Tokyo Gay Travel
Tokyo gay travel recommendations for hotels, gay bars, restaurants, the gay district & things to do.
The Gay Travel Experience: Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is magical, organized, and full of gay life. Understandably, the city tops the list of gay-friendly destinations in Japan. If you only have time to visit one city in Japan, I definitely recommend Tokyo.
Encountering a mix of locals and ex-pats is common in Tokyo, especially while exploring the gay nightlife. Many international visitors are on business trips.
I visited Tokyo with my boyfriend Michael. And while we heeded the general custom of minimal public affection, the occasional kiss on the streets of Tokyo raised no eyebrows. As a gay tourist in Tokyo, we felt comfortable, welcome and safe.
The Japanese are very respectful people. Gay travelers should specifically note that locals may not be as forward with their sexuality. Don’t expect to find much aggressive flirting. That doesn’t mean you can’t try, though!
Tokyo is an ideal gay travel destination because there is a superb mix of LGBT culture, activities and convenience. You’ll experience world-class shopping, fun restaurants, advanced infrastructure and more gay bars than any other Japanese city.
Gay Tokyo: Hotels & Where to Stay
There are two basic facts to consider before looking for Tokyo hotels. Most importantly, the is enormous! Tokyo does not have a true “downtown center” either.
Dense areas are scattered around. The areas between them can be quite suburban. But no matter where you go, everything is clean and organized.
Keep in mind the attractions you plan to visit while choosing between neighborhoods. Traveling around the city, whether by car or metro, can take a significant chunk of time. Minimizing this will be much more convenient.
Michael and I stayed in the Shinjuku neighborhood. Shinjuku hotels are notoriously popular. Staying in this area is definitely convenient for visiting the gay bars.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, which is a short drive from the Tokyo gay district. The Park Hyatt was an absolute dream. It was definitely the classic experience you would expect from this luxury brand.
The Tokyo Gay District
Tokyo’s gay district is in the Shinjuku neighborhood, another good reason to stay in this area. The small district is just east of Shinjuku Station.
The official name of the Tokyo gay district is 2 Chome Shinjuku. (Here is the Google Maps location). There are more than fifteen gay bars and clubs concentrated in this tiny part of the city!
Shibuya is another fantastic neighborhood option for gay travelers visiting Tokyo. I recommend checking out Shibuya Tobu Hotel, a hotel that is both affordable and well-designed.
For something a little more expensive and certainly luxurious, my partner Michael recommends Cerulean Tower Tokyo Hotel. This hotel will undoubtedly make your jaw drop.
Tokyo Gay Travel Experiences
Tourists typically have Shibuya Crossing repay high on their list of things to do. While the large crosswalk area is busy and impressive, I would not consider it a destination in itself.
Instead, I suggest you plan you daily route such that you pass through Shibuya crossing on your way to do something specific.
The general Shibuya area is wonderful, filled with happy music and glowing storefronts. Since it rains a ton in Japan, you can always count on having a dry time inside the Shibuya stores!
You have to try a Chu-Hi during your Japan travels! A Chu-Hi is a sweet alcoholic drink sold in most 7-Eleven and Family Mart convenience stores. There are a bunch of different flavors as well as some knock-off brands.
Shopping in Tokyo
Make a quick entertaining top at Tokyo’s condom store, Condomania. It’s in the basement of Parco, a shopping mall in the Shibuya neighborhood.
The lower level of Parco also has a ton of fun restaurants, if you’re hungry. The maze of restaurants is called Chaos Kitchen and it definitely is chaotic!
Harajuku is a beloved shopping area in Tokyo. It bustles with hundreds of unique stores and dessert shops. Boutiques selling unique clothing line the narrow streets. If you’re looking for a Cosplay or Halloween costume, this is the perfect place to pick one up.
The Ginza District is a Tokyo shopping area known for luxury. You can find all the high-fashion stores here. Ginza is one of the most luxurious shopping destinations on the planet.
Tokyo Cat Cafés
There are a bunch of animal cafés in Tokyo, and they don’t stop with cats! Visiting one of these is pretty irresistible.
Cat Café Mocha has dozens of cats in a two-story hangout. This café is by far the largest I’ve seen in terms of animal cafés. The passageways through walls, little platforms hanging from ceilings and fun cat towers make the space super interesting.
You pay by time spent at Cat Café Mocha. There is also an all-day option if you want a lot of kitty play time. Be prepared to take your shoes off before you pet some furry friends!
Hedgehog Cafés In Tokyo
Harry’s also has otters and some other furry animals that you can hold. The experience was lovely and the café luckily wasn’t even that busy.
The Best Shrines in Tokyo
The Sensō-ji and Meiji Shrine are two must-see shrines in Tokyo. You can’t skip these!
Senso-ji is best visited at night. After sundown, the temple and adjacent market street illuminate beautifully. Small vendor stalls line the walkway up to the temple. When you get to the actual shrine, make sure to follow the directions to pay respects and take a fortune.
The Meiji Shrine is best visited earlier in the day, as the morning sun glistens through the woods. I had a fantastic time with Michael exploring this beautiful, serene area.
I liked the Meiji Shrine so much because there are nature trails to walk through before you arrive at the shrine. They were not too crowded!
Tokyo Imperial Palace
Head over to the Tokyo Imperial Palace to enjoy beautiful gardens and architecture. Note that there are various sections of the Imperial Palace.
The Inner Grounds are closed to the public unless you visit by guided tour. The East Gardens and Kitanomaru Park are both open to the public, so you are free to explore these areas on your own.
The Ninomaru Garden was the best part of the Tokyo Imperial Palace in my opinion. It’s part of the East Gardens area. The Ninomaru Garden has a bunch of cute little bridges and lakeside footpaths. Check out the Koi in the ponds and grab a photo by the small waterfall.
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Tokyo Restaurants & Cuisine
When most people think about Japan, sushi usually comes to mind. While there’s plenty of sushi restaurants to try, you can find a number of other authentic cuisines in Tokyo!
I absolutely loved Maisen, a Tonkatsu restaurant in the Jingumae neighborhood. I had never eaten Tonkatsu before, a traditional Japanese dish of deep-fried pork cutlet/tempura.
If you can’t make it to Maisen, you should definitely try another Tonkatsu restaurant. The deep-fried dishes are mouth-watering.
Japanese Inari is another worthy cuisine mention. You can find them in just about any restaurant. I honestly got hooked on the ones they sell at Family Mart. They’re a cheap and delicious snack, especially if you’re hungry after all the restaurants close.
Don’t be afraid of convenience store sushi in Japan. While it doesn’t help keep the sushi-making tradition alive, it’s still delicious and totally fresh!
Piss Alley: Authentic Tokyo Restaurants
Locals huddle in teeny tiny Piss Alley restaurants that are clustered together. Most are open to the outside and have about ten seats.
Restaurants in Piss Alley are not the kind of place where you can spend two hours leisurely eating a meal. The trick here is that as long as long as you’re continually ordering an appropriate amount of food, they won’t ask you to leave!
I highly recommend ordering some hot sake while enjoying your chosen Piss Alley restaurant. I’d say this is the most authentic spot to imbibe in some local liquor.
For those who are a little more comfortable being guided through Tokyo’s best local restaurants, consider booking a private local food tour.
While you might normally associate curry with India, it’s also a big thing in Japan. The country is filled with restaurants that specialize in “Japanese curry.” The Japanese version of the cuisine resembles more of a gravy, as opposed to a thinner oily liquid.
Explore Shimokitazawa, Tokyo’s hip curry district if you have the time. A local LGBT Japanese-American friend of mine recommends that travelers visit this area if they have time.
Depending on where you’re staying in Tokyo, Shimokitazawa may be a little far, but it’s definitely an authentic area worth experiencing.
For a curry restaurant closer to central Tokyo, there is a wonderful and decently-priced spot called 上等カレー 渋谷本店. Head upstairs, place your order at the ticket machine, hand your receipt to the guys behind the bar.
Tokyo Gay Bars
The gay bars in Tokyo are undoubtedly the best in Japan. Most of the gay bars are concentrated together in the city’s gay district. They’re a ton of fun and you’ll likely meet both locals and ex-pats. Plus, they’re open quite late!
Dragon Men Tokyo
Dragon Men is the biggest gay bar of the bunch. I would actually consider it more of a club. I went on a Saturday night and the place was packed full of guys dancing.
You will probably find a larger percentage of other travelers at Dragon men as opposed to other nearby gay bars. It’s the most popular one! Michael and I met a Latin couple that was visiting east Asia for work.
Prepare for a late night, since Dragon Men is open until 6 AM on the weekends! Dragon Men has a cover charge of 1000 Yen, so make sure to bring enough cash.
The Eagle Tokyo
Tokyo has their two of their very own Eagle gay bar locations. One of them is the traditional Eagle Tokyo and the other is Eagle Blue, a separate establishment only a minute away.
The Eagle is definitely the best gay bar in Tokyo to meet new friends. The narrow walkways surrounding the bar makes socializing super easy. I’d definitely recommend this bar for solo travelers.
Smaller Gay Bars in Tokyo
Aiiro Café is a great gay bar to start your night out in Tokyo. While small, they make use of the outdoor space for fun drag performances.
I had so much fun watching Aiiro’s Saturday night drag show. The staff and DJ were fluent in both English and Japanese, and the music was upbeat.
One last gay bar I visited was The Annex. This place didn’t have anyone inside. Perhaps I was a little too early on Saturday night, but I was surprised at how little people were there.
Tokyo Travel Tips
To save a ton of time, try to book flights into Tokyo Haneda Airport. Haneda is much closer to the center of Tokyo as opposed to Narita Airport. I personally flew into Tokyo Narita and it took me more than two hours to get to the city center during rush hour.
Uber is available in Tokyo and certainly comes with some quality drivers. This is notably different than in Osaka, where Uber is simply used to match taxis with passengers.
Why Aren't There Any Trash Cans in Tokyo?
While walking through the streets of Tokyo, you’ll notice there are no garbage cans! This is not an accident. In Japanese culture, it is impolite to eat or drink while walking.
Japanese society expects that you won’t really have anything to throw away that cannot wait until you reach your destination.
So, if you take your coffee to go, expect to hold onto it for a while. Usually, there are trash cans in subway station restrooms if needed.
How To Get To Central Tokyo From Narita Airport
The most economical way to get to Tokyo from Haneda Airport is via the Tokyo Skyliner Train or a bus transfer. If you take the Skyliner, you will likely need to transfer to the metro or get out and take a taxi.
Many airport buses have various convenient hotel stops. These are probably a better option if you’re staying at a major hotel. They often have Wi-Fi too.
Both transport options similarly cost around 3000 Yen. As far as public transit goes, that’s not so cheap. Well, welcome to Japan, where most things are expensive.
Using The Tokyo Metro
Tokyo has two underground Metro systems, each independently operated. There is the Tokyo Metro and the Toei Subway. Additionally, there are the above-ground JR (Japan Railway) lines, which extend outside of Tokyo.
These transit networks are very much interlinked, so it is possible to transfer between them. But doing so isn’t always so intuitive.
Firstly, you may not always be able to buy a ticket to your final destination if your journey involves a “transfer.” To add to the confusion, some machines allow you to buy these transfer tickets while others will not.
When in doubt, buy the ticket to the intermediate station where you will make your connection.
Google Maps is very helpful with navigating the Tokyo Subway systems. In addition to telling you which line to take, Google maps conveniently notes which exit to take out of the underground network of passageways.
Tokyo LGBT Rights Lead the Way
Tokyo was one of the first areas in Japan to offer strengthened LGBT rights. You must first understand that Japan has a complex municipal structure. Most importantly are prefectures, of which Japan has 47. Some are cities and some are general areas of the country.
The Shibuya and Setagaya wards in Tokyo started recognizing same-sex partnerships in 2015. These hyper-local municipalities led the way for Japan. Since then, a slew of other cities joined the effort to increase LGBT rights.
For more general information on LGBT rights in Japanese society, head to the Osaka Gay Travel Guide LGBT rights section.