What's it really like?
Gay Tokyo is 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 neighborhood is mixed with big business, shopping and entertainment, and of course Tokyo’s gay center.
Vibrant, crowded, 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.
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 partnership certificates, however, none hold any legal weight. Throughout the ages Japan has had no history of hostility towards gay men and Japanese culture is often described as ‘ignoring rather than accepting’ LGBT individuals.
Shinjuku Ni-Chome is the center of gay Tokyo, in fact, this neighborhood 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 heavy guys, transvestites, men who want spanked, hairy men, guys over 70, and of course twinks & young guys.
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.
For all saunas and cruise clubs in Tokyo bring government ID and take note that the theme venues and nights are strictly enforced.
Many gay travelers who want to party choose to stay in Shinjuku Ni-Chome, the center of gay Tokyo. This area offers a great level of convenience, with the subway closing at midnight and taxis, while reliable are relatively expensive. Shinjuku Ni-Chome is 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.
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 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 as having homosexual relationships.
In recent times polls indicate that the majority of Japanese citizens favor accepting homosexuality into society (Pew Research, 2013). Although this has not translated into mainstream politics as most political parties neither openly support nor 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.
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.
The Tokyo Metropolitan Testing has excellent support with an English telephone hotline that offers testing in the heart of Shinjuku plus advice and counseling.
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.
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. It’s 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.
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 passcard 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 pick up a ticket and pay when leaving the bus via the front door.
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