With the legalization of same-sex marriage in Taiwan this year in May, East Asia has never looked more progressive. As more LGBTQ-friendly venues open their doors, and laws forcing positive change come into power, the region is becoming more accessible for LGBTQ+ visitors. From the overflowing side alleys filled with bars and nightlife in Tokyo’s Nichome to the cafes and art shares in Seoul’s Jogno, these countries and their respective neighborhoods are some of the best spots for queer travelers to visit while in East Asia.
Taiwan is undoubtedly the East Asian country with the most thriving queer scene. Each October, Taipei hosts the biggest Pride festival in all of Asia. The Taiwan International Queer Film Festival runs every year and screens a wide variety of queer-produced or queer-prominent films. The Red House, also in Taipei, is a market that was built in 1908 and became a Class III Historical Site in 1997. It functions as a hub to artists and as an LGBTQ beacon. The queer community of Taipei is largely centered around this red-brick building and its surrounding neighborhood.
Cafes, bars, and clubs are spread out in the streets and open to all visitors. There’s also a large number of book stores and cultural spots that cater to queer visitors. Taipei is a busy city that successfully balances an energetic nightlife with calmer daytime options, but it’s not the only queer-friendly destination to visit in Taiwan. Other large cities such as Taichung and Kaohsiung have their own collection of LGBTQ destinations to check out.
2. Shinjuku Nichome, Japan
Japan is a visually stunning country with deep traditions and cultural pride. Natural destinations like Mt. Fuji balance the fast-paced energy that fuels major cities like Osaka and Tokyo. Japan has routinely been cited as one of the safest countries in the world, making it a destination that nearly any traveler can enjoy stress-free. Tokyo, the capital city, provides the quintessential experience of the Japanese lifestyle that travelers expect before arriving. Full of lights, odd alleyways, temples, and karaoke, it’s hard to be bored in the city.
The area of Shinjuku Nichome, or Ni-Chome, is the concentrated center of the queer scene in Japan. It has the world’s highest concentration of queer establishments with over 300 bars and clubs squeezed into a small neighborhood in Shinjuku. Shinjuku itself is Tokyo’s busiest and most crowded district, with more standing izakaya or karaoke rooms to count. While some of the stores in Nichome cater to specific orientations, many other places are open to all. Most of the stores in this neighborhood are orientated around nightlife, but there are still options for dinner or a casual evening for those seeking it.
3. Seoul, South Korea
Seoul is a city that has developed its economy suddenly and rapidly — and it shows. It is a mix of outdated industrial apartments, sky rises, ancient palaces, and spread-out back alleys where vendors sell vegetables from the back of trucks. For queer travelers, Seoul has multiple LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods throughout the city. Hongdae is well known for its lesbian bars. The international neighborhood of Itaewon is notorious for “Homo Hill,” a concentrated area of gay bars, clubs, and performance venues. The streets of Jongno are more laid-back and offer spots for a relaxing dinner and drinks rather than an all-night party.
Haebongchon is only a quick walk (or an even quicker taxi ride on long nights out when the walk feels insurmountable) next to Itaewon. Haebongchon is known as a neighborhood with a high concentration of English-speaking residents. Many of the shops and restaurants decide to use English signs to advertise or a mix of both English and Korean. The streets of Haebongchon are welcoming to all, especially any self-identifying queer travelers. A popular drinking destination is the Rabbit Hole, which hosts weekly drag events, monthly female (or female-identifying) nights, and even the occasional burlesque or pole performance. The space is small yet friendly, and no one bats an eye at the silver go-go boots or four-inch fake lashes some patrons prefer.
4. Major cities in mainland China
The largest cities in China offer the most opportunities for queer travelers to go out and connect with others. Naturally, this includes international hubs like Beijing and Shanghai, where many clubs and bars cater to the queer crowd. Shanghai’s Gay Triangle is one such neighborhood with a concentrated amount of queer locations. However, the city of Chengdu also has a small yet thriving queer scene. Located in Sichuan Province, Chengdu lies inland, isolated in the center of China. The area has a large immigrant population and mix of cultural influences, making the local citizens more tolerant toward differences in belief or lifestyle. Lesbian-run cafes and monthly drag shows are only a small selection of the LGBTQ community in Chengdu, which is smaller yet more close-knit than those of some of China’s larger cities.
5. Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a small island territory of China with warm weather, delicious street food, and iconic skyscrapers that rival the scenes of Bladerunner. Set to host the Gay Games in 2022, Hong Kong is one of the most welcoming destinations in East Asia for members of the LGBTQ community. The city offers a huge range of entertainment and activities, such as gay saunas, club nights like Behind, and, of course, gay bars aplenty.
Similar to Taipei, Hong Kong hosts the HK Gay and Lesbian Film Festival annually. The city also celebrates Pink Season, a multi-week festival for queer-related events, in addition to multiple other pride events and parade days. If you are in town and fancy stretching your legs, an LGBTQ-lead walking tour of Hong Kong is a super way to explore the city with like-minded people. If you are looking for interesting discussion, check out local meet-ups and weekly discussion groups which are held in Cantonese and English.