|LIFE IN JAPAN
President, True Travel K.K.
Time in Japan:
All my life
Where are you from?
Born and bred in Tokyo.
What do you do?
I run the first and only gay travel agency in Japan, True Travel.
Tell us more about it.
The word "true" comes from the expression "be true to yourself." I
wanted gay people to at least be true to themselves when they go on vacation without
worrying about their neighbors or co-workers. We started the company in November and
business has been up and down. Our first tour that we organized was the Mardi Gras tour in
Sydney. It' the largest gay event in the world and we had many people who went. I'm sure
that there are many gay Japanese who wanted to go but didn't know how to get the tickets
due to the language barrier or other obstacles. We feel that these people can benefit from
the services we provide. Our first tour just finished and it was a success.
What made you start this business?
I've always been interested in doing business for the gay and lesbian audience. In the US
or Australia, there are gay travel agencies, banks, hospitals, etc., and I knew that
business targeted towards this audience would catch on in Japan.
Was it difficult at first?
We thought that it would be harder. The major obstacle we came across was hiring someone
to help the business out. I tried to advertise in The Japan Times, but they would not run
an ad with the word "gay." I then started to do my own PR by calling the media.
There was only one very mainstream magazine that turned us down, claiming that they
couldn't do an article on us because there was no space or section for such things.
What other tours or events do you do and what are you planning for the future?
We are organizing a tour for Gay Day at Disney World and Disneyland, where about 500,000
gay people from all over the world go to those theme parks during the same week. The New
York and San Francisco parade tours are also very popular. As for individual travel, we
have a large list of gay hotels and accommodations. We can take care of small details such
as asking for a double bed instead of a twin. One interesting package that we put together
is a gay wedding, where you can have a ceremony in Hawaii, on the beach or in a church.
Do you think that a wedding like this would be possible in Japan?
I don't think so. The Japanese do not deny that there are gay people in Japan but will not
encourage gay people to come out. It's not like people are throwing stones at us, they're
How do you think the gay community in Japan is changing?
I don't think I'm in the position to speak about the whole gay community but I can
certainly talk about the travel business. JTB, the world's biggest travel agency, actually
organized one gay tour about five years ago to see the New York gay parade. But a Japanese
weekly publication wrote an article saying that this tour was a disgraceful and hideous
thing to do. After that, JTB didn't ever want to get involved again. They hadn't
anticipated such a violent action from the media. Five years later, we popped into the
market, contacted the media, and many publications did write us up and there haven't been
that many outbursts.
How about domestic travel?
We have been receiving a lot of inquiries, especially from overseas, but now we are
looking for gay-friendly accommodations and ryokan. We need these partners to put together
a tour, so I hope we can find good people to work with.
What's the one thing a person should see or experience in Japan before leaving forever?
Spend one day as a typical Japanese salaryman-get on a crowded train with a cheap suit,
get bullied by OLs and throw up on the last train-so that you won't have any regrets about
leaving Japan forever.
What's your advice for a successful life in Japan?
Always remember why you left your home country in the first place.
Contact Yoichi at email@example.com or
03-3563-1166, or see www.truetravel.net
Yoichi Hayase spoke to Maki Nibayashi.
Do you know an
interesting person in Tokyo? If so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org