Japan is one of the leaders of gay rights in Asia.
Surprising isn’t it? Japanese society is so regimented, conservative, with strict social norms and little room for acceptance for anything different.
Despite this, Japan (along with Taiwan) is one of the few countries in Asia which has truly started to accept and protect its gay community to the point where it’s opened the door to gay civil unions.
More and more districts across Japan are legalising gay civil unions, two of them in Tokyo: Shibuya and Setagaya. So what better time to come visit the city as a gay couple? A very patient (unmarried) Stefan secretly hoping this could be THE moment…
Tokyo itself is massive, made up of 23 wards, each governed as a separate city and inhabited by over 9 million people. Statistically that’s just under 1 million gays waiting to welcome you.
Gay Tokyo is mainly congregated in Shinjuku’s Ni-chōme (Area 2) where all the action happens. We enjoyed our time there so much that we decided to write our LGBT travel guide to Japan’s capital city.
WHERE IS SHINJUKU NI-CHOME?
Shinjuku is a major transport, located in Central Tokyo, towards the west of the famous Imperial Palace. The station itself is like a mini city, with over 200 exits, serving over 3 million people daily, making it the world’s busiest station.
It is so big that it’s directly connected to 5 other nearby stations, so definitely plan ahead where you’re heading exactly before coming here, otherwise you’ll get completely lost. We advise downloading the Tokyo subway map on your smartphone or view it here.
Ni-Chōme is a small area in Shinjuku, forming the hub of the gay scene. The 2 closest metro stations to the Ni-Chōme gay scene are:
- Shinjuku-Sanchome: served by 3 lines: the Marunouchi, Fukutoshin and Toei Shinjuku lines
- Shinjuku-Gyoenmae: served by the Marunouchi Line only.
THE GAY BARS AND CLUBS OF SHINJUKU NI-CHŌME
Shinjuku’s Ni-Chōme is famous for having the world’s highest concentration of gay bars with over 300 crammed together. It can be quite overwhelming, so it might pay to have a private gay guide to show you around.
We discovered an excellent local company who offer private evening tours of the gay scene with a gay English speaking guide. Tours cost 20,000 yen ($200) per person, lasts for 3 hours and includes dinner and 1 drink in 1 of the gay bars during the tour.
If you would also like to do a gay evening tour of Tokyo, complete the form below for more information.
Most of these 300 bars are tiny, squeezed into unremarkable blocks. For example Usagi Bar is located on the 4th floor of a block (address: Shinjuku 2-10-2, Ebana Bldg 4F). When you arrive on the 4th floor, it’s a corridor of doors – as if you’re going to your friend’s party in his flat. But go through the door and a tiny bar reveals itself.
These bars have a warm, friendly atmosphere, centred around the bar man, who is usually the owner (or mama-san in Japanese gay slang). Usually everyone knows everyone, and sometimes they bring home cooked food to share around.
There are of course more mainstream bars and clubs in Ni-Chōme, which are more well known:
- Arty Farty: popular bar open from 6pm-1am. Most come here for a few drinks than head to sister club Annex next door. It attracts an even mix of foreigners and locals.
- Annex: club open till 4am, owned by the same guys behind Arty Farty, which attracts a young crowd in their 20s and 30s. If you get stamped in Arty Farty, you can get in here free without paying entry twice.
- FTM Bois Bar: excellent bar for the transexual community run by the cutest FTM lad called Mizuki.
- Campy! Bar: very cool, colourful and welcoming bar, run by celebrity cross-dresser, Bourbonne. The staff are all dolled up in drag which adds to the fun atmosphere and there’s hilarious shows throughout the evening. Check their website for more information about the performers. Campy! opens early at 5:30pm and goes on till midnight.
- Dragon Men: draws a mixed crowd of expats, foreigners and locals, great for a few cocktails and a boogie. It has a happy hour of 200 yen off all drinks from Monday to Thursday 6-8pm.
- AiiRo Cafe Bar: popular bar for drinks and identifiable by the large Torri (Japanese Shrine) outside. Look out for their 1,000 yen ($9) Beer Blast all you can drink happy hour, daily between 6-9pm.
- Alamas: owned by the same guys behind AiiRo Cafe and have daily parties with a live DJ so check their schedules.
- Fuji: small basement bar and popular for karaoke. Get a few sakes (Japanese rice wine) down you and then come here to belt out a few power ballads.
GAY EVENTS IN TOKYO
Tokyo doesn’t have as many events compared to the gay scene of Berlin for example, but there are a growing number of events taking place in the city:
- Tokyo Rainbow Pride: takes place every April/May during the Japanese Golden Week holiday, with a large Pride Parade culminating at Yoyogi Park, with parties and events alongside it.
- Shangri-La at AgeHa: huge monthly party for the muscle boys at the AgeHa club, attracting gays from all over. Entry fee costs around 3,500 yen ($33) and is cheaper if purchased beforehand on their website.
- Tokyo Bear Week: the first Bear Week took place in July 2016 with a variety of events, which you can follow on Twitter with #TBW2016 and also on their Facebook page.
- Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival: started in 1992 and takes place every July, featuring LGBTQ films from around the world.
For more up to date information of all gay events in Tokyo, check out the listings on DailyXtraTravel.
GAY FRIENDLY HOTELS TO STAY IN TOKYO
We stayed in a few places in Tokyo and these are our favourite gay friendly options both in Shinjuku and around:
- A luxury and romantic experience not to miss.
- We loved the modern architecture of the hotel, a perfect blend of western and Japanese influcences. The rooms are innovatively designed in open space to give you a soothing experience, with gorgeous views and a rain shower to die for.
- It is located in central Tokyo, right next to the Imperial Palace, with a subway station (Tameike-Sanno) in the basement giving you access to 4 metro lines.
- The breakfast is fabulously delicious, with a choice of Western or traditional Japanese.
- Rooms at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu start from 44,150 yen ($415).
- This is elegance and style in the heart of Shinjuku and also very close to the Ni-Chōme gay bars: 10 minutes by taxi or a 20 minutes walk.
- As well as being plush, classy and super trendy, this was also the location for the Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson Lost In Translation film, particularly the The New York Bar on the 52nd floor. The views across the city from here are ethereal!.
- Rooms in the Park Hyatt start from 48,000 yen ($450).
- The Hyatt Regency is a more affordable option in Shinjuku but still luxurious with a blow-your-mind entrance, popular with wedding receptions and photoshoots.
- It’s located 5-10 minutes by taxi or 20 minutes walk to the gay bars of Shinjuku.
- The pool, jacuzzi and gym are located high up so you can work out with a beautiful view. The club lounge is the perfect spot for a light bite and a few drinks before hitting the gay bars of Ni-Chōme.
- Rooms start from 27,000 yen ($247) a night.
- Imano Hostel is a decent budget option if you don’t mind sleeping in dorm beds. They have curtains to close off your area, which makes them more like cubicles than an actual dorm.
- Imano is located minutes walking distance from the gay bars as well as the Shinjuku-sanchome metro.
- It’s not an exclusively gay hostel, but welcomes us; given its location so close to the gay bars of 2-Chōme, it’s hardly surprising!
- Dorm beds start from 3,500 yen ($32) a night.
FOR SOMETHING DIFFERENT: MISTERBNB
- Misterbnb is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBT community. Unlike Airbnb you know your host is gay (or at least gay friendly) and it’s a great way to connect and meet with locals in Tokyo.
- It’s easy to use and also available to download as an app for iPhones.
WHAT TO DO IN TOKYO?
- Food Tour: an excellent way to discover downtown Tokyo and dive straight into some of the best izakayas (gastropubs). We highly recommend Arigato Food Tours ($120 per person) who will show you the best izakayas in Ginza, Yurakucho and Shinbashi.
- Onsens: an experience not to miss! An onsen is a public bath where you bathe in various pools of water sourced from hot springs. They’re the perfect way to conquer jet lag. Our favourite is the Maenohara Onsen (1180 yen/$11 per person), closest metro is Shimura-sakaue metro. There’s also a gay onsen chain in Shinjuku called 24 Kaikan, targeted more to cruising and can also be found in Ueno and Asakusa.
- Transform into a geisha: what better way to discover more about the elusive geisha then to transform into one at the Studio Geisha Cafe. This is an experience of a lifetime and certainly one of our favourite unique things you can do in Tokyo.
- Cooking class: learn to make sushi, bento box and more in a cooking class with the excellent Arigato Japan Cooking School ($75 per person).
- Shibuya crossing: this famous pedestrian intersection outside Shibuya Station is the perfect place to get a real feel of the immense world of Tokyo. When the road signs turn red, an invasion of bodies take over the entire area.
- Quirky Tokyo: Tokyo is renowned for some really quirky fashion and alternative attractions, such as stroking felines while drinking your coffee at the Cat Cafe Calico in Shinjuku, or feeding owls at the Owl Cafe Mohumohu in Shinjuku.
- Takeshita Street in Harajuku: this is the place to spot grown up women dressed up as manga characters or schoolgirls. For more, check out 8 quirky and interesting facts about Japan.
WHERE TO EAT IN TOKYO?
Tokyo is a paradise for foodies with lots to keep your tummy inspired and content:
- Sushi mania at Tsukiji fish market: Tokyo is THE place to come for the best sushi, specifically at the restaurants around Tsukiji – the world’s largest fish market. The market caters to the nearby restaurants, so they inevitably serve up the most delicious, fresh sushi you’ll ever try.
- Izakayas: are gastropubs, after work bars, popular with salary men, where you come to drink sake or highball (Japanese drink of whisky and soda water) and order small inexpensive plates of food.
- Point and hope! This became our favourite method of dining in Tokyo. In one unassuming bar we impulsively went to, Sebastien pointed to this item at random, which turned out to be a delicious plate of tempura:
- Ramen bars: ramen is a seriously delicious and highly contagious meat or vegetable based broth with noodles and a variety of toppings. You can get a bowl from one of the many inexpensive ramen bars across the city, from as little as 800 yen ($8). For the best ramen bar, ask a local to point you in the direction of their favourite and check out Ramen Adventures for a deeper insight of the Tokyo world of ramen.
- Kaiseki Japanese fine dining: involves many small plates of delicious Japanese prizes presented like works of art. We tried the Kaiseki at the Shangri-La’s Nadaman restaurant, an incredibly romantic setting, dim lights, with jaw dropping views of the city. One of the dishes at the Nadaman includes the very famous and incredibly scrumptious wagyu beef.
LOOKING FOR A GAY TRAVEL COMPANY?
If you’re looking for a gay-friendly tavel company to organise your trip to Tokyo and the rest of Japan, we’ve partnered with Out Asia Travels, an excellent gay owned travel agency, who offer tailored tours and itineraries.
These guys are locals, passionate travellers and have a real insight of Japanese culture and the gay scene accross the country. They are offering our readers an exclusive 5% discount for bookings of 7 days or more when you quote NOMADIC5 in your enquiry.
Travel recommendations to Japan
Train saving tips: Depending on how many trains you plan to take in Japan, it may be worth investing in a 7 days JR Pass ($250), which allows you unlimited travel throughout the country for 7 consecutive days. But you must buy it from an agent before you go.
We personally used Japan Rail Pass. They offered the best prices and would definitely recommend them.
Travel insurance: Whether you go diving, hiking or just lay on the beach all day long, you need travel insurance. We use World Nomads because they offer considerable coverage especially for adventurous travellers. They also make it easy to make a claim as it’s all done online.
Flights: To fly to Japan and within, we recommend Skyscanner. Their website is very easy to use and they always offer the best prices. You can even search for the cheapest flights for any given month.
Hotels: Japan has a huge diversity of accommodation options. It is not the cheapest country to travel in but we found that quality is consistent with the price you pay. When we plan a holiday, we use Tripadvisor to research about the best places to stay and activities to do. We also use Booking.com to find the best deals and to book accommodation online.
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