LGBTQ+ Travel Guide to Japan
Interesting Cities to Visit in Japan
Tokyo is the capital, and main transport hub of Japan. On one hand it’s a very modern city, with neon-lit skyscrapers, but on the other, it’s very traditional with historic temples and palaces, like the Meiji Shinto Shrine and the Imperial Palace. Tokyo is also a foodie’s paradise, with many small izakayas (small gastro pubs) and the world’s largest fish market, Tsukiji. Shinjuku Ni-Chõme is where the city’s gay bars and clubs can be found. It is famous for having the world’s highest concentration, with over 300 tiny gay bars crammed together in unassuming, unremarkable blocks. Some of the most famous include Arty Farty, Annex, FTM Bois Bar, Campy!, Aiiro, Dragon Men and Leo Lounge. Read more about Tokyo from Passport Magazine >>
Kyoto is the cultural capital of Japan, and was the former capital city until 1869 when it was moved to Tokyo. It has retained its regal charm, with beautiful temples and intricate gardens. The most famous are the Golden Temple, Kinkaku-Ji, and the Silver Temple, Ginkaku-Ji. Other highlights in Kyoto include the Arashiyama Sagano Bamboo Forest and the Fushimuri Inari Shrine. Kyoto’s Gion district is where the geisha female entertainers can be found, famously immortalized by the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. They are elusive and hard to pick out, which is what makes geisha spotting a fun activity in Kyoto. Read more about Kyoto from Out There Magazine >>
Hiroshima has a devastating history because it was completely decimated by an atomic bomb at the end of the Second World War in 1945. The city has been rebuilt, with a Memorial Park with monuments and a fascinating museum dedicated to the history of the entire experience. It makes for an emotional and harrowing visit. Hiroshima is also famous for its okonomiyaki. This is a Japanese savory pancake served with a variety of fillings, including various meat or vegetables, and topped with a layer of noodles and sauces. Hiroshima downtown is the best place to try the best okonomiyaki.
Osaka is Japan's second-largest metropolis and is adored for incredibly welcoming locals and an "eat-till-you-drop" food culture. With an inexhaustible variety of world-renowned attractions such as Universal Studios Japan or the historical Osaka Castle, every day in Osaka is an opportunity for unforgettable experiences. At night, Osaka's fun-loving nature becomes even more apparent. Doyama, a gay district second in size only to Tokyo's Ni-Chome, cements Osaka's status as the downtown of Japan, with other colorful nightlife districts scattered throughout the city. Being the heart of the Kansai region as well as host to Kansai International Airport, Osaka provides fast access to popular sightseeing spots in Kyoto, Nara, and beyond, making Osaka an ideal home base for travelers.
Interesting Attractions to Visit in Japan
VISITING THE JAPANESE COUNTRYSIDE IN HIDA-TAKAYAMA
Hida-Takayama is nicknamed the Japanese Alps, because this is where you come to experience traditional village life in the countryside. Takayama itself is an old town, with a range of gay-friendly Japanese inns called ryokans. You can also rent bikes for the day and do tours of the countryside around Takayama, visiting local villages set in stunning scenery of mountains, waterfalls and lakes.
TAKE THE HIGH-SPEED BULLET TRAIN ACROSS JAPAN
A journey on the Shinkansen high speed bullet train is a must. It’s not only the most efficient way of getting around the country between each city, it’s extremely impressive. It operates at speeds of around 360km per hour (225mph), making it one of the fastest trains in the world. Train travel in Japan is expensive, so if you’re going to do many journeys, buy a Japan Rail Pass (JR Pass) before you arrive because it gives you unlimited travel for a specified period.
SCUBA DIVING AROUND ISHIGAKI
Ishigaki is the main transport hub of the Yaeyama islands—the southernmost inhabited archipelago of Japan, located 2,000km (1,242 miles) south of Tokyo. The tropical water offers world class scuba diving, with sites like the submerged Yonaguni Monument rock formation. You can also expect to see a wide array of tropical fish, manta rays (especially June to September) and hammerhead sharks (more likely in December and January).
JUNGLE TREKKING ON IRIOMOTE ISLAND
Iriomote is one of Japan’s more remote islands, which you can reach with a ferry from Ishigaki. It’s the largest of the Yaeyama islands, and the second largest in Japan’s Okinawa province. It’s largely undeveloped with around 90% covered by dense jungle, which makes it ideal for adventure travelers. There are also lakes with waterfalls to swim in and an abundance of wildlife to spot, like wild boars and the elusive Iriomote cat.
CLIMBING MOUNT FUJI
Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain at 3,775m (12,390 feet). It is also one of Japan’s most photographed and painted icons. You can trek up Mount Fuji July to mid-September, when the trails and mountain facilities are open. During this period the weather is quite mild, with little or no snow, and the mountain huts are operating. The main peak season to avoid is during the Obon Week in mid-August, when you are likely to have to stand in line and queue in some of the trails.
THE ITSUKUSHIMA SHRINE
The Itsukushima Shrine, famous for its iconic floating torii gate, is also listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is located on Miyajima, a small island in western Japan. A torii is a Japanese gate, which marks the approach and entrance to a shrine. They are made from wood and painted either orange or black. At high tide, the giant torii on Miyajima looks like a small island by itself and is a beautiful image against the backdrop of the Japanese sunset. You can easily reach Miyajima as part of a day trip from Hiroshima.
Experiencing Japanese Food
Japanese cuisine (washoku) is so famous it’s even been added to UNESCO’s intangible heritage list. One of the most famous Japanese dishes is sushi—raw fish, sliced into small pieces and served on rice. Sushi literally means “sour tasting” in Japanese. It derives from the old tradition of preserving raw fish by wrapping it in soured fermenting rice. The fish proteins are then broken down via the fermentation. The Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo is one of the largest fish markets. Around it there are many small restaurants to try fresh, tasty sushi.
Ramen is meat- or vegetable-based broth served with noodles, then topped with a boiled egg, ginger and/or vegetables, depending on the recipe. The broth can be cooked for hours or even days. To learn more about ramen, there is a museum dedicated to it in the city of Yokohama near Tokyo. Other Japanese culinary gems to look out for include tempura (battered, deep-fried snacks), gyoza (dumplings), the okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza) and wagyu beef.
Safety Considerations for LGBTQ+ visitors to Japan
Although Japan is not as LGBTQ+-friendly as countries in North America and in Western Europe, it is very safe for LGBTQ+ travelers. While society is socially conservative in Japan, they warmly welcome all visitors. It helps to be respectful and be cautious about public displays of affection—the Japanese rarely do so, whether straight or gay. It is common to wave to another person as a greeting and to bow. Shaking hands is becoming more common, especially with the younger generations. They rarely kiss or embrace in public.
With regards to LGBTQ+ legislation: In 1880, Japan legalized same-sex sexual activity; the age of consent is equal for both opposite and same-sex couples; transgender individuals are allowed to change their legal gender after sex reassignment; and laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity are in place in Tokyo and are slowly being passed on a national level.
LGBTQ+ Travel Tips for Japan
Tokyo has the biggest LGBTQ+ community in the country. It also has the largest gay scene, with hundreds of small gay bars crammed in the Shinjuku Ni-Chõme district. Other cities, like Osaka, also have a smaller LGBTQ+ scene.
The largest LGBTQ+ event in Japan is Tokyo Rainbow Pride during the Golden Weekend public holiday in late April or early May. It is a weeklong festival with LGBTQ+-friendly events and seminars in and around Yoyogi Park. There is also Rainbow Reel, an LGBTQ+ film festival in Tokyo in July, which has been taking place since 1992.
In Tokyo, there are frequently large weekly or monthly LGBTQ+ parties like Glamorous at Fame, Banana Fridays men-only night at AiSOTOPE and Diamond Cutter women-only night at AiSOTOPE.
We are gay couple Stefan and Sebastien from London, who left our lives in London in 2014 to travel the world. We write about the different gay scenes in each destination we visit in our gay travel blog called Nomadic Boys.