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Interview: Ryutaro Nagata

We meet Shibuya ward’s ‘diversity director’ who is bringing welcome change to the community

At the end of 2015, Shibuya Ward became the first municipality in Japan to issue what are known as ‘partnership certificates’, which grant same-sex couples living in the ward a status equal to that of married heterosexual couples. Despite such progressive steps, many believe there is much more to do to achieve true parity – enter Ryutaro Nagata.

Nagata, who came out as gay while working at clothing company Gap and has long been a driving force behind many LGBT-related initiatives in Japan, is now six months into his post as Diversity Lead for the Promotion of Gender Equality and Diversity for Shibuya Ward. We sat down with him at Iris, Shibuya’s Gender Equality and Diversity Centre, to understand what this unique new role means and its power to impact views across the city and beyond.

Iris has been fighting for gender equality in Japanese society since the ’90s. Since assuming his position, Nagata has focused on further expanding the centre in order to tackle deep-seated issues of discrimination in whatever form it may take.

‘The issues of sexism and those of the LGBT community are not separate,’ he says. ‘For example, the social pressure on women to exhibit “femininity” is experienced to a significantly greater degree by transgender people,’ he points out.

The role of Nagata’s section at the Diversity Centre is to broaden and improve education related to the diverse nature of gender through the two pillars of gender equality and LGBT issues, and is symbolised by a rainbow-coloured iris – a play on the ward’s official ‘city flower’ which derives its name from the Greek word for ‘rainbow’.

Nagata’s daily activities involve organising human rights-themed lectures, setting up consultation centres and connecting with the community through events at lounges and libraries. But how did he make the jump from the fashion business to such a wildly different job?

‘[Shibuya’s] mayor [Ken Hasebe] believes that problems like sexism and prejudice stem from people’s perceptions of minorities,’ says Nagata. ‘Our efforts to change that perception require expertise in fields like advertising and marketing. We need to educate not only the residents of Shibuya, but also those working within the system.’

Nagata believes that one of the best ways to do this is through art. He recently screened Naoko Ogigami’s film Close Knit, a moving drama about a transgender woman and her family which was highly praised at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, and saw an instant response.

‘[My work] is not only about educating others – it’s also about impacting people’s feelings’, says Nagata. ‘Movies and other interesting and beautiful works of art have great power in this regard.’

Nagata’s role is unique in Japan and another example of Shibuya’s progressive position when it comes to LGBT issues – it is the only ward in Tokyo with a diversity centre and plays a central role in the city’s annual Rainbow Week.

Nagata hopes that Shibuya can act as a model for others to follow. ‘Society is currently in a time of transition and change,’ he says. Nagata and his team are striving to make that change a positive one. Let’s all hope they are successful. 

Read more about Shibuya's efforts

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