1. A first novel
Japanese comedian and TV talent Ken Maeda rocketed to fame in 2004 for his playful impression of hit Japanese songstress Aya Matsuura. Since then he’s kept audiences laughing while also making a name for himself in the Japanese entertainment industry. In 2005, the vivacious comedian came out publicly at a press event, a rarity in a country where the only gay men represented in broadcast media are those fitting "Onee", or effeminate, roles. The fact that Maeda appears in programs as just a "regular" gay guy is, for mainstream media, both groundbreaking and new.
Maeda 's natural talent as an entertainer along with his ability to plainly and openly speak with the media about being gay have generated a large following for him among LGBTers. Attendees at this year's Tokyo Pride Festival on May 23rd were delighted to find Maeda appearing as a guest on the NHK program, "Haato O Tsunago (Heart-to-Heart)", which was being recorded live at the event.
In March of this year, Maeda also published his first short fiction novel, The Flowers Shall Continue to Bloom (Sore demo Hana ha Saite Iku; Gentosha Publishing House). Owing to both the quality of its story-telling and a refreshing infusion of queer elements, his book has been received enthusiastically by readers of all sexualities.
Tokyo Wrestling first caught up with this talented young star at the Tokyo Pride Festival, where we recorded a video interview (to be posted next month). Shortly after, we met for a frank conversation about his first novel, his coming out, acceptance among fellow comedians and family members regarding his sexuality, his favorite gay movies, and some of the “best” questions he's heard from straight people.
★For Ken Maeda's official blog, follow the link here (Japanese).
★For more on the Tokyo Pride Festival, see Tokyo Wrestling's article here.
※Ken Maeda proudly sports his Tokyo Wrestling badges and stickers.
-- In March of this year you released your first fictional novel, The Flowers Shall Continue to Bloom (Sore demo Hana ha Saite Iku; Gentosha Publishing House), which was very well written--so much so that it did not seem at all like a first-time work. Have you always wanted to write?
Yes, I've always loved writing--from diaries to letters--ever since I was a kid. I wrote an original script of my own in my third year in middle school, and I loved to create stories from scratch. I started with nothing when I was writing this novel, and I'm thrilled to hear that people are touched or moved by it; it’s as if I've created a world of my own. I had a lot of fun putting the novel to paper.
-- In this book of short stories, each chapter is a love story of its own--and given the name of a flower. The love stories take a variety of shapes, and are all generally a bit out-of-the-ordinary by mainstream standards, but I thought that's what speaks most to sexual minorities. What was your source of inspiration?
I wanted to simulate for straight readers some sense of what I feel, the discomfort or strangeness, living as a gay man in this world. Initially I was inspired to think I could try to have them see the world through my eyes, even if just for a second, and possibly have them experience what it's like. The idea occurred to me because people often react with such surprise when I'm talking about something that’s essentially obvious to me. So I started to wonder how I can get them to see that there are other equally legitimate ways and forms of love. This is also why I wrote all the stories from the book in first-person, too.
-- So we could say that your inspiration comes from the fact that you yourself belong to a sexual minority, right?
I think so. I don't think I could have written this book if I wasn't gay.
-- What kind of responses have you had from gay readers?
They've been good. My aim was to kind of explain and introduce topics relating to minorities in this book, just to convey the information. I've had a lot of people tell me that they liked being exposed to these by reading a novel.
-- There aren't many novels in Japan that take up gay topics, so in that sense this book is extremely valuable. There are many phrases scattered throughout the book that I bet resonate well with sexual minorities, for example in the chapter Daisy we hear "Love is a freedom!", "There is no truth or error to love", and "My path to happiness is mine to decide." Are these phrases the kinds of ideas that come to you over the course of your own daily life?
Yes. I just wanted to have them expressed verbally by putting them into the mouths of characters in my book.
-- You mentioned earlier that you have a sense of feeling uncomfortable or strange in your life as a gay man. Is that something you experienced in the past, or does it persist even today?
I still feel it today. I notice it as acutely as a left-handed person would notice that video cameras and scissors are all made for right-handed folks.
-- At what times, for example?
For example when you try to have your astrological compatibility read. Since they only look at romance between men and women, it makes you wonder if even the cosmos wouldn't recognize our love. Oh, and I got another (laughs). When you go to the cheaper love hotels, they always leave one robe in pink and one robe in blue (laughs).
-- Yeah (laughs) Aren't two men often denied entry to many love hotels? It's such blatant discrimination! When I told a gay friend of mine in Switzerland that, he got very angry (laughs). He was like, "If gay sex is legal there, then why can't two men get a room at a love hotel?!"
Very true. (laughs)
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※ The Flowers Shall Continue to Bloom
(Sore demo Hana ha Saite Iku)
Gentosha publishing; 1365 yen (tax incl)
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translated by rayna rusenko