This is an overview LGBTQ post for travellers and people living in Tokyo from abroad. Admittedly, most of the information is for gay and lesbian Tokyo (i.e. Shinjuku’s night life), but I’ve included gender-related information that I’m aware of for trans and non-binary friends. 

  1. How LGBTQ-friendly is Tokyo?
  2. What’s the community and scene like?
  3. Tokyo’s LGBTQ community groups
  4. Are there LGBTQ events to attend in Tokyo?
  5. Shinjuku’s gay and lesbian bars
  6. What’s it like living here?
  7. What’s some good Japanese LGBTQ content to check out?

1. How LGBTQ-friendly is Tokyo?

The answer is, it depends. Packed into everyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ is a host of other factors that can affect reception, such as your perceived ethnicity, language ability, perceived gender, and social circles, to name a few factors. LGBTQ-friendliness can be separated into at least three categories: locals, foreigners who live in Japan, and foreign travellers. Even for foreigners, the experience of Tokyo based on Japanese language ability can vary widely. For this post, most of the information is geared towards travellers, but is true for foreigners living in Japan as well.

To cover the most basic consideration, there’s virtually no public discrimination against same-sex couples or gender ambiguity. In general, public violence is not commonplace nor condoned. From visible foreign travellers to locals alike, one is likely not going to be called slurs or in danger of getting assaulted. This is partially due to lack of awareness (people don’t realise you’re gay or lesbian), partially to Tokyo’s range of subcultures (i.e. you may just register as someone with eccentric fashion), partially that visible foreigners have a gaijin pass, meaning they’re given exceptions.

PDA has a different standard for women and men. No-one would bat a lash at women holding hands, since it’s commonplace from grade school right into adulthood. Men, unfortunately, don’t have the same luxury.

For travellers, one other logistical consideration may be booking hotels or filling in anything where you have a spouse or travelling with family. If you’re travelling as a couple, I personally don’t see any issue with just filling out the usual booking forms for a shared room. Generally, hospitality in Japan dictates that the front desk would give everyone a proper, professional greeting. Officially, Japan recognizes the marriage certificates of any issuing country.

For trans and non-binary people, the washrooms are usually the biggest concern. In Tokyo, accessible toilets, or “Toilets-for-everyone” are everywhere, from train stations to department stores. They are a great option. Otherwise, go to the washroom of the gender you identify as. I’m often mistaken for a boy, and the most I’ll get is a gentle comment about how the men’s room is the other way. For onsen, the easiest solution is to have your own private room onsen (which can be pricey). Since everyone must go in nude, it will be expected that you physically match the stereotypes of cis-male and cis-female bodies.

Are there exceptions to what I’ve described? Definitely. For example, I haven’t discussed bullying in schools, how discrimination manifests in ways other than violence, late-nighty rowdiness, or yakuza fights.

2. What’s the community and scene like?

My information is mostly second-hand, as I didn’t get into the community while I lived there. Queer friends made up a significant part of my social circle, but many I had met outside Japan or through local friend introductions.

Shinjuku Nichome is Tokyo’s equivalent to New York’s Greenwhich Village, San Fran’s Castro, London’s Soho, Toronto’s Church St, etc. In short, it is where the queer community is visible and active, but mostly in the way of bars, clubs, and sex clubs. Tokyo’s unique spin is that this massive collection of social spaces is squeezed into a few small blocks, in even tinier venues. Nichome is of the same stock as Shinjuku’s nearby tourist attractions: Golden Gai and Omoideyokocho (Yakitori Alley). Nichome is the place you go to from 8pm through until 8am the next day, hopping from bar to bar, and eventually returning to your favourites.

The local and foreign communities don’t mix too much because language remains a huge barrier, but check out my section below on Tokyo’s LGBTQ community groups. For gay men, there are Japanese men who only “specialise” in dating foreign men — and from what I’ve been told, fetishes are pretty common.

Many people, especially locals, are not entirely out. To them, going to Tokyo Rainbow Pride once a year or hanging out in Shinjuku may be their main community event. Or, they may have a private LINE group with a group of friends that they hang out with. This socialising tends to be organic and introduction-based rather than advertising a community group online. If you befriend a local, please be mindful of their situation and check in to see how out they are to their various social circles.

LGBTQ rights and events are growing in number. In the past few years, Tokyo’s Rainbow Pride has picked up steam(since Rainbow Tokyo and Tokyo Pride finally joined forces) and attracts a fun crowd in the parade through Shibuya to Yoyogi Park. Try to meet people there!

LGBTQ things pop up in random places, such as otaku-related areas. On the plus side, Japanese culture has anachronisms that seem liberal elsewhere. This eclectic mix can all fall under “weird” Japan to the outside world and that means that you might find vintage pornography magazines in second-hand bookshops or cosplayers in the high-end Ginza shops. Be on the lookout for LGBTQ related things, such as yaoi in the anime mecha of Nakano Broadway.

3. Tokyo’s LGBTQ Community Groups

Up until a few years ago, Tokyo’s gay and lesbian community posted events on Mixi, sort of Japan’s version of MySpace. Unfortunately, that seems to have collapsed with the rise of mobile, and there isn’t a consolidated place to get information. For those who know a bit of Japanese, Twitter is a good source of information, as Japanese are heavy users.

Apart from knowing a few queer friends in Tokyo, I typically met people through Meetup.com going for movies, coffees, and book clubs. I also just tagged along with friends to meet their friends, especially around dates like Tokyo Rainbow Pride (late April to May).

Gay and Lesbian Meetup groups:

For women, there is a local Japanese group called Kakurez (隠れズ) that supports lesbians who are mostly not out.

Are there LGBTQ to attend in Tokyo?

gay lesbian tokyo event shinjuku

Shinjuku’s Rainbow Matsuri in August had lots of kids! — Photo by Athena Lam

In addition to the clubs and Meetup.com events, there are some annual events to check out.

Shinjuku’s gay and lesbian bars

shinjuku tokyo nightlife

Wandering Shinjuku’s small alleys — Photo by Athena Lam

Most of the night life is in Shinjuku Nichome for both men and women. The area is affectionately called Nichome and I would recommend walking over from the Tokyo Metro Shinjuku Sanchome Station because the station is a more manageable size.

Bar Culture & how to meet people

  • Totally okay to go on your own.
  • It’s a custom to treat a bartender. You say ippai douzo (一杯どうぞ) and let the bartender choose their own drink.
  • The bartenders help introduce you to a place. By treating the bartender, they will help initiate conversations to include you. Of course, look for the more chatty ones.
  • Barhopping is common practice. It is called hashigo. Bartenders will usually say itterashai when you go, and welcome you back with okaeri when you return later.
  • If you like a place, consider having a “bottle keep”. You buy a full bottle and you can likely paint or label the bottle as you like. That will be your bottle every time you come in, which is a great way to get into the community.

Shinjuku bars for gay men

For the guys, there is stuff going on.  Places are small, but also numerous. Places gay men can be categorized from bars, clubs, massage parlours, and sex clubs.

Please double check that the places are still open, as they may either have moved or closed. Shinjuku’s rents are quite high and there are some yakuza associations, so bar owners are often under high pressure.

Some of the popular ones I’ve heard of are:

24 Kaikan Hotel and Sauna Shinjuku 7-story sauna with communal and private rooms, baths, steam rooms, glory-hole room, cafe. ¥2,600 for 13 hours. Open 24 hours, 365 days. Foreigner friendly, but limited English. This article explains navigating 24 Kaikan.

AiiRO Cafe is a hole in the wall with an English-speaking proprietor.

Aisotope Lounge is a two-level gay bar and club with quite a packed party schedule.

Arty Farty has enough space for a dance floor, and unlimited drinks with the cover during happy hour.

DNA is a good place for a chat and open daily.

Dragon Men is a streetside bar (in contrast to some of the upstairs spaces) and is one of the more spacious options. Daily happy hour is from 6pm-9pm.

Fuji has kareoke and is for more mature foreign guys and Japanese guys into them.

Kinsmen is a well-established place with friendly bar staff and no cover charge.

Leo Lounge, where I’ve heard the staff are friendly.

Tac’s Knot is a small space that also features gay artists’ work as it’s run by a local artist.

All of these places are within the same 200-metre radius. Note that many are not on the first floor, so double check the address when you click on the link to the Google map location. You can check the Japan Visitor list complete with a sectional map. There’s also a Japanese “boy’s map” for Japan: Otoko-machi Map (男街マップ).

Apparently, the Shinbashi area is also another location that attracts 30+ office crowds. It’s also more local, so go with someone who speaks Japanese. Town House Tokyo and Bravo! are two places that are more foreigner-friendly. This is more an office area, so check the opening hours — some places are closed on Sundays.

Tokyo lesbian bars

Adezakura (艶櫻) Is a recommendation from a friend who says it’s popular amongst locals and foreigners.

Agit アジト A lesbian-owned bar with kareoke. Has a cover charge.

Bar Goldfinger is probably Shinjuku’s most famous lesbian bar.

Hug Closed (according to Google).

Kins Womyn Closed.

Diamondholic – A local friend says the staff try to connect people and get everyone chatting to each other. My friend has had introductions to English-speaking people.

Dorobune – Teppanyaki restaurant and lesbian bar-in-one

FIVE is a local friend’s recommendation. She says it’s popular among foreigners too.

絆 Kizuna is for an older crowd and has kareoke

Motel #203 (?) Not sure. I think it might have been folded into Goldfinger now, as the website is down and I can’t search information even in Japanese.

Peach (1F Shinjuku 2-15-8, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo) — Might be closed. Open Tues – Sat 11pm-7am. Peach mark in a brick building beside ‘Hug’.

Tamago is a women-only bar. A friend told me was mainly FTM and that they can rip off customers (¥2000 cover and ¥1000 drinks).

Chestnut and Squirrel in Shibuya is closed.

What’s it like living here?

I’ve realised this deserves another post, so I’ll leave this as a placeholder. I put some general comments on how LGBTQ-friendly is Tokyo and what the community is like in the above sections.

Just two contacts in case you are new to Tokyo:

Tokyo English Life Line 03 5774 0992 (9am-4pm, 7pm-11pm)

HIV & Human Rights Info for English speakers 03 5259 0256 (Saturdays only, noon-3pm)

What’s some good Japanese LGBTQ content to check out?

This list is no particular order!

Have any tips to share with the community? Please leave a comment and I’ll credit you in my edits!

If you liked this post, check out my guide to LGBTQ Hong Kong.

You’ve just come to Tokyo, you’re passing through Tokyo, you’ve just come out in Tokyo, you’re “curious” in Tokyo—whatever it is, there’s Shinjuku Ni-Chome (knee-cho-may: “Shinjuku block no.2”).

Not even 10 minutes walk from the east side of Shinjuku station, 2-Chome is as unremarkable from the outside as any Japanese street block or, for that matter, any 175cm Japanese boy in trainers, flak jacket, T-shirt, denim and sharp hair.

But
– from Shinjuku-dori, turn left at Shinjuku 2-Chome intersection (at the big Sekaido art and crafts store), or
-from Yasukuni-dori, turn right at Shinjuku 5-Chome Higashi intersection (look for the police box and the adjacent Nobunaga slot parlor), or
-from Shinjuku Station, go all the way along the underground Metro Promenade to Exit C8
and bang just as with that Japanese boy, you’re going to be surprised at how much you didn’t count on seeing – or feeling!

Veer left here off Shinjuku-dori.

Shinjuku Ni-Chome is the gay center of Tokyo, which is the world’s largest urban agglomeration, with over 34 million people. That alone makes Shinjuku Ni-Chome something to write home about (or at least text your besty). Compared with the gay quarters of major Western cities, it stands out in two ways: first for its small-scale profuseness.

You are not going to find any big establishments with a capacity of any more than a few dozen people. Tokyo does have major gay and lesbian club nights (see, for example Gay/Lesbian What’s On), but not in Ni-Chome.

Everything is tiny, but it’s there in great abundance. Shinjuku Ni-Chome also stands out for its multifariousness. We all know gay and lesbian. We all know the scenes’ as well. Well, we think we know them.

But until you come to Japan—with maybe the exception of the leather scene, which is well developed all over the gay world—you are unlikely to have seen just what a scene can be in a way that is as concrete, organized, established, and taken for granted as it is in that focus of gay Japan: Ni-Chome.

The abundance of bars in Shinjuku Ni-Chome is something easily verified by a ten-minute stroll around its narrow precincts. Glance into the foyers of buildings and up at their sides for confirmation. The whole area is a crazy checker board of lit-up bar signs. The colors, shapes, sizes, fonts all talk about being gay. But each speaks the dialect of a particular scene. The names themselves form a delightfully diverse vocabulary possible only in Japan where English is still foreign enough to treat entirely as you please and whose meanings and associations have a Japanese-shaped history of their own. To map these dialects out would take a decade and superhuman catholicity of taste.

At any one time, most of the bars represented by these signs each hold no more than about 15 people – max! In a space this small, the “master” (“master-san”—or “mama-san”—to the customers) defines who comes. Those who come are generally regulars, and generally subscribe to a particular scene, or, in Japanese, sen: short for senmon: “specialty,” area of expertise’. With individual bar space at a premium, there is little room for diversity. The hapless foreigner who wanders innocently in off the street via close echoing staircases or a clanking old elevator may actually find himself lucky, at least for a time. Foreignness adds a patina to any taste, and if you’re a fatty who has happened to squeeze into a debu-sen bar, a twiggy clone who has slipped into a gari-sen bar, an old codger who has stumbled upon a fuke-sen bar, or a stocky, hairy number who has heaved into a kuma (“bear”)-sen bar well, congratulations! However, if you’re an innocent to the language and the culture, such serendipity can be rare. If you find yourself in the wrong place, you may be oh-so-politely tolerated, perhaps ignored, or – in the very worst case, refused service and asked to leave (yes, it sometimes happens). It’s best to stick to the beaten track at first, which is where we will point you to here.

Uoya-Itcho: Shinjuku Ni-Chome's gay friendly restaurant.

If you haven’t eaten, and its still early evening, why not make a complete gay night of it and head to Ni-Chome for dinner? The Bygs Building (on block ‘C’ of the gay Shinjuku map) has an excellent izakaya (Japanese-style restaurant) called ‘Uoya Itcho’ on the B1 basement floor. Uoya Itcho is big enough to never have to wait long, it’s cheap enough to eat and drink your fill for under 3,000 yen, the food is good enough to be memorable, and Uoya Itcho is chock-a-block with gay guys: counters and tables of them. There’s still enough of a straight presence (10% perhaps?) to keep things on a somewhat even keel, and that 10% includes the waiting staff. The menu at Uoya Itcho is extensive, running from the hale and hearty: fat unpeeled potato fries with cheese sauce, to the exquisitely otherworldly: a whole skewered and sashimi-ed fish, still vainly arching its back, wide-eyed and gaping at its own garnishings.

You’re feeling rotund and satisfied, and those three draft beers with dinner (finished off, was it, with a cup of warm sake?) have warmed you up; so let’s move up a gear. Go out of the restaurant, up the escalator, left out of the Bygs Building and then immediately left again. One block after the Bygs Building, just past Rainbow World bookshop, and you’re on Ni-Chome’s main drag, Nakadori, running left-right. Go left down Nakadori and after a few paces you’ll come to AiiRO Cafe, previously Advocate’s bar, just on your left, on the corner of the block.

Veer right here off Yasukuni-dori.

AiiRO Cafe (previously Advocate’s cafe) is the smaller of Ni-Chome’s two open-air bars. Like the other much bigger one, Dragon Men, its openness gives the crowd there the kind of fluidity that few other Ni-Chome places have. AiiRO is cruisy, the ultimate in easy-come easy-go: a great place to get chatting to strangers. Especially when the weather’s warm, the crowd at AiiRO spills way out into the street, giving it something like the feel of a block party. There are flyers at both AiiRO and Dragon for other bars and events, and, if you really need to know something, the staff of both bars speaks adequate English.

After perhaps a nice white wine or a couple of G&Ts at AiiRO, how about something a little cosier? Retrace your steps in the direction of the Bygs Building. You’ll notice how many gay video, magazine and book shops there are brightly lit as convenience stores and strangely sterile-looking for all the horniness they’re peddling. Take the first on your left after Nakadori and on the second block you come to, on the left, you’ll see the entrance to Bar GB downstairs.

GB is where the picking up hots up – and where the sparkle of aboveground fun shares eyes with the more careful business of sizing up, glancing, holding it there, moving on over or looking away. GB is dominated by the big central square bar, around which the customers sit and stand. The staff at GB is welcoming and friendly. The drinks at GB are generous, and GB is rarely less than full. The light is dim, and it’s cruisy without being sleazy: Bar GB is a great place for hatching plans and hooking up for later action. People are fully engaged with each other at GB, and no one is a stranger for long.

Once it’s heading for midnight, you might feel like a more all out dose of fun. Take another look at the flyers you picked up. Like the bars for the Japanese, the club nights are also strictly segregated. It might 30s-only night at ArcH or diva night at the Annex. There might even be something gay on that evening at one of the big places off Ni-Chome like Ageha or the Warehouse.

Arty Farty is often a good place to start. Go left out of GB and take the first street on your right. You’ll see the red sign for Arty Farty out on the pavement on the left side of the street. Arty Farty is a second floor dance club with as diverse a crowd as you’ll find anywhere on Ni-Chome. Like anything gay in Japan, however, it is generally young, with few over-40s, but whoever turns up is not going to feel out of place.

No matter how quiet things might seem on the street, Arty Farty is routinely jam packed. On walking in you line up at the bar. Even at its most packed it doesn’t take more than five minutes to get served. Unlike the other clubs, entrance is free, but buying a drink – upon which you get a stamp on your hand – is obligatory before you can enter the dance floor, a step or two down from the bar. The place is usually thronged, with generally two-thirds to three-quarters of the crowd on the dancefloor. The decor is, as the name suggests, whackier than it is conventional, but not very noticeable when it’s crowded.

Dancing in Shinjuku 2-chome, Tokyo.

Arty Farty is good solid gay clubbing – not exactly cutting edge, but done in a very crowdpleasing way. (From 9pm to midnight you can make requests.) Don’t expect the DJ to mix. The atmosphere is fun and it’s the vibes that the punters are there for. Arty Farty is packed close enough to feel the heat, there are sofas if you feel like a break, attitude doesn’t get the vaguest look in – and it’s easy to hook up. Party on!

Saturdays are busiest at ArtyFarty. Fridays, while very well patronized, are not as jam-packed and clubbers can enjoy a more idiosyncratic, freer, even slightly freakier gay atmosphere than they can on Saturdays.

Arty Farty has a sister club known simply as the Annex. It is quite a different space from Arty Farty in that, while still small, it has way more headroom – to the point of incorporating a mezzanine floor. Club Annex attracts a somewhat less sweaty and frenetic crowd on Saturday nights than Arty Farty. Annex is recommended for those who want to drink and dance without feeling like they’re commuting on a crowded Tokyo train.

ArcH (formerly Ace) is real institution. If you want to see drag queens and/or boys with their shirts off (again, depending on the night), ArcH is a fairly trusty place to head for. The sound system at ArcH is more than adequate, ArcH doesn’t get quite as packed as Arty Farty, meaning there’s more room to maneuver, and the DJs at ArcH really know their stuff. The scene at ArcH changes quite dramatically according to the event, so, as usual, choose your night. But expect a warm, real’ gay crotch-grinding, feelgood evening, arms up and smiling at ArcH.

Whatever time you stumble back out into faintly lightening air, Ni-Chome will still be peopled. if you’re hungry, there’s a raamen (Chinese noodle shop) across the road from the Bygs Building, or the 24-hour Shinjuku-Gyoen branch of Freshness Burger (the more gay-friendly option) on the other side of Shinjuku-dori avenue across from Block V. The rest of Shinjuku is cleaning up and getting ready for 24 hours of it all over again. Taxis are passing, perhaps the subway’s started running. If you’ve got lucky, there are love hotels galore to crash in, there’s your hotel room, your bedroom, the next two weeks, two years … maybe the rest of your life!

Not tonight? well, take a stroll towards the park, wearing the right vibe, or, if you’re carrying the right sized wallet try a sauna, sex club, or boy bar (“King of College” is right next door to ArcH). Whatever, there are plenty more nights, bars, men and surprises left in Shinjuku Ni-Chome.

Click here for links to foreigner-friendly gay and lesbian bars and clubs in Japan, as well as useful Japan-related gay/lesbian web links.

Read more: http://www.japanvisitor.com/gay-japan/nichome#ixzz43JtxynLr

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