Tokyo is the capital of the 47 prefectures of Japan. It is one of the most populous metropolitan in the world, more than 37 million population occupying the 2,187.66 km2 land area. Tokyo lies at the intersection of the traditional and the modern, fusing rich Japanese history and heritage with contemporary technological and architectural innovation.
Tokyo was earlier known as the fishing village of Edo. It became the political center of Japan in the year 1603 when a feudal administration was established in the place. In 1868, Edo became the capital city of Japan and was renamed Tokyo “Eastern Capital”. Nowadays, the attractions in Tokyo range from historical temples and museums to modern shopping and dining establishments.
The largest red light district in Asia is known to be found in the city of Japan. Kabukicho in Tokyo has a land area of 100 square blocks filled with many entertainment and red light establishments such as love hotels, restaurants, karaokes, arcades, bars, hostess and hosuto (male hostess) clubs, and adult cinemas. The majority of the businesses, which lights up by nightfall with neon signs and billboards, are owned by the yakuza or the criminal syndicates.
Another site in Tokyo, Yoshiwara, is the soapland hub of Japan. Yoshiwara has a long history of prostitution since the 16th century. Today, it is still a common place for sex tourism in the capital city. Some of the attractions in Yoshiwara are soaplands (bathhouses), love hotels, peep shows, cabarets, and fetish bars.
History of the RLD
Kabuchiko was named for a kabuki theater that was planned to be built in the area in the 1940s. After the World War, this area covering blocks of north Yasukuni-dōri attracted a string of army officers and illegal sex workers. This resulted in the rapid growth of various adult entertainment businesses in the area. Thus, even though the kabuki theater was never constructed, the entertainment district of Kabukicho and its clientele remained up to this day.
How to Reach the RLD
Kabukicho is located near Shinjuku Station complex and several other major railway and subway stations. Guests simply need to take the east exit out of the JR Yamanote Line and head north towards Seibu Shinjuku Station.
On the other hand, Yoshiwara is located in what is now the Senzoku 4-chome in Taito-ku in Northeastern Tokyo. It can be reached via 15 to 20- minute walk from Minowa Subway Station on the Hibiya Line of Tokyo subway.
Kabukicho is one of Japan’s most dangerous neighborhoods, especially by nightfall. Its problem with crime makes police presence in full riot gear a regular sight in the area. In fact, the police are often accompanied by an association of local residents patrolling regularly in the place for violent sightings.
Some typical scams reported to the police are scenarios like guests being led to a bar and are served strong liquor. Once unconscious, robbers would take their possessions and leave them or even take advantage of their unaware state. It is best to be cautious with the establishment you choose to drink in, especially in places you are unaccustomed to. Similarly, women are advised to have a companion when walking in Kabukicho because of malicious street callers.
Still, Kabukicho’s popularity as a red light district added tighter security and better lighting in the area. It has become a go-to destination for young adults to experience a fun night.
Ueno Okura is an adult cinema or porn theater in Tokyo that is open 24 hours, year-round. Here, guests can watch pinku eiga or pink movies, which are a form of soft-core pornography. It has a gay adult cinema counterpart which is called the Ueno Tokusen Theater.
Tokyo’s street prostitution has increased during the recent years. In Kabukicho, the majority of the sex workers are known to be women coming from other Asian countries such as China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Even young Japanese girls who have unfortunately been affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis have also found a living on the streets.
Street prostitution often can be availed for as low as 10,000 yen for an hour. Guests are also expected to cover the cost of a love hotel or provide their own hotel rooms depending on the client’s preference as long as there is a mutual agreement.
There are no red-lighted windows with sex workers in Tokyo. However, there is an isolated incident in the area of Kawasaki where a video was taken of women standing in windows, calling out to passersby especially to men. It is known that in order to escape from police sight, cameras and lookouts armed with wireless radios for warning are positioned outside the brothels.
Unique to Japan, pink salons are the Japanese version of blowjob bars. These establishments are legal and regulated, primarily because it facilitates a sexual encounter without vaginal intercourse.
Soaplands are another substitute for brothels. These are basically bathhouses where a sex worker will offer services into a private room to assist the guest in bathing, including other services. Some of these services are blow jobs, hand jobs, body slides, anal sex, or sumata, which is simulated sex which involves rubbing of genitals to get off the male guests. Also, even though vaginal intercourse is illegal in Japan, guests can find many establishments offering the service.
The main destination of soaplands is Yoshiwara. There are around 60 soaplands in the area hidden in plain sight within streets and small lanes. There are soaplands also found in Kabukicho. Outside of Tokyo, other destinations of soaplands are Susukino in Sapporo, Kawasaki in Kanagawa, Nakasu in Fukuoka, Fukuhara in Kobe, Ogoto in Shiga, Sagaminumata in Odawara and Kanazuen in Gifu.
Here are just some soaplands found in Tokyo:
One of the unique forms of strip clubs in Tokyo is the oppai bar, which is similar to the hostess or the escort bar where naked sex workers join guests for a drink.
Another form of strip clubs is “image clubs”, where sex workers to dress according to guests' sexual fantasies or act out fantasy scenes. In Japan, anime and mangga costumers are particularly famous. In these clubs, guests will simply select among photos of sex workers and choose their outfit. Popular outfits are school uniforms, nurse uniforms, and French maid uniforms.
Strip clubs in Tokyo start their operations before noon. These establishments reserve blocks of time for strip performances by sex workers in certain rotations. Some popular strip clubs in Tokyo are:
The Shinjyuku Tokyo Swingers club convenes at Bliss-out, an adult entertainment establishment in Shinjuku Kabukicho. It has a membership system that caters to single men, women, and couples.
Japan's Prostitution Law of 1956 states that "No person may either do prostitution or become the customer of it." Ownership of brothels and pimping are both illegal. Prostitution holds limited legality. Violating the Prostitution Law incurs maximum sentence of fewer than 10 years in prison or a fine of 300,000 yen. Soliciting sex on the street is punishable by a maximum six-month prison term or a fine of 10,000 yen. Events that foster prostitution could face a maximum seven-year sentence or a fine of 300,000 yen.
However, prostitution remains deeply embedded in Japanese history and culture. Thus, there are many liberal interpretations and the loose enforcements of the law. Since prostitution is only defined as "intercourse with an unspecified person in exchange for payment", most Japanese establishments find their way around. Most offer only non-coital services such as sexual conversation, dancing, and bathing, which is still technically legal.
Joan Sinclair, writer of the book "Pink Box" even noted that Japan "offers absolutely everything imaginable but sex". This has allowed the Japanese sex industry to thrive and earn around 2.3 trillion yen (USD 24 billion) every year.
Specific Laws for Gays
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals enjoy a hostility-free life public life in Japan. Same-sex activity has been legalized in Japan in 1880 after the implementation of the Napoelonic Code. By 2002, Japanese law already allows transgender individuals to change their legal gender after a sexual reassignment procedure. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is banned in certain cities.
Despite societal acceptance, the absence of laws criminalizing homosexuality, and having openly LGBT politicians in the government, Japan does not recognize same-sex marriages. Same-sex couples in Japan are not covered by legal protection as non-LGBT individuals.
Tokyo is considered one of the most attractive cities in the world, especially by nightfall. With its cityscape, neon lights, paper lanterns and city lights, Tokyo is even more alive at night. The Japanese are known to have a very strict work ethic, that’s why the entertainment industry attracts millions of Japanese in the labor force who want to have fun and relax.
Tokyo’s non-adult nightlife is just as full at 3 AM as it is at 10 PM. Many attractions remain open until the break of dawn, or until the trains start running at 5 AM.
Shinjuku-nichome is the heart of the gay and lesbian scene in Tokyo. It can be reached via a 10-minute walk from the Central East exit or Southeast exit of the Shinjuku Station. The area consists of cruise bars, dance clubs, bookshops, cafes, and saunas where you can find gay and lesbian individuals.
General Attitude towards Gays
Gays are generally welcome in the entirety of Japan. The local culture has a passive acceptance for diversity and exhibits politeness and respect for individuals regardless of sexual orientation. In fact, a survey showed that a 54% majority of Japanese citizens are in favor of accepting homosexuality in society, while only 36% disagreed.
Despite the acceptance of gay individuals in Tokyo and Osaka, there are destinations in Japan where gay behaviors are discouraged. The Japanese are known for being mostly heterosexual. It is indeed rare to find a Japanese gay partner outside the LGBT area of Tokyo, which is Shinjuku. Japanese gay individuals also prefer to not be open about their sexuality even to the point of marrying someone from the opposite sex just to conceal homosexuality.
Sex Clubs for Gays
There are sex clubs and saunas for gays in Tokyo, with some more welcoming to foreigners than others. Some gay saunas are:
Dance Clubs for Gays
Tokyo's gay dance clubs are one of the most developed in Asia. It attracts a number of tourists annually. Some of the popular gay dance clubs in the city of Tokyo are the following:
Tokyo houses the largest gay and lesbian scene in Japan. Magazines such as Metropolis Tokyo and Tokyo Night Life are the must-reads for gay foreigners to find where to cruise in the city. The most popular destinations to hire gay sex workers are the following places: Shinjuku-nichome, Shinbashi, Ueno, and Asakusa.
Shinjuku-nichome has the largest gay scene and is very welcoming towards the gay foreigners. It is also in this place that the Tokyo Rainbow Festival is celebrated annually, on one Sunday in the month of August.
Tokyo’s Motown is famous for its transsexual prostitutes that prowl the bars late at night.