By KENTA MAEDA/ Staff Writer
April 27, 2022 at 07:00 JST
Aiki Tanaka has opened a gay bar in the Yuda onsen hot spring resort in Yamaguchi. (Kenta Maeda)
YAMAGUCHI--Tokyo-born Aiki Tanaka loves the city of Yamaguchi, where he has lived since 2019, but as a gay man, he has always felt the community there is quite conservative.
That was all the more reason for Tanaka, 32, to open a bar in the Yuda onsen hot spring resort in the city in March. He hopes it will help foster better understanding about sexual minorities.
He said he gave the bar a straightforward name, the Tanaka Gay Kikaku (project), to make it clear that it is LGBT friendly.
"Being an outsider to Yamaguchi, I want to put some fresh air in the city," he said.
The neighboring city of Ube remains the only municipality in Yamaguchi Prefecture that has introduced a partnership system to officially recognize same-sex couples and make them eligible for benefits and services.
The Yamaguchi city government has made little effort to implement such a system, saying that it is paying attention to how other municipalities are dealing with administrative matters when it comes to same-sex couples.
Tanaka himself once overheard someone who said it was hard to believe there were any sexual minorities in the city.
"I love the historical climate of Yamaguchi so much. So, I want it to be a more livable city for me," Tanaka said.
The bar welcomes any customers regardless of their sexual orientation, but he also intends to host events exclusively for gay people.
The owner wants to make the bar a gateway to learn about gay culture while customers enjoy drinking together.
He also believes that a good-natured town where all kinds of people are treated equally can help create a comfortable community for long-time residents as well.
Tanaka had a life-changing experience while traveling around Spain after graduating from high school. He saw how people accepted being gay as part of their identity and that gay people were treated with respect.
He had suspected he was gay at the time, and his negative feelings about it soon melted way.
However, it took time for him to come out to his family and friends back in Japan.
Tanaka returned to Japan to settle down and when he turned 30, he made up his mind. He sent a letter and a comic book titled "Uchi no Musuko wa Tabun Gay" (I think our son is gay) to his mother.
He soon received a warm reply from his mother, who said she already knew.
Tanaka came out soon after and participated in the Mr. Gay Japan 2022, a national competition held to promote rights for gay men.
After being selected as one of six finalists last summer, Tanaka has thrown his energy into promoting understanding about sexual minorities on social media and through video-sharing websites.
He decided to move to Yamaguchi because he wanted to live in an area along the Seto Inland Sea, which reminded him of Europe’s Mediterranean Sea.
He started working under a program to promote the benefits of Yamaguchi. He collaborated with beekeepers to develop products and worked with other local resources.
Aspiring to become cool and beloved like those from the gay community he met in Spain, Tanaka decided to open the bar after his tenure as a member of the regional revitalization program expired.
He is worried about how it is being received by residents, but he wants to generate sympathy instead of forcing them to understand his views.
Tanaka Gay Kikaku is open from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. from Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Its official Instagram account is available at (https://www.instagram.com/tanakagaykikaku/).
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