Gay people carry a rainbow flag as they march on the street during the Tokyo Rainbow Pride 2012
Some 2,500 people marched in a gay pride parade in Tokyo on Sunday, vowing to transform a low-profile campaign for the rights of sexual minorities into a major movement in Japan.
The crowd, mainly from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, as well as their supporters and sex workers, paraded through the capital's entertainment and shopping district of Shibuya.
Waving rainbow-coloured flags and banners, foreign and Japanese campaigners marched in colourful carnival and samurai warrior outfits.
It was the first parade organised by Tokyo Rainbow Pride, a private organisation formed last year which aims to support the rights of sexual minorities.
"Compared with that of New York or London, Japan's awareness of sexual minorities is quite low," said Sayaka Kato, a spokeswoman for the organisation.
"I'm afraid Japan has yet to have a culture of accepting diversity."
The group hopes to stage a gay pride parade with 50,000 participants within the next five years by expanding its networks among not only Japanese but foreign residents.
Wataru Ishizaka, 35, who as an openly gay politician in Japan is a rarity, noted that a number of sexual minorities in the country still hesitate to take part in events in support of LGBT rights for fear of discrimination.
"Japanese sexual minorities are still concerned about their exposure to the public," said Ishizaka, a local Tokyo politician, after participating in the parade.