travel

Tokyo's gay district is full of surprises

Tokyo boasts Asia's biggest gay district with over 300 LGBT bars. Attitude's Markus Bidaux went to find out more...

2018-11-23

The sprawling metropolis of Tokyo is teeming with people and the Japanese capitol runs at breakneck speed, but it is cleaner than other mega cities like London or New York.

The city has so much to offer and I love every minute of my time exploring its hidden gems like the centuries-old Hamarikyu Gardens.

It is also a shopper's paradise and I spend a couple days popping into the shops of the trendy neighborhood of Shimo-Kitzawa filled with vintage boutiques, the high-end retail shops and department stores with uber-modern architecture of Ginza, and the brilliantly manic technicoloured Harajuku shopping district.

Hamarikyu Gardens in Chūō, Tokyo

At night, I venture out to the Shinjuku district, home to Asia’s biggest gay district with more than 300 LGBT bars.

Luckily, I have Shintaro, my guide from the tour company Out Asia Travel, to point me, and a group of other gay men, in the right direction through the warren of streets and alleyways with dozens neon signs running up the buildings.

Lights in Shinjuku, Toyko's gay district

 

It is all quite daunting trying to figure out where to start, but there are some western-style bars at street level with glass frontages such as the Eagle, its new clubby sister-venue Eagle Blue and the brilliantly named lesbian bar, Gold Finger.

When Shintaro takes us to the whisky bar Uncle Uncool, the entrance is almost completely non-descript and at the top of the narrow flight of stairs is a bar that only accommodates eight people.

 

Markus soaks in the scenery at Eagle Bar

Taking up every seat in the place we chat with the bashful bearish bartender while sipping on Japanese whisky. As we carry on filling up various bars we discover most of the bars only hold a small number of customers, which explains how there are hundreds of them.

When you leave the main streets, there are also dozens of bars down alleys and up stairways that are not so foreigner-friendly.

If you walk in you will promptly be asked to leave, which happens to me twice when Shintaro was not around to steer me in the right direction. In many respects it is still a very closeted nation.

Eagle Bar, Shinjuku

 

But we still have a blast, even when we had to make a quick exit when were told the go-go boy bar had an outrageous cover charge of £24.

Tokyo is a fascinating city and Japan as a whole is changing it attitudes towards LGBT issues at a radical pace.

Harajuku

When one of the government's law-makers, Mio Sugita, recently said gay people do not deserve welfare because they are unproductive Japan's Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe, responded by declaring that Japan needs to be more accepting of the LGBT+ community.

Additionally, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government recently passed a bill to ban discrimination against queer people and the government plans to provide shelter to homeless LGBT+ people, as well as have a Pride House for the Olympics.

Keio Plaza, Tokyo

I stayed at the Keio Plaza a stunning hotel conveniently located near Shinjuku. My suite was on the Premier Grand level, with access to the 45th-floor club lounge, serving breakfast, afternoon tea, cocktail-hour snacks and stunning views of City Hall.

There are an additional dozen restaurants in the hotel and an outdoor swimming pool, open during summer months. The only thing I was a bit sad about was that the candy floss-pink Hello Kitty suites were fully booked.

outasiatravel.com

keioplaza.com

Read the full nine-page feature in the December of Attitude, out now.

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