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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Tokyo Candlelight Vigil for Orlando Shooting Victims


Preparing commemorative posters in Hanazono Nishi Koen Park, Shinjuku, Tokyo,  for the victims of the Orlando Pulse mass shooting.

At 8 pm on Tuesday, June 14, dozens of LGBT men and women assembled in a small neighborhood park in Shinjuku, Tokyo, to remember and mourn those murdered at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, on Sunday.

Participants included a lot of people who, like me, came alone, drawn by the need for community in the face of one of history's most harrowing reminders that homophobia kills.

"Stand up for love": candlelight vigil at Hanazono Nishi Koen Park, Shinjuku, for Pulse nightclub, Orlando, shooting victims.
"Stand up for love"
By 8:30 pm, the few dozen had grown to several dozen. Commemorative posters were drawn up, rainbow flags readied, and candles passed around and lit. Fortunately what had become an overcast sky by evening did not turn to rain, although gusts of wind did make keeping the candle alight difficult at times.

"Tokyo in solidarity with Orlando": commemorative posters at candlelight vigil for Pulse nightclub shooting victims, in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.

The names of the victims of the massacre were read out by one of the organizers - feelings of grief evident both in his delivery and the wordless voices of those listening -  followed by a minute's silence.

The press presence was evident, if not overwhelming, with at least a reporter from the Japan Times, one or two photographers, and a TV camera emblazoned with "Reuters."

"Descansen en paz mis hermanos y hermanas" poster at candlelight vigil for Orlando shooting victims, Hanazono Nishi Koen Park, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.
"Rest in peace, my brothers and sisters"
During the preparations in the park, numbers swelled to the point where - another vigil participant told me - the organizers posted on Facebook that the upper limit for staging a march had been reached, and no more people could join.

The march around the neighborhood was subdued and respectful. Being nighttime, passersby were relatively few - but our presence on the streets of the city was nonetheless a powerful symbol that Tokyo was thinking of Orlando, that people half a world away shared that feeling of belonging.

Candlelight vigil for Orlando victims, listening to speakers, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan.

About 15 minutes after setting out, the procession entered Naka-dori, the main street of Shinjuku Ni-Chome, where it met up and joined forces with another vigil being held. A lone trumpeter played "We Shall Overcome" as the combined mourners of a tragedy yet celebrants of an undying love wended their way back to Hanazono Nishi Koen Park.

Procession through Shinjuku Ni-chome commemorating victims of the Orlando shooting, Tokyo, Japan.

The last hour, between 9 and 10 pm, was when emotions ran their highest, as speakers from among those gathered rose to address the rest with impromptu messages: a school teacher who related how he was able to broach the tragedy with a class of 12 year olds and add scope to their understanding of how people should treat each other, a social worker who mourned the death of a social worker - someone on the same journey through life as herself, two former residents of Orlando, one of whom mourned the passing, too, of Pulse as a haven for gay men, particularly black and Hispanic, among many others who shared their grief. The strongest message was that fear had no place in the reaction to what had happened and that strength and love formed the only path forward.

Trumpeter plays "We Shall Overcome"  at candlelight vigil and march for Orlando shooting victims, Shinjuku, Tokyo.
"We shall overcome"

Being on a site surrounded by apartments, the crowd kept its reactions quiet, responding to speakers with fingersnaps rather than handclaps.

An LGBT crowd listens to speakers at the end of the commemorative candlelight vigil and march for Orlando shooting victims, Hanazononishi Koen Park, Shinjuku, Tokyo.

It was an evening of solidarity between both friends and strangers in Shinjuku, Tokyo, last night - three hours that, through all the heartbreak they sought to mend, shone a light that will glow for a long, long time to come.

© JapanVisitor.com

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