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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

A place in the sun

With Tokyo hosting the 2020 Olympics, Japan is expecting a large influx of tourists in the coming years and is especially keen to embrace the LGBT+ traveller. So, Markus Bidaux drops in and finds a land of contrasts — from large cities with busy gay areas, to the calmness of hot springs and temples
GREEN CREDENTIALS: Yamagata Valley seen from the top of Yamadera Temple
Photography Markus Bidaux
BATTLE STATIONS: Tsurugayo Castle

All around us the land has been bulldozed flat and in the distance is the sea that caused so much destruction. We are in what is left of Natori, a town where on 11 March 2011 a major earthquake caused a tsunami that took the lives of more than 950 people and destroyed nearly 3,000 homes.

Throughout the areas hit, almost 16,000 people have been confirmed as victims, with another 2,500 still reported as missing.

We are standing on a man-made hill, which is 6.3m (20ft) high, the same height as the tsunami. A shrine sits at its top in memory of those who died. The scenes of cars and entire homes being swept away were distressing to watch at the time, and continue to resonate as we look out across the hill. With us is Sasaki Shuzo, a local saké maker, whose father was the mayor of Natori at the time of the earthquake. He tells us that sea-defence walls are being built and construction on homes will follow.

I’ve been invited on the country’s first government-sponsored LGBT+ press trip to promote Tōhoku, a region of Japan just north of Tokyo made up of six prefectures, which are like counties. Tōhoku was one of the worst hit places but it’s open for business again, and to celebrate they have launched Rainbow Tōhoku, a campaign to entice LGBT+ travellers to the area.

Although our trip was confined to the main island Honshu, Japan is actually made up of more than 6,000 islands, and the local word for the nation is Nippon, meaning origin of the sun — which explains why it is known as the Land of the Rising Sun.

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