NHK's "Haato O Tsunago : Gays and Lesbians"

By Yuki Keiser April 2008

NHK/Haato O Tsunago

1. An historic broadcast by NHK

Installment 1 of Gays and Lesbians

●Aired: Monday, April 28th and Tuesday, April 29th 8:00 - 8:29 pm
●Re-Broadcast: Monday, May 5th and Tuesday, May 6th From 1:20 - 1:49 pm
●Hosts: Sonin, Ira Ishida, and Yoko Sakurai
●Guests: Kanako Otsuji, Hideki Sunagawa, Tari Ito, Yasuaki Asahara, Taiga Ishikawa, Takako Otsuji, Other
●Program Homepage (Japanese)→

NHK/Haato O Tsunago

NHK's educational program, Haato O Tsunago (Heart-to-Heart) first hit the air two years ago. It has been designed to present audiences with thought-provoking conversation between program hosts and guests invited to discuss a given theme. The program became more broadly known by Japan's LGBT community following a series of installments on transgender issues last year. Representatives from the program revealed that every time one of its episodes on transgender issues is rebroadcast, their offices are deluged with letters and emails from LGBT viewers.

After seeing their trans brothers and sisters covered in honest programming on a national network, many gay, bisexual, and lesbian viewers began to hope that their own issues would soon be broadcast as well. Yet, many expected that it would be far too difficult for the ultra-conservative NHK station to brave addressing a topic such as homosexuality on its airwaves. Even today, sexual preference is seen within Japanese society as more of a hobby or predilection that people individually cultivate. Thus, getting feature airtime on an educational program for such a subject seemed - at best - like a remote possibility.

And yet, that day has come. This advent, ready for the history books, will be led by the program's first installment (aired April 28 & 29) on coming out, where gay and lesbian guests will tell their stories of angst, love, and liberation.

Seeing how the Japanese media is still so reluctant to seriously explore gay and lesbian issues, all guests to this program agreed that NHK has embarked on an historic journey with this particular program theme. So the question remains, will popular awareness of LGBT issues change as a result of the station’s willingness to set foot into this uncharted terrain?

Part of what originally inspired the program was the recently published (Japanese) book, Coming Out Letters. One of the book's editors, Hideki Sunagawa explains, "It seems that the director for the program read Coming Out Letters and thought that it would make a good program. Since the book what gave him the idea for the program, they contacted me as part of the process. And since all that had been going on, a lot of the guests joining the program were themselves involved in the book."

The recording lasted for four hours; this was made into two 30-minute programs. Naturally, everything cannot be discussed in such a short period of time. For this reason, many viewers equally anticipate a second installment. One of the hosts, author and actor Ira Ishida reveals, "Nothing has been set yet for a second installment, but the possibility of one being produced is quite high."

Hosts are: writer Ira Ishida, media personality Sonin, and newscaster Yoko Sakurai. Guests appearing are: Hideki Sunagawa, Taiga Ishikawa, Yasuaki Asahara, Tari Ito, and Kanako Otsuji, among others. One on-screen segment welcomes a lesbian who wished to remain anonymous and her high school teacher who, together, introduce a report she had written, "Moomin Valley and Minorities". On the second day of the first installment, Kanako Otsuji’s mother makes an appearance and brings with her an even more friendly and relaxed tone to the studio.

TW went to the studio on the day of the recording for its report. We interviewed each of the participants and collected their comments and messages. We also spoke in greater depth with the editor of Coming Out Letters, Hideki Sunagawa.

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translated by rayna rusenko