Tokyo is a city of extremes; and the city’s gay district- Ni-Chome- is no exception. Housing the world’s highest concentration of gay bars; Ni-Chome is an area of the Shinjuku district known as one of Tokyo’s loudest and most crowded wards.
The area emerged as a hub of gay culture during the American occupation of Japan in the wake of the second world war. The closure of Tokyo’s red-light districts contributed to the birth of Ni-Chome’s gay scene, which saw a number of gay bars publically open during the 1950s, and, as early as 1948 there was mention of a Shinjuku gay teashop.
During the end of the 20th century, Ni-Chome’s identity as a gay district grew as it played host to a number of significant events contributing to the advancement of LGBT rights in Japan including the opening of a counselling room for gay men, the first AIDS candlelight vigil, the first Tokyo international lesbian and gay film festival and Japan’s first pride parade in 1994, and today Ni-Chome is still a symbol of growing respect for LGBT people in Japan.
Now home to a number of gay clubs, bars, cruising spots and adult shops; Ni-Chome’s gay scene is as diverse and exciting as any other day district and it’s excellent public transport connections to the rest of Tokyo make it an utterly unmissable destination for any gay traveler.
When it comes to staying in or near Ni-Chome, location is everything. The nature of the venues that make Ni-Chome so popular means that travelers can expect a few late nights whilst exploring this district, so having nearby, gay-friendly accommodation is essential.
Just minutes from the heart of Ni-Chome’s gay nightlife is the APA Shinjuku-Gyoemmae Hotel. The hotel, complete with its own restaurant and spa is also only minutes away from the 24 Kaikan Shinjuku gay sauna. The APA Shinjuku-Gyoemmae Hotel is gay friendly and a consistently popular choice with LGBT travelers.
Named after and located in the recently built high-rise- Gracery Shinjuku; the Gracery Shinjuku hotel offers convenient and compact rooms for extremely affordable prices. The hotel has its own coffee shop with terrace but there is a multitude of dining and drinking opportunities in the nearby areas of Shinjuku and the Kabuki Red Light district. Gracery Shinjuku is only a 10-minute walk away from Ni-Chomes thriving gay nightlife.
For travelers looking to experience Ni-Chome in extra luxury; the Park Hyatt Tokyo may be the perfect choice. Occupying the top 14-floors of the jaw-dropping 52-floor Shinjuku Park Tower, the Park Hyatt offers guests breathtaking views of the Tokyo skyline and Mount Fuji. A range of original artworks decorate the opulently styled rooms and guests can make full use of the 24-hour gym and pool.
The nightlife in the Ni-Chome gay scene is a big part of what makes the district famous throughout Japan. The noise and colours of the Ni-Chome district at night can be overwhelming at first, but the area is a bountiful hub of gay bars, clubs and parties.
One of the larger and more noticeable clubs in Ni-Chome is AiiSOTOPE Lounge; a gay Tokyo staple, spread over two dance floors. A range of gay parties and themed event nights including drag shows take place at the club, which permits cruising, but schedules change weekly so check what’s on before attending. The club is only a 3-minute walk from the nearest train station and is open until late on most nights.
Often featuring performances by world-renowned DJs and artists; VITA Tokyo is also host to many of the city’s best-attended gay nights and parties. The club, which even throws occasional pool parties, is a must-visit for gay travelers in Ni-Chome.
If you’re looking for a woman run, inclusive and diverse clubbing experience then Waifu is for you. Initiated with the goal of bringing Tokyo’s LGBT population together in one space; Waifu plays a mix of house and techno as well as performances by local DJs and artists. Upcoming events are advertised on the Waifu Facebook page.
Many of the restaurants, bars and cafes that give Ni-Chome’s gay scene its bustling character are ran and frequented by LGBT people. The area offers a range of cuisines and dining experiences that will excite any traveler.
Alamas Cafe sits in the centre of the Ni-Chome district and is a vibrant and lively gathering place for many of the residents of the area. Popular amongst the district’s gay population, Alamas Cafe serves an excellent variety of food, drink and desserts as well as featuring music from live DJs.
Be sure to check for LGBT-friendly and run venues before heading to Ni-Chome to ensure that you’re supporting the local LGBT community and experiencing true Ni-Chome living.
Ni-Chome’s gay scene is inextricably linked to sex work and the sex industry. The area’s history as a red light district prior to its evolution as a wider gay village is still prevalent today through a number of gay saunas and cruising destinations.
Claiming the title spot as Tokyo’s biggest gay cruising space; 24 Kaikan is a huge 8-floor sauna, complete with dry sauna, steam room, jacuzzi, solarium, video room and private cabins. The rooftop is also home to a sun lounging area and plunge pool and, whilst private cabins are available, they are expensive, meaning much of the action happens in the saunas communal spaces.
On the other end of the spectrum is Jin-Ya; a small scale sauna that is largely popular with foreign tourists and locals looking for fun with travelers. Jin-Ya has a range of facilities and spaces including 4 common play spaces which tend to get very busy at night. Other facilities include a nude roof terrace and communal baths.
Ni-Chome is as eclectic and exciting as any other district of Tokyo and the city’s playful and inventive charm continues through Ni-Chome’s gay scene.
One of the most popular attractions in the Ni-Chome area is the famous Robot Restaurant of Shinjuku. Reportedly costing the owner $100 million to create, the Robot Restaurant has been a consistent hit with locals and tourists alike. Its hear that visitors can enjoy freshly prepared food served by robots to the sound of a live band, also consisting solely of robots.
If self-navigating the sometimes dizzying Ni-Chome district is too large a feat, there are also a range of night and day tours that allow visitors to experience all that the area has to offer under the passionate guidance of a local Ni-Chome resident. One such tour is the Handsome Boys, a Japanese-American tour group, specialising in lively and exciting nightlife tours provided by attractive guys.
by George Pizani | More: Gay Tokyo