Vibrant, crowed and undeniably unique, Tokyo is the world’s largest metropolis, with over 37 million people. Its described as one of the world’s three economic command centers, along with New York and London. A business center with more Michelin stars than other city and cultural capital, Tokyo is a must see world destination.
Gay Tokyo conveniently packed into a handful of streets all located Shinjuku Ni-Chome (pronounced nee-chomay). Ni Chome the gay center of Tokyo has over 300 gay bars, clubs, saunas, cruise clubs and everything else small packed into a couple of small blocks in the center of Tokyo. The Shinjuku neighbourhood is mixed with big business, shopping and entertainment and of course Tokyo’s gay center.
Across Japan there are no laws against homosexuality or same sex intercourse however there is no countrywide legal recognition of same-sex marriage or partnership. Some cities including Tokyo offer same-sex partnerships certificates, however none hold any legal weight. Throughout the ages Japan has no history of hostility towards gay men and Japanese culture is often described as ‘ignoring rather than accepting’ LGBT individuals.
Tokyo’s Gay Nightlife
Shinjuku Ni-Chome is the center of gay Tokyo, in fact, this neighbourhood has the highest concentration of gay bars, clubs and saunas of any city in the world. Don’t expect super clubs here, Ni-Chome is packed with over 300 small individual bars catering to target groups, known in Japanese as Kei. There is something for every desire, bars for overweight guys, transvestites, men who want spanked, hairy men, guys over 70 and of course young & handsome.
Like all of Tokyo space is a premium and many of these niche bars have space for only 15 guys max. With capacity so low, diversity suffers. Most bars welcome non-Japanese guests, however as space fills up guests who do not fit the target group may be refused entry or asked to leave.
The most popular gay bars in Ni Chome are Dragon Men and Arty Fratys. For clubbing and dancing the ArcH, The Annex and AiSOTOPE Lounge are the most popular choices.
Gay Tokyo’s Saunas & Cruise Clubs
Like most of gay Tokyo, the majority of saunas and cruise clubs are located in Shinjuku Ni-Chome. In addition to saunas Tokyo has a number of cruise clubs which are male only venues allowing guests to get intimate. Similar to Tokyo’s gay bars many of the play venues target a particular gay niche and operate with strict door policies.
Again like many things in Japan, gay saunas can be a very different experience from other countries. Tokyo’s 24 Kaikan is perhaps the most famous gay sauna in the city. From the outside the building could be any boring office or apartment block however once inside the 8 story sauna complex gay Japan becomes alive, with bathtubs, saunas, communal sleeping and optional private rooms. The only rule visible states “Gentlemen who chew gum will be removed”.
For all saunas and cruise clubs in Tokyo bring government ID and take note that the theme venues and nights are strictly enforced.
Gay Friendly & Convenient Hotels
Many gay travelers who want to party choose to stay in Shinjuku Ni-Chome, the center of Gay Tokyo. With the subway closing at midnight and taxis, while reliable are relatively expensive, this areas offers a great level of convenience. Shinjuku Ni-Chome is also well connected with three metro stations and Shinjuku station which is the world’s busiest railway station.
Shibuya and Akasaka are great locations to be based in as well, although further from the gay nightlife these areas offer great shopping, world class restaurants and are well connected with subway and metro stations.
Areas of Tokyo
Shinjuku（新宿）- business and government district filled with Tokyo’s tallest skyscrapers and home Shinjuku Ni-chome, Tokyo’s gay district and Kabuki-cho, Tokyo’s red light district. Travel Tip: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building observation deck’s free and offers some of the best views over Tokyo.
Shinjuku Ni-Chome (新宿二丁目) – the hub of gay Japan and gay Tokyo. Packed into this small district are two to three hundred gay bars and clubs each targeted at a particular niche. Read more in the Drink Guide.
Shibuya（渋谷）– the Times Square of Tokyo. Shibuya is fun, young, fashionable and always busy. It’s one of Tokyo’s most popular shopping districts and home to the Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest crossing, a photo must.
Akasaka (赤坂) – central Tokyo, packed with corporate headquarters, embassies and luxury hotels.
Ginza (銀座) – Luxury shopping, famous as one of the most expensive districts of Tokyo. You can find all the brands and luxury departments stores of the world in Ginza. Travel Tip: On Sundays the street becomes pedestrians only. Tables and chairs spread out across the road for drinks and food. Its the perfect people watching spot.
Marunouchi（丸の内）- with Tokyo’s main station, JR Tokyo Station located here every visitor will pass through Marunouchi. This older business district contains impressive buildings including the Imperial Palace and the relaxing East Garden.
Roppongi（六本木）- famous for foreigner friendly, straight nightlife.
Ueno（上野）- experience old Tokyo. Ueno retains many narrow streets, traditional homes and street markets including Ameyoko. Additionally Ueno is home to Ueno Park, Ueno Zoo and Tokyo National Museum.
Getting Around Tokyo
Tokyo city’s public transport is world famous for efficiency, reliability and also rush hour crowds. The extensive public transport network including trains (both underground and above ground railway system), buses, and taxis. Local tip – If you are only visiting the city for a few days it might work out best to buy a train pass. There are many options from one day unlimited use to pay-as-you-go systems. Having a train pass card can save time and money plus the card can be used on all city lines and city buses.
Airport – Tokyo is served by two airports: Narita Airport receives most of the international flights plus a small number of domestic flights. Narita is located 60 km from central Tokyo. All three terminals of Narita Airport are connected with central Tokyo by multiple rail and bus lines. To central Tokyo and Shinjuku (center of gay Tokyo) take the JR Narita Express (NEX). Tokyo’s second airport Haneda Airport is more centrally located and handles the majority of domestic flights plus a few international flights.
Trains – Tokyo’s train network operates from 5 am to midnight. During this time traveling by train is the fastest and convenient form of transport. Rush hour in Tokyo lasts far longer than in most cities. Expect the train to be quieter between 10 am and 5 pm only.
Taxi – efficient and run on meter however drivers often lack English language skills, so try to have your destination’s address written down in Japanese. Taxis in Tokyo, for the average traveler, are expensive. For anybody looking to travel after midnight, taxi’s are the only form of transport. Uber is available in Tokyo.
Bus – Tokyo has a large bus network covering the city. With maps and signs in English it’s pretty easy for tourists to use. Pay via IC Card (the same card used for trains) or use exact fare only (most buses have change machines). Enter at the back of the bus, remembering to pickup a ticket and pay when leaving bus via the front door.
Gays and the Law
With an ancient history of gay sex and no religious hostility towards homosexuality, one could imagine Japan would be at the forefront of LGBT rights. Same sex sexual activity has been legal for over 130 years yet LGBT individuals and couples maybe face legal challenges and lack the same legal protections given to couples of the opposite sex and non-LGBT individuals.
Same sex marriage is not legal in Japan however some cities such as Tokyo have legalized same-sex partnerships, providing some marriage benefits.
Dating back for thousands of years, Japanese arts and books of culture describe with clarity records of men sleeping with men. Same sex activities were recorded across all of Japanese society from Samurais to Monks and even Emperors, who were described having homosexual relationships.
In recent times polls indicate that the majority of Japanese citizens favour accepting homosexuality into society (Pew Research, 2013). Although this has not translated into mainstream politics as most political parties neither openly support or oppose LGBT rights. As such, discrimination based on sexual orientation differs between cities and regions across Japan.
Tokyo Rainbow Pride was set up in 2011 and is part of Rainbow Week, a series of LGBT events to raise awareness of LGBT rights in Japan, usually taking place in May. The number of attendees rises every year with 70,000 participants visiting the festival in 2016.
Getting Tested in Tokyo
The overall reported number of people living with HIV in Japan is low, roughly 0.01% of the population. This number is higher for men who sleep with men with homosexual contact accounting for 56.3% of all HIV infection cases. Tokyo has the most cases of HIV with 70% of cases occurring in males in their twenties or thirties.