Shinjuku Ni-chōme

Shinjuku Ni-chōme (新宿二丁目), referred to colloquially as Ni-chōme or simply Nichō, is Area 2 in the Shinjuku District of the Shinjuku Special Ward of Tokyo, Japan. With Tokyo home to 13 million people, and Shinjuku known as the noisiest and most crowded of its 23 special wards,[1] Ni-chōme further distinguishes itself as Tokyo's hub of gay subculture, housing the world's highest concentration of gay bars.[2]

Within close walking distance from three train stations (Shinjuku San-chōme Station, Shinjuku Gyoenmae Station, and Japan's busiest train station, Shinjuku Station),[3] the Shinjuku Ni-chōme neighborhood provides a specialized blend of bars, restaurants, cafes, saunas, love hotels, gay pride boutiques, cruising boxes (hattenba), host clubs, nightclubs, massage parlors, parks, and gay book and video stores. In fact within the five blocks centering on street Naka-Dōri between the BYGS building at the Shinjuku San-chōme Station and the small Shinjuku park three blocks to the east, an estimated 300 gay bars and nightclubs provide entertainment.[4]


The history of Ni-chōme as a gay neighborhood generally begins around the time of the American Occupation of Japan (1945-1952) and ties strongly to the fall of its red-light districts (akasen).[5] As early as 1948, there is mention of a gay Shinjuku tea shop, and by the 1950s gay bars publicly emerged both in name and form in Ni-chōme.[6]

Before 1957, Tokyo’s red-light districts had flourished as legally-licensed centers for sex workers but, armed with a new constitution and an Equal Rights amendment, post-occupation Japanese women's Christian groups and the like successfully lobbied the Diet to pass the Prostitution Prevention Law in 1956.[5] For the first time, prostitution in Japan became illegal.[7] As the traditional sex industry left Ni-chōme, a gay subculture began to fill its place.[8] By the late 1950s Ni-chōme was known for its popularity in the gay subculture, and a club scene began to emerge.

More recent years have seen the establishment of a counseling room for young gay men in 1976, the first AIDS candlelight vigil in 1986, the 1992 inauguration of Tokyo’s annual International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Japan’s first lesbian and gay pride parade in 1994, and the founding of its first gay community center, AKTA. Today Shinjuku Ni-chōme continues to provide a home base for many milestones in the history of Japan’s LGBT community.[9]

The Japan Times reported in February 2010 that the area was in decline, with the number of gay-oriented clubs and bars having declined by one-third. The decline was attributed to the construction of the nearby Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line, which has pushed up property values in the area, and the rise of the Internet.[4]

As of August 17, 2012, dancing has been banned in a number of popular clubs in Ni-chome, including Arty Farty, Annex, Arch, and Aisotope.

Scene specialization

The lifeblood of the gay neighborhood, the majority of Nichōme's hundreds of night clubs typically seat fewer than a dozen customers, who preferably represent a club's specialized subset of the gay subculture. In a society where traditionally most of the population was expected to marry, many LGBT Japanese choose to privately express their sexuality within the anonymity of specialty clubs in areas like Ni-chōme. To achieve this specialization, clubs are typically segregated by "scene." There are bars that cater specifically to the bear community, BDSM, muscular men, young men, butch and femme lesbians, etc.[10] Club owners called “masters” or “mama-sans” try to attract the unique crowds that characterize their clubs, going so far as to deny service or charge additional fees to less-desired customers. For example, Nichōme nightclub Avanti charges a ¥1000 entrance fee to women and gay men, and ¥1500 to “typical” men; club Kusuo, ¥1000 to men, ¥1500 to women; and club Koimo, ¥1500 to gay men, and ¥2000 to everyone else.

While most bar owners do accommodate new and non-Japanese customers, the scene is primarily geared toward regular customers who are Japanese. Some venues discourage or prohibit non-Japanese from entering, regardless of Japanese language ability. At most bars in Shinjuku Ni-chōme, patrons sit at a counter and chat with the bartender. Karaoke is popular, and gay magazines are often available. Most bars offer a “bottle keep” (ボトルキープ) system, so many regular customers choose to keep their own bottles of liquor at their favorite bars. This loyalty is then repaid by bar-organized outings to onsen, hanami parties, picnics, and gay sporting events. Bars maintain large commemorative photo albums of these outings. In contrast, a handful of establishments specifically target foreigners with English advertising. Five clubs — Advocates, Arty Farty, Dragon, GB, and Rehab — are particularly popular amongst foreign men and their admirers, but they do not offer bottle-keep services. Advocates, though very small, is especially known for large weekend crowds of natives and foreigners that spill out onto the sidewalk and adjacent street.[10]

Neighborhood events

Although there are no gay clubs in Ni-chōme that can hold more than 100 customers, large gay events held throughout the year attract up to several thousand people to the area.

See also


  1. Sandra Buckley, ed., Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture (New York: Routledge, 2002), 165, 409, 453-4.
  2. Mark Mc Lelland, Ktsuhiko Suganuma, and James Welker, Queer Voices from Japan: First-Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities (Maryland: Lexington Books, 2007), 248, 262, 320-323.
  3. Beth Reiber, Frommer’s Tokyo, 6th ed. (Chicago: IDG Books Worldwide, Inc., 2000), 37, 212.
  4. 1 2 McNeill, David, "Shinjuku gay enclave in decline but not on the surface", Japan Times, February 24, 2010, p. 3.
  5. 1 2 Bonnie Zimmerman, ed., Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland, 2000), 412.
  6. Gregory M. Pflugfelder, Cartographies of Desire: Male-male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse, 1600-1950 (London: University of California, 1959).
  7. Sandra Buckley, ed., Encyclopedia of Contemporary Japanese Culture (New York: Routledge, 2002), 165, 409, 453-4.
  8. Nicholas Bornoff, Pink Samurai: Love, Marriage, and Sex in Contemporary Japan (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), 219, 423.
  9. Mark Mc Lelland, Katsuhiko Suganuma, and James Welker, Queer Voices from Japan: First-Person Narratives from Japan’s Sexual Minorities (Maryland: Lexington Books, 2007), 248, 262, 320-323.
  10. 1 2


Coordinates: 35°41′24″N 139°42′24″E / 35.69000°N 139.70667°E / 35.69000; 139.70667

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