Postcards from Japan: Drag, ‘kizuna’, and revolutionising the face covering in Tokyo with Temanda-san

Tokyo’s nightlife and entertainment scene is known worldwide for all the neon signs, buzzy bars and interesting izakaya pubs, but this dynamic energy extends beyond those, too.

With the explosion in popularity of shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race in the US, Canada and even in the UK, too, the art of drag has never been more celebrated.

Drag in Japan has been alive and well for centuries across its big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo and even Kyoto, but one drag queen recently snatched a headline with her innovative approach to social distancing amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

We had a quick chat with Temanda about her creative designs and inspirations.

Hi Temanda-san! Thanks for speaking to us today. Can you tell us what it is that you do?

I’m a drag queen!

How was it that you got started with drag? Are there any drag queens you particularly look up to?

My way into drag was Shinjuku 2-chome, the world famous LGBTQ district here in Tokyo. I was completely enthralled after seeing the beauty and bewitching appearance of all the drag queens I saw live and in the flesh there.

I have a lot of respect for the Japanese drag queens who came before me - my ‘senpai’! Out of them all, I particularly love Onan Spelmermaid with her creativity and amazing performances.

What do you think is the biggest appeal of drag queens?

I think it’s the appeal of the fact that as drag queens we’re always in the pursuit of beauty - that supernatural, otherworldly, almost extradimensional type of beauty. 

With everything that’s going on with COVID-19, have there been many changes to life, or work, in Tokyo?

In Tokyo and other big cities where drag happens, the job opportunities for drag queens have become fewer so we’ve been working more on new ways to put on a show, and digital drag performances and things. 

You were picked up by some national press for the interesting way you’ve tackled the issue of face coverings. Can you tell us a little about that?

Well, there have obviously always been your regular face coverings that you can get in shops and things, but I didn’t really like the idea of wearing the same thing that everyone else was wearing so I thought I’d put my creative skills to work and start making my own fashion face shields.

The face shields you’ve been creating are really impressive! Do you have any particular sources of inspiration? Any favourite face shields?

In terms of inspiration, I have to say, a lot of what I do just comes from inside my own head. I don’t really stick to any one given theme per se, and prefer to just focus on making the masks in a fashion-forward kind of way. I think a favourite is the one with all the picture frames combined together (middle of banner image)

The world at the moment is both testing and relying on its interconnectedness, or that Japanese concept of ‘kizuna’. What has ‘kizuna’ meant for you?

Kizuna for me, is all the drag queens that I've collaborated with, who have helped me, who have invested in me, the ones who feel like colleagues but also the closest of friends. The idea of a family that helps and supports one another. That is what I’d say ‘kizuna’ has meant to me.

What are your main goals, looking into the future?

I just want to continue doing drag for the rest of my life. But specifically, as a drag queen, my goal is to release a song in English and film a music video to go with it.

What would you recommend to someone reading this and planning a trip to Tokyo from the UK or other parts of Europe?

You know, in Tokyo, there are so many old buildings and historical points of interest, too. Of course all the fun, entertainment side of things is great, but I’d also really love for people visiting to make sure they get to know the traditional parts of Tokyo, too.

Couldn’t agree more! Thanks again for your time - where can readers potentially meet you or find out more about you?

I’m always on the move, so am never specifically in one place but definitely check out my social channels and there will usually be an update on where I’ll be at and what I’m up to. I’m @temanda_ on Twitter and Instagram.

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