“Genuinely needed”: How WAIFU is revolutionising Tokyo’s queer nightlife

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WAIFU started just before COVID, and as the world has reopened, there has also been an increase in other queer-friendly parties around Tokyo. How has the Tokyo scene changed since WAIFU began?

Asami: A bit before WAIFU began, there were incidents of racism and sexual harassment in the club scene which weren’t really spoken about on social media, but a small number of people around the victims had started to notice the situation. We were very aware of the intersectionality of discrimination and put up our own statements in clubs. Then, when Elin posted about the incident of being discriminated against as a trans woman, this problem, which had been dismissed as “typical Ni-chōme” before, became a clear LGBT discrimination issue that people couldn’t ignore. It feels that since then, people have changed not only in the club scene but also in the LGBTQIA+ scene as well.

During COVID, WAIFU parties were reduced to once or twice a year, but in the meantime SLICK began with its own statement, and since then I feel that the growth of parties with an active anti-harassment policy hasn’t stopped.

Elin: We hosted a New Year’s party a few years ago during COVID. Everything was booked, set up and paid for; but then case counts went up again and things started to close. Japan never had a lockdown though and lots of the big (straight) clubs with shit music were running full-on throughout the whole thing. We thought hard about cancelling the event but ultimately decided to do it, for three reasons: case counts were still low, people were having problems with isolation and depression, and many club people had lost work during the pandemic, so we wanted to help get people some money. We took all the precautions we could.

I’m bringing this up because we got a lot of criticism of the form “How can you do this as a queer party?” We thought: The straights have been throwing giant parties at their trash clubs through the whole pandemic. Why can’t we do a party too? Why do we have to be “better”? I found it quite interesting how queerness is sometimes equated with moral value and the elimination of risk. I think this incident reflected the kind of puritanism sometimes seen in the current queer scene, which I think is not a good development.

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How has WAIFU changed since it began? Any learnings?

Elin: A lot of things have changed. We have started to focus much more on accessibility which has caused us to move to use only venues that are wheelchair-accessible. We also fielded a very wide range of complaints from attendees. WAIFU occupies a slightly difficult space in that it’s both a club event and also one of the very few queer spaces in this very large city, so it gets a mix of clubbers and people who just need a space, who are often not that familiar with club culture. It’s been a challenge negotiating issues like the need for non-smoking spaces and different attitudes toward approaching people in the party and starting a conversation, which some people turn out to view as harassment in and of itself.

For me, I think all this is good: it helps us learn about each other, what other people need, and requires us to think as a community about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. These kinds of conversations are one way to address the problem of puritanism I mentioned just above.

What has been/is a challenge for WAIFU?

Midori: For me, it’s finding a venue. Searching in Tokyo for somewhere that’s: accessible, with designated smoking and non-smoking areas, where we can hold a pop-up store, have a chill-out space, that isn’t too big or too small, where we can make a profit and the sound is good is a really tough job.

Asami: As well as what Midori said, another thing for me is striking the balance between creating a space that is open to all with an open mind and being inclusive, maintaining its queer-centricness, keeping its artistic credibility and being a place for activism. It’s challenging but as no one in Tokyo has done this before, I think it’s incredibly rewarding.

Please share a memorable WAIFU moment?

Midori: It has to be the first one. I was super happy because we did everything at such short notice yet so many cool, queer people made it down. It was the first and last WAIFU for Dora Diamant, who was the inspiration for the party, and who passed from cancer just one year after.

Asami: I have very vivid memories of the memorial service we held for Dora at DOMMUNE during COVID. She passed away suddenly before we got to know her well so we weren’t able to share anything with her in person. It was frustrating and so sad that she couldn’t hear about the new developments in the Tokyo scene, which had happened thanks to the counter-party she helped to start. We expressed all our feelings, including the gratitude that she spoke up against discrimination, through a talk and performances.

At the time, as well as the memorial talk, we hosted the one about accessibility for wheelchair users in the club scene. The owner of DOMMUNE, Naohiro Ukawa, listened to the talk and afterwards, as DOMMUNE is a wheelchair-accessible venue, he said he’d let all people with a physical disability certificate in for free from then on, as they were excluded from many aspects of underground club culture due to inaccessible venues. Keita Tokunaga, a DJ and wheelchair user, closed the program by saying “Ukawa-san is Dora to me.” I still remember that moment. [Laughs]

What does the future hold for WAIFU?

Midori: As we have been and always will be, we want to keep our minds open, as we look towards the future and move in a way that we believe to be “right”.

Kim Kahan is a freelance writer, check out their website

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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