Gay bars in Japan are very unique. We, customers, sit along the counter called “Tomari Gi (a perch)”, and indulge ourselves in a good conversation with other customers and “mama- san.” (Japanese people call the owner of a gay bar “mama”). Gay bars are called “snack” in Japan. Japanese gay bars are usually very small and there are only 5 or 6 stools for customers. Big gay bars have 5 or 6 more stools but they still fill up very quickly. When you go to a gay bar in Japan, you will be served what we call “Oto-shi.” “Oto-shi” is something you eat with drinks in not only gay bars, but also Japanese restaurants. Mama- san usually serve you one or two food plates like Japanese pickles and some snacks. One drink with a seat and Oto-shi is around 1500 yen and if you order 2 drinks, it is around 2200 yen. That’s the average charge. You can order any alcohol beverage you want, beer, wine, whisky, Japanese sake, vodka and cocktail. Some bars have “Awamori”, a kind of Japanese sake made in Okinawa Prefecture.
You can see a lot of people enjoying karaoke in Japanese gay bars. They have TV screens and some bars also show music videos of their favorite Japanese idols or artists. Customers enjoy conversations with other customers they just meet that day, relax with drinks, and get to know each other on weekday nights. Many people find their partners in a gay bar in Japan. On weekends, a lot more customers come to gay bars and go really crazy. You will meet many “Miseko-san“, gay bar staff when you go to a gay bar. They are usually cute and young and many customers come to see them. Mama-san is a funny and talkative person of wit and Miseko-san is young and cute. This is the Japanese style. They welcome customers with a sense of humor.
I guess some of you have never been to Japanese gay bars and had a blast in a Japanese way, but please try some when you get a chance. Im sure you will love it. The gay bars we recommend on this OUT JAPAN website are all good for non-Japanese speakers and so be ready to have fun.
Ni-chome is one of the biggest gay towns in Asia, so there are some gay bars for international visitors. They are called “shot bars.” Shot bars are very spacious and sophisticated with a capacity of groups of people. They are usually cash on delivery. On weekends, DJs are invited and dance parties take place at shot bars. Some bars have tables outside so you can enjoy your drinks like a sidewalk cafe, too.
It is said approximately 200 to 300 gay bars are located in Shinjuku Ni-chome and it has the most gay bars in the world. There is no accurate data on the number of gay bars, but there are more than a few bars for cross- dressing, bars only for women, bars for FtM transgender people and more than 200 gay bars in Ni-chome.
There are some gay bars in other areas of Tokyo. Shibuya has about 10 gay bars (most of them are sophisticated) and Shinbashi, Ueno, and Asakusa have many gay bars, too. (Most of them are “snack” style and you will meet more older people there.) There are more than 100 gay bars in Douyama, Osaka. Minami and Shin Sekai have gay bars,too. There are much more gay bars in Sapporo, Sendai, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Fukuoka, and Naha. When you visit those cities, I strongly recommend you visit one. You will love it.
Japanese gay bars are unique, so there are many kinds of gay bars in Japan. Gay bars are usually men-only, but some bars allow women to come inside (we call it “mix bar”) and other bars are just for straight people (“kanko- bar”). Some bars ban smoking or have separate areas for smokers. Some bars are famous for their finest Japanese sake. Gay bars in Japan are all categorized for their customers’ needs like what they are interested in sexually. Young and skinny boys, macho- men with short hair, chubby guys, Fundoshi guys, cruise bar, and sex clubs. So, you need to make sure if it has what you want and you have what the bar wants when you go to a gay bar in Japan, otherwise you might get really surprised when the door opens.
Finally, some bars do not have any staff who can speak English, so we don’t put them in the gay bar list on OUT JAPAN website, but it doesn’t mean the bars that are not on our list hate you. As long as you come with your interpreter, you will always be welcome. If you are planning to visit Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, there are some tours with gay tour guides, so please contact us or them if you are interested.
I hope your stay in Japan will be so much fun and you will like Japanese gay bars.
By Jun’ichi Gotoh（OUT JAPAN）