Osaka, the second most populated city in Japan, is renowned for being the country’s food capital. It is the perfect place for a Japanese food adventure whilst experiencing a unique metropolitan culture and vibrant gay scene.
Close proximity of Osaka to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan means you can easily visit both cities within the same trip.
Here is our recommended three-day itinerary for gay travellers, combining the sights in Osaka and Kyoto with some fun gay nights out.
Where to Stay
Osaka’s Kita-Umeda district makes a great base. Umeda is a major metro and intercity train hub and home to Osaka’s vibrant nightlife, shops and the gay area in Doyama.
We stayed at Hotel Kinki. The hotel is located in the Doyama area on a shopping street lined with some excellent restaurants. There is a good choice of hotels in Kita, but don’t stray away too far from the Umeda Station.
From Osaka’s Kansai Airport to Umeda
Use the coach service to Umeda (they have fancy name for it – an “Airport Limousine”). The JR Train line goes to Osaka Station in Minami-Namba, but this is further away from the gay area.
There are many types of tourist day passes. The one-day “Osaka Amazing Pass” includes unlimited travel on the metro and bus system and discounts at major attractions such as Osaka Castle, Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, the Hep Five Ferris Wheel and Tombori River Cruise.
Kyoto Day Trip
Get the Hankyu Tourist Pass. This is good for a return day trip in the Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto areas.
Day 1 : Osaka Castle, Osaka Museum of Housing & Living, Minami area, Tombori River Cruise and Hokuoukan Gay Sauna
The most popular sightseeing spot in Osaka. Experience the view from the top, the golden tea room, beautifully crafted ancient armor and battle helmets. A walk in the castle garden gives you an opportunity to see the gigantic rocks used to build the castle walls.
During March and April, you can see the cherry blossoms – one of the most beautiful sights in Japan. The castle is located about a 15-20 minute walk from Tanimachi 4-chome subway station (Exits #1B and #9).
Stop for lunch at Isetan Department Store next to Umeda Station. The top three floors are packed with Japanese and international restaurants. You will be amazed by the fake food displays but even more impressed by the taste of the real food.
Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
After lunch, head back in time at the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. Rent a traditional Yukata outfit and walk around in an environment of the late Edo period of Osaka. The museum is located outside of Hankyu & Subway Lines at Tenjimbashisuji 6-chome Station (exit #3).
Tombori River / Minami area
In the early evening, while there is still light, head to the Minami area to see the famous neon signs along Tombori River. For an even better view, jump on a river cruise. Walk along the street to see the amazing 3D designs of the restaurant and shop billboards. Some move and other even let out steam. There is a huge choice of restaurants for dinner. To get here, take the metro to Namba Station and walk northeast. There are many walkways, so study the map at the metro station.
Hokuoukan Gay Sauna
Finish off the day back in Doyama, near Umeda Station where you can find a gay bathhouse to relax and unwind.
Hokuoukan is the most well-known and biggest sauna in town. Take off your shoes at the front door or you will be scolded by the staff. Place your shoes in a coin operated locker (10 yen coin) and use the vending machine to buy an entrance ticket. If you enter before 5pm, you have to leave before midnight. The price is 2,200 yen. If you enter after 5pm, you can choose to pay 2,800 yen and stay until noon of next day (If the 2,800 yen option is not active, the sauna will be closing at midnight). There are discounts for different age groups – check their website for details.
The wet area is the place to unwind in the big hot tub and icy cold plunge pool. Alternating between a hot and cold bath gives a surprisingly refreshing effect. The view from the bath is good too, as the Japanese are not shy of walking around naked. The other 3 floors of the building consist of a video room, relaxing area, dark room and cubicles which have no doors. Bring your own supply of lube and condoms.
Read More: A Gay Guide To Osaka.
Day 2 : Arashiyama
Arashiyama is a mountainous area with a beautiful valley and gorge in the western outskirts of Kyoto.
The area is particularly popular during the cherry blossoms and fall colour seasons. The Togetsukyo Bridge is Arashiyama’s central landmark and gateway to the town. Don’t miss the Tenryuji Temple and Arashiyama’s famous bamboo groves (pleasure boats are available for rent on the Hozugawa River).
The area north of Togetsukyo Bridge is known as Sagano and is renowned for stunning ancient temples and beautiful Japanese gardens.
How to Get to Arashiyama
Reach Arashiyama by the Hankyu train line from Osaka’s Umeda Station (change trains at Katsura afterwhich its a short train ride to Arashiyama Station). Journey time is about 40 minutes. If you are following our itinerary, buy the 2-day pass (1,200 yen) that you can use to travel to Kyoto the next day as well.
At Arashiyama Station, you can rent a bike for 1,000 yen a day. This is the best way to explore the area. One whole day can be easily spent riding through narrow streets lined with old houses, mansions and temples. Stop at as many temples as you can as each has a unique garden and landscape that can surprise.
Street Food and Gay Bar-Hopping
Head back to Osaka and try out the wonderful street food in the maze of walkways around Umeda Station. There are literally hundreds of food vendors and restaurants – you could spend a whole month trying them all. Look out for Takoyaki, a small croquette with different types of stuffing (octopus is the most common) and Okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancake).
After dinner, it’s time for some gay bar-hopping around Doyama. FrenZ-FrenZy, Grand Slam and G Physique are all foreigner-friendly. At FrenZ-FrenZy, tell the staff you heard about the bar on Travel Gay Asia and the first drink will be on the house.
Day 3 : Kyoto
Kyoto was once the capital of Japan, so is full of history and charm. It is impossible to explore everything in this wonderful city in one day, but here is our list of must-see’s:
The ancient architecture highlights the stunning craftsmanship of Edo period.
Kinkaku-ji (The “Golden Pavilion”)
Kyoto’s most iconic attraction. The golden reflection of the building into the pond below is beautiful in any season.
An amazing cliff-hanging structure supported by hundreds of gigantic wooden pillars. The street leading to the temple is lined with historic houses and shop fronts. Stop at the tea house and sample delicious desserts within this beautiful atmosphere.
Walk through shrine gates that spread across an entire mountain.
Come face-to-face with real-life geisha and maiko (a young geisha apprentice) in the area full of restaurants and tea house where they entertain the guests.
How to Get to Kyoto
You can use the same 2-day pass you used to visit Arashiyama. Take the train from Osaka to Kawaramachi Station in the heart of Kyoto near Gion district. To travel around the city, buy a one-day bus pass (500 yen) and bus map from the station office.