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.
We enjoyed our time there so much that we decided to write our LGBT travel guide to Japan's capital city.
Stay connected in Japan
Tokyo Gay Area
Gay Tokyo is mainly congregated in Shinjuku's Ni-chōme (Area 2) where all the action happens. 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.
Shinjuku 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.
Getting around Tokyo
The metro system in Tokyo is very easy to use and everything is displayed in English. However, it gets very busy! To avoid the queues at the ticket machines and save money, pre-order a Tokyo metro pass which will give you unlimited access to all Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway lines. Hotel delivery is included.
Tokyo gay map
This is a detailed map of Tokyo which includes gay friendly hotels, gay bars and clubs as well as the best things to do in Tokyo:
Gay hotels in Tokyo
We stayed in a few places in Tokyo and these are our favourite gay friendly options both in Shinjuku and around below. For a more in-depth guide, be sure to check out our 10 best gay hotels in Tokyo.
This is our favorite hotel to stay in Tokyo. 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.
- A luxury and romantic experience not to miss.
- 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.
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.
Gay bars in Tokyo
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 gay bars and clubs in Tokyo, which are more well known:
- Arty Farty: popular bar open from 6pm-1am. Most come here for a few drinks, then later on head to sister club Annex next door. It attracts an even mix of foreigners and locals. It's open everyday till 1am.
- Campy! Bar: very cool, colourful and welcoming bar, run by celebrity cross-dresser called “Bourbonne“. The staff are all dolled up in drag, which adds to the fun atmosphere. It has really funny shows taking place throughout the evening. Campy! is open every day till midnight.
- AiiRo Cafe Bar: popular bar for drinks any day of the week open till late. It is easily 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. AiiRo is open everyday until 2am, and on weekends until 5am.
- Leo Lounge: large popular bear bar, which welcomes everyone. We love the friendly atmosphere here and came back many times. It's also a great place for karaoke. Leo Lounge is open everyday (except Tuesdays) until 5am.
- FTM Bois Bar: No charge, free karaoke, free popcorn…what's not to love? FTM Bois is an excellent bar for the transexual community run by cutie FTM called Mizuki. It is open only on Monday evenings until 2am.
Gay clubs in Tokyo
These are the main gay clubs in Tokyo, which are also mainly based in the Shinjuku area:
- The 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. It's open till the early hours of the next morning. Look out for their Circuit after parties on weekends which go till 11am the next day.
- 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. Dragon Men is open everyday until 3am, on weekend till 5am.
- Alamas: owned by the same guys behind AiiRo Cafe and have daily parties with a live DJ so check their schedules.
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. The climax is the large parade, which culminates at Yoyogi Park with lots of parties and events taking place alongside it.
- Rainbow Reel Tokyo: is the city's official LGBTQ film festival, which started in 1992. It takes place every July, featuring LGBTQ films from around the world.
- For more up to date information of all gay events in Tokyo including monthly parties and Circuit events, check out the listings on DailyXtraTravel.
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 Toyosu fish market: Tokyo is THE place to come for the best sushi, specifically at the restaurants around Toyosu – 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 agent?
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.
OUR FAVOURITE TRAVEL TIPS
⭐️ TRAVEL INSURANCE — We recommend you always take out travel insurance before your next vacation. What happens if you suffer from illness, injury, theft or a cancellation? With travel insurance, you can have peace of mind and not worry. We love World Nomads travel insurance and have been using it for years. Their comprehensive coverage is second to none and their online claims process is very user friendly.
⭐️ SAFETY & SECURITY — All travelers (gay or not) can sometimes encounter danger when traveling. CloseCircle is your “virtual body guard” mobile app which provides security alerts and support wherever you are in the world. They have a 24/7 emergency response team monitoring their users who will contact you immediately if the SOS swipe button is activated. Support can include anything from practical advice, to free evacuation from areas with extreme weather or security risks. You can read more about CloseCircle in our article about how to stay safe whilst traveling.
⭐️ ONLINE ANONYMITY — A VPN (Virtual Private Network) is a must in many countries: it allows you to surf anonymously and maintain your privacy whilst traveling. You'll particularly need it in countries where gay dating apps are blocked by the government. We recommend ExpressVPN, a reliable and cost effective service which we used and loved during our travels.
⭐️ HOTELS or APARTMENTS — When we plan a trip, we always look for the best hotel deals. We love Booking.com because not only do they have a comprehensive listing of accommodation options, they also offer the best prices. Added bonus: they provide 24/7 support and free cancellation for most listings.
⭐️ SIGHTSEEING and ADVENTURES — When we travel somewhere, we like to seek out the best experiences, whether it is cooking with locals in Bangkok, hiking on a glacier in Patagonia, or going on a wildlife safari in Sri Lanka. Our favorite place to look is GetYourGuide because they have over 30,000 highly rated activities, a user-friendly booking process with free cancellation and a 24 hour customer support.
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For more inspiration
- first timers plan your trip with our 10 days itinerary to Japan post
- salivate over our 10 favourite traditional Japanese foods