This fast-forward capital city provides a niche for all flavors of gay life, relentlessly imbuing every day with a wow factor that makes you feel you have arrived in an alternative universe.
Shinjuku, established in 1698, was one of four gateways into Tokyo. At the heart of the gayborhood the world-famous Advocates Café, recently refurbished and renamed the AiiRO Café, is still the unofficial center of the scene for visitors. In a society in which foreigners can be viewed with a certain wariness, Advocates became a pioneer of gay nightlife by opening its doors to locals and foreigners alike. The new cafe is reclaiming its reputation as the early-evening watering hole on a busy gay corner, loud and chaotic, packing the street like a small pride parade, where smiling visitors toast Tokyo’s iconoclasms and eager Japanese boys eye up the Westerners, and each other. There is certainly plenty of fun around for everyone - other bars and clubs such as Arty Farty, Ashura, Dragon, GB, Kabuto (in Kamata, Ota-ku), Kinsmen, and Kusuo are open to visitors, English-speakers in particular. Leo, the old Gate bar for bears, moved to Shinjuku this past year with a new name. Adezakura and Gold Finger are two local women-only clubs with nightly gatherings; the latter also sponsors a monthly dance at nearby Aisotope, (which also hosts men-only theme parties other nights).
The scene is much larger, but invisible for the most part to tourists. Narrow, stacked buildings above busy storefronts and cafes resemble a series of futuristic beehives. Inside are vertical assemblies of petite establishments, stacked one on top of another, amounting to over 200 individual gay bars, shops, and other businesses in a five-square-block area. There’s a strict members-only entrance policies for the boutique bars — some cater to a particular sub-culture like hardcore leather or bears, some attract those into a specific fetish like sniffing sullied underwear, and others draw gents interested in kinky Japanese rape porn. Varying in size from a cruise ship cabin to a New York City studio, few could hold more than a dozen people at a time. Instant membership is impossible. Personal friendship with a member or the bartender determines the right to enter, but local attitudes preclude most foreigners from ever sampling the full palette of esoteric flavors. Some local terms include: gai-sen for Japanese who prefer foreigners (aka "potato queen"); debu-sen (chubbie chaser); and fuke-sen (lover of older man).
Bathhouses and cruise clubs operate differently too. The 24 Kaikan saunas are the more foreigner-friendly options, but several of the cruise clubs will admit only 18-30 year olds, or maybe a 40-something in very good shape -- even then screening out those with long hair (buzz cut preferred) or deemed not masculine enough.
What some call the xenophobia of the Japanese, is also a kind of modesty around outsiders, and a desire to avoid being judged by alien standards. A examination of differences between the cultures appears in the Utopia website: "Some straight sports clubs make a good deal of money by selling amateur erotic videos of their freshmen members being initiated at nude drinking parties." Try that most anywhere in the USA, if you dare. But, as Utopia continues: "traditions of same-sex love and cults of youthful male beauty flourished for centuries, ... public parks... have been cruising spots for hundreds of years, and guidebooks devoted to homosexual pleasures (were) published in the 1760's!"
See under Going Out below, and our map & listings page for more locations and website links for the most accessible places to check out; also listen for other word-of-mouth events that crop up almost nightly, and explore the parks and nooks among the street of Shinjuku Ni-Chrome. Tokyo Rainbow Pride takes place in April. For some photos see the Tokyo Fashion Flickr page.
The major gateway to Japan is Tokyo's Narita Airport, about 50 miles northeast of the city. Most domestic flights land at Haneda Airport. Buses and trains, and the Haneda Express monorail will whisk you downtown.
The subway is the most convenient way to get around Tokyo, although it can get very crowded at rush hour. The subways, buses, trams, monorails, and suburban railway lines are operated by several different companies. Some of these include: Tokyo Metro with nine metro lines; the Tokyo Monorail; and the Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation with four Toei subway lines, plus bus and tram services. For the Shinjuku Ni-Chome gay district get off at the Shinjuku Station east exit or the Shinjuku Sanchome Station (Marunouichi Line) exits C5, C7, or C8.
Taxis are an option that were considered expensive in the past, but prices have come down lately, and the white glove treatment is a startling contrast to a cabbie experience in the West. Most drivers don’t speak English however, so having a cell phone will allow a Japanese-speaker at the other end of your journey to give directions to your driver. Local addresses are difficult for visitors, so if you don't have the cell phone, have the address in print, or try giving a nearby landmark as a destination, and walk the last bit.
To get beyond Tokyo on public transportation, see the website of JapanGuide
Currency and Money
The yen is the local currency. Many ATMs do not accept cards issued outside Japan. The exceptions are those in post offices and in some foreign convenience stores. Check with your local bank before leaving for information about possible partner banks here.
Media and resources
Utopia, the English-language guide to gay Asia, has good coverage of Tokyo and elsewhere in Japan, with maps and listings for all the gay businesses.
Travel Gay Asia has listings for SE Asia, Thailand, China, Indonesia and Sydney Australia, with good coverage of Tokyo and Osaka in Japan.
Bento is another English-language guide to eating, drinking and exploring in Tokyo and Yokohama, as well as Kyoto and Osaka/Kobe - with gay listings too. Tokyo Fashion online magazine is devoted to clothing, accessories and style - including gay style and with photos from recent Pride events.
For a look at, though not an easy read about local lifestyles, several gay magazines are published each month, in Japanese only. They can be quite large - up to 350 pages or so, filled with articles, fictional stories, photos and manga. These include: Badi covering the youth market, with fashion, health and relationship articles, community news and event listings; G-Men, catering to gay macho, bear and muscle interests; and Samson, specializing in older, chubby guys, businessmen in suits, and occasionally also fundoshi --those attired in the Japanese loincloth.
Barazoku, Japan's first gay magazine (from 1971), is no longer published, but other websites such as Japanese Gay Art display images from the 400 issues that were published, for historical and archival purposes. Also see a 2003 article on Yaoi, in the Guide Magazine archives, by Mark McHarry.
Rainbow Events organises LGBT-friendly events and parties in Tokyo. The Tokyo Pink Bar Crawl provides an easy way to scout out many of the bars and clubs of this city; meet at 7pm at Shinjuku Sanchome Station.
The Tokyo Tourism site has tips on places to visit, events, accommodations, restaurants and more.
Tokyo has for years been known as the city with the world's most 3-star Michelin-rated restaurants. See reviews of 556 Tokyo eating establishments and more in Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nara, at the Michelin Guide website. Time Out Tokyo magazine's sixth issue of 'Cheap eats' is a 12-page budget-friendly guide to Tokyo restaurants, published in December 2015.
The boys of Shinjuku: Is Tokyo's gay district doomed? an article in Britain's The Independent, examines the history, and looks to the future of the Shinjuku gay district.
For our full list of bars, saunas, hotels and other information of gay interest, with locations and websites, see our gay Tokyo map & listings page.
Adezakura (2-15-11 Shinjuku 1F), women-only bar until 2am, open every night from 8 or 9pm until 6 or 7am the next morning; cheap drinks, no cover charge.
AiiRO Café (7th Tenka Bldg 1F, 2-18-1, Shinjuku Ni-Chome), open-air seating on busy gay corner, diverse and international gay mix. The former Advocates Café.
Alamas Café (1F Garnet Bldg, 2-12-1 Shinjuku), gay-popular cafe/bar and restaurant nightly from 6pm, open all night on weekends until 5am, DJ sets, dinner specials.
ArcH (Casa Verde Bldg B1F, 2-11-2 Shinjuku), mixed crowd dance club, good sound/lights, drag shows, men-only Saturdays, resident DJs.
Arty Farty /Annex (2F 33 Kyutei Bldg, 2-11-7, Shinjuku), international mix, English-speakers, dance club and bar.
Ashura Bar (Nakae Bldg, 4F, 2-15-13 Shinjuku), gay karaoke bar, foreigner-friendly crowd, English spoken, cheap drinks.
Bar and (2F Kobayashi Bldg, 2-11-10, Shinjuku), 8pm-5am men's bar/cafe; from Aisotope & Alamas Cafe folks.
Bar Kabuto (7-44-1 Nishikamata 4F, Ota-ku/ Kamata), men-only karaoke bar, international mix, English spoken.
Boiler Room (2-7-3 Shinjuku, B1-01, Shinjuku, Kantō), Monday-Saturday men-only underwear cruise bar, Sunday T-dances.
Campy! Bar (2-13-10 Shinjuku), gay/mixed bar, drag scene/ entertainment
Club Dragon (Stork Nagasaki Bldg, 2-11-4 Shinjuku), gay-favorite men's party bar, foreigners and friends, 6pm-3am, dance floor dark room, cheap drinks.
CoCoLo Cafe (Hayakawa-ya Bldg, 2-14-6 Shinjuku), gay-friendly Shinjuku art cafe, lunch and dinner specials, Japanese and Western meals, sandwiches, desserts, teas and coffees; all-night snacks until 7am on Fridays and Saturdays.
Conflictable Cube Art Space /Bar (2-5-5 Toride Shinmachi, ARTOS 1F, TIbaraki Prefecture), Wednesday-Sunday art gallery space, LGBT/alternative bar/cafe, DJs.
Dock (B1 Dai-2 Seiko Bldg, 2-18-5, Shinjuku), dark, cruise/play space, DJs, naked & theme nights, until 4am.
Dragon Men (Stork Nagasaki Building 1F, 2-11-4 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku), gay cruise bar, expats, foreigners and local admirers, indoor and outdoor areas.
Fuji (B104 St Four Bldg, 2-12-16, Shinjuku), small karaoke bar, mature foreigners and their Japanese admirers; may have closed.
GB Video Bar (B1F Shinjuku Plaza Bldg, 2-12-3, Shinjuku), men's video bar, expats and their admirers, professionals/artists, English-spoken.
Glamorous (various venues), big gay party every other month or so, mixed/ straight-friendly crowd, theme events.
Gold Finger (2-12-11 Shinjuku), karaoke and tapas bar, DJs, theme nights, local and foreign gay mix; 3rd Saturday women-only.
Gossip Cafe/Bar (Phil Park 2F B,5-46-15 Jingu-mae, Shibuya), gay cafe/bar, book store; quiche, falafel, pasta/rice, sweets, WiFi.
Islands (Imai, 3F, 3-11-1, Shinjuku), tiny karaoke bar, 150,000 tracks, 20-30s men. Foreigners enter only with Japanese friend.
Kéivi (4F Yoshino Bldg, 17-10 Sakuragaoka-cho, Shibuya), Chinese-theme pop music bar, bingo games, free snacks.
Kinsmen (2F Homebase Bldg, 2-18-5, Shinjuku), upscale cocktail lounge, mixed crowd.
Leo Lounge (2-14-16, Shinjuku), casual and relaxed International gay men's bar, bears and friends. The former Gate at a new location.
Shibuya 246 (4F Shimizu Bldg, 2-7-4, Dogenzaka), gay-owned wine/whiskey cocktail bar; WiFi.
Tac's Knot (2F, Room 202, 3-11-12, Shinjuku), traditional gay bar, art shows, writers, culture fans.
See the Vita Entertainment group pages for more parties around town.
CLOSED: DNA (1F, Musashino Bldg, 2-13-14, Shinjuku), cafe/bar, early/late cocktails; Kusuo (3F Sunflower Bldg, 2-17-1, Shinjuku), karaoke, dance floor, foreigner-friendlY.
See more bars and restaurants at our map & listings pages.
24 Kaikan Sauna Asakusa (2-29-16 Taitoku, Asakusa), older crowd, tatoos, foreigners welcome, fun/kinky cruising.
24 Kaikan Sauna Shinjuku (2-13-1 Shinjuku), foreigner-friendly, gay-central, hot young mix, sleep-overs.
HX (2-13-1, Shinjuku), young to middle-age masculine guys, busy after-hours.
Jinya (2-30-19 Toshima-ku, Ikebukuro) small foreigner-friendly sauna, rooftop nude sunning.
Cruise/ Sex Clubs
BodyBreath (Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, 5-2-1 Shinjuku), 24-hour international men's naked/underwear cruise club for those ages 18-40 (older subject to manager's approval); theme nights; lockers, showers, cruising areas, private rooms.
Gate In (Chuo-ku Yaesu 1-7-10, Nihonbashi), cruise club, showers, lockers, naked events; also 18-40 year-old men only, naked events.
MEAT (1-13-4 Shinjuku), men’s cruise club for short-haired masculine men 20s-30s only, play rooms on 4 levels; lockers, showers, dark zone and private cabins, underwear and other theme nights.
Treff (4F, Fukutomi Bldg, 2-13-14 Akasaka, Minatoku), busy sex club 12-11pm, nude weekends, foreigners/locals, discounts for 18-22 year-olds, theme nights.
Male escorts, ages 18-29, offer their services at King of College (2F Sakagami Bldg, 2-14-5 Shinjuku), with photos and pertinent vital statistics online. Browse/ meet the guys over drinks at their site next to ArcH bar, 4pm-1am nightly; rent a private room, or take him or them out with you. You can also arrange for a hotel or home address delivery.