jewel of Japan

Tokyo’s sultry secrets, from queer nightlife to remarkable ramen

Tokyo Rainbow Pride
Tokyo Rainbow Pride. Photo by Takashi Aoyama/Getty Images.

From the discrete apartment-size bars in Shinjuki Ni-chome to sprawling retail developments that give Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive a run for its money, Tokyo — depending on what you’re looking for — can be an explosion of excess or a calm retreat of sophistication. 

Japan’s capital and the world’s most populated urban area at nearly 38 million overflows with big city delights and experiences for travelers, from shopping and Michelin-starred dining to hotels (even the traditional Japanese ryokan gets a stunning urban spin at the 84-room Hoshinoya). Tokyo, formerly known as Edo, is also one of the country’s only destinations with a proper “gayborhood.” 

Shinjuki Ni-chome (pronounced nee-koe-may), where literally hundreds of gay bars, dance clubs, cafes, “host clubs” (imagine speed-dating and companionship for hire that doesn’t necessarily conclude with carnal acts, and saunas are packed among the clusters of buildings. 

If you’re seeking a splurgy mix of familiar and boundary-pushing experiences, plus one of the city’s best ramen spots, we’ve got your Tokyo vacay agenda covered. First, a few tips and hacks:

Expand your vocabulary beyond ‘Kon’nichiwa’: Basic knowledge of Japanese helps immensely, especially with gay bars, many of which won’t welcome Westerners, aka gaijin, unless they attempt to navigate the language. That said, some of the biggest, best venues are foreigner-friendly, with gay nightlife tours ushering in enthusiastic travelers to local gems.

Watch and learn: Get familiar with Tokyo’s gay nightlife scene in advance, plus etiquette and Japanese culture and insider tips about circuit parties and under-the-radar spots by binging the highly entertaining English-language YouTube vlog TokyoBTM, hosted by gay Canadian and Chinese expats Andrew and Meng. 

Tap and go: For tech-savvy travelers, download the gay social app 9Monsters, which provides real-time translation of Japanese-English when interacting with locals while assigning you a bizarrely adorable avatar like “Lovely Dog” or “Athletic Kong.” 

Meanwhile, for an itinerary worthy of Queer Eye‘s Fab Five (heck, they’ve been there), check out some of GayCities‘ favorite Tokyo finds.

Sleep is the new circuit party

According to a recent report, the number one reason why people want to travel in 2024 is to rest and recharge. With more than 3,000 hotels to choose from in Japan’s capital, options aren’t an issue, but zeroing in on the one that suits your style takes some planning. For those willing to splurge, these three represent some of the newest and best hotels in Tokyo.

City views: When Shinjuku’s Kabukicho Tower opened in mid-April 2023 (within walking distance to Ni-chome), it became one of the city’s hottest all-in-one entertainment hubs. Occupants include a neon-soaked urban food hall, arcade and bar, movie and live production theaters, dance club, and the swish 97-room BELLUSTAR Tokyo, A Pan Pacific Hotel, on its 39th-47th floors. The skyline views are, of course, spectacular, with a minimalist contemporary Japanese design. Also comfy with a brighter design scheme and lower price point, the 538-room sister property Hotel Groove Shinjuku is located just below on floors 19-38.

An iconic crossroads: Shibuya is best known for that iconic, exceptionally busy criss-cross crosswalk, but the September 2023 opening of Trunk(Hotel) Yoyogi Park offers a serene view of Yoyogi Park from its rooftop infinity pool (a Tokyo rarity!), with 25 rooms decked out in creamy-washed concrete, wood and copper.

When bigger is better: One of Tokyo’s most famous and sizable hotels with 1,438 rooms, Keio Plaza Hotel is also one of the most explicitly LGBTQ+ friendly, with an LGBTQ “Preferred Pride” package that entails a Premiere Grand club floor room and 45th-floor lounge access. Situated in Shinjuku, with amazing views, over a dozen food and beverage options, and traditional wood and rice paper Tatami suites, Keio occasionally offers tours of the Shinjuku Ni-chome gay nightlife district.

Fine dining to fast finds

Dinner with friends: Tokyo is one of the world’s top destinations for refined, outstanding dining, with a plethora of World’s Best and Michelin star venues — 146 one-starred, 39 two-starred, and a dozen of the rarified three-starred restaurants. Chef Hirosayu Kawate’s Florilege represents one of the best for season-driven Japanese ingredients and flavors transformed into creative, contemporary dishes via French technique. September 2023 saw a relocation to Azabudai Hills, a single “Table d’hôte” communal chef’s table approach for direct interaction with all guests, and emphasis on plants and produce (the optional juice pairing is mind-blowing with bright Japanese citrus and other transcendently aromatic fruits and herbs). You’ll yearn to relive this meal for years to come.

Take a dip: Sure, you can go the more obvious route and head to internationally known ramen chains Ippudo and Ichiran. But some of Japan’s most succulent, incredible ramen-ya (shops) are one-offs, like Ramen Tatsunoya Shinjuku, a specialist in tsukemen-style — noodles served separately, chilled or room temperature, with a hot dipping broth, in this case, made toothsome by the addition of crispy chicken gizzards. Forget a luxe setting, though: this is all about that bowl of noodles.

Grab-and-go: Urban food markets are all the rage today, but Asia’s been way ahead of the curve for decades thanks to its shopping centers’ basement food halls. Isetan Shinjuku is famed for its dozens of stalls serving prepared Japanese and international food, upscale patisseries, a craft beer bar, and packaged delicacies.

From fashion to fine art

Welcome to the neighborhood: Opening in late November 2023, Tokyo’s newest all-in-one development, Azabudai Hills, is like New York City’s Hudson Yards, with unique sloping architecture, shops, restaurants, fashion brands, a food market, and the first Janu Hotel, the new sister brand to luxury hotelier Aman.

Six is the magic number: Opened in 2017 to much fanfare, Ginza Six is stunning in its textured architecture and M.C. Escher-esque crisscrossing atrium (by Yoshio Taniguchi), contemporary art installations, and collabs with retailers. There are plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants to take a break from the retail therapy, and the selection of unique Japanese sweets alone warrants a stop.

Fashion forward: Tokyo’s modern art scene is dizzying, with endless private and public galleries, museums, and spaces for seemingly every discipline, but the National Art Center Tokyo is a must for culture vultures and, lately, fashionistas. A Yves Saint Laurent retrospective runs through December 11, 2023.

See and be seen: The contemporary and multimedia Shinjuku Ophthalmologist Gallery won’t fix your vision per se but routinely includes LGBTQ+-themed exhibitions and artists like Tokyo’s own Torajiro, whose work promotes queer visibility. (He’s also been commissioned for work in conjunction with spring’s annual Rainbow Pride festival).

The best of Tokyo’s queer nightlife

Two-for-one: Arty Farty & The Annex is a convenient, adjacent pair of gaijin-friendly Ni-chome gay bar and club venues — siblings, so admission to one means you can access both. An actual dance floor, themed K-pop and J-pop nights, and a refreshing mix of guys from twinks to bears and fill-in-the-blanks.

‘Til the sun rises: Open from 6 p.m. until early morning (5 a.m. on weekends) — AiiRO CAFE is a colorful, gaijin-friendly LGBTQ+ bar in Ni-chome with some drag performances. It’s hard to miss since people often spill into the street for milling and people-watching. AiiRO is also a sister venue to the equally fun Avantgarde (whose resident drag queen and hostess, Amazoness Diane, appears nightly), Mexican cuisine Alamas Cafe, and Aisotope Lounge.

Get crafty: Number 4 on Asia’s 50 Best Bars, the 14-seat Bar Benfiddich is a wonderland of handcrafted everything. Mad scientist and seasoned mixologist Hiroyasu Kayama grows herbs, fruit, and other ingredients on his own farm for infusing, muddling, and even roasting in plain view -drama! – just before adding to your drink. 

A decade of decadence: Celebrating its tenth anniversary in 2023, the compact Shibuya Gay Bar Home is one of the few queer venues located outside Ni-chome, and its English-speaking owner (typically referred to as “Mama”) welcomes all sexualities and genders, nationalities, and allies. There’s also karaoke, so you can slay a Taylor Swift or Utada Hikaru tune (although there’s a charge).

Tokyo resource guide

BELLUSTAR TOKYO, A Pan Pacific Hotel

Towering 5-star accommodations 1 Chome-29-1 Kabukicho, · Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0021
(036) 233-8800


Elegantly minimalistic Tomigaya, 1 Chome−15−2 · Shibuya City, Tokyo 151-0063


Keio Plaza Hotel

Comfortably elegant and refined 2 Chome-2-1 Nishishinjuku · Shinjuku City Tokyo, Japan 160-8330
(813) 334-4011


Upscale French eatery Toranomon, 5 Chome−10 · Minato City, Tokyo 105-0001


Ramen Tatsunoya Shinjuku

Popular no frills ramen joint Nishishinjuku, 7 Chome−4−5 · Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023
(036) 304-0899

Isetan Shinjuku

Upscale shopping extravaganza 3 Chome-14-1 Shinjuku · Tokyo
(033) 352-1111

Azabudai Hills

Tokyo’s latest mega shopping destination also features restaurants and a luxury hotel. Minato City, Tokyo 106-0041



Hundreds of shops, eateries and attractions 6 Chome-10-1 Ginza · Chuo City, Tokyo 104-0061
(036) 891-3390

Arty Farty

Old-school Tokyo fave 2 Chome−11−7 第33宮庭ビル 2階 · Tokyo 5362-9720
(035) 362-9720


Popular open-air option 2 Chome−18−1, 7 Tenka Bld, 1F · Tokyo 3358-398
(813) 627-3074

Bar Benfiddich

Mystical decor and masterful cocktails Nishishinjuku 1 Chome−13−7 · Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023
(036) 258-0309

Shibuya Gay Bar HOME

Your home away from, well… 1 Chome-11-1 Dogenzaka · Tokyo, Japan 1500043
(813) 645-5199
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