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BOOK REVIEW Edges of the Rainbow: LGBTQ Japan
by Angelique Smith
2017-05-24

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By Michel Delsol & Haruku Shinozaki $21.95; The New Press; 192 pages

Edges of the Rainbow: LGBTQ Japan chronicles modern life in the Land of the Rising Sun as its queer community gains more visibility and recognition. It is part of an ongoing photobook series, with other installments focusing on LGBTQ life in locations such as Delhi, New York City and Australia.

With an enlightening introduction exploring Japan's complicated history of sexual identity from Mark McLelland ( a professor of gender and sexuality studies and previously of Japanese studies ), the remainder of the book features intimate images captured by photographer Michel Delsol, along with text by journalist Haruku Shinozaki introducing us to a vast array of characters across the LGBTQ continuum.

In Tokyo, we meet Yoshiki, an Episcopalian priest who poses with the solemnity of his position but can't hide the twinkle in his eye as he recounts meeting his partner of 15 years. Chiga, a "500-percent straight lesbian," stands proud and well-suited in her aptly named bar, Gold Finger, and talks of ignoring the norms that society dictates. We also span the walls of the akta community center, peppered with monthly newsletters and risqué safe sex ads, as its leaders work to bring HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention to Tokyo.

In Niigata, we meet Keiki, a trans male tarot-card reader who bares it all with friends in his moody-hued photos but is also seen honoring Japanese birthday traditions with his wife and family.

In Osaka, trans woman activist and pop idol Ai showcases her life in the spotlight as she walks through Harajuku sporting panda earmuffs and bright Barbie doll-esque colors while taking selfies with local teens. She started her career as a drag queen and now hosts a show on fighting prejudice. Fuyumi and Makoto's photos are full of tearful airport reunions and Google+ sessions as they navigate their long-distance relationship. Both born deaf, they're developing new sign language to represent queer culture-related words.

The sacred city of Kyoto introduces us to intersex Tatsuki and wife Eishin, a Reiki healer, whose photos show us the importance of their faith as Buddhist disciples. The boy band-like members of Apotheke, a pop group that addresses LGBTQ culture issues, puts on a yearly drag ball and performs at pride festivals framed by rainbow balloons dotting the sky.

Although the cityscapes, individual stories and levels of acceptance differ, in a conformist culture where being the "nail that sticks out" is discouraged, this photobook is a triumphant celebration of how those on the margins are fearlessly living their truth.

The photographs are copyright Michel Delsol, from the book Edges of the Rainbow, written by Michel Delsol and Haruku Shinozaki and published by The New Press ( May 2017 ).


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