“What I’m going to tell you now may not be something you expect or hope to hear. Perhaps some of you may need time to understand,” Atae told fans at the event in Tokyo on Wednesday.
“For years, I struggled to accept a part of myself … But now after all I have been through, I finally have the courage to open up to you about something,” he said. “I am a gay man.”
As he choked up, fans cheered, saying “hang in there!” and applauding.
Atae performed for 15 years in the hugely popular group AAA before it went on a hiatus in 2020. He’s been based in Los Angeles lately and is pursuing a solo career in the United States.
Atae’s revelation comes at a time of increased awareness and support for the rights of LGBTQ+ people in Japan.
The political party that has governed Japan for most of its postwar history is known for its conservatism and many lawmakers in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party oppose equal rights. Activists have increased their efforts to achieve an anti-discrimination law, but parliament in June passed a significantly weaker alternative that promotes awareness of sexual minorities without providing legal protections.
In Japan, where LGBTQ+ people still face discrimination in schools, workplaces and elsewhere, few public figures have come out. Popular singer and personality Ai Haruna is a transgender woman who rose to fame in 2009 as the first Japanese to win Thailand’s Miss International Queen, a beauty pageant for transgender women. Lawmaker Taiga Ishikawa is Japan’s first openly gay parliamentarian.
Atae posted on Instagram that admitting his sexuality took a long time and he worried he might be shunned from society and lose his career if he acknowledged being gay.
But, he overcame many of those struggles and realized “it is better, both for me and for the people I care about, including my fans, to accept who I truly am and tell you so,” Atae said. “I hope people who are struggling with the same feeling will find courage and know they are not alone.”
LGBTQ+ activists and supporters welcomed Atae’s announcement as a big encouragement for the community in Japan.
Sosuke Matsuoka, an LGBTQ+ activist who was at the event, said he got teary listening to Atae’s words. “If I heard his message when I was younger and struggling with my sexuality, it would have given me a big hope.” Matsuoka wrote in social media message that Atae’s coming out “would give courage to his peers and lead to a change of social mindset.”
Atae, 34, said he thought something was wrong with him when he was becoming aware of his sexuality as a teenager. Even as a pop idol with many fans, he felt isolated and thought about living overseas.
One day on a foreign trip, he saw men hugging and kissing in public and was shocked, but none of the people around them made an issue out of it.
“I felt I was not alone. I felt relieved,” Atae said. “I started feeling encouraged, thinking that there is a way that LGBTQ+ people deserve to live happily.”
It took more time to come to terms with his own sexuality, but he concluded “anyone has a right to just being oneself and live a happy life.”
Atae said he now has a clear message as an artist: to help all those who are struggling, and introduced his new single, “Into the Light.”
Atae said proceeds from the song will be donated to LGBTQ+ organizations.