A Night Out in Ni-chome, Tokyo’s Gay District
By Alex Rickert
Pride month is nearly over. If you’re the kind of person who clicked on this article, I hope you had a chance to participate this year — by spamming your friends with Facebook pride stickers, making ridiculous memes with The Babadook or by engaging in social change movements. Even though it’s coming to an end, that doesn’t mean you can’t still celebrate. While Tokyo actually had pride month in May, show your pride anytime in Shinjuku Ni-chome, the gay district in Tokyo.
There, you’ll find good food, drinks and atmosphere, plus open conversation and maybe even a romantic encounter or two. Whatever your goals for the night, here are some of my favorite spots that have all the elements for a flawless night out.
Getting There and Food Options
First thing’s first: you should plan to arrive early-ish because of “last train” in Tokyo. So, be careful if you don’t want to crash at a cheapo love hotel or something unless, of course, you do want to crash at a cheapo love hotel or something. (No judgment!)
Anyway, I like to arrive in time for dinner.
The most convenient meeting point is Shinjuku San-chome station, one stop from Shinjuku on the Fukutoshin, Marunouchi and Shinjuku metro lines. Take the C5 exit and then just cross the street into Ni-chome.
There’s a restaurant nearby called Rainbow Burritos. You may not expect to eat Mexican food in Japan, but these burritos are worth it, with prices to match. It’s one small, dimly lit room that only seats about 10 people. Sometimes it’s packed, but if you arrive a little earlier, you can usually grab a seat.Photo by Alex Rickert
If you find Rainbow Burritos bombarded by fellow hipsters, my other favorite in the area is CoCoLo Cafe, probably one of the more spacious restaurants in this jam-packed little gay hub. It’s another Japanese take on Mexican food, with a reputable taco rice dish on the menu.
The atmosphere is much less campy than a lot of the other Ni-chome establishments, and it feels like anywhere else in Tokyo — except you can hold hands with your boyfriend without getting weird looks.
Social Lubrication (Pre-Gaming)
Don’t be afraid to use the fair number of convenience stores in the area.
While most bars require you to buy a drink to get in, you can save money by occasionally going outside to a conbini and enjoying a more reasonably priced can of beer. Or, all those cool Japanese drinks like jugs of sake you can heat up in the microwave and even canned wine.
It’s a good chance to walk around the area while enjoying a beverage, and you can also grab a pack of cigarettes for when your inner diva comes out: “I only smoke when I drink, I swear… ” is something I have heard (OK… said) far too often.
While strolling around, you will almost certainly happen upon one of Ni-chome’s many adult shops. I can’t even recommend anything to you in this category. Sooner or later, you’ll just see a store obviously selling buttloads of gay porn (no pun intended). Some Tokyoites come here to buy things like lube and condoms judgment free (even though you can totally also buy those things elsewhere). The porn is even censored (i.e. the penises are partly pixelated), adding real Japanese authenticity.Photo by Alex Rickert
After a peek at the X-rated, you can also try Aiiro Cafe. It’s so small that people stand outside at tables to drink. This is known as a tachinomi (standing bar). It has pretty cheap drinks and on weeknights, they often have ¥1,000 nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) beer specials. Best of all, since it’s partially outdoors, you can enjoy clearer conversation and fresh air.
Lesbian BarsPhoto by Alex Rickert
If you’re looking for a place to meet some lesbians, whether because you are one or you’re with one, Bar Gold Finger is the most aptly named lesbian bar of Ni-chome and is by far one of my favorites.
It’s completely closed off to men on Saturday nights, but otherwise, us guys and girls can huddle up in this swanky little bar just out of the way of the “dancier” clubs. Inside, the prices are totally standard for Ni-chome, but you get treated to free popcorn and there’s even a karaoke machine that everyone passes around.
Depending on your gender and sexuality, there is also some decent cruising available here… Even men can get lucky! I once had a cute “straight” guy from Osaka wander in and then suddenly start chatting me up and telling me that I was “handsome.” Lesbians make dreams come true…Photo by Alex Rickert
If you feel the need to bar hop, Adezakura is another popular lesbian bar in the area. Like Bar Gold Finger, it isn’t so dancy. This place is also fairly open to men entering. I’m not so familiar with this location, other than a very crowded, very fun New Year’s Eve countdown celebration I once attended.
When you’ve finally spent enough time talking to strangers and want to start dancing with some instead, I recommend Arty Farty (Japanese). It’s small, hot, steamy and super fun.
I went there on one of my first nights out in Japan. I remember making out with a super tall Irish dude, and this girl in a hijab busting some moves on the dance floor. Anything is possible at Arty Farty, and it frequently hosts events. The stage also has some poles, which patrons are free to — and frequently — make use of.Photo by Alex Rickert
Dragon Men (Map) is another dance floor in Ni-chome. Although, if they have an event going on, you can expect it to be as crowded as a summer festival. The dance floor is fun because lots of Japanese and foreigners alike join in the communion of grinding and EDM. The bartenders, and sometimes the dancers, are often shirtless, which is a plus. You will often have to pay a cover charge which includes a drink, but I don’t recommend spending too much time at the bar unless you wanna chat up those bartenders.
If you don’t plan to stay out all night, remember to start winding down around midnight or possibly sooner. If you’re lucky, you can often find a sort of unofficial doner kebab stand on one of the main streets for some sustenance on the way home.
If you do miss your last train, you have a couple of options.
You can stay out all night until the first train starts between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. You can also use a love hotel or capsule hotel, but on crowded nights, it’s not often possible to book a room last-minute. I’ve heard this can be a little expensive and sketchy, though I’ve never actually done it before. Finally, you can take a taxi, but if your destination is more than a few kilometers away, you’re going to face pretty exorbitant meter fares, so be sure to set a phone alarm or reminder for when you need to leave to avoid an unwanted all-nighter.
Ni-chome is compact, bustling and wild, and I encourage you to go off the beaten track. You never know the cool people you’ll meet and the delicious drinks you’ll receive. Because, really, you’re totally cute enough for someone to buy you a drink. No matter the path you choose, remember to be safe, have fun and stay proud.
What are your favorite spots in Shinjuku Ni-chome? Let us know in the comments!
- Rainbow Burritos
Address: 303 Shinjuku Bldg., 3-1-32 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Open: Daily 7 p.m.-midnight
- CoCoLo Cafe
Address: 1F Hayakawa-ya Nr 1 Bldg., 2-14-6 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Open: Sun-Thu 11:30 a.m-11:30 p.m., Fri & Sat11:30 a.m.-6:30 a.m.
- Aiiro Cafe
Address:1F 7th Tenka Bldg., 2-18-1 Shinjuku Shinjuku-ku
Open: Weekdays 6 p.m.-2 a.m., Fri & Sat 6 p.m.-5 a.m., Sun 6 p.m.-midnight
- Bar Gold Finger
Address: 1F, 2-12-16 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Open: Sun-Thu 6 p.m.-2 a.m., Fri & Sat 6 p.m.-4 a.m.
Address: 1F, 2-15-11, Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Open: Mon-Sat 9 p.m.-6 a.m., Sun 8 p.m.-5 a.m.
- Arty Farty
Address: 2F, 2-11-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Open: Daily 6 p.m.-1 a.m.
- Dragon Men
Address: 2-11-4 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Open: Sun-Thu 6 p.m.-3 a.m.; Fri & Sat, 6 p.m.-5 a.m.