Gay Tokyo


8 Million people! Suffering for more than a decade from Japan’s self-induced economic slump, Tokyo has seen much of its luster worn away by a recession seemingly without end. Art museums and performance spaces, once the crowning jewels of any serious department store, have turned into tired craft supply shops or now exhibit bins filled with last season’s unsold dishware. Once splendid designer boutiques openly hawk second-hand goods and hair scrunchies in sad sign-of-the-times sidewalk sales.

But there are also positive changes resulting from the flatlining economy. Bars are more mixed and friendly for foreign visitors (they need your business). English signage is now in common use, even on drink menus. With falling rental rates, savvy club owners have taken over neighboring venues, doubling or tripling the size of their once tiny establishments.

With prices having barely risen over the last dozen years, no tipping, no added taxes, and the dollar currently soaring against the yen, Tokyo is suddenly more affordable than New York, Paris or even Los Angeles! Taxis, once pure luxury rides — with their lace doilies and white-gloved drivers who open the door for you — have become a suddenly affordable, comfortable alternative to packed trains. Any tourist in their right mind should take advantage of this golden opportunity to discover the world wonders in the heart of this fascinating, and friendlier-than-ever Imperial city. Tokyo may never be this cheap again!

Utopia Asia is a great resource for the traveler heading to Tokya. Bacchus also has aguide to Tokyo, but it’s a little out-dated.  And recently, did a big spread on Tokyo. – In this cultural mix of underground and obvious, finding Tokyo‘s big, gay party is all about knowing where to look. Don’t lose heart if it doesn’t catch your eye immediately: whether tourist, ex-pat lifer, or native, first-timers to the gay scene here always start out lost. 

Nestled in Shinjuku, a youth-saturated neighborhood, the Ni-Chome district is the beating gay heart of Tokyo. Books Rose (2-14-11, Shinjuku;) is almost the only life sign during working hours and perfect for collecting intel on upcoming parties and other LGBT activities. (Note: The address “2-14-11 Shinjuku” means second district of Shinjuku, 14th block, 11th building).

There are more than 200 (mostly very small) gay bars in Shinjuku Ni-Chome alone.

After 8 p.m., Ni-Chome starts pumping neon and queers start letting loose. This micro-neighborhood is packed with cozy watering holes where amiable proprietors make matches and encourage friendships between patrons and newcomers. 

Arty Farty (2/F 33 Kyutei Bld; 2-11-7 Shinjuku, 2nd fl; is a popular last stop for late-night youth. The entrance hand stamp confers free admission to the owners’ twin bar nearby, the equally gaijin-friendly  Annex (1/F Futami Bld; 2-14-11 Shinjuku).

Most young people speak some English and love to chat, but knowing Japanese helps a lot, especially with older folks, who remain more “understated.”

The heightened privacy standards in Japan make it a rarity for hotels to bar same-sex bed-sharing, which is great since LGBT-specific accommodations are impossible to find.

Two other interesting options are traditional tatami and futon hotels or ultra-modern capsule hotels — temptingly cheap, but eerily like when Bruce Willis slept on that space cruise in “The 5th Element.”

The closest capsule to Ni-Chome is the men-only Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel (1-2-5 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku; in nearby Kabuki-cho, the straight red-light district. Pods are one per customer. 


The Tokyo Pride Parade is the biggest event of its kind in Japan. Last year’s event drew more than 3,800 spectators and participants, and more than 200 volunteers helped to make it a success. The people marching in the parade around Shibuya and Harajuku represented all facets of Japan’s LGBT community and many were in amazingly original costumes.


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