“Make extreme neutral.” With this mantra, NEUT Magazine strives to bring gender, race, environmental issues, and related topics into the mainstream cultural discourse in Japan, and shine a spotlight on the experiences of marginalized or underrepresented communities.
Founded in 2018, NEUT is a Tokyo-based cultural platform and print magazine, headed by editor-in-chief Jun Hirayama and deputy editor Noemi Minami. A native of Kanagawa prefecture, Hirayama studied in Tokyo and California and interned at a video production company after college. He eventually became editor of Be inspired! magazine, a predecessor to NEUT. Minami studied in Saitama, as well as Newcastle and Brighton in England, and held internships in the film, publishing, and music industries before joining NEUT.
NEUT Magazine’s second print issue (and first one to be fully bilingual) was released in November 2022. Entitled “Yellow Light”—as in the traffic signal—the issue is constructed around a series of interviews with and profiles of Asian minorities living in Japan, including Zainichi Korean, Chinese, Ainu, Okinawan, and mixed race people, highlighting their experiences of both mundane microaggressions and overt discrimination. The issue also features the narratives of ethnic Japanese musicians living abroad and their own grapplings with identity in an era of increasing anti-Asian violence.
I sat down with Jun and Noemi for a conversation about the platforms and people who create space for social discourses in Japan, and their aspirations for NEUT going forward.
Mike Fu (MF): What inspired you to found NEUT Magazine?
Jun Hirayama (JH): I started NEUT because I felt there were not enough magazines in Japan that talked about social issues from a cultural angle or advocated for a mentality of social consciousness. I also wanted to create a platform that questions norms and stereotypes and strives to maintain openness towards all things.
We believe that words have power, especially when they come from the real experiences of people rather than conveyed through carefully managed corporatespeak. By interviewing people and sharing their individual stories, thoughts, and struggles, we aim to change the mindsets of our readers, inspire them to take action, and free them from the repression that is so prevalent in our society.
MF: Foreigners typically have a preconceived notion of Japanese political culture as conservative. And yet, it seems that there is an emerging discourse around gender equality, racism, and other critical social issues. Who are some of the groups or people leading this conversation?
JH: When I was working for Be inspired! magazine, there were not as many young people who confronted social issues in the cultural community as there are now; sometimes it was even difficult to find people to interview. Now, the number seems to be growing steadily, with new online platforms and magazines that connect social issues and culture, such as IWAKAN, HIGH(er) magazine, and me and you, creating a community for dialogue.
As demonstrated by the profiles in our issue “Yellow Light,” the number of people in Japanese creative industries who are speaking up about social issues is increasing. If you look at Japanese politics, corporations, and education, there are many outdated aspects; but, in fact, the younger generation wields increasing power to effect change.
That is why NEUT decided to produce this issue in both English and Japanese—so that people overseas can learn about this wave of change in Japan. We hope that many English speakers will read it.
The number of people in Japanese creative industries who are speaking up about social issues is increasing.
MF: Can you share what personal significance this issue of “Yellow Light” has for you?
Noemi Minami (NM): In November 2022, we held three launch events for “Yellow Light” in Tokyo with more than a thousand attendees in total. It was an amazing experience. Inspired by the #StopAsianHate movement in the west, we decided to shine a light on similar issues in Japan: namely, discrimination against people who have roots in other Asian countries, which is a problem with deep historical and political roots.
For example, Korean pop culture is celebrated and loved among young people in Japan, just like everywhere else in the world right now. But not many people are knowledgeable about the systematic discrimination against Zainichi Korean people who live here. This kind of topic is not often talked about in the Japanese mass media, and that knowledge gap leads to a huge contradiction in our society. We hope that “Yellow Light” will become an opportunity to learn for people who have not thought about those things.
MF: What do you hope to achieve by publishing content in English, working with Public Books, and reaching out to audiences beyond Japan?
NM: Having lived in the UK and Canada, I am somewhat aware of how Western media portrays Japan. All countries can have problematic representations of other cultures, including the images of Japanese society that are promulgated abroad, or the way Japan understands or interacts with foreign countries.
It is true that Japan is a rather conservative country and has lots of problems. Even so, I want the world to know that there are people speaking up and trying to change society here. At the same time, some of our domestic social issues are not widely known either, so it is important simply to tell these stories to the world.
MF: How do you hope the magazine will grow in the coming years?
NM: Subject-wise, I really want to tell more stories about the experiences of transgender people. The hate against transgender people online and offline is disgusting and disturbing. I hope our magazine will always be able to create space for discourse on urgent topics like this.
JH: I hope we can continue to translate our content into English so that it’s accessible to people around the world. I would also like to hold more events. My goal is to have a pop-up in New York next year, so I’ll do my best to make it happen! I’m keen on creating not only online media, but also offline spaces where the community can gather.