Discovering Gay Tokyo

by Allister Chang

According to Shintaro, the first geishas were actually male. “Women were not allowed on the battlefield,” Shintaro explained, “so shoguns brought young beautiful boys with them for entertainment.”

Written by Allister Chang • Images by Cassidy DuHon Photography

GUIDED TOURS

If you don’t speak Japanese, and you don’t plan to have a cellular data plan in Tokyo for Google Maps and translations, we recommend hiring a guide. Out Asia Travel’s (www.outasiatravel.com) customized trips and personal guides will not only help with navigation and translation, but open access to some of the most unique gay bars in the city. Many gay bars, like the gay whisky bar Uncle Uncool (www.uncleuncool2cho.wixsite.com/the-lounge), specifically ask customers who do not speak Japanese to “refrain from entering.” Others are “members only.” For the most part, that means that they want to keep the vibe and style consis- tent, with guests that generally know each other and get along. To get in, you’ll need an introduction, and your guide from Out Asia Travel can help with that. Shintaro Koizumi, the president of Out Asia Travel, was recent- ly awarded “Ambassador of the Year” by the International Gay and Les- bian Travel Association (IGLTA).

Arigato Japan (www.arigatojapan.co.jp) offers group and private food-focused walking tours in English. Their Tsukiji Fish Market (www.tsukiji-market.or.jp/tukiji_e.htm) tour, for example, helps you avoid congregating helplessly in the outer market with other tourists. Heading into the inner market itself, guidance on proper fishmonger etiquette is not only helpful for purposes of cultural diplomacy, but also for personal safety. “This is the only place in Tokyo that I don’t feel 100% safe,” our guide Lauren warned us. “The Turret trucks will not stop for you. Follow me.”

—Allister Chang

discovering gay tokyo resources

ACCOMMODATIONS

HOSHINOYA Tokyo, 1-9-1 Otemachi, Chiyoda-ku. The only luxury ryokan in Tokyo. Rooftop salt-water natural hot spring, basement French fusion restaurant. Rooms start just over $650. per room, per night. www.hoshinoyatokyo.com

The Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho, 1-2 Kioi-cho, Chiyoda-ku. New, modern hotel with an amazing spa, hopping bar, endless views, and new tech gadgets. The hotel opened last July and is a member of SPG’s Luxury Collection. Rooms start just over $450. per night. www.princehotels.com/en/kioicho

Shinjuku Prince Hotel 1-30-1 Kabuki-cho, Shinjukuku. Budget hotel with a great location, right by the Shinjuku gayborhood. Guest rooms start at $129. per night. www.princehotels.com/shinjuku/

Trunk Hotel, 5-31 Jinguumae Shibuya-ku. Opened May 2017, with a concept focused on “socializing” and “localization.” Trunk hosts the Out in Japan photo series. Rooms start just over $270. per night. www.trunk-hotel.com

GAY VENUES

AiSOTOPE Lounge, 2-12-16 Shinjuku, Shinjukuku. Dance club and drag performance venue. Twitter: @aisotope_lounge

Bar Goldfinger, 2-12-11 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Host of Tokyo’s largest lesbian parties. Women only on Saturdays. Accessible ground-floor location. www.goldfingerparty.com

Bridge, 6F, Sensho Bldg., 2-13-16, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Cozy gay bar with quiet outdoor patio. Few foreigners. Twitter: @gaybarbridge.

Eagle Tokyo, 2-12-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Ground-floor gay bar with an international crowd. Divey. www.eagletokyo.com

Good Aging Yells, a Tokyo-based non-profit organization that organizes a range of programs for the LGBT community such as “Work with Pride,” an annual conference on workplace equality and equality index. Good Aging Yells has also just announced a new program to be unveiled in 2020 called Pride House Tokyo, pop-up information centers that promote the understanding of LGBT and other sexual minorities and serve as spaces that welcome LGBT athletes, their allies, families, and fans. www.goodagingyells.net

Le Quine Guine, 5-10-5, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Members only. Hire a guide or make a friend who knows the owner to get in.

Out in Japan is an LGBT photo project that aims to collect 10,000 LGBT portraits by 2020. www.outinjapan.com

Tokyo Rainbow Pride is scheduled for May 5-6, 2018, with a preceding week of events called “Rainbow Week.” Activities include a parade, parties, lectures, exhibitions, and workshops. www.tokyorainbowpride.com

Usagi, 4F Ebina Bldg., 2-10-2, Shinjuku. Gay sake bar with fewer than ten seats. The owner stocks exclusive sakes like “Le K Voyage,” and changes the plants on the outdoor patio 6 times a year. Closed Mondays. usagigasu45gasu@gmail.com

Chef Noriyuki Hamada, HOSHINOYA Tokyo

Chef Noriyuki Hamada, HOSHINOYA Tokyo

RESTAURANTS

Irodori, 2-14-17 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku. Thai fusion restaurant serving dinner. Owned by Fumino, the Co-Director of Tokyo Rainbow Pride. Host for many LGBT parties, and downstairs from the LGBT community center called “Colorful Station.”

Kanva, 3-8-5 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku. Gay-owned restaurant serving food from the Tanba region of Japan, such as miso-marinated fried chicken and Tanba yamabuki egg. The owner has asked all customers to be accompanied by at least one Japanese speaker or to book through an Out Asia Travel tour.

Kosoan, 1-24-23, Jiyugaoka, Meguro-ku. A classic tea house with tatami mats and an immaculate garden courtyard. www.kosoan.co.jp

Revive Kitchen THREE Aoyama, Three Aoyama 2F, 3-12-13 Kita-aoyama, Minato-ku. Gluten-free meals with cold-pressed juices for the skinny girls. www.aoyama.threecosmetics.com/dining-menu

Teyandei, 2-20-1 Nishiazabu, Minato-ku. A modern take on the traditional Okinawan Lizakaya. Though Teyandei has nine locations around Tokyo, you’ll need to book in advance to get a seat. www.teyandei.com

Yakitori Miyashin, Tokyo Ginza corridor-gai 2F, 7-2, Ginza, Chuo-ku. Skewered meat and vegetables grilled over a charcoal fire in this bustling and old-fashioned yakitori joint. They source their meat directly from farmers in Fukushima, and use the whole chicken. Just two spices are used: salt and yakitori tare (sweet soy sauce).

Yakumo Saryo, 3-4-7 Yakumo, Meguro-ku. Multicourse kaiseki reimagined by the genius of Shinichiro Oata. www.yakumosaryo.jp

YONA YONA BEER WORKS, TOKYU PLAZA AKASAKA 2F, 2-14-3 Nagatacho, Chiyoda-ku. Relaxed spot for craft beer and Japanese bar food. I recommend making a reservation for the “fully private room” at the Akasaka location, which has its own in-room beer tap. www.yonayonabeerworks.com/akasaka

Yakitori Miyashin

Yakitori Miyashin

ART & CULTURE

Eitaro, the male geisha. Book Eitaro to perform for your own private event by e-mailing mariko@geisha-matsunoya.com. He will make a reservation for a private room at a traditional kaiseki restaurant, then spend the evening with you, along with one of his English-speaking colleagues (all female). They will perform traditional, seasonal songs and lead you in a variety of games between courses. www.vin-de.sakura.ne.jp

Ken Nakahashi Gallery, 3-1-32, 5F, Shinjuku-ku. Gay-owned independent gallery featuring contemporary paintings, installations, and photographs. www.kennakahashi.net

Nezu Museum, 6-5-1 Minami-aoyama, Minato-ku. Premodern East Asian art. Seeing the architecture of the building alone is worth a trip. www.nezu-muse.or.jp

Salon de Shintaro, 8-6-24 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Like many other geisha lounges in Tokyo, the Salon de Shintaro is “members only.” Passport readers may gain admittance into Salon de Shintaro if you make a booking in advance with Monika (hideka.nakamura@gmail.com) and cite the magazine. www.shintaro.me

WORK OUT

Harajuku Gold’s Gym, 6-31-17 Jingumae. The city’s most popular gym for gay men. www.goldsgym.com/harajukutokyojp

Tom Yoga, yoga instructor. Tom is gay and he teaches yoga classes in English. Book him for a private class via info@tomyoga.namaste.jp, or join him at one of his studios (schedule on his website). tomyoga.namaste.jp

INFORMATION

GOTOKYO.ORG provides information for travelers visiting Tokyo in multiple languages, including English, French, and German. Their “Tokyo by Seasons” section shares information about cherry blossoms, fireworks, and seasonal delicacies. We recommend that you reference their website before you go for more information on transportation (including information on how to get to Tokyo’s surrounding islands), and to see what events and festivals may be happening during your visit. GoTokyo.org is an initiative sponsored by the Tokyo Convention and Visitors Bureau. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has created a new logo and slogan, “Tokyo Tokyo Old meets New” “Old meets New” highlights how “traditions dating back to the Edo period coexist alongside the cutting edge culture of today.” www.tokyotokyo.jp

TOKYO LOGISTICS

View of Tokyo from Helicopter

View of Tokyo from Helicopter

To get to Shinjuku Ni-chome from Narita International Airport, I recommend taking Narita Express (www.jreast.co.jp/e/nex/index.html). This train takes you straight to Shibuya/Shinjuku for around $29. There are luggage racks aboard (with locks) and Wi-Fi for the hour-and-a-half trip. Keep your ticket available, you’ll need it to exit the busy station. You can also take the heavily advertised Keisei Syliner (www.keisei.co.jp), which will not take you to Shinjuku, but is great if you’re going to Ueno or Nippori Station (it is by far the fastest route) and costs about $22. To Shinjuku, you’ll then need to transfer to JR Yamanote line. Other options include the limousine buses (www.limousinebus.co.jp) that are nice, but take longer. Their advantage is that they make drop-offs all over the city (taking you to the doorstep of your hotel or rental). Taxis are readily available at the designated stands, but make sure to have your destination’s address in both English and Japanese to present to the driver (I also found pinning the location on Google Maps to be very helpful). If your hotel has a landline, be sure to write that number down too, a taxi’s GPS can locate places by their phone numbers as well. Uber is also available throughout Tokyo, but only as Uber Black. Cabs are already extremely expensive in the city, and Uber Black will add a few hundred more yen to your tab. You can also order a cab with the app JapanTaxi, which will alert drivers to your location, and you can pay with either credit or cash.

—Allister Chang

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