Unlike many nations, Japan has no history of religious opposition to homosexuality. It is also known for having a rich culture of homosexuality and has a history of homosexual relationships among samurai and monks.
However, gay rights are still a work in progress in the country. Large cities like Tokyo are slowly becoming more open and accepting of LGBT communities.
The first Sunday in April is when Japan celebrates its male reproductive organ with Kanamara Matsuri, or the Steel Phallus Festival. What may seem like a garish affair to the prudish eye (Japanese culture is known for its sense of decorum and discretion when it comes to personal matters, including sexuality) is actually a serious religious ceremony, rooted in Japan’s nature-worshipping Shinto beliefs. While the festival may look like Mardi Gras with dongs to outsiders, attendees pray for fertility and safe sex.
The festival’s roots are a little more obscure than that of many other Japanese festivals. During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Kawasaki was a hub for prostitutes and brothels, and its Kanayama shrine became a popular place to pray for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. The shrine features a phallus statue and was thus nicknamed “the Penis Shrine.” In the early 1980s, the focus shifted to AIDS prevention.
Today, the festival is famous for its trio of outlandish erect penis-shaped portable shrines (mikoshi) that participants carry in procession. The most famous is the “Elizabeth” mikoshi, a pink shaft donated by crossdressing club Nu Zhuang Kurabu in Asakusabashi. While the festival has lost its focus on sex work, its prayer for fertility remains poignant in a country with one of the world’s lowest birth rates and strict immigration laws that keep refugees from arriving.
Although Japan has progressive laws on sex equality, conservative values around queer sexuality and non-binary gender identities remain prevalent outside of major cities. However, a visit to Tokyo’s notoriously raucous gay district of Shinjuku Ni-chome or Doyamacho in Osaka will reveal that gay life is alive and well in this cultured country.
Doyamacho is a small but energetic area near downtown Umeda that’s packed with bars, izakaya, karaoke, love hotels and host clubs. The area draws crowds of salarymen, OL (office ladies) and students who stop by after work to let off steam, dance the night away or find a date.
While foreigners are welcome at most bars, some places are more foreigner-friendly than others. For example, a lesbian bar called Bull attracts a mix of locals and international visitors with friendly English-speaking owner Hideki-san. Its low ceilings and tiny layout make it feel more like a living room than a club, while its jukebox-driven music is loud enough to sing along to.
Other notable Doyamacho bars include the popular lesbian bar WaaGwaan, known for its vegan menu and friendly English-speaking staff, and Frenz Frenzy, which has hosted several celebrities singing karaoke. There is also the large five-story cruising bar Osaka, which is foreigner-friendly but operates under an age discrimination policy and denies entry to those over 40.
Kansai Queer Film Festival
The Kansai Queer Film Festival is an annual event that showcases gay-themed films from Japan and around the world. It is a great way to support the LGBTQ community and promote equality. It also offers a safe space to watch films that are both entertaining and informative.
It has become one of the largest international LGBT festivals in Asia and is held annually in Osaka, a city hailed as “the kitchen of Japan.” The festival attracts a diverse audience including LGBTQ individuals and allies from across the country and beyond. Its main goal is to provide a positive message that love knows no boundaries.
This year, the festival will feature a series of gay adult Japanese films, including Sisterhood, an emotive drama about two lesbian friends’ long relationship. The film features beautiful cinematography and powerful performances from its talented cast. It is a must-see for any gay traveler visiting Japan.
While homosexuality was once criminalized in Japan, the current economic crisis has led to a more accepting culture and an increasing number of gay saunas, bars, and clubs that welcome foreigners. However, homophobia remains a problem in some areas. Luckily, Osaka is one of the most gay-friendly cities in the country and has an active nightlife scene that supports local gay communities. For this reason, it is a great place to explore Japan’s vibrant gay culture.
The vibrant neighborhood of 2-Chome Shinjuku (better known as Ni-chome) is home to some of Tokyo’s best gay bars, clubs, and saunas. During the day, ramen shops and quirky cafes keep the area busy. At night, the neon-lit district is buzzing with music and dancers.
The neighborhood has over 300 bars, all with their own unique theme and target audience. It’s a place where you can find anything from drag shows to fetish stores. There are even bars for gay couples and those who want to get spanked. In addition, there are many gay saunas and cruise clubs for different tastes.
While the majority of bars in this area cater to the LGBT community, some do not. For instance, Check is a queer venue that sells fetish items and erotic films. This place also serves wine and has an intimate atmosphere.
In this episode, Kiko is fully immersed in the gayborhood and forgets that she is not a part of its culture. While Japan has no history of religious hostility toward homosexuals, it still lacks the same level of acceptance found in other countries. Although the country does not ban same-sex marriage, it does not recognize same-sex partnerships either. As a result, most LGBT people do not come out as being gay in Japan. However, the use of gay-friendly dating applications has allowed some people to participate in Japanese gay culture via virtual connectivity.