LISTEN: Tokyo, a travel guide

Stefan Arestis, co-founder of the gay travel blog Nomadic Boys, joins our hosts on today’s super kawaii Tokyo episode.

For a downloadable version of Season 3, Episode 10 click here. And if you haven’t already, you can subscribe to The Gay Travel podcast on Spotify and iTunes.

We can’t travel right now, but we can certainly dream about a return to it in the not-so-distant future.

About Nomadic Boys

Nomadic Boys exploring Tokyo.

Nomadic Boys is a gay travel blog by French-Greek couple Stefan Arestis (On the left in the above photo) and Sebastien Chaneac. The dapper duo has been together for ten years and began blogging in 2013 while enjoying an 18-month sabbatical in Asia followed by a similar expedition across Latin America. Since the beginning, they have strived to equally spotlight classic hotspots as well as less popular destinations.

Beyond their own site, you can find their by-line in the pages of The New York Times, Lonely Planet, The Guardian and more.

Follow Nomadic boys on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

Podcast Notes

Konichiwa Travellers!

Today’s inspiring Tokyo episode was recorded weeks before COVID-19 forced the world into isolation. While the episode doesn’t grapple with the impacts of COVID-19 on Japan, it does capture why we are so drawn to it. We hope the episode inspires you to visit the island nation when travel restrictions ease and it is safe to do so.

Where to stay in Tokyo

As pointed out in the episode, Tokyo is an extremely expensive destination and where you stay will directly correspond to your budget. The good news is the city has a robust metro system so you’ll be well connected no matter which neighborhood you choose. That said, here are two neighborhoods our hosts like.

Shinjuku – Get swept away by the beauty and crowds of this bustling neighborhood. It is a heavily commercial area with endless shopping and entertainment. It is also very close to the majority of Tokyo’s gay nightlife.

Ginza – Famously Tokyo’s most upmarket shopping district. You’ll be a stone’s throw from art galleries, world-class restaurants and boutiques. Nightlife and entertainment aren’t far either.

What to see and do

Nomadic Boys in wander the streets of Tokyo.

Digital Art Museum – Visit a multimedia art museum “without borders.”

Aki Habara – Play endless arcade games in what has become known as the video game district.

Onsens – Experience Japan’s bathing culture. Onsens are public baths fed by heated mineral water pumped from the earth. Onsens are meant to have incredible healing properties. If you’re in Tokyo, Stefan recommends Maenohara.

Studio Geisha Cafe – Spend an afternoon learning the history and culture of Japan’s geisha while dressing up as one.

Maid Cafes – Grab a coffee and something sweet at one of these kitschy cafes where waitresses are dressed as anime-inspired French maids.

Meiji Shrine – Find your zen and escape the city hustle at this centrally located oasis.

Where to shop

Ginza – As mentioned, this neighbourhood is where you’ll find the more upscale malls and boutiques.

Harajuku – More than just a shopping district, Harajuku has become a cultural phenomenon that symbolizes Japan’s famous teen culture. Expect trendy shops, boutiques and used clothing stores.

Shimukita – A used clothing district off Harajuku. Shimukita is the yin to Ginza’s yang.

Snowpeak – Outdoor lifestyle store (think REI) with minimalist, Japanese flair.

Tokyu Hands – Full of whozits and whatzits galore. Perfect for souvenirs.

What to eat

Gay travel bloggers Nomadic Boys try a Japanese dish in Tokyo.

As discussed in the episode, Tokyo isn’t about any specific restaurant recommendation. The best approach to discovering the robust scene is heading out of your hotel in search of a hole in the wall ramen or sushi joint.

Vegetarians – Fair warning, Japan is not an easy country to navigate if you’re a strict vegetarian/vegan. But one tip Peter offers is to seek out 7/11s where extremely fresh, high-quality and well-labelled snacks and sandwiches await.

Tsukiji Outer Market – Adjacent to the old wholesale fish market is this centre known for its seafood and sushi. Plenty of walking tours can be organized online, some of which include sushi-making classes.

Shin-Yokahama – Slurp up the history of Japan’s world-famous noodle soup at the Ramen Museum.

Vending Machines – One of the odder recommendations on today’s episode was to ensure you try out the vending machines in Tokyo. Specifically, find a vending machine that serves Boss Coffee in a can – it’s the one with the rainbow design.

Gay Tokyo

Nomadic Boys hanging out at a gay bar in Tokyo.

Tokyo is an extremely safe and welcoming city for LGBT travelers. Head to Shinjuku’s Ni-Chōme neighborhood where the world’s highest concentration of gay bars await!

As mentioned in the episode, the majority of gay bars in Tokyo are extremely small and more intended for local patrons. However, that doesn’t mean you’re not welcome. Join a gay nightlife tour to grapple the often misunderstood Tokyo gay scene such as the ones offered by Out Asia Travel. Or consider our Japan: Kyoto to Tokyo gay tour!

Uncle Awkward – A small Japanese gay whiskey bar. Either use a translation app to communicate with staff or join one of the previously mentioned nightlife tours through Out Asia Travel.

The Eagle – This mixed bar is full of locals and tourists alike. It’s a bit easier to navigate for tourists and has an excellent patio.

New Sazae – An extremely popular gay club where patrons shake their jigglypuffs.

Dragon Boys – Another popular gay club with minimally clothed bartenders.

24 Kaikan – Okay. So in the episode, Peter TRIED to portray this famous gay sauna as something of a relaxed, chill space where you can find rest and respite. But the real tea is it is absolutely a sex-positive sauna. If that’s your thing. Cool. But be warned if it’s not – no matter what Peter says!

Day trips

Mount Fuji – The second highest volcano in the world is only a bullet train away from Tokyo. We recommend overnighting and getting a full day experience here.

Hakone – A picture-perfect country town full of ryokens and onsenses.

Takayama – Another adorable country town about an hour away from Tokyo proper. It is known for it’s Spring and Fall festivals.

Tokyo Travel Tips:

  • Only take a taxi in Tokyo once. It is somewhat of a cultural experience, but is too expensive to take multiple times. Triple-so because the public transit system is so good.
  • Never arrive late for a restaurant reservation. Ever.
  • Download the Google translate app to navigate menus, vending machines and other signs.
  • If you have tattoos but you’d like to try the onsens, use this website to find spaces available to you.
  • When it comes to cellular data, don’t bother with a sim card or an international roaming package. Rent a Wifi Device like the one described here.
  • Hyperdia is the de facto metro app in Tokyo. It has very precise schedules as well as directions to the correct platforms and exits.
  • Bring a change purse – despite its connection with electronics, Japan is very much a cash culture.
  • Speaking of change, 7/11s have their own bank in Japan that works flawlessly with international bank cards.
  • Purchase a JR Rail Pass IN ADVANCE. The two-week pass is much cheaper when purchased before arrival.
  • Learn some basic Japanese words. It really goes a long way and it’s actually a relatively easy language as far as Asian languages are concerned.
  • Finally, for a breakdown on Japan’s notoriously complex etiquette, check out our recent blog post here.