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Kyoto Gay Travel

I never thought I’d find a semi-gay dance club in Kyoto, let alone drag queens! World-famous and known for plentiful temples, Kyoto gay travel surely has some rainbow flair!

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The Gay Travel Experience: Kyoto, Japan

With some of the most photographed sites in Japan, Kyoto has limitless options for travelers seeking tranquility. But, even in peaceful Kyoto, there still happens to be some LGBT action!

kyoto gay travel
Most importantly, I’d like to first mention that Kyoto is certainly not an off-the-beaten-path destination. While you won’t find too many Americans or even Europeans in Kyoto, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of tourists. Visitors from all over Asia crowd the popular sites in Kyoto, primarily from China.
kyoto gay travel
kyoto travel
kyoto travel

With this Kyoto gay travel guide, I’ll let you know which sites are most crowded, which Kyoto temples to visit, where the gay bars are and which places you should visit despite the crowds.

where to stay in Kyoto

I always felt safe and comfortable traveling through Japan as a gay guy. While exploring Tokyo, I was with my boyfriend Michael. We did not have any negative interactions concerning being gay. Although it is not common for anyone to show public affection in Japan, the casual kiss on the cheek or short hand hold didn’t turn any heads.

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Gay Kyoto: Where to Stay

Where is best place to stay in Kyoto? The answer is quite simple: anywhere that gives you great access to public transport! Unless you plan on taking a cab to every site you visit, quick access to several Metro stops is ideal.

Japanese temples in autumn
In my opinion, the best place to stay in Kyoto is within a 5 to 10-minute walk to the Kyoto main train station. As is the case in Europe, we normally associate areas around train stations to be the more run-down areas of town. Here in Kyoto, this is not the case.  Saying near the main Kyoto train station is ideal.
22 pieces hotel
where to stay in Kyoto
22 pieces hotel

I stayed at 22 Pieces Hotel with my well-traveled boyfriend Michael. 22 Pieces is modern, clean and gets all the basics just right. This hotel was a perfect and cozy landing pad for us to rest our heads when we weren’t out exploring Kyoto.

Kyoto gay hotel

Walking by quite frequently, there are dozens of beautiful hotels around Kyoto Main Station. Most tourists seek accommodations in this area too, since you can walk to your hotel upon arriving to the train station. Hotel prices in Kyoto have various different price points. It should be quite easy to find something you love and within your budget.

Kyoto Experiences for the Gay Traveler

Japanese grocery stores have tons of interesting products. My first night in Kyoto, I grabbed some groceries with Michael. This normally mundane task quickly became a fun shopping spree when we saw all the things we wanted to try.
Geisha area
Geisha area
Kyoto gay hotel

If you open your Google Live Translate App, have some fun scanning labels to see what some of the strange looking products actually are! The things I saw in the Japanese grocery store were very different from what you’d find in Southeast Asia or Europe.

bar in Kyoto
Michael and I were stopped for some gin-based cocktails at a bar called The Roots of All Evil. First of all, the cocktails here were amazing. I was just a bit disappointed that the bar is in a food court-type area. Anyway, I noticed that a few of the gin bottles in front of us said they were produced at Kyoto distillery.
bar in Kyoto
gin & tonic bar Japan
gin & tonic bar Japan
This got my attention; I had not expected there to be an alcohol distillery in this town. Since it was too late for us to book a tour, I didn’t visit the Kyoto distillery. If a tour is something that interests you, I recommend checking out the Kyoto Distillery Website to see if you can arrange a tour.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

I must first say the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is physically stunning. The enormous shoots of bamboo are incredible. However, the forest trail is so overrun with tourists that it is difficult to enjoy. Consider this your warning! I was disappointed with the lack of peace as hundreds of tourists shouted without refrain.

famous Bamboo forest
The positive side of this is that the trails just beyond the bamboo forest are magnificent, and even better, quiet. Walking down to the Katsura River with Michael and sitting in the rain is without a doubt my favorite memory of Kyoto.
famous Bamboo forest
arashiyama bamboo forest
arashiyama bamboo forest

In my opinion, the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest is one of many world attractions that suffers over-tourism, fueled by Instagram and the presence of social media. Everyone wants to show that they’ve visited a cool place. I’m no exception. I simply wish that these places could at least be enjoyed with more respect.

If you want to see the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest without the crowds, prepare to wake up very early! Between 5:00 am and 7:00 am is generally the quietest time at the forest. If you arrive as the sun rises, you may just get that perfect shot of the trails with nobody in the background.

Kyoto Gay Travel: Visit Fushimi Inari-Taisha

This place is huge! Before visiting, I had no idea that it takes about two hours to reach the actual peak of Fushimi Inari-Taisha. I did not climb to anywhere near the top, but I certainly enjoyed the sea of iconic, orange gate-like structures along the pathways.

Fushimi Inari-Taisha night
Fushimi Inari-Taisha night
orange Japanese temple structure

Michael and I visited Fushimi Inari-Taisha at night. Since this shrine is so popular with all tourists, we figured we could have a more authentic and relaxing experience by going a couple of hours after dinner. I’m glad we chose this time because we only saw a couple of people. I recommend you do the same!

orange Japanese temple structure
Fushimi Inari-Taisha is free to enter. It is open 24 hours a day, so you can visit as early as you like. Meander the paths as the sun rises or explore under the cloak of darkness.

Kyoto Gay Travel: The Geisha District

You can’t leave Kyoto without at least a quick walk through Gion, which is the Geisha District. This area of town is very tranquil. The pathways are beautiful and you will pass plenty of traditionally dressed men and women walking about. There tends to be many Geishas walking around in the late afternoon.

Kyoto Best Temples & Castles

My first night in Kyoto, I visited the To-ji temple, a UNESCO world heritage site and a designated Japan National Treasure. I went after sundown per the recommendation of my hotel concierge. The landscape was incredibly lit, with upward facing lamps bringing out the vivid fall foliage color.

Golden Pavillion
The To-ji temple complex has several buildings with incredible ancient sculptures to view. These are also open after sunset, when you can see the sculpture’s gold foil glisten in the dim lighting. To-ji wasn’t too crowded at this time in the evening, either.
Golden Pavillion
Kyoto gay traveler

Nijo Castle was another famous Kyoto attraction I visited. The highlight of the Nijo Castle was definitely the flowers and gardens surrounding the actual buildings. I visited in November, but the gardens will certainly be more colorful in the spring.

Kyoto gay traveler

You are able to walk through the many rooms of the palace. We did this, but it was not so thrilling. The interior of the palace was not nearly as intricate as the exterior. The castle fortifications though, are quite impressive. Spend a few moments taking in the beauty of these massive walls.

flower garden
Stunning in its own way, I have a hard time deciding if The Kinkaku-ji Temple is more beautiful than the other Kyoto temples. The Kinkaku-ji is the famous Temple of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. The landscape surrounding this wonderful structure is breathtaking. I’m so glad I visited on a clear, sunny day. Catching the gleaming temple roof under a blue sky was awesome.
Japanese Palace
Japanese Palace
flower garden
Beware that the Kinkaku-ji Temple is one of the most famous temples in Kyoto. This means you should expect quite a raucous tourist crowd. Photos of the temple all appear peaceful, but the experience is less so. There will be herds of selfie-stick-wielding tourists.

Kyoto Restaurants

My most memorable meal in Kyoto was with Michael at a restaurant called Guilo Guilo Hitoshina. The restaurant is small and offers a traditional Japanese set-dinner menu. I had been stuffing myself full at every meal, so it was wonderful to have various smaller portions spaced out. Aside from being portioned well, the flavors were delicious and their hot sake was just what we needed after walking outside in the cool air all evening.

kyoto restaurant
I often ate at typical ramen restaurants in between visits to temples or on my way to the hotel to rest. These places are great. They are authentic, delicious and do the job. My favorite part is getting the meal ticket after selecting my food from a machine that has photos of all the meals. You grab this ticket and bring it the counter. Simple!
kyoto restaurant
Japanese restaurant
Japanese restaurant
If you’re someone who eats dinner late, make sure not to miss the Japanese dinner time window. After 9:00 PM, many restaurants will quickly close up shop as soon as their customers have finished. If you end up looking for dinner after 10 PM or so, you may end up at a convenience store! This is of course a general rule. Some places could be open later.

Walk through Kamiyacho & Nabeyacho

These two small districts are definitely the most quaint and authentic slices of Kyoto. Michael and I walked down a street called Kiyamachi-dori in the Nabeyacho area, perusing some bars and restaurants.

Japanese lanterns outside

We noticed some cozy-looking establishments on the second floors of the low rise building across the street. Their windows faced the shallow Kamo River that passes through this area. We wanted to get up into one of those cute hangouts!

Once you cross the pedestrian bridge over the river, you enter the Kamiyacho area. Through this stretch of a few blocks is a fun alleyway where you will surely see some locals enjoying their evening.
Japanese lanterns outside
Milk Hall Kyoto

Michael and I found an amazing Japanese bar in this alley called Milk Hall. It’s not a place you will find on google. We noticed Milk Hall’s elegant interior through their window from across the street.

Milk Hall Kyoto

Milk Hall is a small bar run by a man with his wife. It was the most authentic Japanese experience of my entire trip to Japan. As we walked in, a group of Japanese men who were eating some soup welcomed us and cleared their things off a nearby couch. 

The owner made conversation with us and made us feel completely at home. We eventually got to it in that cozy set of chairs we saw from the street below.

Kyoto Gay Bars

There are various gay bars in Kyoto, most of which are small, intimate establishments. Kyoto gay bars have a more personal vibe than any gay bar I had ever seen before. The experience is akin to spending time in someone else’s living room with a few acquaintances.

kyoto gay travel
If there are not enough people are inside, a solo traveler may feel a bit intimidated. Try not to worry about this. Everyone in these small Kyoto bars is friendly. You simply must enter with the expectation that you are not going to find go-go dancers hanging upside down from poles while circuit music blasts. It’s not that kind of vibe!
kyoto gay travel
Kyoto gay bar
Kyoto gay bar

Apple is one of the official Kyoto gay bars. The establishment is not what you would imagine a typical gay bar to be like. I would describe the Apple Kyoto gay bar as more of a private lounge. It’s not a place where large groups congregate. Instead, Apple is a bar or you can have a drink by yourself, listen to some music and chat with the friendliest bartender you will ever meet.

LGBT nightclub

Apple is on the third floor of a building near the Kamiyacho district. It felt a bit awkward approaching the entrance since there was no one walking through the hallway. Michael and I popped our heads in and were met with stares of three friendly men who were enjoying their evening. 

cocktail bar

Michael and I stared at one another and said “well, why not.” Although Apple was not the experience I expected, I’m very glad I went.

Kyoto Gay Clubs

Eager to explore more of gay Kyoto before heading home on Saturday night, Michael and I warmed up with a drink at Pop Kyoto. While sitting at a table in this bar, we saw too extravagantly dressed Japanese drag queens run toward us from the sidewalk outside, through the bar and into a back door.
kyoto gay club
LGBT nightclub
kyoto gay club
We looked at each other with surprise and then discovered that the club downstairs has a big gay clientele, although it’s not officially a Kyoto gay club. This underground Kyoto party spot is called World Kyoto. The scene is mixed and I imagine the relative percentage of gay guys there fluctuates.


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Kyoto Gay Travel Tips

Traveling to Kyoto from Tokyo? Prepare for an expensive ride! The Shinkansen super-fast train is not cheap, so account for these tickets in your travel budget.
Roots Cocktail lounge

If you’re checking out flights to Japan, I suggest comparing airlines with Vayama: International Travel Solved. They have an awesome interface and make it super easy to optimize your route.

Roots Cocktail lounge
cocktail bar

Kyoto Tourist Crowds

I’ll tell you about the tourist crowds only to temper your expectation of Kyoto. The sites in this serene Japanese town are indeed beautiful. Many, however, are not as peaceful in person as advertisements or Instagram make them seem. Some attractions are overloaded with screaming tourists taking selfies.

gardens
I personally think such over-tourism is unfortunate. However, there is only so much one can do about it. To avoid the crowds in Kyoto, you must either visit early in the morning, or after sunset.
gardens
kyoto foliage
kyoto foliage
You must plan an early visit to places like the Bamboo Forest that close in the late afternoon. You can visit other sites that are open around the clock, like the Fushimi Inari-Taisha, during the night.

Using Kyoto Public Busses

Many times, it is much easier to get to tourist attractions in Kyoto by bus. Google Maps is not so exact regarding where transit actually stops, so remembering a few tips about Kyoto busses will save you some time and stress.
Kyoto Main station
In my experience, Google Maps often directed me to the center of an intersection in order to catch a bus. The busses however do not stop within the area of intersection. They stop a few hundred feet before/after the intersection at a bus shelter.
Kyoto Main station
Kyoto Tower
Kyoto Tower
A letter is assigned to each bus shelter in a specific intersection . If there is only one bus route that stops there, you may only find bus shelters A and B. When more lines stop, you may find shelters A through F.
gay Japan
To find where to go, check any bus shelter map for the bus destination matching what Google Maps displays. The bus line direction will be under a specific bus shelter letter. Go toward this bus shelter.
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Share this Kyoto gay travel guide with a friend. Next, check out the wolfyy Tokyo Gay Travel Guide. You can’t miss the gay nightlife in the Japanese capital.

Need more ideas for gay vacations? Explore wolfyy’s full list of gay travel destinations.

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