1. Deciding to come out
Over the last few years, a growing number of stars and celebrities around the world have openly embraced love in same-sex relationships in full view of the public eye. In April of this year, Japan was blessed with the first young celesbian of its own when model and actress Ayaka Ichinose stepped out of the closet and into the limelight!
Since coming out, this fresh faced dynamo hasn’t missed a single beat. She's written her first manga, “Real Bian”, an autobiographical exploration of her experiences coming out and the first time she fell in love, and has also recently appeared on NHK's TV program Haato O Tsunago (Heart-to-Heart). Overall, Ichinose has become a highly welcome, visible, and viable force in the LGBT scene in Japan--all while keeping up with the demands of her career!
Tokyo Wrestling spoke with Ayaka Ichinose about coming out, her motivation to do so, and the reactions she’s had. In addition, she also told us about first falling in love, her type of women, and whether she is, in fact, available now!
※Ayaka Ichinose at the May 23rd Tokyo Pride Festival.
-- You just came out this past April, which I imagine was a big step. Before I ask more, I wanted to know: How did you start working as a gravure model*?
At 20, I was working part-time at a mixed bar in Shinjuku’s Nichome (the gay area) and photographers that I met there--both professional and amateur--liked taking pictures of me. Ever since I was a child I thought of becoming an actress, but at this point I started to think about working as a gravure model, too. Shortly after that, I got scouted and decided to try my hand at the entertainment industry, mainly focusing on gravure modeling while branching out into acting and appearing on variety TV programs.
-- There are almost no out lesbians in the entertainment industry in Japan. What motivated you to come out?
Well, I struggled for a while with it and just this last November I made the decision to come out. I did it because, when thinking of my future in the industry, I came to see that my sexuality is one very dear part of my identity, and who I am, and I don’t want to ever have to lie about it.
Right around then, two friends of mine--a lesbian couple--got married in a ceremony broadcast on Haato O Tsunago. When I watched the program, I learned about NHK’s LGBT website “Niji-Iro” and it was on that website that I found the NHK interview with you and learned about Tokyo Wrestling.
As I read news stories on all the developments, happy and sad, in same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues around the world, I found that these stories deeply moved me to feel both sorrow and joy, even though many of these events don’t relate directly to me.
That's when I realized that coming out would not just be for my own sake; it could potentially give other people the courage to live with pride. I thought, “How cool would it be if everyone in this world were connected and we could influence each other positively at the same time?!” That conviction is what finally lead me to decide.
-- How did you come out to your parents? And what was their reaction?
When I was in school, my girlfriend and I wanted to get a place together but a guardian’s consent was necessary to rent one, so I called my parents and said, “I’m going to be living with my girlfriend. Write a letter of consent for me, ok?” My parents were like, “What?!” (laughs) and pretty taken aback, but I just followed with a, “Yeah, well, that’s all. Thanks!” and hung up the phone (laughs). Maybe they just thought it was better than me living alone but, for whatever reason, they accepted it right away. Then, over time as I’d go back home to visit, I started bringing my girlfriend along with me more and more often.
-- That’s one deft way of coming out! (laughs) I also wanted to ask your manager, what did you first think when Ayaka told you about her decision to come out? Were you afraid that it would hurt her in terms of her work?
Yes, I did. Since the target audience for gravure models is men, I was a little bit worried. There was no way of knowing how her male fans would react, and whether they’d be turned off if she came out.
But I also saw that she was inspired to come out in an optimistic and positive way and so I decided that I wanted to fully back her up on it. There’s been mixed reception--people see things in a number of ways. But now for me, this has become just one part of her unique overall personality and we’re continuing with work just the same.
I work in gravure modeling because I like it, and I’d love to continue for a while, but I also know that it’s not work you can do forever. Acting, on the other hand, is something I’d like to do the rest of my life. And since, in terms of my future, I want to be myself and express myself in my work, for that reason too I knew that I had to come out or I’d never get there.
-- You had a very supportive manager but if by any chance you had a manager who would not have allowed you to come out, what would you have done?
I think I would have shelved my plans to come out.
-- So we must be grateful to your manager, then!
*Japanese models, also known as gravure idols, who pose, often in revealing outfits, for photo spreads in magazines, photobooks, and DVDs aimed largely at a male audience.
★To catch a glimpse of "Real Bian"(Japanese only), follow the link here.
★Ayaka Ichinose's blog: http://blog/ichinoseayaka/ (Japanese)
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translated by rayna rusenko