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In Japan, a J-Pop star has come out as gay and his fans cheer

Japanese pop star Shijiro Atae, rear center, poses with others during an announcement for a year-end TV music show in Tokyo on Nov. 24, 2010. Atae said he is gay in an emotional announcement at a fan event Wednesday, July 26, 2023, that was warmly welcomed in a country where the government does not recognize LGBTQ equality. (Kyodo News via AP)
AP
Japanese pop star Shijiro Atae, rear center, poses with others during an announcement for a year-end TV music show in Tokyo on Nov. 24, 2010. Atae said he is gay in an emotional announcement at a fan event Wednesday, July 26, 2023, that was warmly welcomed in a country where the government does not recognize LGBTQ equality. (Kyodo News via AP)

MANILA, Philippines — Japanese pop idol Shinjiro Atae has come out as gay in a public announcement that is unusual in conservative Japan, where same-sex unions are not legal.

Speaking Wednesday evening to a crowd of about 2,000 of his fans in an auditorium in central Tokyo, Atae revealed he is gay.

"I respect you and believe you deserve to hear this directly from me," said the 34-year-old Atae. "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."

"I don't want people to struggle like me," he continued.

No entertainer of a stature and popularity have out as queer in Japan and after his announcement, fans applauded, reports LGBTQ Nation.

"I am 200% supportive," Atae's mother told the press after her son's very public disclosure, the outlet reports.

Atae is a singer-songwriter, model and actor who debuted nearly two decades ago with the J-pop co-ed group AAA before launching a successful solo career.

Reaction on social media has been predominantly positive, with many netizens calling Atae brave and wishing him well.

"Shinjiro Atae of AAA has come out as gay this is huge!!! I am so happy for him," tweeted user mineru.

Even many who are not familiar with Atae threw their support behind him.

"I don't follow the group but I applaud and am rooting so hard for Shinjiro Atae! Your courage is beautiful!" wrote user Ces.

The LGBTQ community in Japan faces many challenges. It is the only member of the Group of 7 major industrial nations that does not allow same-sex marriage or civil unions — this is despite a recent poll by Kyodo News that showed 64% of respondents think same-sex marriage should be recognized in the country.

Meanwhile, Japan recently passed its first-ever legislation on sexual orientation and gender identity. But advocates say it still falls short.

"This new law, while advancing the rights of LGBT people, falls well short of ensuring them equal protection from discrimination," Human Rights Watch wrote in a statement earlier this month. "Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida should go further. A comprehensive nondiscrimination act is what is needed if Japan is to protect the human rights of all."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Westerman
Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.