As some of you already know, for the past 4 years I have been doing the Bar OccaMan project in Gunma, Japan with Eva, Cherry, and several other semi-permanent and occasional volunteers. The project is a monthly outdoor queer bar event and since its start in May 2010 we have been quite popular thanks to our loyal regulars in the neighborhood and those who come from other places like Tokyo.
In starting OccaMan, we hoped to create a space for local LGBTQ individuals to feel comfortable and enjoy food and drinks as well as for LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people alike to have an opportunity to get to know and learn from each other. We also sometimes provided informational resources about welfare, sexuality, single motherhood, etc. We have been saving all the revenues from each month so that when the amount is big enough, we can donate the money to local support organizations. Oh, we also did a free-soup-for-the-job-less campaign back in 2011. The same year, we invited persons with hearing impairments and their families for free meals. As you can see, I believe that what makes OccaMan special and different is that we are committed to equality and social justice.
Now, Eva, Cherry, and I have the means to expand this integral part of OccaMan and put more of our beliefs into practice.
In June 2014, we will open a real bar. A real, physical existence that is permanent. It’s called Dining Bar FAT CATS.
FAT CATS is a bar with good and inexpensive food, authentic cocktails made by experienced bartender Eva, stage performances every now and then, and a nice and urban-ish atmosphere with a hint of community warmth. We want you to think of FAT CATS as a community space instead of just a regular bar. We want it to be a space where no one is assumed to be anything but everything, where pretending to be something that you aren’t is not expected or necessary, where people of all sexualities, genders, ethnicities, and bodily and mental variations can enjoy eating, drinking, and chatting without fear, and finally, where everyone takes an equal share amount of comfort and natural discomfort arising from communicating with others, instead of minority people feeling disproportionately more uncomfortable than their majority counterparts like they do everywhere else.
The entrance and the unisex restroom will have boards to display information about healthcare, welfare, sexual violence, sexuality, gender identity, recent law changes, job opportunities, hotline numbers, relevant databases, queer and other events, single motherhood, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases (STD), HIV/AIDS, self harm, medical services, mental illnesses, queer deafness, immigrants’ and refugees’ rights, workers’ rights, sex work, etc. etc. We will also set up some kind of shelves in the restroom for flyers, tickets, welfare application forms, brochures, leaflets, etc. for customers to take home. We will also provide cotton swabs, sanitary napkins, and possibly condoms in the restroom (details are being discussed among the staff).
The staff members are quite knowledgable about various topics. For example, Eva has a lot of previous job experience that makes her an expert in labor and insurance matters. Cherry is a wonderful patissier who knows what it takes to be a working single mother and what obstacles lie in the way. Omomi is an English-Japanese bilingual UChicago graduate school dropout who studied gender and sexuality in conjunction with racial and socioeconomic diversity. And all three of us are continuing to learn more about things that affect people’s lives significantly such as healthcare and public assistance, so that we can also provide information orally in conversations with customers. Although we cannot, nor are we legally allowed to, provide legal advice, if you have any life concern, we can walk you through basics so you can choose and decide what to do about it.
As for accessibility, we are remodeling the restroom so that it will be large enough for anyone with or without a wheelchair. The entrance will have a ramp and the floor will be entirely gapless except the kitchen and the performance stage. Should you need any help, the staff will be more than happy to assist you.
Meanwhile, the Bar OccaMan project will continue. All revenue from the project will be added to the accumulated savings for donation. OccaMan customers will also enjoy the privilege to try new courses and dishes before they make it to the FAT CATS menu.
We are also planning a new project for next year. At some point in 2015, FAT CATS will begin to open on Sunday afternoons, not as a bar, but entirely as a community space with unlimited refills on any of the 200-300 yen beverages like iced tea, orange juice, coffee, etc. Our collection of resources will expand on Sundays and include books and other reference items (ones that cannot be taken outside). One order of any beverage and you can spend as much time as you need/want in the house until the closing time. We will also have WiFi available, and a couple of laptops or tablets so that people with no or little access to computers and the Internet can come and enjoy Facebooking, Skyping with family, or even practice using Microsoft Excel for their next job-hunting spree. If there’s a demand, the staff may be able to provide computer lessons and ESL classes on Sundays. We may also be able to hold free workshops, for example, for migrant workers on how to read pay statements, or for part-time workers on their rights. There are many possibilities.
FAT CATS / OccaMan has a multilingual website at http://barfatcats.com (or google “bar fat cats japan” and make sure you search all languages), a Facebook Page at http://www.facebook.com/barfatcats (or search for Dining Bar FAT CATS on Facebook), and Twitter @barfatcats (or search for barfatcats on Twitter). Subscribe, Like or Follow and let us keep you posted!