Shinjiro Atae sits on top of a black car in the middle of a scenic desert. He wears a denim long sleeve shirt and jeans and sun glasses. He looks into the camera thoughtfully.
Photo by Nina Menconi

J-pop idol Shinjiro Atae is undeniably his most comfortable on stage. It’s no surprise, considering he’s been performing his entire life – starting with dance at 10 years old, which led to his 2005 debut with Japanese co-ed pop quintet AAA, and then subsequent success as a solo artist.

Still, nothing could have tempered the 34-year-old’s nerves for his most recent go behind the microphone: a free fan event in Tokyo where he publicly came out as gay to an audience of near 2,000.

“It has taken me a long time to be able to say I am gay,” Atae revealed in his speech. “However, I’ve come to realize it is better, both for me, and for the people I care about, including my fans, to live life authentically than to live a life never accepting who I truly am.”

Shinjiro’s devotion to living his truth is already extending to music; the announcement arrived alongside synthy and snappy new single “Into the Light,” which recounts his journey to self-acceptance.

It’s a new chapter for the Kyoto-born performer, who currently resides in Los Angeles. It’s also one he never imagined. Having gotten his start in the API pop idol machine, the concept of being an openly-out singer –– especially in Japan, where LGBTQ+ issues are still taboo –– seemed virtually impossible.

But Atae is ready to bask in his newfound light. Nearly a week after his coming out, we caught up with Atae over Zoom.

He revealed his next big project: a documentary, produced by Green Book‘s Peter Farrelly and Fisher Stevens and directed by close friends Carlie Mantilla-Jordan and John Eliot Jordan. The film will document both his coming out journey and the aftermath. “I don’t know when we are going to finish [filming],” he said. “But it’s up to them not me. I just live my life!”

And that passion for life was palpable as Atae gave us the lowdown on fans’ reaction to his coming out, how the LGBTQ+ scene in Los Angeles inspired him, and the gay bop that he turned to for comfort. Here’s what he had to say….

QUEERTY: Congratulations on coming out and welcome to the fam! What have the reactions been like since your fan meeting and has it been what you expected?

ATAE: I didn’t expect anything like this. There are so many positive comments, and there’s so much support. I really appreciate everything. Of course, there’s some mean and bad comments [but] there are more that are good. I was really surprised by how my fans reacted at the event. I ended up crying on stage and they were very supportive. They were like, “Don’t worry about us, you’re doing great.” It was a very awesome moment.

I thought your speech was so eloquent and well-spoken. How long did it take you to write something so big and personal?

Actually, it took me like two months to write the letter. I didn’t write every day, but you know, to think and then modify so many times. I thought I could have done it within a week, [but] I was really kind of stressed out. But I hope it worked out.

I heard that your time in Los Angeles helped inspire you to come out. Do you have any favorite LGBTQ+ spots in L.A.?

I haven’t been to WeHo that much. I’ve been there with my female friends and then straight guy friends, but I had to disguise [myself] because I didn’t want to be seen. But I want to go and try to feel the LGBTQ+ [community’s] vibe. I want to make more friends. I’ve never had a chance to talk to actual LGBTQ+ people in Japan. I have some gay friends in L.A., but none in Tokyo or Japan, so that’s what I want to do.

Alongside your announcement, you released new single “Into the Light.” Was singing about your journey to self-acceptance something you had been thinking about for a while?

I actually was on hiatus for almost two years. I wanted to maybe sing again, but [I thought] I couldn’t be gay and a singer. But when I was on hiatus, I started thinking, like, “I want to do both. Why can’t I do that?”

And then I just started thinking about how I should make a new song and what kind of lyrics I want to sing. And then, “Into the Light” just came up. I wanted to deliver my message to the world –– my struggles, but there is always a light at the other end.

I think it speaks to a lot of gay people, but also anyone going through a struggle.

Yeah, not only LGBTQ+ people, but people who are struggling with something or traumatized by something. I hope it relates to everyone.

Shinjiro Atae stands in front of a cityscape with his arms open and a wide smile. He wears a white denim jacked with the sleeves rolled up, black jeans, and a button down shirt, unbuttoned to reveal a white tank top.
Photo by Nina Menconi

I loved the scene in the music video where you reconnected with your inner child. Was that theme important for you to include?

Very much, because when I was younger, there were no iPhones –– only Japanese TV shows. Nowadays, with Netflix and Amazon Prime, there’s always gay scenes in TV shows and movies. But when I was a kid, there was none. I’d see TV personalities talk like, “Gay, that’s gross” or something like that. It made me feel like I was alone, like I’m the only one. But I don’t want kids to think that way and I don’t want people to struggle like me.

After coming out, does it feel at all like you’re starting over as a solo artist or it’s just a new chapter?

Good question. It feels like a new chapter just began. But to be honest, I’m still processing it. It feels like I’m still in the closet, I don’t know why. It’s been just a week and I haven’t been able to go out really. It’s been nonstop work, so it’s kind of weird.

You worked with Wrabel and Afterhrs on the track. Can we expect more new music in the future?

I plan on making some more music, for sure. And in the future, ideally, I want to make an album and go on tour. This is my dream, but I want to do the same arenas that I did before I came out, the same amount of people. That’s my goal, actually. I thought maybe I would get less fans once I came out, but [they] are still supporting me, that’s what I hope.

You joined AAA at a young age and grew up during your time with the group. How do you look back on those years?

It wasn’t easy because [our group] couldn’t do a stadium tour for 11 years. It took us a little while to get that level of success. And then of course, there are girls and there are guys. We didn’t fight, but we had arguments for sure because we were young kids. But now we get along, and when I’m stressed out about something, I call one of the members. When I go back to Tokyo, I try to have dinner with them.

I’m definitely thankful for what I did and the other members and I love being a group, too. But now, solo, I have more responsibilities, but it’s been very rewarding. It’s kind of different.

Are there any other LGBTQ+ artists that you are a fan of?

Before I came out, I was listening to Calum Scott a lot, the British singer. His lyrics really inspire me, and his voice is, of course, amazing. I’m obsessed with his music. 

And before going on stage, I was listening to Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” because I wanted to have happy vibes instead of like a ballad. I just kept listening to that music.

I think that’s the perfect pump up song.

Yeah, that’s my theme song for this year.

I’m sure coming out was not easy because of Japan’s lack of protections for gay people. Are there any resources for people who want to help the LGBTQ+ community there?

I think we really need American support because in Japan, we don’t really talk about LGBTQ+ issues. It’s not frowned upon, but we don’t really talk about it. So if people go to my website, there’s a link to some Japanese LGBTQ+ organizations [like] Pride House Tokyo and ReBit, and it’s a good starting point to get a read on what’s going on.

I know it won’t be until next year, but are you looking forward to celebrating Pride?

Actually, I’ve never been to any Pride. There’s one in Tokyo, and of course here [in LA]. For sure, next year I want to join. Maybe New York, too.

Just do the Pride tour!

(Laughs) All over the world!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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