Inspired by the Corporate Closet’s IJ post about a bathhouse in Osaka, I decided to blog about the gay scene in Tokyo which I’ve had the chance to explore a bit during the times I’ve been to Japan several years ago. Like CC, I have this curious need to check out the pink scene whenever I go abroad. Hehehe. In the case of Tokyo, the place to go to is Shinjuku Ni-chome. That’s the Tokyo equivalent of Malate’s Orosa-Nakpil area.
One of the reasons why I started this blog and why I write a lot of guide-type entries is because of my experiences in Japan. I never would have tried out the gay scene there if I wasn’t able to read about it online. (And Utopia Asia is one good resource.) So I decided to share my knowledge about the Manila scene so that other PLUs who want to try it won’t go unprepared.
A bit of a background on Japan
Before anything else, let’s talk about the guys in Tokyo. Well, there are a lot of cute and yummy guys there and chinito types are plus pogi points for me. But generally, the cuteness density in Tokyo is not so much higher than in Manila. It’s just that you get to see a whole lot more people there especially on the trains and subways that you tend to see lots of cute guys too. The high school boys were particularly cute in their uniforms.
In Japan, homosexuality is somewhat a non-issue. Before Japan opened up to the West, the country was almost like the ancient Greeks in how they dealt with gay love. Nowadays, Japan’s society have somewhat adopted the Western Christian disapproval of homosexuality. Most gay people in Japan are in the closet and because of the societal pressure to marry, there are a lot of married gay men. (You can read more in Wikipedia.)
As I’ve said, this small area east of Shinjuku Station is the equivalent of Orosa-Nakpil in Malate and consists of several small city blocks. Shinjuku Ni-chome has about a hundred to two hundred small gay bars, clubs and cafes. Most of them can only accommodate no more than 15 people. It’s a really intimate place and most bars are usually not welcoming of strangers. Generally, each bar has a preference of its clientèle; there are the bars for the young twinks, those for the muscle beefcakes, and several for the popular chubby bears. There is supposedly a bar for any particular type you might prefer.
However, one thing common among these bars is that all of them, save for a handful or so, do not accommodate foreigners, or gaijin. Like many Filipinos, Japanese tend to stick to their own. Based on what I’ve researched back then, the only foreigner-friendly and popular bars back then were Advocates Cafe, Arty Farty, BG, and Club Dragon. I’m not sure if these still exist today.
Trying out Arty Farty
Photo taken from Flickr.
One Friday several years ago, I decided to finally try the scene out and so I swung by Shinjuku to do some advance scouting. (Yes, dapat may ocular inspection muna. Hehehe.) It was early in the evening so the area was not too crowded and I went around and around to look for these supposed four gaijin-friendly places. I found all of them except for Arty Farty. And, boy were they right when they said the bars were small. I don’t think you can pack more than 20 people inside Advocates Cafe alone.
The next day, Saturday, was my planned actual immersion to this world in Shinjuku. Before leaving for my gimik, I got on the Internet and researched some more and finally found the correct address of Arty Farty. (The Internet is your friend!) I got to Shinjuku Ni-chome at around 10 in the evening with the intention of staying up until 5 am, when the first trains start to ply their routes. (People who go out and have fun can either party till midnight and catch the last trains, or drink the night away until the trains move again.)
I wasn’t sure where to go really so I loitered around the area checking the scene out. There weren’t too many people in Advocates, and I couldn’t tell whether there were a lot of people in BG or Club Dragon. I went to where Arty Farty was located instead and after a short while a Caucasian guy went up to the door of Arty Farty and wondered how to open it. I helped him and we both got inside. Woah. There was no entrance fee!
Inside was a different world altogether. The place was packed to the brim and there were guys from all over the world having a great time. I can definitely tell that Arty Farty was the it place in Shinjuku Ni-chome, much like BED is in Malate. There were a lot of foreigners in there and the Japanese crowd is mostly between 20 to 35 years old. It’s very, very cosmopolitan. Arty Farty is also one of the exceptions to the bars in that it is large; there were probably a hundred people in there that I saw.
That said, I realized that it’s hard for me to socialize in a place like that. As I’ve said, Japanese tend to prefer other Japanese, and those that prefer gaijin prefer the white guys. Well, the Japanese can easily tell that I’m not one of them so I’m left mostly alone. The other foreigners, on the other hand, would assume that I’m Japanese and left me alone as well. Tsk, tsk.
A did get to talk to a couple of guys. One is a Japanese who asked if I were Thai or Malaysian. (Hehe, close enough.) He invited me to go to his place, but since I had no plan of doing anything naughty (besides, he wasn’t my type), I declined his offer. The other guy is a British citizen of Sri Lankan ancestry who got curious with me. He was definitely not my type so the conversation was short.
The music was nice enough, but it’s a clubber’s nightmare. The DJ had no mixing skills at all (actually he never attempted it) and the playlist had a bunch of house music followed by several hip-hop and R&B songs followed by house music and so on. I wished it was one or the other all throughout the night and that there was decent mixing. Then again, people did dance wildly when Madonna’s “Hung Up” and “Sorry” were played back-to-back and also when a bunch of Destiny’s Child hits were brought up later, so I guess they really enjoyed the music. But it does not hold a candle to the floor-filling goodness of a good Saturday night in Bed.
I got tired with the scene in Arty Farty at around 2 am. I’ve seen enough, decided that there’s no place like back home, and wanted to go back to the place I was staying at in southern Tokyo. But it was too late to go home by then so I tried my best to enjoy myself until 5 am. I think I even napped for a while on one of the sofas there.
Next up, I’ll talk about 24 Kaikan, the most popular chain (yes, chain!) of bathhouses in Tokyo.