When you contemplate what kind of culture Japan is at its heart, it can be rather awe-inspiring and almost shocking to witness gaggles of gays fawn over each other in fruitful attempts to copulate at the various LGBT nightclubs in Tokyo.
Upon entering the appropriately-called ‘gay district’ of Tokyo, I immediately perceived a sense of familiarity – like I had been there before. That’s because this gayborhood of bars reminded me exactly of the collection of LGBT bars back home, which were approximately 6,296 miles away from my then current position.
I’m from Chicago, the home of the famed (or infamous) Boystown. So therefore I’m very accustomed to living out my full gay life between two informal geographical boundaries that overlap with more officially-recognized neighborhoods. In this case, that being Lakeview East.
Another reason why this place felt so familiar to me was the true sense of community and pride that you can feel the moment you arrive. It’s so palpable and tangible that I could’ve poured it into my cocktail that night and consumed it like the perpetually-thirsty bear cub that I am. Like Boystown, there is a genuine sense of love, understanding, kindness, communication, and openness that you simply cannot resist within the similarly informal geographical boundaries that create the gay district of Tokyo.
One particular club, Dragon MEN, located in downtown Shinjuku, is a foreigner-friendly gay bar with kindly staff, moderately-priced drinks, and it was one of my favorite hotspots to visit during my adventures in Japan last year. It could’ve easily existed in Boystown itself or any other gay-friendly neighborhood. You had beautiful, beat-for-the-gods, Drag Queens dancing and lip-syncing for your life, his life, her life, all of our lives. There were, of course, the less-than-friendly ‘cliquey’ gays that were in the corner, judging you, and you had the uber-friendly hosts that were just so happy to greet you inside. Plus, as a bonus, all the handsome locals and expats love to meet and greet fish-out-of-water foreigners such as myself.
Dragon MEN is the definitely the popular bar. It seemed, at all times, the busiest with guests lined outside the club trying to get in. It does offer a lot of room to move around, dance, cruise, or sit down and just have an alcohol to yourself. For me, as I said, it was my favorite place to visit because I continuously met extremely nice people who offered to buy me drinks, donate cigarettes upon request, or exchange kind words of mere flirts with me. In fact, I made a great friend there who I still occasionally talk to on Facebook. I also hooked up with a gentleman from Paraguay there. It was a good night, overall. I expanded my ethnic horizons that day.
My next evening in the gay district did not involve the loud speakers and overly-enthusiastic dancegoers because eventually that can lose its appeal after awhile. So, I meandered on over to Bridge, which is a more atmospheric gay bar on Ni-chome and it’s reserved for those of us who want to enjoy a softer, less in-your-face gay experience whilst journeying through the dicks of Tokyo. Inside, you can relax and have thoughtful conversations while sipping on Sake. It’s a more ‘chill’ environment, so to speak. Ironically, I didn’t really talk to as many people as I did at Dragon MEN. Those I did speak to were again very outgoing and social, which speaks volumes when you consider again what country you’re visiting. There was no hooking up that night. Jesus wept.
Gold Finger is also another foreigner-friendly bar, but (and you guessed it), it’s definitely your go-to Karaoke bar. In Japan, Karaoke is a big cultural staple and you’ll find plenty of it wherever you end up. In the gay district, to find the best Karaoke bar is to find Gold Finger and it’s also the best lesbian bar as well, offering Saturdays as their women-only nights. Absolutely no men are allowed inside at all. And it’s home to a totally mixed grabbag of different genetic party favors. I met men and women from London, Uruguay, Switzerland, Florida – all manner of places. And even though I sang Staying Alive by the Bee Gees in English at a Japanese Karaoke bar, I still received much fanfare and applause from the audience. But that’s probably because everybody was either too drunk to care or just making fun of me. It didn’t matter. I still had a blast. What also made this experience such a highlight was watching people from places all around the world singing pop songs in their native languages. I felt cultured as fuck.
I could continue to shamelessly plug all these amazing bars that I visited, but that’s not really the point of why I’m writing this Thursday Travel blog. As familiar as the gay district of Tokyo is to me, at the same time, it’s different and inspiring for it’s own merits.
Japan is a reserved country. As congested as the train stations of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are, you don’t hear too much talking. In fact, if it weren’t for the purposeful feet of those walking to their respective train platforms or the trains themselves, I’m convinced the stations would be nearly soundless. While walking up and down the busy streets of Akihabara, the electric town, I didn’t really see people inside or outside of stores talking to each other. And that’s because the people of Japan are quiet, shy, introverted, independent, and very solitary. They do communicate, but it’s very implied. Subtle hand gestures and facial expressions suggest enough meaning to one another to avoid any further vocalizations or even possible confrontations.
And there’s nothing wrong with this at all. There’s a quiet dignity of the people of Japan and it’s highly respectable and warrants merit. But when you witness two gays inside of a dark nightclub desperately lusting after each other in a culture, in a country, that otherwise isn’t very vocal, isn’t very communicative, isn’t very confrontational, isn’t always that sexual, and whose people mostly keep to themselves, it can be very illuminating and downright inspiring to know that the same sense of pride and love that encompasses the LGBT community, one that I’ve always felt in Boystown, can be felt, heard, tasted, smelled, and seen even in the quietest, most solitary of all peoples and cultures. Such as the beautiful Japan.
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