Gay Japan: Drag in Osaka
Drag in Osaka
Japan's a drag! At least it should be. Once you've fed the deer in Nara, and toured the various sights of Kyoto, Osaka is next on your list. However, is the "Running Man," Tsutenkaku Tower, shopping and other famous Osaka attractions all that there is? What's a gay guy or gal to do when the sun goes down and the city lights pierce the darkness? Osaka is where you can enjoy some big city nightlife as part of your Kansai adventure, and, more specifically, find yourself some queens!
Japan has some of the fiercest queens on the planet and if you leave Japan without seeing them, well, you've missed out on something spectacular! In Japan, drag queens don't just go person to person accepting 100 yen coins as they lip synch to age old tunes; instead they perform and truly rock it out! In what seems more like performance art, these ladies will have you crying, laughing, cringing, and begging for more.
As a drag connoisseur, I believe that drag queens make the world a better place. From San Francisco to Los Angeles' West Hollywood and even small town Missouri, USA, I have seen innumerable queens work the crowd. However, after seeing the queens of Osaka, most pale in comparison.
Japanese Drag Queens
In Japan, I have seen anything from hot wax being poured on unsuspecting audience members to faux-funerals during the swine flu epidemic, all performed by beautiful, intriguing, and masterfully painted drag queens. My all-time favorite was a queen dressed in a skin tight tiger outfit entangled in vines. This lady crawled around the stage consuming spinach with snarly looks of seduction. Or was my favorite the queen who tore off her painted face on stage?
The best place to find Osaka drag queens is at the gay nightclub Explosion, in Osaka's Doyamacho district. Explosion opens its doors around 9 p.m. and closes around 5 a.m.just in time to catch a first train to your next destination. Coat and bag check is just a couple hundred yen, and the admission fee at Explosion usually includes drink tickets to be exchanged at the bar for a drink of your choice. English drink menus are on hand and most of the bar tenders know some English. And if you're foreign, you're often in luck, getting an extra drink ticket with admission.
Foreigner-friendly Explosion is a welcoming environment for all. Queer and straight, men, women, and transgender individuals congregate there. However, when it comes to drag queens, you won't be able to snag a queen on any night of the week. You'll have to wait for an event. Gay Osaka clubs are busiest when an event takes place, but even if you can't catch an event, they are great for a drink and a dance.
Explosion's drag queens can be seen during "Global Kiss" events. Global Kiss is Explosion's regular "international gay/mix party" and happens at least once, often twice a month, on the first and/or third Saturday of the month. Global Kiss and is attended by foreigners (and often Japanese guys seeking them). However, Global Kiss drag queens are there to perform, not rule. Explosion also hosts full-fledged drag events. These are not as common as Global Kiss, so keep checking their website and be sure to plan accordingly. (http://www.ex-osaka.com/). Their site even features a map which makes it easy to locate from Osaka station. From Umeda station, I find it easiest to locate the shopping mall "Hep Five" and go from there. Located within Doyama-cho, you'll find it located in the "gay-friendly" part of town and just around the corner from the gay bathhouse.
Japanese Drag Etiquette
It is important to know Japanese drag-viewing etiquette before you see a show. "When in Rome" don't tip. During your travels you will probably have realized that tipping isn't done at restaurants in Japan. The same goes for drag. In other countries such as the United States people often hold up dollar bills for a drag queen to collect during her performance. In Japan however, this is not appropriate. It would get you unwanted attention and may even insult the pretty lady. I have even seen people tell wanna-be tippers to "put it away." The ladies at Explosion are there to perform and entertain, not to collect your spare change.
Secondly, expect audience involvement. It is normal for people to be pulled onto the stage and become part of the performance, so don't be surprised if you are next! There are those with a foreigner fetish, so if you're a handsome foreign lad, or a beautiful foreign lady, don't be surprised if you are singled out. Although, most people I have seen that were pulled onto stage were in fact Japanese and in the front row.
Cameras & Photos
Next, don't forget your camera! Flash photography is allowed. Don't be surprised if a slew of people rush up to the stage in paparazzi fashion to snap a drag queen. There are so many, it is hard to catch 'em all.
Fishiness and Foreignness
Finally, an interesting fact about queens in Osaka is that some are real "fish." Yes, drag is not only reserved for gay men in Japan, but women also participate because they enjoy the costume and performance aspects of drag. Also, you may even see non-Japanese performing. This isn't common, but be on the lookout for that fierce foreign bitch Electra Raygun for one.
So after all those oh-so-worthy Kyoto and Nara temple tours, tiring as they may be, you will NOT want to miss a chance to get yourself to Osaka's Umeda district and see some of the most intriguing and unforgettable drag queens on the planet.
By Nathaniel Simmons
See Electra Raygun performing the "Unchi" ("poo-poo") song at Global Kiss.
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