Although Japan might not typically be thought of as a gay destination, with a government that is relatively ambivalent to the rights of LGBT people, the capital and largest city is certainly home to the gayest concentration of hangouts, businesses and ideas in the country that brought us Honda, Uniqlo and Nintendo.

Here are our top 5 gay things to know about Tokyo.


1) While same sex marriage or even civil union is not legal in Japan, there is one district of Tokyo that has pioneered an initiative to allow same sex couples to get a so-called “proof of partnership” for official purposes such as renting an apartment together or visiting each other in hospital. While not perfect, and not even nationally recognised, many LGBT rights activists in Japan see this, the Shibuya initiative, as the first step towards fuller equality for its population.

2) The gay neighbourhood of Tokyo is Shinjuku, which surrounds the high speed train station of the same name in the western part of the city. As well as being home to many bars, clubs, karaoke joints and gay adult shopping opportunities, there is also one of Asia’s biggest gay saunas there, 24 Kaikan, which covers eight floors and is very welcoming to foreign visitors.

3) Getting around Tokyo can be a bit of a challenge. With such a massive and sprawling transport system, finding your way through the underground can be a bit daunting, especially if you are not used to very busy, crowded places. Fortunately, all the station names are also written in Roman characters, and most announcements are made in English as well as Japanese. If it all seems like too much, though, taking a taxi, while pricey, will save you the stress of figuring out the spiderweb of train lines. You’ll also get unique views from the car window of how the city works above ground that you wouldn’t see below street level.

4) Tokyo is home to the biggest of three LGBT film festivals that take place every year in Japan (the other two are in Osaka in the west and Aomori in the north). The Rainbow Reel Festival, which in 2017 will celebrate its 26th year, is definitely worth checking out if you are visiting Japan in mid July, as it features not only more mainstream LGBT films from North America and Europe, but also from around Asia and within Japan.

5) If you can’t leave Japan without having experienced that it feels like to dress up as a geisha, you’re in luck! There are several places in Tokyo which will apply the necessary makeup and dress to transform you into the perfect geisha, no matter your gender!

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