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 neighbourhood
The gay area of 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.
Gay hotels in Tokyo
Over the years, we've visited Tokyo several times together and stayed in quite a few places. 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.
The Capitol Hotel Tokyu
Why we love it
- Incredible city views
- Direct metro access
- Yummy Japanese breakfast
- Fully equipped gym
This is our favourite gay friendly hotel to stay in Tokyo. We loved the modern architecture of the hotel, a perfect blend of western and Japanese influences.
The rooms are innovatively designed in open space to give you a soothing experience, with gorgeous views and a rain shower to die for.
There's also a lovely spa which offers massages and beauty treatments.
The Capitol has three different on-site restaurants serving delicious food, as well as a club lounge for drinks with a view. In the basement of the hotel, you can access three different metro lines, which makes getting around the city a breeze.
We loved the well equipped gym for keeping fit and a hot tub to relax in after. Another highlight is the traditional, and delicious, Japanese style breakfast served every morning.
The Park Hyatt
Why we love it
- Stunning views throughout
- Three delicious restaurants
- Indoor swimming pool and spa
- In the heart of Shinjuku
For elegance and style in the heart of Shinjuku, we recommend the gay frienldy Park Hyatt which is also very close to the Ni-Chōme gay bars: 10 minutes by taxi or a 20 minute 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 New York Bar on the 52nd floor.
The views across the city from here are unreal!
The rooms at the Park Hyatt are very spacious and feature Hokkaido wood panelling plus Egyptian cotton sheets. If you can drag yourself out from your room (we couldn't) there's an indoor pool (which also has incredible views) and a spa with lots of pampering services available.
Foodies will love the Park Hyatt as it has three different restaurants; the New York Grill, Kozue (serving Japanese cuisine) and Girandole. There's also two different bars, a lounge, patisserie AND a delicatessan!
The Hyatt Regency
Why we love it
- Affordable luxury
- Close to Shinjuku gay bars
- Seven delicious restaurants
- Penthouse swimming pool and wellness
The Hyatt Regency is a more affordable gay hotel in Shinjuku but still luxurious with a blow-your-mind entrance that's popular with wedding receptions and photoshoots.
Located just 5-10 minutes by taxi or 20 minutes walk to the gay bars of Shinjuku, you'll be perfectly situated if you want to party till you drop! The club lounge is the perfect spot for a light bite and a few drinks before hitting the gay bars!
The pool, jacuzzi and gym are located high up so you can work out with a beautiful view. We particularly loved the penthouse wellness sanctuary where you can swim under a skylight roof.
There are no fewer than seven restaurants in the hotel, including authentic French cuisine at Cuisine Michel Troisgros, sushi at Miyako and traditional Chinese dishes at Jade Garden.
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We've used Airbnb extensively during our travels because you can rent an entire home which usually works out a lot cheaper than a hotel room. It also allows you to have your own space with a kitchen, a living room and more. You can easily find places close to the gay scene by using the map function. If you've never used Airbnb before, simply click the button below to get up to $55 discount off your first booking.
Why we love it
- Close to Shinjuku gay area
- Clean and comfy budget option
- Cool on-site cafe and bar
- Regular fun events
Imano Hostel is an excellent gay friendly 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.
It's located minutes walking distance from the gay bars as well as the Shinjuku-sanchome metro.
Everything is very clean and the hostel provides things like shower amenities, locker storage and slippers.
There are mixed and single-gender dorms available, as well as family rooms or traditional Japanese-style rooms. The communal relaxation areas are great here, indeed the whole place has a very fun vibe and regular social activities are organised by the friendly staff. The on-site cafe and bar is also a great place to chill out, socialise or have a snack.
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.
GET 5% DISCOUNT ON YOUR GAY TOUR OF TOKYO
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?
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. Read more about our own transformations here! If you're not into dressing up as a geisha yourself you could still be entertained while learning about their history and traditions at a cultural Geisha Encounter. The experience takes place at a modern ochaya (tea house), where Geisha entertain guests with song, dance, games and conversation.
Discover Tokyo's gay nightlife
If you don't feel like going out to the gay bars by yourself then you could also join a Tokyo gay night tour which will introduce you to the best local gay bars. Your guide takes you away from the main touristy bars so you can hang out with gay locals in the Shinjuku Nichome area. One of the highlights includes a quirky basement bear bar run by a Japanese ex-pro-rugby player. You'll get a free drink in each of the three bars you visit, as well as being able to partake in some karaoke with your new friends. Just remember, you need to be at least 20 years old to buy alcohol in Japan!
Sample some delicious Japanese food!
An excellent way to discover downtown Tokyo and dive straight into some of the best izakayas (gastropubs) is to join a food tour. It can be hard figuring out the best places to eat, especially if you don't read kanji, so by joining a tour with a local guide you'll get to know the most delicious spots to enjoy delicious ramen, sushi and more in the lively Shinbashi district. This is where local workers wind down of an evening and during your tour you'll sample dishes from four different food shops including a pancake place that only locals know about!
Visit an Onsen
A very traditional Japanese 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), the closest metro is Shimura-sakaue Station. We loved relaxing in the many different types of baths and saunas here. There's also a gay onsen chain in Shinjuku called 24 Kaikan, targeted more to cruising which has locations in Ueno and Asakusa as well.
Learn to cook Japanese Food
Japanese cuisine has become very popular around the world in recent decades and it's no surprise since it's sooo yummy! While visiting Tokyo you definitely need to learn to make sushi, bento boxes and other traditional dishes in a cooking class so that you can show off your skills to friends back home. We had so much fun at our Japanese cooking class, and we still like making different sushi dishes at home. Learning local cooking styles is also a great way to remember the places you've visited.
See the Shibuya Crossing
This famous pedestrian intersection outside Shibuya Station is the place to get a real feel of the immense world of Tokyo. When the road signs turn red, an invasion of bodies takes over the entire area which is incredible to see. If you want to get the quintessential shot of the crossing from above, head to Mag's Park; a viewing spot on top of the MAGNET by SHIBUYA 109 shopping complex. It costs 300 yen to access the viewing spot which is open from 11am until 11pm daily.
Takeshita Street in Harajuku
This is the place to spot grown-up women dressed up as manga characters or schoolgirls, made famous worldwide by Gwen Stefani in the song “Harajuku Girls”. Takeshita Street is also lined with shops if you want to pick up your own adorable fashion pieces or just gape at the variety of Gothic Lolita dresses available. While you're in the area make sure you experience a J-Pop Concert for the most kawaii performance you've ever seen! For more, check out our 8 quirky and interesting facts about Japan.
Tokyo is renowned for some really quirky fashion and alternative attractions, as we've mentioned. One of the coolest ‘weird' things we did in Tokyo was to visit the Robot Restaurant! The name is slightly misleading as there's not much in the way of food but you can enjoy some basic dishes while you watch a crazy robot show with neon lights, smoke and blaring pop music. The performers are a professional dance troupe who ride giant robots and dragons in a bizarre spectacle that you will never forget.
Learn about Tokyo's history and culture
Make sure you don't miss Tokyo's many beautiful shrines, temples and historic sites during your visit. The Meiji Jingu Shinto Shrine and the Imperial Palace are two beautiful spots to experience Tokyo's past. You could join a sightseeing tour that will take you to these spots, but for something a little more authentic why not explore the historic area of Asakusa in a traditional rickshaw!? This is a fun way to see some of Asakusa's sights such as the famous Kaminari-mon Gate and Senso-ji Temple.
Tokyo's Coolest Museum
There are some incredible museums in Tokyo that are worth a visit, especially for fans of art, movies and culture like us. One of the coolest and most famous modern art museums in Tokyo is the teamLab Borderless Digital Art Museum. This museum uses digital projectors to create animated artworks which move on the walls, floors, and ceiling. You can walk on and among the art projections, which often move in response to you. This is a truly wondrous place to visit and also a great spot to get some amaaazing photos for your Instagram!
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.
Gay travel agents
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.
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Before you go
We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to Tokyo. Read on to find out everything the gay traveller should know before they go.
Visa requirements: Citizens of 68 countries including the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and most EU countries coming to Japan for tourist reasons don't need a visa to enter. You will need your passport and proof of onward travel though. Make sure you check your visa requirements before travelling to Japan.
Getting around: Within the city of Tokyo, you will mostly be using the metro system which is very easy to understand with everything displayed in English. It can get very busy though, so we recommend pre-ordering a Tokyo metro pass which will save you money as well.
Power Plugs: Japan uses two main types of power plugs; type A which is mainly used in China as well as North and Central America or type B, which will also work with a type A plug. If you are travelling to Japan from a different country to those mentioned then you will need to bring a travel adaptor with you.
Travel insurance: make sure you get travel insurance before your trip to Tokyo because you never know when you might run into trouble, whether that's from illness, theft or even just flight cancellations. We have been using World Nomads Travel Insurance for ages and can't recommend them highly enough. They provide comprehensive cover and it's easy to make a claim online when you need to.
Safety and Security: Travel can be dangerous, even in a country like Japan, but you can stay safe by being smart. We've written a post on how to stay safe while travelling where we mention one of our favourite tools: the CloseCircle virtual bodyguard app. CloseCircle provides all manner of support when you are travelling, from alerts to advice or even evacuation if needed.
Vaccinations: In general you don't need any specific vaccines before travelling to Japan, apart from being up to date on routine vaccines such as measles. If you are planning to visit any rural areas in Japan then you may want to be vaccinated for Japanese Encephalitis. Make sure you always check with your doctor if you might need vaccines before travel.
Currency: The currency used in Japan is the yen, abbreviated to JPY. $1 converts to around 110 Japanese yen while €1 is worth about 122 yen.
Tipping culture: Many Japanese people believe that good service should be the standard, so tipping is not customary here. You may tip if you wish but do not be surprised or offended if it is refused. Also, never just give cash from your wallet or purse, make sure you put it in an envelope first and then hand it to the person with both hands.
Internet access: Free WiFi is usually offered in hotels, airports, train stations, restaurants and cafes in Japan, but not everywhere. Paid WiFi hotspots are more common, so if you know you will be needing to use a lot of internet during your travels to Tokyo then you may like to rent your own portable WiFi device during your trip. We've written a detailed guide on renting pocket WiFi in Japan here if you want more information.
Online privacy: While Japan is relatively progressive by Asian standards, you still may like to keep your online history private, especially if you plan to use gay dating apps like Grindr or Scruff. We like to use ExpressVPN when we travel as it's reliable and affordable.
Accommodation: Whenever we travel to Japan, we use Booking.com to find accommodation with the best prices. Their system is easy to use plus they offer free cancellation on many properties. The 24/7 customer support is also excellent.
Sightseeing and adventure: GetYourGuide is another great company we love, with so many fun activities to choose from in locations around the world, and especially so in Tokyo! The online booking process is very simple and they also have fantastic 24/7 customer support.
When to visit: The best times to visit Japan would have to be either in spring for the beautiful blossoms or autumn for the magnificent foliage. Tokyo's Rainbow Pride takes place in April or May so you may wish to time your visit for then as well.
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:
For more inspiration:
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Happy travels are safe travels
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.
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