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 OUT IN TOKYO

Written in 1985 and published in Out magazine and the Long Yang Club magazine
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As this article was written nineteen years ago, places will almost certainly have changed. 
It is presented as a record of how things were at the time.


Alongside such places as Key West, Amsterdam, New York or the Greek Islands, how does Tokyo rate in the Gay world ? Determined to find out, I accepted the invitation of a Japanese friend I had met in the dreaded Salisbury and found myself aboard a Russian Aeroflot jet eastward bound. 

Just over fourteen hours after leaving London I stepped out into Narita airport and into a different world. Yoshi( like all names in this article that isn't his real name), met me at the airport with a friend who had a car. The drive to the city started on a fairly quiet motorway but gradually as we got nearer the actual city, the road began to get more and more congested and it was three hours later that we arrived at Shinjuku, some eight miles north west of the centre of Tokyo. 

Shinjuku is a vast area of sixty story skyscrapers, underground shopping streets,tangled railway lines and overhead motorways.The traffic and the people are bumper to bumper and the whole place is alive with an energy which you can feel in your body. To the east of Shinjuku lies the gay area or to give it it's real name Shinjuku Nichome and it consists basically of one main street forming a link between two highways and numerous smaller streets and alley ways leading off. 

The lamp posts are very camp with sprays of flowers hanging from each one. In this street and the in the side streets are the gay bars, between 200 and 300 in all. We arrived there the first evening as dusk was falling and the whole area had a festive appearance alive with colour and people. 

First stop for Europeans and claiming the title No 1 bar is the Fuji bar. Located in the basement of an office block it opens at 6.30 and closes the following morning at 3.0am. Small by our standards, six staff greet you as you enter, three behind the bar and three in front. The ones in front take your order, the ones behind pour your drink. Service in British bars was never like this. 

The bar staff are cute and speak reasonable English. There are comfortable sofa seats along the wall and stools around the bar. The owner of the bar makes sure that you are comfortable and makes you feel welcome. 

There are huge arrangements of fresh flowers around the bar and even the toilet, which is spotless, has a delicate little vase with a few flowers in it complemented by framed pictures on the wall. 

This is my first night in the city and I have been awake for 36 hours so I have an early night, the only one I ever had in Tokyo. Yoshi dropped me off at his place and then went off with his friend. I fell asleep on the floor on the simple mattress kept warm by a young student who I had met in the bar and who also fancied an early night. London seemed a long way off ! 

The next day, I awoke refreshed and Yoshi arrived back for a quick wash and change of clothing before leaving for work. My student left as well for college and I was alone in a big, strange city.. 

I managed to find my way to the train station at Daitabashi and with the aid of a guide book found my way around the tourist spots during the day. I got used to being stared at and I began to understand what it is like to appear different from those around you. By night I toured the bars.The Fuji was a good starting place, it is after all a place for orientals who like westerners and vice versa and without attracting westerners whether tourists or residents, the bar would not stay in business. 

Never the less this is not a rent boy bar or host bar,the Japanese seemed to have a genuine liking for western company. Europeans are rare in this city of 12 million. It is not a cosmopolitan city in the way that London is. 

Drink prices are a shock. A beer is £2 and Coke or juice about £1.75 (Note in 1999 London prices have reached and even exceeded this level !) These are normal prices, not a rip off and I found that I had to learn to drink VERY slowly. 

Round the corner from the FUJI is Fire Island, another basement bar with a small disco floor, floor to ceiling mirrors and video screens. Prices are the same as at the Fuji although the beer glasses seemed a little larger. There are many younger customers showing off their dancing skills and the mixture is again East and West. Like most bars air-conditioning keeps the atmosphere cool and comfortable despite the heat and humidity of the city, not to mention the smelly drains. 

Down a small alley on the other side of the street lies the Zip bar. Here the lively young staff looking very sexy in their T shirts and shorts fall over themselves to greet anyone who enters. Drinks are bought here over the bar as you enter and in addition to the usual liquid refreshment you can also buy snacks. The bar in fact opens at 2.0 in the afternoon and functions as a kind of Gay cafe until 6.0pm when it becomes a 'pub' It then stays open until 6.0am. It is a popular meeting place for the staff of the other bars which close at 3.0am and who have to wait until the subways start again at 5.0am. 

The bar runs the length of the room with stools and the other wall has a rail to lean against or to pose. At the end of the room is a small disco floor with video screens which normally show horror movies minus any soundtrack but when I was there one barman had a computer linked to the screens and they danced with fantastic graphics which were synchronized to the music. 

It was here that I met Kikuo. He was just nineteen, slim with an intelligent face and a ready smile. He sat next to me and allowed his fingers to touch the hair on my arms. One thing led to another and I spent a great deal of time with him over the next two weeks. His life is typical of many young gay men in this city. His day starts at 6.30pm when he starts work in a bar and he finishes at 3.0am the next morning. He eats after work and then has to wait for the first train home at 5.0am, so he sits in the Zip bar making a fruit juice last. 

He gets home about 6.0am and sleeps until midday. He then gets a train back and goes to college. After college he has about one hour before the bar opens so he grabs some food or does a little shopping. He does this six days a week. 

His father helps with the rent of his room and there is no welfare state as such to help him. He hides the fact that he is gay from his family and is quite resigned to the fact that he will marry before he is thirty and have children. He likes Europeans and is sad when he meets a nice guy but knows that they will go away 

A lot of Japanese feel this way and have to settle for short liaisons knowing that they will end because in this city westerners are rare and eventually leave. For others,they are quite happy with Japanese partners but few live together. In this crowded city privacy is difficult. 

There are so many bars in Shinjuku it would be difficult to list every one I visited. Many are, however off limit to non Japanese. Most function like a private club and behind the bar are rows or liquor bottles each having the name of the owner written on the label. 

In one such bar, Moto's, I often went on my own having been introduced and was always made very welcome 

 Moto's is on the first floor of an office block. It features Karioki, a system where you sing along through a mike to a backing track and an echo chamber making you sound very, er, professional. Even shy little Brits like me managed a rendering of 'All my loving' and 'Moon river'. This delighted the customers who had just got over laughing at my attempts to eat raw fish with chopsticks. The applause you get is measured on a digital meter over the bar. I managed a score of 75%. In other directions, I managed to score a little higher. I enjoyed the atmosphere in Moto's and spent many hours there conversing without understanding one word in twenty. 

Nearby is Pepe's bar, similar to Moto's and under the same boss. Here I went very late one night when everyone was more than a little merry and was almost stripped while customers measured the length of the hair on my chest and kept running their fingers up and down my arms.Being hirsute in Tokyo is very much a plus I found. 

Back in the Zip bar, I met Hiro, another bar boy. he was avery happy young man, again about 19. He lived close by and took me to his room on the sixth floor of a concrete block. His single room cost him about £300 a month but his father pays for this while he studies. In his room he had expensive hi-fi equipment and hundreds of LP's. He even managed to keep a small dog which lived in a kind of large bird cage. 

Hiro was a very affectionate guy and loved his dog. He could speak no english except 'I love you' which couple with his intense affection made you believe him. 

His taste wasn't limited to Westerners, I saw him a few days later with Kikuo and again went back to his room and spent the night with both young men. Kikuo told me the next day that Hiro worked in a straight host bar and made money by sleeping with female customers. As he was a very attractive and lively young man he could pick and choose but he said that while women gave him an income, men gave him pleasure. Hiro would have been upset to have been considered a rent boy but he had no plans for the future, lived for the day and did not seem to worry too much. When I left him the last time, he was cuddling his dog and I did feel sorry for him. Underneath the gaiety was a lonely young man, hungry for love 

Hiro did take me to one interesting bar 3 floors up in an office block. This was a bar for transvestites and we spent a couple of hours being entertained by the most stunning boy/girls who fed us, sang love songs to us, poured drinks. When we left there was a lot of hugging and kissing and fluttering of eyelashes. Certainly somewhere very different and again probably only open to westerners introduced by locals. 

One night rather than go home, I went into one of the gay saunas. This was away from the main gay area and smack bang in the middle of the straight red light district. Called the Oban admission is around £6 and it opens from 1.0pm until 10.00am the next day. Small private rooms can be hired for an extra charge and a few larger room, presumably for orgies or birthday parties, can also be hired 

The sauna is clean and has the usual steam rooms, hot baths,showers and so on. It has a TV room showing normal movies, not blue ones, and two large fun rooms. Here there are just mattresses along each wall and one small dim light. The guys lay around naked except for a towel across their middle. 

I met some nice guys in the sauna several of whom had been to London and knew the Champion and Sombrero's. It was a unique experience being the only European among some 200 near naked orientals. AID's had reared it's head however and most of the guys were very careful in their lovemaking. 

Back in the street one night I had a very unusual experience. I was stopped by five laughing rent boys. Their English was not very good and went on the lines of 'you want my friend ? He very nice' and so on. I managed to explain I think that I was spoken for that night and was only looking for food. They then pushed me into a small noodle bar and within minutes I was tucking into a big bowl of noodle soup and chicken. When I came to pay, the boys laughed and pushed my money away saying 'no, we pay' They then took their leave of me in the street with loads of hugs and kisses and went on their way with cries of 'Have a nice day'. I cannot imagine rent boys in any other city being this pleasant. 

Two cafes worth mentioning in Shinjuku both next door to each other. Both are open 24 hours a day and are 99% gay. They are St. Mark's Street cafe and the Dolphin. They serve a full range of hot and cold drinks plus a mixture of Western and Japanese food. The service is good as it is everywhere else in Japan. Coffee is about £1 a cup, a pizza, £2. The whole gay area has many other eating places ranging from the ultra posh to  street stalls selling corn on the cob 

Tokyo and especially Shinjuku is well worth a visit but it is very expensive. I would not have missed my trip for the world even though I'm still paying for it. One day I will go again. Including air fares I spent around £1,100 but I did stay with  a Japanese friend, and I ate a lot of food from supermarkets.Aeroflot is the quickest and almost the cheapest airline to use. Egyptair is slightly cheaper but takes 36 hours and a lot of stamina 

If you do decide to go, have a lot of fun, I certainly did. 


NOTE. Japan is a another place I keep meaning to go back to. Maybe soon, who knows.

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