Compared to any other city in Japan, Tokyo shines as a destination filled with art, culture, nightlife, and all things queer. While the Japanese government still does not recognize gay marriage, many vibrant communities exist that support and celebrate LGBTQ people and their accomplishments. Additionally, the country remains one of the safest places in the world for both tourists and locals alike, making it a welcoming destination for queer travelers.
Tokyo mixes centuries-old traditions with modern, fast-paced technology. Neighborhoods such as Harajuku display avant-garde street fashion right next to old Shinto shrines that ancient emperors once frequented. During the day, visitors can spend hours visiting museums in Ueno Park, immersing in the busy youth culture in Shibuya, or strolling the outdoor markets in Asakusa. At night, standing bars and yakitori stalls popular among the after-work crowd open all across the city, and izakayas offer all-you-can-drink specials on anything from beer to plum wine.
For the LGBTQ crowd, there is no better part of the city than Ni-Chome. This energetic neighborhood is located in Shinjuku, Tokyo’s busiest area, which is marked by sky-high neon buildings and pulsating crowds of people. Ni-Chome has everything from saunas to taco stands, and all things in between. It has bars for drag shows, bars for bears, and bars for queers of all kinds to come dance and drink together.
Bars and nightlife
Dragon Men might be more of a dive bar than a polished night club, but every weekend it draws queer customers of all kinds with its upbeat music and cheap drinks. The clientele is mostly made up of men, but allies and other LGBTQ partiers are more than welcome to join the fun. The venue occasionally hosts all-you-can-drink specials or discount days, but the price of alcohol is reasonable regardless of the day. If you’re looking to dance and make some friends, Dragon Men is one of the best places in Ni-Chome to go.
Where: 2-11-4, Shinjuku City
Arty Farty is known for its large crowds of friendly partiers and great music. LGBTQ customers of all kinds can enter and enjoy a night out of drinking and dancing. The club is open every day from 8:00 PM and stays open until 4:00 AM on all days except for Friday and Saturday, where the hours extend one extra hour. Entrance to Arty Farty gives access to two separate places, Arty Farty and the Annex, which is a calmer, more laid-back cocktail bar for customers seeking a brief respite from the energy of the club.
Where: 2−11−7, Shinjuku City
Gold Finger is a small and intimate bar intended for women seeking women but allows all LGBTQ customers to enter on every night except Saturday. Expect free popcorn and karaoke while visiting here. Every month it has special parties with DJs, dancing, and unique themed events. If you’re planning ahead, customers who register for parties in advance can receive a special discount. While there are countless venues for women seeking women throughout Ni-Chome, Gold Finger is without a doubt the most well-known.
Where: 2-12-11, Shinjuku City
An energetic bar that is open to all orientations, Kamari is run by former model and current LGBTQ activist, Ayako Ichinose, and focuses on creating a welcoming and friendly environment. The small space allows for an easy flow of conversation, whether with old friends or new. The bar is usually open from 8:00 PM to 3:00 AM but extends hours on Saturday until 5:00 AM the following day. For an easy transportation option, Shinjuku-sanchome Station is located only a few minutes from the venue.
Where: 1F, 2-18-10, Shinjuku City
A cafe and bar that is just as focused on social activism as it is on the beverages, Shinjuku Dialogue prides itself on the inclusion of all types of people. While located closer to neighboring Shinjuku-sanchome than Ni-Chome, the cafe is still easily accessible and welcoming to a queer crowd. Shinjuku Dialogue is more than just a place to drink; it is a shop focused on discussion and making change. The store holds monthly events and discussions, such as a forum on intersex issues in Japan, and a part of every drink order is donated to a charitable cause of the customer’s choice.
Where: 3-1-32, Shinjuku City
Restaurants and cafes
Dorobune is one of a few locations in Ni-Chome that caters specifically to queer women. No men are allowed, but women can bring their dogs if they wish. The restaurant serves okonomiyaki, a savory Japanese dish that is often compared to a pancake or pizza and can be filled with a variety of different ingredients. The umeshu, a sweet Japanese plum wine, and traditional sake are the standard drinks to order here. For advance reservations or customers looking to hold a banquet or party at the restaurant, different menu options are available. The venue is closed on Mondays and special holidays.
Where: 7-3-305, Shinjuku City
Rainbow Burritos is a queer-run Mexican restaurant located in Ni-Chome. It specializes solely in burritos and offers a daily choice between chicken, beef, and a rotating veggie selection. It is a great destination for queer travelers who prefer quieter evenings yet still wish to be immersed in local queer culture. The restaurant is located in the same area as all the other bars and nightlife venues, making it a good place to start off at for an evening of partying. It also hosts monthly events for the community as an additional way of supporting local LGBTQ culture.
Where: 3-1-32, Shinjuku City
Japanese citizens of all ages and backgrounds enjoy onsens — the art of bathing and relaxing in natural hot springs while naked. At Donyoku, the clothes stay on, but customers can still soak their feet in hot spring water while sipping on a steaming cup of tea or coffee. The cafe is located in the heart of Ni-Chome and happily flaunts its LGBTQ support with a giant Pride flag that hangs from the front window. The cafe also has hammock seats and serves a wide variety of food, such as bahn mi and shaved ice, in addition to drinks.
Where: 2-7-3, Shinjuku City
Ni-Chome is undoubtedly known for its nightlife scene, with hundreds of bars, clubs, and midnight events. However, the neighborhood still has its share of daytime facilities to visit. Check is a sex-friendly, queer venue located in central Ni-Chome that sells fetish items, erotic films, and other sensual paraphernalia. It’s a good location for browsing, exploring the queer sex culture in Tokyo, or picking up a few new toys that couldn’t fit in your luggage.
Where: Kurihara Building 1F, 2-18-8, Shinjuku City
APA Hotel is a nationwide brand in Japan that provides a high standard for service regardless of location. This branch of APA is centrally located in Kabukicho, the part of Shinjuku with a lively nightlife scene. Shinjuku Station is a short walk away, as well as Ni-Chome. The hotel rooms are neat and well-kept, and many offer views of the city.
Where: 1-20-2 Kabukicho, Shinjuku
Hotel Gracery is located in the heart of Shinjuku. The hotel is queer-friendly and offers views of the city below. If you’re lucky, some rooms even look out at Toho Cinemas’ famous Godzilla head, which peeks out from Shinjuku’s skyline. The rooms are spacious and the hotel itself is a five-minute walk from Shinjuku Station, Tokyo’s largest train station, making for easy access to the rest of the city.
Where: 1-19-1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku
As many of the destinations in Ni-Chome are separated by sexual preference, there are two distinct queer nightlife tours offered: one for gay men and another for lesbian women. Both the gay and lesbian night tours are operated by the same company and last roughly three hours from start to finish. The tours select three establishments to visit and locations can be changed according to guests’ tastes and interests.
Compared to the tours above, this LGBTQ tour package explores the traditional history of Tokyo and the queer movement, in addition to taking customers out to explore Ni-Chome’s bars and izakayas after dark. The guides take visitors to markets and shrines at Asakusa, small yakitori stands, and casual, queer bars in the heart of Shinjuku.
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