-based international NGO, and the Japan Lawyers International Solidarity Association (JALISA) have been the effort's organizers, supported by 88 co-initiators based in Japan.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire called their resulting 2008 Global Article 9 Conference to End War "historic." The global peace conference combined multiple perspectives on peace in East Asia and the world, taking into consideration the environment, social development, women's perspectives, nuclear nonproliferation, historical reconciliation, local and regional peace initiatives throughout the globe, and creative expressions. 

The gathering was a passionate gathering of military and civilian survivors and descendants of survivors of war and militarism of the Pacific War, who remember the devastation and human costs, and who say "No More". 

Elder women and men wearing Article 9 lapel pins; children holding their parents' hands, groups of nuns dressed in traditional habits;  and younger people in T-shirts made up a river of people streaming into the Makuhari Messe convention center, in eastern metropolitan Tokyo, where the conference was held. Over 30,000 people attended this peace conference dedicated to protecting Japan's Peace Clause and spreading its ideals throughout the world. Around three thousand people waiting in a line the size of a football field had to be turned away for lack of space. 

The conference began with a program, "Article 9 as a hope for the world" in a darkened hall filled with thousands of people. 

Maguire and Cora Weiss (U.S./Hague Appeal for Peace) pronounce the conference "historic" at a press conference with conference Yoshioka Tatsuya, co-founder of the Peace Boat, conference co-chair. 
JALISA, Japan Lawyers Int. Solidarity Association, was the other organizer.

"Realizing the Spirit of Article 9 in Asia" panel with  South Korean historian Kwon Heok Tae, 
German historian Nicola Liscutin ("comfort women" discourses), 
Chinese film director Ban Zhongyi (chronicles lives of people in postwar China, including Japanese women colonists left behind in China and military sexual slavery survivors), 
Taiwanese human rights scholar Chen Jau-hwa, 
American scholar and activist Joseph Gerson, 
Filipino activist Gus Miclat (Initiatives for Int. Dialogue, Asia Pacific Solidarity Coalition), 
 Takasato Suzuyo (Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence).

One of many grassroots projects at the conference: Article 9 T-shirts made by children.

Dozens of people had to be turned away from the crowded room where the
"Iraq, U.S.A., and Japan" panel discussed the role of the Japanese
government in the Iraqi occupation.

Ellen Thomas, of Proposition One, an international nuclear weapons abolition initiative,
 and Jay Marx, of the Washington Peace Center, 
discuss the rational basis of peace activism.

116 lawyers are representing over one hundred Tokyo firebombing survivors 
 (wearing red sash) in their lawsuit against the Japanese  government 
for not compensating civilian survivors of the Tokyo firebombings
and for not memorializing their losses and suffering.

They are also demanding an apology from the Japanese government which
instead of memorializing firebombing victims, 
honored Curtis LeMay, strategist of the bombing of
(civilian targets) in Tokyo and all major Japanese cities (except Kyoto).

The survivors have joined together with Hibakusha and Chinese survivors of the
Japanese imperial military terror bombings of Chonqing to speak out
about the deaths and suffering of civilians as targets during the Pacific War.

Yoshi Kuzume, one of many examples of grassroots women's activism in Japan,
promotes peace by handing out T-shirts, emblazoned withArticle 9  
in Japanese in the front, and in English on the back.
Kuzume, who teaches Chinese at Seinan Gakuin University, wants to 
increase awareness that Japan has not gone to war in sixty years, in 
contrast to the decades of military aggression before the end of the Pacific War.

Kuzume studied in China in the 1980's, and found that Chinese people 
were moved when she explained Article 9 to them. Despite the fact 
that Japanese people have overwhelmingly supported and protected Japan's 
Peace Clause (against the attempts of some in the Japanese government, 
urged on by some in Washington, notably the Nixon and Bush administration)
 to overturn Article 9) is not well known outside of Japan.

Singing for peace – A Japanese schoolteacher is spreading the 
song "Negai" ("Our Wish") throughout Japan and the world, 
to demonstrate the wish of children for peace.
"Negai" has been translated into 31 languages, 
and has been sung in Taiwan, Finland, Iran, Korea, and Kenya.

Peace, environmental, human rights, democratic, slow life, and creative
practitioners from throughout Japan share information and fellowship.

The "Negative World Heritage" art exhibition refutes the triumphant
view of war in world history and calls for honestly addressing the
histories of the Nanjing Massacre; forced mass suicides in Okinawa; the
atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The Anti-War Exhibition for Peace is a nationwide movement 
based in Saitama, a prefecture just north of Tokyo. So far, 3,000,000 
visitors have visited exhibitions across Japan for over 25 years.
The group exhibits at Saitama City Hall and other venues throughout Japan 
on time-limited schedules (in contrast to peace museums that are open year-round). 
 In partnership with peace groups, they organize around 150 exhibitions annually. 

The Anti-War Exhibition for Peace also invites international speakers and

witnesses to its events that address Japan's wartime history and the
Japanese government's escalating involvement in US-led wars & military conflict.
Organizers lead discussions about  alternatives to war and armed conflict:
"Invading China in the 1930's and Southeast Asia in the 1940's, Japan had been going to war almost once every ten years, until the end of World War II. These wars were fought at the cost of three million Japanese lives and twenty million lives throughout the rest of Asia.

Apology for these sins has remained only nominal to this day. Even a 'revisionist' movement has been gaining momentum in the area of history. Standing in opposition to such reactionary trends, the Antiwar Exhibition for Peace provides the general public with valuable opportunities to learn about the hard facts of Japan's past aggression. The Antiwar Exhibition for Peace promotes peace education throughout the country in the belief that each one of us, not just international organizations and governments, should act as a peacemaker."
Filmmaker John Junkerman, director of Japan's Peace Constitution (2005),
participates in a discussion about Article 9 with other journalists.

Vancouver Save Article 9 -- based in Vancouver 
was the 1st group outside of Japan) to spread news about Article 9
and how Japan's constitutionally guaranteed minimization of militarism
has indeed resulted in a more stable East Asia and world.
The movement demonstrates that nonproliferation and limiting militarization
 are viable and better methods of securing authentic peace
throughout the world than destabilizing  nuclear proliferation and arms races.

After the conference,Tokyo area university students hosted 
a panel discussion on the links between the US war in Iraq 
and the Bush and Koizumi administrations' attempt to overturn Article 9.
 Conscientious objector and Iraq war veteran Aidan Delgado 
and Kasim Turki, a former soldier in the Iraqi Republican Guard, now an Iraqi aid worker, Jay Marx of Washington Peace Center, singer Amamiya Karin and Kim Hughes, a translator, university teacher, and community activist living in Tokyo participate.

"As a global citizen, I support Article 9. In fact, I think that all constitutions should INCLUDE an Article 9 and... a global campaign to that end is needed, and certainly not the elimination of yours (Japan's)."

-- Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Int. Campaign to Ban Land Mines

(-JD, Originally published at the Kyoto Journal website)