Gay Tokyo: City of dichotomies

From ganguro girls with painted faces to stern businessmen clad in suits -- their days spent behind a desk and nights behind a bar, Sapporo in hand -- to young men celebrating with style a new spirit of gay liberation beginning to emerge in this conservative culture, this is a place of vast contradictions. There are mammoth towers that paint the skyline with splashes of neon, and there are quaint, tree-lined streets where passersby glimpse into Tokyo's past and away from the chaos automatically associated with this metropolis. There are temples surrounded by blooming sakura blossoms and secluded udon shops, filled with bowls of brothy noodles served by waitresses in kimonos.

The gay scene is much like these dueling ideas of calm and chaos. Ambiguity and identity haziness are the stereotypical theories of being gay in Tokyo, but behind the blurred lines there is a thriving nightlife and gay community, all housed within the confines of their friendly neighborhood of Ni-Chome.

Though there are a few gay bars or gay nights spread throughout the city, the heart of gay Tokyo lies in Shinjuku and Ni-Chome. Tokyo is separated into different wards, with Shinjuku being the most well known and the most crowded. Ni-Chome is known to have the highest concentration of gay bars of anywhere in the world, likely because of its small, densely packed area -- just a few small blocks, intertwined into Shinjuku's busy business, shopping, and nightlife center.

There is undeniably a large gay population in Tokyo, but many are trapped in the closet because of Japan's legacy of strict, yet unspoken, social conformity, only now beginning to soften when it comes to same-sex desire. A seemingly straight city by day, Toyko turns into a raging gay party by night in Shinjuku Ni-Chome. Within a culture where many LGBT-ers are expected to marry into straight, traditional marriages, gay men and lesbians privately and anonymously express their sexuality at bars in Ni-Chome.

Straight by day, gay by night, most gay Tokyoites can be their true selves within the comfort and confines of these few small blocks. Though most bars accommodate non-Japanese patrons, the scene is primarily geared towards native Japanese regulars, though there are plenty of visitor-friendly clubs. Many will be jam-packed with eager visitors engaging with bartenders fluent in English. Within Ni-Chome there are myriad bars and clubs for an eventful night out, whimsical boutiques and shops (Tokyo has become the center of international fashion, with leading brands such as Comme des Garcons, Engineered Garments, and Label Under Construction based there), and outdoor restaurants and cafes -- all of which make the neighborhood charming in the midst of the mammoth nucleus of Shinjuku. Even though homosexuality remains more ignored than accepted in Japan, the gay world has plenty for those who want to experience a slice of Tokyo life.

Restaurants to check out