Best Tokyo gay and lesbian bars
“Homosexuality itself -- as long as you don’t say it -- is accepted in Japan. Once you start saying it you put yourself in a box,” said one 29-year-old woman recently to CNNGo when discussing lesbian culture.
But there is one district -- and a few special nights in other locations -- where being openly gay is celebrated. Here we discover the seven best gay night spots in Tokyo.
Most welcoming club: Arty Farty
Regulars and one-time visitors alike often utter the name of this established venue with smiles on their faces.
Arty Farty is widely known to be one of the most fun and friendly clubs in the Shinjuku 2-chome district, where gays, lesbians and straight partiers come together on the dance floor or have cozy conversations over music and drinks.
Arty Farty is consistently packed with diverse crowds, and is a good place to meet new people of various kinds.
One regular patron explains why he often goes. “Arty Farty is the best ... it's the most popular place for guys and girls. There’s dancing and it’s open till dawn," he says.
The drinks are also reasonable at around ¥600 and cover is free. They play all of the current gay house hits (Madonna, Kylie, Lady Gaga, etc) and between 9 p.m. and midnight guests can request their favorite tunes.
Open Monday-Thursday 7 p.m.-3 a.m., Friday and Saturday 7 p.m.-5 a.m, Sunday 5 p.m.-3 a.m.
Arty Farty, 2F, 2-11-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, tel. + 81 (0) 3 5362 9720, www.arty-farty.net
Most conspicuous bar: Advocates Café
Shinjuku’s 2-chome district has two open-air style bars: Dragon Men and Advocates Café. The latter is the smaller of the two, and perhaps the reason, especially at warmer times of the year and on clear nights, much of its crowd ends up standing on the street outside.
This slightly chaotic spillage adds to the lively atmosphere of the corner venue, and gives the whole area a more vibrant and community-like feeling.
People who come here are friendly to meeting new people are often international clientele. Because of its high visibility, Advocates is the place to see and be seen in 2-chome.
Advocates was opened in 2000 by Toshinobu Yoshida, the general manager at ageHa, one of Tokyo’s most popular nightclubs. Advocates Café’s website has a personal message from the community-minded Yoshida that gives a shout-out to the "many artists and designers playing an active part in the field."
Open Monday-Saturday 6 p.m.-4 a.m., Sunday 6 p.m.-1 a.m.
Advocates Café, 2-18-1, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, tel. + 81 (0) 3 3358 3988, www.advocates-cafe.com
Most authentic club: ArcH
A club that really seems to reflect the spirit of the gay community, ArcH in the 2-chome district of Shinjuku is a hot spot for locals and visitors (though for the latter, it can depend on the night).
Most nights are mixed at this venue, although there are men or women-only nights so it’s key to check the on-line schedule before going.
Drag queens are a hot feature at ArcH, where they put on not-to-be-missed shows for gay guys and girls and their friends. Featured DJs here are also said to really know their stuff -- another factor that gives ArcH points for authenticity. And the club also holds an AIDS/HIV awareness-raising event every first Sunday of the month, for free.
Also attractive for many music loving club-goers are ArcH’s theme nights, which cover music genres ranging from pop and rock to house, to the 1980s. Madonna-theme party with Madonna-inspired drag queens anyone?
Daily schedule -- http://www.clubarch.net/schedule
Club ArcH, B1F, 2nd Hayakawaya Building, 2-14-6, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, tel. + 81 (0) 3 3352 6297, www.clubarch.ne
Most essential gay club night: Shangri-La at AgeHa
"AgeHa has a really huge gay night. Thousands of gays not only from around Tokyo but also from abroad, especially Taiwan and South Korea, congregate here," is how one Japanese gay clubber describes Shangri-La at AgeHa, a not-to-miss event for locals and visitors alike.
Approximately every two months, one of Tokyo’s most popular and largest night clubs, AgeHa, hosts a gay dance event now called Shangri-La which organizers call “Asia's biggest gay party,” or an “extravaganza that the world envies.”
Shangri-La features a line-up of DJs who play different styles of dance music on the four dance floors the venue has to offer (including one by an outdoor pool) and includes special services which can include a food court and massage booth.
There’s also a free shuttle bus service offered from Shinjuku and Shibuya for attendees to get to the slightly out-of-the-way Shinkiba venue.
Entry fees range from approximately ¥3,000 to ¥5,000. AgeHa club members and women receive a discount.
AgeHa, 2-2-10, Shinkiba, Koto-ku, tel. + 81 (0) 3 5534 1515, www.ageha.com
Most established lesbian bar: Kinswomyn
Kinswomyn is one of the oldest and best-known lesbian bars in Tokyo.
Popular because it has no seat charge, and reasonable drink prices (most start at around ¥700 for beer, wine and cocktails), the small but open space gets packed quickly, especially on weekends.
Amped up background music (rock and pop) combined with all the chatter makes for a happening, and often loud, atmosphere.
According to one regular patron, “People come here to talk and meet people, while the other bars are more like party spots.”
Kinswomyn is an exclusive women-only venue in Shinjuku’s famous 2-chome district. English is spoken by staff at the bar, and foreign patrons can often be found here mixing with friendly locals. It’s recommended for those who are looking for new encounters and intimate conversations.
Open daily, 8 p.m.-4 a.m. (closed Tuesdays)
Kinswomyn, 3F, Daiichi Tenka Building, 2-15-10 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, (across from Club Zip and Books Rose) tel. + 81 (0) 3 3354 8720
Most stylish lesbian bar: Motel #203
On Thursdays, Motel #203, a ‘girls-only’ bar in Shinjuku’s 2-chome district, opens its doors to men. But on regular nights it’s all about the women.
A ¥1,000 entry fee that includes one drink is charged, with a changing schedule for drink specials and DJs.
Motel #203 has a unique lounge-like feel to it, with its dim lighting and sexy decor including a small disco ball.
The owner, Chiga Ogawa, is one of the pioneers of the lesbian night scene and also runs the popular Gold Finger club event for nightclubbing lesbians in Tokyo. Drinks at this stylish bar are reasonably priced, starting at around ¥700.
Open daily, 8 p.m.-4 a.m., Sunday 8 p.m.-2 a.m. (closed Tuesday)
Motel #203, Sunny Corpo 203, 2-7-2 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, tel. + 81 (0) 3 6383 4649, www.bar-motel.com
Most happening lesbian bar: Adezakura
A hard-to-miss set of double red doors welcomes you into Adezakura, one of the newest bars for lesbians and late-night partiers in Shinjuku’s 2-chome area.
Open to women only until 2 a.m., it then lets the men in until closing time. Boasting on its website that it is open year-round, the Adezakura is also open late -- until 7 a.m. most nights (well, mornings).
The venue is larger than other women-only bars in the area, and the friendly atmosphere may include international clientele.
All are invited to make requests for music. One fan of the bar asserts, “It’s the hottest new lesbian bar in Shinjuku right now, and people also go because there is no charge to get in.”
Open Monday-Thursday 10 p.m.-7 a.m., Friday 8 p.m.-7 a.m., Saturday 8 p.m.-8 a.m., and Sunday 8 p.m.-7 a.m.
Adezakura, 2-15-11 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, tel. + 81 (0) 3 3351 4833, www.agit-k-kaku.com/adezakura