Gay Vacations in Tokyo, Japan

Aerial view of the Tokyo Tower and surrounding downtown at night in Tokyo, Japan
The Tokyo Tower and surrounding urban landscape at night (Allan Baxter/Digital Vision/Getty)

Tokyo Highlights

  • Head to city hall. In a city full of high points, Tokyo city hall's 800-foot-tall TMG no. 1 building offers the best view. You'll see incredible vistas of the city, and even Mount Fuji is visible on a clear day. It's conveniently located in the gay area of Shinjuku.
  • Don't rely on addresses. Tokyo's street addresses are notoriously confusing or even non-existent. It's best to have your concierge or a local friend draw a map or write down the name of the place in Japanese characters.
  • Summer is a good time to visit Tokyo. Although it's also the rainy season, the showers are never that bad, and the city is more empty than normal as it's when residents go on holiday.

No city is more modern or crowded than Tokyo, where nearly a quarter of Japan's total population lives within commuting distance. Some call it ugly and congested, but most travelers find it futuristically fascinating—a glimpse of the world to come.

The city's ultra-modern atmosphere doesn't necessarily translate to the most open gay scene, though. Despite the country's long tradition of samurai homosexuality and onnagata (men who play women's roles in the all-male world of kabuki theater), gays are not as out in Japan as in Europe, but perhaps more so than in other parts of Asia. Japan is an insular culture, and most gay bars don't let foreigners in, especially if you don't speak some Japanese. It's best to bring a local friend with you if you hope to get in. (Most gay and lesbian bars are also sexually segregated between male and female.) Tokyo's gay scene is centered in the narrow streets of the Shinjuku Ni-chome area, with more than 200 small, tucked-away gay bars and plenty of LGBT bookstores, cafes, discos, saunas, and by-the-hour "love hotels." There are also a lot of gay establishments in the riverside Asakusa neighborhood, where you'll even find bars that have fundoshi loincloth dress codes! If you're planning LGBT travel, some events to consider are the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in June, and Tokyo's gay pride celebration in August.

Other attractions include swanky Ginza (Tokyo's Fifth Avenue), the Sensoji Temple (Tokyo's oldest and most popular shrine, dating back to 628 A.D.), and the Imperial Palace. Sushi lovers must visit the Tsukiji Fish Market—the largest in Japan and one of the biggest in the world. A more somber site is the Japan Defense Agency headquarters, where Japan's most famous gay of all time, poet Yukio Mishima, killed himself in front of an audience in 1970. Another attraction is Tokyo Disneyland and its one-of-a-kind DisneySea, a theme park based on ocean legends and myths, which offers seven distinct "ports of call."

Published: 23 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 29 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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