LGBT Friendly Japan

Make over experience with drag queens in Osaka ©Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau

Winds of positive change are blowing in Tokyo as it was announced that from November 2022 a new system that legally recognises same-sex partnerships will be introduced in the metropolis. More details are to come but opinion surveys have shown a great deal of approval for this change on the ground, which is great for LGBTQ+ people both in Japan and visitors coming from abroad. According to Marriage for All, currently over 40% of the Japanese population lives in areas where same-sex partnerships are accepted and partnership systems are being introduced by nearly 140 local governments.

In Japan, public displays of affection of any kind are generally frowned upon but as long as you’re mindful of Japanese culture, LGBTQ+ visitors have little to worry about! Just as with anywhere, there are inevitable differences in levels of familiarity between the modern cities and the more traditional countryside areas but that's in no way to say that LGBTQ+ visitors should avoid going off-the-beaten-path, and we have some great examples to share below! Here are some key bits of  information for LGBTQ+ travellers, and our favourite places to visit offering incredible experiences.


Tokyo Gay Scene

'Love' sign in Shinjuku ⒸTVCB

Tokyo, unsurprisingly, rules the roost with its wide array of must-see attractions on offer for LGBTQ+ tourists. One of them is the hub of Japanese queer nightlife, the area of Shinjuku called Ni-Chome. Based along a long strip of road, it may look unassuming but is actually filled with over 400 nightclubs, bars and facilities catering specifically to LGBTQ+ audiences, with a warm sense of community. Places like Goldfinger, Dorabune, or Adezakura are popular lesbian bars; Aiiro Cafe Bar, Arty Farty, and Campy! Bar are hip destinations for men, and FTM Bois Bar is a much-loved space for the trans community. Our interview with Kat Joplin, a drag performer from Tokyo, is a must-read for anyone planning a visit and wanting to get an idea of the dos and don'ts.

Shinjuku is also home to Japan’s first permanent LGBTQ+ centre ‘Pride House which was opened to create a space where everyone can feel welcome regardless of their sexuality, as a part of the legacy of the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics. The 20202 summer games were dubbed the ‘Rainbow Olympics’ for the record breaking number of LGBTQ+ athletes participating in them! 

Neon signs in Shinjuku's Kabukicho district ⒸTVCB

Tokyo is also where you can join Japan’s biggest Pride celebrations, Tokyo Rainbow Pride. Last year it was held online but it’s usually on a weekend in the second half of April with pride week following. Parade participants dress up and march or travel on floats while performances, food stalls and activity booths spill into Yoyogi Park. You can find out more information about next year’s event closer to the date on their website.

Visitors to Tokyo in the second half of July can enjoy the Rainbow Reel Tokyo, International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival which has been an important cultural event since its establishment in 1991!

In Tokyo, there is also an LGBTQ+ tour operator called Out Asia Travel which offers a variety of fun tour packages that will leave you without a worry.

Gay Osaka

Neon signs in Osaka's Dotonbori ©Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau

Osaka is a city where you can find it all. Known for its laid-back culture, friendliness, and playful sense of humour, the leading LGBTQ+ friendly city in Japan, Osaka, was announced as a Featured Destination by the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association in 2021. Visit Gay Osaka was created to develop unique experiences focused around sustainability, diversity, and vitality with the aim of making Osaka an LGBTQ-friendly space for visitors. The local gay district, Doyama, with its bars, clubs, and vibrant nightlife - especially recommended on weekends, is a proof of that. From Visit Gay Osaka’s beautiful promotional video, to Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau's recently launched a series of experiences that visitors can enjoy in the company of gorgeous Drag Queens, Osaka has something for everyone.

Udon with drag queens in Osaka ©Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau

Planning to visit Osaka’s gay bars but you don't know where to start? An English speaking guide will take you to some of the best gay bars around where you can enjoy drinking in the company of Drag Queens. 
How about making delicious Udon noodles? Let Drag Queens be your assistants as you cook one of Japan’s most beloved dishes.
Of course, you can also experience dressing up as a Drag Queen yourself! After being expertly dressed by professional Drag Queens, you can enjoy visiting and taking photos at some of Osaka’s iconic sights alongside your newfound Drag Queen friends.
Osaka’s dazzling Drag Queens are waiting for you!

You can check out different tours on their website here

Night cruise with drag queens ©Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau

Kansai Rainbow Festa and Parade has been held yearly since 2006 and is a major event taking place in Ogimachi Park. Last year it was moved online and took place on the second Saturday of October but make sure to check out their website for future events.

Off the Beaten Track

LGBTQ-friendly facilities aren’t limited to Japan's cities - they can be found nationwide in some of the most unexpected places like the mountainous wilds of the UraBandai region in Fukushima! UraBandai is an area of natural beauty popular for its skiing infrastructure and its multicoloured lakes. That’s where you can find Bandai Lakeside Guesthouse, run by Genta and his partner. Genta worked for a local ski resort for 11 years before starting his own guesthouse in 2018, but still regularly helps out with the annual Rainbow Ski Weekend, for all the powder hounds out there. Read more about the story behind the Bandai Lakeside Guesthouse here.

Onsen Hot Spring Solutions

Hot spring in Oita's Yufuin

One of the most enjoyable parts of visiting Japan are its relaxing onsen hot spring baths. However, the culture around many shared public onsen still generally asks that bathers, including international visitors, bathe completely nude and use either a men's or women's baths. That’s why in 2018 ‘Japan’s hot spring capital’, Beppu in Oita prefecture, held consultations to discuss different opportunities for making their hot springs more inclusive. It marks a positive move towards an even more inclusive future but, for anybody feeling anxious about the onsen experience, some of the best alternatives for now are to rent a room with a private bath or go for an establishment which allows you to book their facilities for specific times. You can find more information about Japanese hot spring culture and the many different options available to you here.

 

Japanese manners and hospitality are such that, while exploring Japan, you'll be very unlikely to have any negative experiences relating to gender and sexuality, and you're bound to come across LGBTQ-owned business during your time there.

In fact, beyond simply Tokyo and Osaka are cities in healthy posession of lively and prominent LGBTQ+ scenes, from the incredibly welcoming northern city of Sapporo with its Susukino night district, through to sun-soaked Fukuoka's Sumiyoshi district, and the ancestral heart of Japan itself, Kyoto.

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