J-pop idol Shinjiro Atae came out as gay during a performance in central Tokyo.
Coming out: In his first performance since taking a nearly two-year hiatus, Atae read a letter he had prepared to an audience of around 2,000 spectators on Wednesday night to a chorus of cheers and applause.
“I respect you and believe you deserve to hear this directly from me,” Atae said, according to The New York Times
. “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.”
Atae, who described fearing the moment he would come out publicly for years, said he made the announcement to let his fans know his true self and to help others who may be struggling with optics surrounding their sexuality.
“I don’t want people to struggle like me,” he said. “I thought if I was found out, it would end my career, and so I couldn’t tell anyone.”
The J-pop idol noted that his decision to come out was not motivated by politics, rather, he wanted to “normalize” being gay.
Political differences: Activists noted that it is extremely unusual, if not unheard of, for a public figure of Atae’s stature to make such a public declaration in Japan, which is the only G7 country that has not legalized same-sex marriages. According to Osaka City University researcher Satoshi Masuda, who specializes in Japanese popular music, figures in the entertainment industry who are gay or transgender are not explicit in speaking about their sexuality.
“Japanese society is not a place where people strictly state their sexuality,” said Masuda. “Rather, it naturally comes to be known.”
Atae credits his decision to come out to the seven years he lived in Los Angeles, where he observed gay couples expressing their affection and supporting one another freely in public spaces.
“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.”
His supporters: The first person in Atae’s family who he came out to was his mother, a moment he described as “the most nervous I have ever been in coming out.”
While his mother, Suzuko, 66, said she is “200 percent supportive,” she too was anxious about her son’s plan to speak out in public. However, she was present in the audience when he made the announcement on Wednesday night.
Also in attendance were fellow band members from Atae’s former group AAA.
“The word ‘diversity’ started becoming more common, but how to take in that word is still a very difficult issue in Japan,” said fellow member Misako Uno, 37, in a backstage interview. “I want to be a good cushion for him.”