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Though Japan’s LGBTIQ+ community seems a little more hidden than its Western neighbours, there’s still a vibrant and diverse queer community here in Tokyo. The best way to get involved is by going out and joining the many unique parties and events that happen all year round. Shinjuku‘s Ni-Chome (also written as 2-Chome) area is the heart of Tokyo’s gay scene. Featuring a diverse collection of bars and patrons, it’s only a ten-minute walk from Shinjuku Station. Here’s just a handful of some of the best LGBT-friendly bars in the area.
Arty Farty is a long running Ni-Chome favourite. It features a steamy, always bustling dance floor and a very foreigner-friendly atmosphere. Tucked up a small stairway, this place gets pretty packed on the weekends, so if you’re looking to make some new friends or meet one special friend, you’ll probably have some luck here. In order to keep it gay friendly, on Friday and Sunday night ladies have to bring along a gay male chaperone.
2 Chome-11-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 5362 9720
If you’re wandering around the area and have no idea where to go, just head straight to Dragon Men. A failsafe option, this very popular bar is filled with an eclectic mix of both Japanese and foreign patrons every night of the week. The music is a shameless mix of top 40 pop bangers and EDM. The weekends is when it’s really happening; however, it does run a pretty nice little happy hour deal between 6pm to 8pm Monday to Thursday.
2 Chome-11-14 Shinjuku, Shinjuku Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 3341 0606
Sitting on one of Ni-Chome’s most well-trodden corners is the mainly outdoor AiiRO Café and bar. Home to a diverse group of clients of all genders, the bar has an incredibly welcoming atmosphere. Open from 6pm on, this is one of the best places to start your evening. To find it, just wander the streets of Ni-Chome and keep a look out for the large Torii Gate that hovers over the bar’s entrance and the heaving crowd of guests handing around the entrance.
7th Tenka Building 1F, Shinjuku 2-18-1, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 6273 0740
For something a little more classic, you can’t miss the chance to visit New Sazae. A gay bar and old-school disco hub, this Tokyo institution has been around since 1966 and is still as popular as ever. Everyone is welcome here, as long as you like to dance. Soundtrack-wise the music is mainly a blend of ‘70s and ‘80s disco and house. Though it’s most popular on the weekend, the bar is open every single day of the year, and its fascinating and welcoming owner Shion is a Ni-Chome icon.
Shinjuku Ishikawa Building, 2 Chome – 18 – 5, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 3354 1745
For those interested in queer art and culture, then make your way to Tac’s Knot. This cozy cocktail bar is all about gay art. The walls of the establishment feature a rotating display of artwork by a different artist each month. The man behind the bar, Master Tac, is a local legend and an icon in the gay art scene. A little more laid-back than some of its neighbours, the bar is open between 8pm and 3am every day.
Run by iconic local cross-dresser Bourbonne, this café and bar is a very welcoming hub for people of all walks of life. The main attraction here is the bar’s drag shows, which typically start at around 8pm. Popular for its friendly and fun atmosphere and impeccable service, Campy! Bar is a great place to begin your foray into the Ni-Chome scene. Another bonus is, unlike many other clubs in the area, there’s no entry charge here, unless you want to reserve a sofa on the weekends, which costs 1,000 yen (US$9.25).
Tokyo, Shinjuku, Musashino Building, 2 Chome-13-10, Shinjuku, Tokyo, +81 3 3341 4445
Lesbian bars are quickly becoming an endangered species across the world; however, Ni-Chome’s popular Gold Finger isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This local icon is open to everyone all nights of the week except Saturdays when it’s strictly women only. Home to a diverse selection of patrons from across the world, the bar’s main drawcard is the communal karaoke sessions – you are in the world capital of karaoke after all.
2 Chome-12-11, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 6383 4649
A little bit more of a newcomer on the Ni-Chome scene, Aisotope Lounge opened in 2012, but has quickly gained a loyal customer base. Weaving across two rooms, this is one of the area’s bigger nightclubs, and as a result they host a number of special parties and one off events. From EDM, techno and pop, what type of music you’ll hear depends on the night, but if you do made it down, it’s guaranteed to be a whole stack of fun.
2 Chome – 12, Shinjuku 2 – chome 12 – 16, Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan, +81 3 6380 1504