LGBT guide to Tokyo: where to party, drink, eat and sleep during Rainbow Pride celebration, and any time
Japan has become steadily more open to gender diversity, as exemplified by capital’s Rainbow Pride, which will see tens of thousands descend on the city’s Shinjuku district from today for a string of events and parties
Japan’s LGBT scene is booming as acceptance of gender diversity grows across the country, and it couldn’t be livelier than in vibrant Tokyo.
“We are seeing an increasing acceptance towards LGBT+ individuals within Japan, and Tokyo is particularly welcoming,” says Brenden Van Stolk, organiser of the annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride. “It has numerous LGBT+ venues that are accessible and people are open.”
With the main action centred in the city’s Shinjuku Ni-chome, or District 2, the pulse throbs 24/7, with an astonishingly colourful collection of bars, cafes, clubs, restaurants and hotels packed into the area.
What better time to tap into Tokyo’s gay scene than during the annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride, with a series of events that take place throughout Golden Week – renamed Rainbow Week – that culminate in a big two-day festival at Yoyogi Park on May 6 and 7, with the parade held on the final day.
Last year, more than 70,000 revellers flocked to the park to see music and live performances, with not a dull costume in sight – from risqué Pikachu get-ups to steampunk dog outfits, bodysuits and skintight leotards.
“In its current incarnation, it has consistently grown bigger with each passing year,” said Van Stolk. “Over the years, the number of people participating – both LGBT individuals, their allies and the public – has consistently increased, and we’ve seen a steady rise in general awareness within society as a whole.”
“The event promotes increased awareness of the LGBT community in Japan and gives members of the public who aren’t yet familiar with this an opportunity to discover more,” said Van Stolk, adding that Japan was becoming more accepting of the community, with some municipalities now acknowledging same-sex partnerships, which were previously taboo.
Tokyo Rainbow Pride highlights:
100 Books @ Kinokuniya Shinjuku
This book fair presents a series books, ranging from young adult novels to specialised books about same-sex partnership. The event also offers a great opportunity to meet new people. From 10am to 9pm.
Happy Pride Lunch @ Mamma Ruizazu Table
Eat and drink as much as you like for 4,000 yen (HK$280, US$36) and meet like-minded people at this relaxed buffet lunch. Wine is also served. From 12.30pm to 3pm.
Party! Party! Party! @ Natural Stance
This women’s only party takes place in the casual surroundings of Natural Stance café, close to where the festival is taking place at Yoyogi Park. A good international crowd is expected. From 2.30pm to 5.30pm.
VITA Pride Party @ DAIA (Shibuya)
Getting people in the party spirit ahead of the next day’s pride, this banging event is where all the party people will be. Special guest DJ “The King of Drums” Cindel is flying over from Chicago, with an opening set from Taz. From 10pm to 5am.
Happy Pride Tea Dance @ Wall & Wall
Just because the parade has finished doesn’t mean the fun is over. This free after-party attracted more than 500 people in 2016, and features a host of DJs, live acts, drag shows and GoGo dancers. From 3pm to 10pm.
Closing Party @ AiSOTOPE Lounge
Wave goodbye to another Tokyo Rainbow Pride at the official closing party, featuring an evening of music as well as parade performers and other acts. From 6pm to midnight.
Tokyo Rainbow Festival Highlights
On Saturday and Sunday, May 6 and 7, Yoyogi Park will be brought to life with music, live acts, stalls, workshops and more, from 10am to 6pm.
Stages will house performances from a series of acts, including headliner, Japanese superstar, Mika Nakashima, as well as Nishi Panties, Empty Kraft, Ogawa Hull and Nijinokokoro.
The parade takes place on the Sunday, with the time yet to be announced. A total of 23 floats have so far signed up, with organisers expecting more than 5,500 people to attend.
Where to Sleep
Keio Plaza Hotel
Situated in the centre of the gay district, this modern high-rise hotel has 1,400 rooms with a range of facilities, such as gym, outdoor pool and spa. There is also a Chinese and Japanese restaurant.
2-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, www.keioplaza.com.
Shinjuku Prince Hotel
Set in the centre of the Kabukicho entertainment district, the hotel features contemporary rooms, a 25th floor restaurant, massage services and other amenities. It is surrounded by shops and department stores, appealing to shopoholics.
1-30-1 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku, www.princehotels.com/shinjuku.
Citadines Central Shinjuku
Also in the heart of Kabukicho, this hotel is a shirt stroll to the main gay bars in Shinjuku Nichome. The hotel also has its own restaurant, grocery store and laundry facilities.
1-2-9 Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, www.citadines.com.
Where to Eat
Run in collaboration with LGBT-focused Colorful Station community space, this comfy restaurant serves Asian fusion cuisine. A popular haunt with the capital’s LGBT community, this will be a hive of activity during the festival.
2-14-17 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, www.irodori-newcanvas.com.
Hang out with the cool crowd at this trendy open café and bar, which has live DJs spinning the decks until the early hours. It also serves a wide range of food, drinks and desserts,
1/F Garnet Building, 2-12-1 Shinjuku, www.aliving.net.
This gay-friendly fusion sushi bar and restaurant also specialises in French-influenced Japanese cuisine. A wide variety of sake is also available. He owner also promotes the popular Shangri-La @ agHa gay dance parties.
B1 Shatelet Shibuya, 2-20-13 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, www.kitsune-web.jp.
Where to Drink
This upstairs gay bar boasts a relaxed atmosphere filled with the city’s hipsters and a healthy mix of foreigners. Serves a range of classy cocktails and light bites.
2F Homebase Building, 2-18-5 Shinjuku Ni-chome, www.facebook.com/kinsmen.tokyo.
J’s Bar Cross Dress
A welcome meeting place for cross-dressers and transsexuals, as well as anyone else who wants to join the party. Hosts popular karaoke nights and, for hardened drinkers, an all-you-can-drink deal for 3,000 yen.
2 Chome-11 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, www.crossdress.tokyo.
Pitching itself as a home away from home, this bar is open to all – gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, transgender. Also a popular spot with the foreign crowd, it is open until the early hours and can get lively at weekends.
1-11-1 Dogenzaka, Shibuya, www.homeshibuya.jp.
For more information or to book any events, visit tokyorainbowpride.com.