The capital of Japan since 1869, the Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with 39 million residents and 23 special wards, each governed as an individual city. Known then as Edo, the ruling Shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu made it his headquarters in 1603.
The 1923 earthquake and World War II destroyed most older buildings, so modern and contemporary architecture dominates an increasingly high-rise skyline. Tokyo Skytree, on completion in 2012, was the world's second tallest structure.
A fast-forward capital city and top-rank economic powerhouse, Tokyo provides a niche for all flavors of life, imbuing every day with a wow factor that makes you feel you've arrived in an alternative universe. One of the more expensive cities for expatriates, it ranks high among those considered the Most Liveable, and the Michelin Guide has awarded Tokyo by far the most stars of any city in the world. The 2019 Rugby World Cup, and the 2020 Summer Olympics are upcoming mega-events here.
Shinjuku, established in 1698 as one of four gateways into Tokyo is the heart of today's gayborhood. The world-famous Advocates Café, now called AiiRO Café, is still an unofficial center of the gay scene for visitors. In a society in which foreigners can be viewed with a certain wariness, Advocates was a pioneer in being open to locals and foreigners alike. This early-evening loud and chaotic watering hole on a busy gay corner, packs the street like a small pride parade, as smiling visitors toast Tokyo’s idiosyncrasies and eager Japanese boys eye up the Westerners, and each other.
There is certainly plenty of fun around for everyone, and some places, such as Arty Farty, Ashura, Dragon, GB, and Kinsmen, are more open to visitors, English-speakers in particular. Also foreigner-friendly are Eagle Tokyo and Leo, men-only bears' bars, plus Adezakura and Gold Finger, two nightly women-only clubs. The latter sponsors a monthly dance party at Aisotope, (which hosts mixed or men-only theme parties on other nights).
The whole scene is much larger, but mostly invisible to tourists. Narrow, stacked buildings above busy storefronts and cafes resemble a series of beehives. Inside are vertical assemblies of tiny establishments, stacked one on top of another, amounting to over 200 individual gay bars, shops, and other businesses in a five-square-block area.
Strict members-only entrance policies apply at many boutique bars - some catering 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 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 often determines the right to enter, but local attitudes preclude most foreigners ever getting to sample 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 - at managers' discretion.
What some call Japanese xenophobia, can be seen as a kind of modesty around outsiders - a desire to avoid being judged by alien standards. A examination of cultural differences 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 1760s!"
An important, albeit controversial figure in recent Japanese gay history, Yukio Mishima, is recognized as one of the most important post-war stylists of the Japanese language. Mishima wrote 34 novels, about 50 plays, 25 books of short stories and at least 35 books of essays, a libretto, as well as one film. His Confessions of a Mask and Forbidden Colors both deal with homosexuality and finding oneself at odds with social norms.
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/May. For some photos of previous events 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 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. Since most drivers don’t speak English, having a cell phone will allow a Japanese-speaker at the other end of your journey to give directions to your driver. Addresses may be difficult for visitors, so have the address in print, or give a nearby landmark as the 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.
Japan Visitor, a general guide to the country in English, has sections on Tokyo, and specifically Gay Tokyo, with bar, hotel and sauna listings, plus maps. Japan-Guide has useful listings for top Tokyo attractions.
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 local lifestyles, there are several monthly gay magazines published in Japanese. They can be quite large - up to 350 pages or so, 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/ archival purposes. NipponDanji, a new bear-oriented free magazine with an international outlook, mixes Japanese and English.
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.
iFlyer has English language club events listings of all kinds.
Tokyo has for years been known as the city with the world's most 3-star Michelin-rated restaurants, along with 217 more one and two-star establishments, for a total of 230 (compared to 203 in Paris). See the Michelin Guide reviews of 484 Tokyo restaurants, plus more in Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, and Nara. Also see Time Out Tokyo magazine's 20th issue "Eating Tokyo" and their 6th Cheap Eats 12-page budget-friendly guide to Tokyo restaurants - order print editions from their website, or download a free pdf copy.
The boys of Shinjuku: Is Tokyo's gay district doomed? an article in Britain's The Independent, examines the history of the Shinjuku gay district, and looks ahead to its future.
The Homosexuality in Japan Wikipedia page has some interesting history on the subject.
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 (2-18-1, Shinjuku Ni-Chome, 7 Tenka Bldg 1F), open-air seating on busy gay corner, diverse and international gay mix. The former Advocates Café.
Alamas Café (2-12-1 Shinjuku, Garnet Bldg 1F), gay-popular cafe/bar and restaurant nightly from 6pm, open all night on weekends until 5am, DJ sets, dinner specials.
Amigo Bar (5-7-10 Higashi Ueno, 3F, Taito-ku), 'la casa de oso' Spanish/Japanese bears' music and karaoke bar, open nightly until midnight (except Thursdays).
Arty Farty /Annex (2-11-7, Shinjuku, 33 Kyutei Bldg 2F), international mix, English-speakers, dance club and bar.
Ashura Bar (2-15-13 Shinjuku, Nakae Bldg 4F), gay karaoke bar, foreigner-friendly crowd, English spoken, cheap drinks.
Bar Blacknude (2-15-12 Shinjuku, 1/F), small, gay/mixed karaoke bar, topless/harnessed muscular bartenders, foreigner-friendly vibe.
Bar Kabuto (7-44-1 Nishikamata 4F, Ota-ku/ Kamata), men-only karaoke bar, international mix, English spoken.
Bar Prop (2-4-9 Shinjuku, Nakae Bldg, B1), 8pm-2am new Shinjuku gay cafe/bar, drinks specials, bears.
Campy! Bar (2-13-10 Shinjuku), gay/mixed bar, resident diva drag scene/ entertaiment.
CoCoLo Cafe (2-14-6 Shinjuku, Hayakawa-ya Bldg), 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.
Dragon Men (2-11-4 Shinjuku, Stork Nagasaki Bldg 1F, Shinjuku-ku), 6pm-3am gay cruise bar, expats, foreigners and local admirers, indoor and outdoor areas; dance floor dark room, cheap drinks.
Eagle Tokyo (2-12-3 Shinjuku), nightly from 6pm international bear-friendly bar; “Brooklyn lounge” conversation and chill-out music.
GB Video Bar (2-12-3, Shinjuku, Shinjuku Plaza Bldg, B1F), 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 (5-46-15 Jingu-mae, Phil Park 2F B, Shibuya), gay cafe/bar, book store; quiche, falafel, pasta/rice, sweets, WiFi.
Home (Dogenzaka1-11-1, Dai2-Ohban Bldg 403, Shibuya-ku), friendly mixed bar, gay/straight, men/women, foreigners and locals; late Saturdays until 5am.
Islands (3-11-1, Shinjuku, Imai 3F), tiny karaoke bar, 150,000 tracks, 20-30s men. Foreigners enter only with Japanese friend.
J’s Bar (2 Chome-11 Shinjuku), cross-dressers/ transexuals, karaoke, all-you-can-drink deals.
Kéivi (17-10 Sakuragaoka-cho, Yoshino Bldg 4F, Shibuya), Chinese-theme pop music bar, bingo games, free snacks.
Kinsmen (2-18-5, Shinjuku, Homebase Bldg 2F), upscale cocktail lounge, mixed crowd.
Kitsune Dining & Bar (2-20-13 Higashi Shibuya-ku), gay-friendly Japanese restaurant/ sushi bar, French influences; sakes.
Kumpel Bar (2-15-12 Shinjuku, Takamine Bldg 5F), small, friendly, international/ smoke-free bar, reasonable drinks prices.
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 (2-7-4, Dogenzaka, Shimizu Bldg 4F), gay-owned wine/whiskey cocktail bar; WiFi.
Tac's Knot (3-11-12, Shinjuku, 2F Room 202), traditional gay bar, art shows, writers, culture fans.
VITA at DAIA (渋谷, Fontis Bldg, Shibuya-ku), Club Asia (Maruyamachō, 1-1-８), and other venues; six times or so a year "arty/ joy/ living beyond frameworks of gender/ sexuality" dance and pool parties. New Music/Energy, all genders/ sexualities welcome. Guest DJs, go-go boys. Big Pride event.
CLOSED: ArcH (2-11-2 Shinjuku), mixed dance club, DJs, drag shows, men-only Saturdays; DNA (1F, Musashino Bldg, 2-13-14, Shinjuku), cafe/bar, early/late cocktails; Dock (2-18-5, Shinjuku), dark, cruise/play space, DJs, naked nights; 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), 24-hour dry and steam saunas, older crowd, tatoos, foreigners welcome, fun/kinky cruising.
24 Kaikan Sauna Shinjuku (2-13-1 Shinjuku), 24-hour foreigner-friendly, gay-central steam and dry saunas on eight floors, hot young mix, busy showers, roof-top tanning beds, sleep-over rooms.
24 Kaikan Sauna Ueno (1-８-７ Kitaueno, Taitō-ku), 24-hour dry and steam saunas, gym, restaurant and bar, communal bath, private rooms, videos; big guys/bears.
Jinya (2-30-19 Toshima-ku, Ikebukuro), small 24-hour foreigner-friendly sauna, play areas, video room, rooftop terrace nude sunning.
Cruise/ Sex Clubs
BodyBreath (5-2-1 Shinjuku, Kosei Nenkin Kaikan), 24-hour international men's naked/underwear cruise club for those ages 18-40 with short hair (older subject to manager's approval); theme nights; lockers, showers, cruising areas, private rooms.
Boiler Room (2-7-10 Shinjuku-ku), Friday-Saturday men-only underwear cruise bar, DJs, go-go boys, dark room, "male juice spiritual assembly." Hunks' Party 3rd Saturdays, see Twitter. Also shared events with D-Light (2-chōme-7 Shinjuku) who also offer Banana Saturday men's nights.
Cave (3-39-7 Higashi-Ueno, Taito-ku), "GMPD guys-only," bears, musclular/solid masculine, short hair men; maze, private cabins, dark room, free WiFi, open 24-hours on weekends.
Do-Ran (1-21 Shinjuku 1-Chome), men's cruise/ fetish bar, underwear, masks, collars, showers, dark room and play area.
Gate In (1-7-10 Chuo-ku Yaesu, Nihonbashi), cruise club, showers, lockers, naked events; also 18-40 year-old men only, naked events.
GB-Hunks (2-29-6 Nakano, Rikamu-8 Bldg, 4F, Nakano-ku), ages 20+ short-haired masculine/ muscular men's cruise club, dark room, maze, cabins, showers; fantasy/role-play fetish nights.
Glory Hole Bar (2-2-4 Ueno, Taito-ku), men-only cruise bar for BJ-lovers ages 20 and over; dark room, glory holes, lockers, all types of guys.
Haaard (4-14-10 Higashi-Ueno, Taito-ku), cruise club and gym for muscular men ages 18-49, lounge, smoking area, private rooms, showers.
King of College (2-14-5 Shinjuku, Sakagami Bldg 2F), meet guys over drinks at their site next to ArcH bar, 4pm-1am nightly; rent a private room, go out or meet at hotel or home address.
Masquerade (3-13-3 Takadanobaba, 202, Shinjuku-ku), basic cruise club for men, free condoms/lotion, WiFi; entry discounts for guys with over 16cm and fluorescent wrist bands for "sucking freaks."
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.
O'cean (2-14-14 Shinjuku), Thai-style gay host and music bar, massage services, go-go boys, karaoke, free WiFi.
Suck’d Glory (3-32-10 Nakano, Ayabe Bldg 4F, Nakano-ku), cruising for cock sucking cum lovers, fetishists, nipple maniacs, wankers, muscle worshippers, electric stimulators, foot lickers, body piercers, tattoo lovers, exhibitionists, and underwear enthusiasts; glory holes, hot towels, free soft drinks and WiFi.
Top Boy (near Shinjuku Sanchome Station), men's relaxation spa, open daily, private rooms, erotic massage services, showers, outcalls.
Volcano (1 Chome-20-26 Hyakunincho, Shinjuku), daily 24-hour gay cruising, dark room, maze, showers, cabins; muscle guys, age 40 and younger.
CLOSED: Treff (2-13-14 Akasaka, Fukutomi Bldg 4F, Minatoku), busy sex club, nude weekends, foreigners and locals.