In recent years, many companies in Japan have directly addressed diversity in their commercials and ad campaigns. One ad we covered recently was the Nike Japan ad on racial diversity that angered right-wingers into threatening a boycott. Pantene Japan also elevated transgender voices with its #PrideHair campaign, exposing the difficulties they face navigating Japan’s ruthless job hunting process. Now, clothing retail giant Uniqlo is joining the ranks with a new commercial featuring a same-sex couple.
The new commercial for Uniqlo’s AIRism clothing line is a montage of a couple’s daily life: brushing their teeth, eating and watching TV, taking selfies, sleeping, and so on. Everything from the lighting to the camerawork gives off a very natural, easy-going vibe.
A Natural, Unambiguous Portrayal
Reactions from the LGBTQ community toward the Uniqlo commercial were overwhelmingly positive. “I’m happy by this incredibly natural portrayal. Thank you for making this,” one user tweeted. Hoshi Kento, CEO of LGBTQ+ recruitment agency Job Rainbow, tweeted, “I personally conducted LGBT diversity courses through Job Rainbow at Uniqlo. That’s why I’m really excited to see they made a commercial with this kind of message.”
Viewers also praised the script’s natural flow and commended actress Haruka Ayase, who plays the flower shop employee asking the couple, “Is it by any chance your anniversary?” and picks out pink gillyflowers for them. (In flower language, pink gillyflowers symbolize overwhelming love. A subtle, but nice touch!)
On another note, some Japanese commercials are less explicit in how they present queerness. Take the recent Pocari Sweat commercial. It’s an absolutely incredible feat in set design and cinematography, but it’s also garnered different responses from the LGBTQ+ community, as compiled in this Twitter thread. To briefly summarize, queer people took issue with the ambiguous framing of the two girls holding hands at the end of the commercial; were they friends, or a couple?
Fortunately, there’s none of that ambiguity in the Uniqlo commercial. The women are clearly a couple. While one could no doubt argue the commercial still caters to hetero-normative expectations, it’s still admirable — and rather long overdue — for a global brand like Uniqlo to center an LGBTQ+ couple in an ad campaign.
Still a Long Way to Go
Fast Retailing Co., Ltd., which operates Uniqlo, extended company benefits to same-sex partners of Uniqlo employees in 2018. But as Pride Columns writer Ichijo Shin notes, this is the first time Uniqlo has actually featured an LGBTQ+ couple in a Japanese advertising campaign. This is a common refrain here on Unseen Japan, but it bears repeating: LGBTQ+ awareness and support is slowly and surely rising. According to a recent Dentsu survey, 82.2% of respondents are largely in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage.While one could no doubt argue the commercial still caters to hetero-normative expectations, it's still admirable — and rather long overdue — for a global brand like Uniqlo to center an LGBTQ+ couple in an ad campaign. Click To Tweet
Change and acceptance on a legal level, however, still continues at a snail’s pace. Despite partnership systems in various wards across the country, same-sex marriage is still not legal. But just this past March, a court declared the government ban unconstitutional. This was a huge landmark win for LGBTQ+ people and activists alike. Japan’s Buddhist community is also slowly abandoning long-held conservative beliefs, with some temples even hosting wedding services for sexual minorities.
Alas, there will always be political big-wigs spouting bigoted comments on LGBTQ+ people. However, portraying LGBTQ+ people in a normal, non-fetishizing manner like Uniqlo did will go far in paving the way for broader acceptance of Japan’s sexual minorities.