Mainichi: NHK ventures into the closet for first time with program on homosexuality

NHK ventures into the closet for first time with program on homosexuality

Coverage of homosexuality by Japan’s notoriously squeaky clean, hyper-conservative public broadcaster NHK has so far been as hard to find as a G-spot, but the taxpayer-funded network is finally coming out of the closet, according to Shukan Shincho (4/24).

NHK’s Education Channel program “Haato wo Tsunago (Let’s Connect Hearts)” will screen a program on homosexuality on April 28 and 29, continuing its trend since hitting the air two years ago of taking on controversial topics like child abuse, learning disabilities and hikikomori recluses.

“We’ve covered gender identity on the program before and some responses to those shows urged us to consider the problems facing homosexuals, so we decided to pick up the issue,” an NHK spokesman tells Shukan Shincho.

“The show basically involves talking to homosexuals, their families and their associates to find out what sorts of problems they face and what we can do about them. We asked them about what it means to come out or not, why some homosexuals feel uncomfortable with being open about their sexuality and how friends and relatives react to those who are out. All cases discussed on the program are based on existing examples.”

Homosexuality in Japan is typically accepted, but rarely talked about openly, though many overtly gay performers appear on TV screens.

Appearing as a guest on the program will be Kanako Otsuji, a 33-year-old woman who has made a political career out of being openly lesbian.

“NHK first talked to me about the program in February. At the time, they said they were only doing background work for a show, but even then I was really surprised that high and mighty NHK was showing an interest in gay and lesbian affairs. I thought it was finally a sign of the times,” Otsuji tells Shukan Shincho. “For a long time, the media has basically ignored the homosexual community. TV sometimes picked up the subject, but almost always on variety shows where comic drag queens were the features. It looks like TV is finally going to take a serious look at the issues facing the gay and lesbian communities. I really was surprised when I first heard NHK was going to do the show. Now I’m proud of it for doing so.”

Ira Ishida, one of the hosts of the program, also lauds NHK for taking on a topic still widely regarded as controversial in Japan.

“When we announced on our website that we were going to do a show on gays and lesbians, we received over 70 mailed responses from viewers even though the show hadn’t aired. It’s unprecedented to have so much response to a program before it has even gone on,” Ishida says. “It seems like there were lots of viewers waiting for us to pick up this topic.”

Media commentator Nobuo Shiga is also pleased at the development.

“I’m sure this is the first time NHK has ever done a program on gay and lesbians. And for its Education Channel,” he says. “NHK has been trying to broaden its viewer base and this project is certainly a huge step for it.”

Those in the homosexual community are naturally pleased.

“It’s revolutionary for NHK to cover this topic,” the leader of a gay and lesbian support organization tells Shukan Shincho on condition of anonymity. “In the past, NHK producers have contacted me on countless occasions to say they have an interest in doing a show about homosexuality, but they’re bosses have always nixed the idea. Awareness of homosexuality in wider society is still not great, or at least that’s what the bosses refusing to cover the issue were always saying. The closest thing homosexuality ever got to coverage on NHK was the homosexuals working as performers in the adult entertainment business. I think things have changed now, though.” (By Ryann Connell)

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