Gay Japan: Top Ten Gay Things to Do
Top Ten Gay Things to Do in Japan
Japan, where the men whip out their umbrella at the merest hint of drizzle, while they check their reflection in shop windows every five paces, where taxis have lacy white seat covers, and where you stand twice as long in front of the washstand mirror preening yourself than you did at the urinal peeing.
Is Japan gay friendly? Gay marriage still seems eons away, but Japan is nevertheless a metrosexual heaven liberally spread with a cloying culture of cute. In terms of devotee numbers, Disney must be Japan's biggest religion, and every homegrown cartoon character from Anpanman to Hello Kitty to Pikachu has hordes of even adult fans.
To help you get the tangiest taste of just how camp Japan can be, here's a top ten of gay things to do in Japan, just to get you started.
1. Takarazuka Revue
The Takarazuka Revue is an all-female revue based in the town of Takarazuka (between Osaka and Kobe), and which also has a theater in Tokyo. The Takarazuka Revue was begun partly as a reaction to the perceived stuffiness and affectation of the all-make kabuki scene. Women fill all the roles at the Takarazuka Revue, including, of course, those of the men - these otoko-yaku being the biggest stars of Takarazuka. Biological women they may be, but Takarazuka is a treasure chest of gay camp. Don't miss this dose-of-a-lifetime of frilly, make-up-caked fish-fest, fiercely working it for an adoring houseful of females in chorus-lined, lip-glossed, cross-dressing, bombastic, histrionic, flamboyant, schmaltzy and plain over-the-top showgirlship.
2. Sanrio Puroland
Sanrio is the Japanese toymaker that delivered us Hello Kitty: that dinky pink feline icon of the toddlers' nursery and junk-festooned teenage girl bedroom alike. Sanrio Puroland is a mini-Disneyland for Sanrio's stable of cute characters, over whom Hello Kitty reigns in her furry purry castle. Compact and doable in half a day max, Sanrio Puroland offers a fascinating glimpse not only of the world of Japanese juvenile cutesiness, but also of how it is organized, and of those Japanese who are its biggest fans. Events abound, deftly supervised and performed in by young, smiling, mainly female staff who maintain a balance of unflappable cheer and bossy-britchesness. Don't miss DJ Hello Kitty spinning in the house, among a host of other ridiculously cutesy-pie things to do, see, eat, watch and ride on. There is a sister Hello Kitty theme park, Sanrio Harmonyland, in Hiji, Kyushu.
3. Maid Cafe in Akihabara
The maid cafe in Japan forms part of the Japanese pop-culture scene, a scene whose capital is in Tokyo's Akihabara district, equally famous for its myriad electronics and home appliance stores. Maid cafes are all about goofy, wonky Alice-in-Wonderland-style cuteness, where the liberally given hints of suspender-belted, lacy-stockinged sexuality are all thoroughly sublimated into goo-goo-ga-ga chit-chit and squeaky peace-sign gestures for group Polaroids around the little cup-and-saucer milk-and-sugar table. Contrary to what you might think, these services are not exclusively for single men by any means. Women make up a very big proportion of the clientele, and a gay couple will fit in very nicely. Depending on what you want, your young beaming, lip-glossed, pigeon-toed, ultra-mascaraed maid will chat with you, sing for you, even dance for you, maybe, for however long you can take it. An hour will come to about 4,000 yen.
4. Ice Cream Crepes and Waffles in Harajuku
Harajuku is where Akihabara maids go on their day off. Well, there's more to it than that, but the Harajuku district is famous primarily for its mix of the very latest street fashion for aficionados of the cutesy, the cool, the rebellious, or the high street. Right across from Harajuku Station's Takeshita Exit is Takeshita-dori, a street jam-packed with crazy youthfulness especially on weekends, lined with stores offering all the accoutrements of teenage desire. Just a little way in, on your right, is the famous Noa Cafe (there is another branch in Ginza) offering a menu chock-a-block with unabashed ice-creamy, jammy, caramelly delights served in crepes, on waffles - even on toast! Once caloried up, you can continue your way on down Takeshita-dori, on to the independent designer-lined alleys of Jingumae, or to the grand, tree-lined boulevard of Omotesando, about 500m south of, and roughly parallel to, Takeshita-dori. Omotesando is high-street fashion heaven crowned by the Omotesando Hills complex and, up the far end, the stunning all-glass Prada store.
5. Abercrombie & Fitch, Ginza
Ginza is Tokyo's top shopping district, with everything in the way of luxury consumables amply represented, both from Japan and abroad. Abercrombie & Fitch Ginza is the company's flagship store in Japan, and opened in 2009. Abercrombie & Fitch Ginza is twelve floors of dark, sexily-scented air pumping to the sounds of gay house music. Best of all, you are more likely than not to be welcomed by topless, gym-toned, goodlooking young Japanese men in the spacious ground floor foyer who'll flash you their biggest smiles and be very pleased to have their picture taken in a together forever shot just with you. Abercrombie & Fitch is at the Ginza-6-chome (geen-za-roku-cho-may) intersection.
6. Swan pedal boat in Ueno Park
Ueno Park is the redeeming feature of the otherwise cluttered and dowdy Ueno district of Tokyo. Ueno Park is home to some of Japan's most distinguished museums (including an outdoor Rodin museum of muscle-bound thinkers and archers, etc.), a zoo, and acres and acres of pleasant greenery that includes picturesque temples and the beautiful Shinobazu Pond. Shinobazu Pond has three sections: a lotus pond, a cormorant pond, and a boat pond. The lotus pond is covered with the divine blooms in summer, during which season the boat pond offers boats for hire. Float around and admire the lotuses and the temple on the tiny island in the pond dedicated to Benzaiten (originally the Hindu Saraswati), the goddess of eloquence. You can go for a regular row boat, or you can get a pedal-powered brightly colored swan boat. Your choice. Don't be boring.
7. Men's esthetic at Dandy House
Dandy House is Japan's leading provider to men of what were once considered ladies-only services such as body hair removal, skin toning treatments, hand massage, foot care, slimming treatments, facials, and the like - generally occupying the misty border between purely feel-good and demonstrably beneficial. Enjoy meticulous attention, gentle handling, and all-round dreamy service from the professionals of everything male body-conscious. Courses start at around 5,000 yen. Dandy House website in English
8. Phallus Festival
Looking for really huge cock? Come to Japan in spring. Spring in traditionally agricultural Japan is is all about fertility, and so is the time for various phallus festivals. There are a few such famous festivals. The Honen Matsuri ("Prosperous Year Festival") happens on March 15th in the town of Komaki near Nagoya. Among the many o-mikoshi portable shrines borne through the town, often by by half-naked men, pride of place goes to that bearing the humungous red wooden dildo. Stalls hawk penis-shaped knick-knacks, jewelry and candy, and suggestive banana-based snacks, and the day's proceedings finish in a shower of sticky white rice cakes. Another famous Japanese penis festival closer to Tokyo is the Kanamara Matsuri ("Iron Penis Festival") in Kawasaki, usually on the first Sunday in April. The Kanamara Matsuri has an overtly gay edge with the most outrageous of the enshrined penises, the huge bright pink one, borne aloft and wildly jigged up and down throughout the town by the "Elizabeths," a team of drag queens! And if you can't be in Japan for those festivals, keep an eye out for any local neighborhood festival. Festivals in normally placid Japan are an outpouring of (always ultimately in control) raucous, drunken, loincloth-only, youthful male exuberance. Need we say more?
Shangri-La is Tokyo's only major gay club night where you can choose between dancefloors, or choose the darkroom, and mill as you like in truly spacious, multi-level comfort. Shangri-La happens at the cavernous Studio Coast (often referred to as Ageha, which is the club-related name of the space) in an industrial area on the edge of Tokyo Bay. Shangri-La is held only about every two months, and comes with a different theme each time. Shangri-La gay night has been a massive favorite of Tokyo's gay community for a few years now, and always jumps with a fun-loving male crowd. Shangri-La shows no sign of losing its popularity. See What's on Now in Tokyo to make sure you're in on the fun of the next gay Shangri-La party.
10. Wear What the Hell You Like
Last but not least, if you're coming to Tokyo, first dredge your closet for those outrageous sartorial follies you never have the nerve to wear at home. When it comes to how you look, Tokyo is the ultimate live-and-let-live city. Tokyo is the melting pot for people from all over the Japan, meaning either a lot of Tokyo denizens don't feel at home enough here to snigger and stare at others, or, whether born-Tokyoite or one-time bumpkin, they've seen it all before. Like any major urban magnet, Tokyo is where people go to follow their dreams. So, when it comes to how you dress in Tokyo, don't waste any time on being coy: be as gay as you like in Tokyo, step out in flames!