The Hornet Guide to Gay Tokyo
Tokyo is an extraordinary place — where else can you find ancient shrines and temples hidden within one of the world’s most modern city? The host of 2020 Summer Olympics, that’s where. Tokyo is all about the hustle and bustle, and so is Gay Tokyo. For the first time visitor, Tokyo can be overwhelming with its bright lights, tall skyscrapers and massive crowds.
But as busy as it is, there’s much to explore — ancient history, the freshest and most beautifully prepared food and, of course, the Tokyo nightlife. From its high energy clubs to the cozy dive bars, it’s easy to party till dawn.
And if that weren’t enough, Japan is one of the gay rights leaders in Asia. Even though Japanese culture is typically conservative with strict social norms, Japan (along with Taiwan) is one of the few Asian countries genuinely accepting of its gay communities. An increasing number of districts across Japan have legalized gay civil unions. Two of them are in Tokyo: Shibuya and Setagaya. With this progressive attitude, Tokyo is a top gay destination.
Facts About Gay Tokyo
Tokyo itself is massive according to gay travel experts, the Nomadic Boys. There are 23 wards — and each ward governs itself as a separate city. Each ward or district is famous for their own vibe and feel. Like Shinjuku’s Ni-chōme (Block 2), the unofficial gay district where all the action happens.
Surprising for one of the most densely populated cities, Tokyo has the most orderly crowds in the world. Unlike in New York, everyone waits until the light changes to cross the street. Pedestrians on wide sidewalks always follow the unspoken rule of staying to the left just like Japanese cars do. Whatever you do, don’t break the flow — and never jaywalk in Tokyo.
Also, put your wallet away: there’s no tipping in Tokyo. Taxis, doormen and bartenders don’t expect any gratuities. Don’t worry though, in Japan, restaurants usually include a service charge already, so no one’s losing out.
If you’re a smoker, you’ll be happy to know you can smoke inside in Tokyo. Smaller bars and restaurants are mostly smoking-friendly. However, in a switch from America, smoking outside is prohibited by law in most areas. Signs on the sidewalk will let you know if any area actually allows smoking.
And, if you need something quickly and easily, vending machines are on every Tokyo street corner. And it’s not just bottled water or soda — you can also purchase items like food or clothing from these devices.
How to Get Around In Tokyo
Japan has the best transportation system in the world. The easiest way to get around Tokyo is by subway or train. The JR Yamanote Line, or “Loop Line,” is the primary line in Tokyo and makes stops at all the major urban hubs (except Roppongi and Asakusa.) A prepaid Suica or Pasmo card makes traveling simple. You can get one almost everywhere in Tokyo.
Taxis are also great, especially during rush hour. However, the fare is rather expensive — especially in comparison to public transportation. But if you’re not in a rush, walking around the city is the best way to soak up local culture.
Unique Museums To Visit In Tokyo
From ancient culture to contemporary art, Tokyo has a variety of museums. From the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum to the National Museum of Nature and Science, you can easily spend a day just going to museums. And if you prefer something off the beaten path, there are also many unique museums to check out.
Foodies will want to check out the Yokohama Cup Noodles Museum to find out the culture and history of ramen. From the massive display of cup noodles from different decades to video clips about ramen’s invention, you’ll learn a lot. And you even get to create a personalized cup of noodles at the museum’s ramen factory!
If you like creepy crawlies, the Meguro Parasitological Museum is the only museum in the world with an extensive parasite collection that is equally fascinating and gross. Starting out as a research facility in 1953, this museum exhibits about 300 parasite specimens in this multi-level space. Visitors start with the “Diversity of Parasites” display on the first floor. The second-floor exhibits are on “Human and Zoonotic Parasites.” You’ll learn about the lifecycle of different parasites and find out the symptoms of infection. Admission is free, but they encourage donations since it’s a non-profit organization.
Gundam fans rejoice! The classic giant robo anime series has its own museum! Gundam Front Tokyo is a museum and store based on the Gundam franchise. You can’t miss it — just look for the nearly 20 meter tall Unicorn Gundam statue in front. However the Dom-G domed theater is the main attraction. Dom-G has six projectors with thirteen speakers, displaying unique short films all over the entire dome.
For culture, check out Shinjuku’s Samurai Museum and see authentic armor and swords from the past. There are also daily performances as experts entertain the crowd with skillful sword battles.
Unique Places to Visit In Tokyo
From the visually stunning Shinjuku Gyoen to the trendy Harajuku district, there is plenty to see and do when you visit Tokyo. And, of course, there are a number of hidden gems. Here are a few places you might not already know about.
Forget Harajuku! Shimokitazawa, the best kept local secret, offers authentic Japanese youth culture and local street fashions for a different Tokyo experience. This neighborhood exudes a backstreet vibe. The layout and restricted car access have both allowed independent retailers to thrive.
The district consists of the streets immediately surrounding Shimokitazawa Station, where the Odakyu Electric Railway and Keio Inokashira Lines intersect. It’s not just retail and people-watching; Shimokitazawa also has great theaters and live music venues. It’s the home of the historic Honda Gekijō theater, and there are theater festivals throughout the year. With its cafes, secondhand and vintage fashion and music stores, Shimokitazawa attracts students and Japanese youth year-round.
Get your sumo on! Sumo Stable is a free event where you can watch sumo wrestlers practice their craft in the morning. Be sure to call ahead to make sure there’s an event the day you want to go. There are specific rules though — for example, there’s no talking while the wrestlers focus.
Cat lovers have to go to Nyafe Melange, a cafe explicitly catering to fans of furry felines. Nyafe Melange offers both hot and cold drinks for guests. But the main attraction is the resident kittens roaming around the space.
Finally, expect a surreal experience at Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku. The decor can only be described as exuberant. Enjoy simple Japanese cuisine while you watch a lively show. The show lasts about two hours with flashy lights beaming everywhere, actors singing and dancing and more!
Gay Tokyo Nightlife
The LGBTQ community has a massive presence in Shinjuku — specifically the Ni-Chome area. You’ll find bars, clubs and other gay business for a night of dancing, drinking and socializing. Most of these establishments cater to the gay Japanese locals. Some are friendly to tourists, while others aren’t welcoming to foreign visitors. There are close to 100 tiny gay bars, most of them with gay clientele, sometimes with rent boys for patrons. These tiny bars are nicknamed “Rice Bowls” since they only have space for a dozen patrons.
For visitors, Arty Farty and Dragon Men are the must-visit gay bars in Shinjuku. Arty Farty is a high energy club with a decent space for guests to mingle and dance. DJs regularly spin their favorite music on the weekend. It opens late on Saturday and stays open until 5:00 in the morning.
Dragon Men is another foreigner-friendly gay bar with indoor and outdoor seating. There’s plenty of space to socialize, meet or cruise. Dragon Men offers a reasonable drink menu with daily happy hours.
AiiRO Café (formerly Advocates Café) is a fun street corner gay café & bar in Shinjuku. A huge Japanese Shrine Gate welcomes guests to the bar. This place offers lively environment that attracts a diverse crowd of visitors. AiiRO Café is a fantastic bar to start your evening and make new friends along the way.
The Eagle Tokyo is Tokyo’s newest International gay bar in Shinjuku. It’s a friendly meeting space for both locals and foreigners. The interior has a hipster vibe with clean and chic decor. But this bar still attracts the bear/leather clientele that the Eagle is famous for. Leo Lounge is another popular bar frequented by the bear crowd. If you prefer a night hanging out with friends or meeting new ones, Leo Lounge is the best spot to chill.
Tokyo’s got some great drag, too. Check out Campy to see a team of talented ladies ready to crack up guests. Campy serves simple drinks, but visitors always have a great time.
Gay Tokyo Saunas
If you’re feeling up to mischief, spend a few hours — or the night! — at Kaikan, a gay sauna and bathhouse with multiple locations in Shinjuku, Ueno and Asakusa. They have huge wet and dry play areas for patrons. You can even stay overnight in a bunk bed.
Jin-Ya is another gay Tokyo sauna and the most foreigner-friendly spot in town. This sauna has four common play areas and a video room that gets very active late at night. Jin-Ya also has a dry sauna and communal baths. There’s even has a rooftop nude area for beautiful warm days. Jin-Ya is not far away from Ikebukuro Station; take the C1 Exit, then walk four blocks straight ahead and you’ll see the Jin-Ya sign on an lightpost.
Junction also provides sauna services in the Takanawa neighborhood in Minota. This facility also is equipped with standard sauna equipment. There’s also an active cruising room open late into the morning. Junction is foreigner-friendly and usually attracts a younger crowd.
Feature image by franckreporter via iStockphoto.com