Short Film produced by Underdog Productions (Pty) Ltd in 1995.
Note: This film contains some male nudity, contains material of a gay nature, and may be disturbing to younger viewers. It also contains some fast flash shots.
Written & Directed by Luiz DeBarossProduced by: Marc Schwinges
Starring:Tim: David DucasDave: Gerrie BarnardTim Jnr: Glen FineDave Jnr: Leon WeedKid One: Miguel BarrosKid Tow: Marcus MuddPoliceman One: Carlo GoertzPoliceman Two: Criag KellyMother: Mariana CarrilloSon: Sipho Khuzwago Moyo
Director of Photography: Peter PohorskyProduction Manager: Brendan RiceProduction Assistant: David HeckerFocus Puller: Greg PoissonGrip: Tony Slater
Sound: Jeremy HattinghSound: Ian MillerBoom Operator: Sean Kelly
Senior Make-up Artist: Adrienne CohenMake-Up Artist: Ionka Nel
Runners: Wayne Fick, Paul Hanrahan, Hal Couzens, Bronwyn Vermeulen, Oliver Galloway.
Post Production Advisor: Hal CouzensNon-Liner Editor: Llewelyn Roderick
Executive Producers: Marc Schwinges, Catherine Bester & Charlotte Bauer
Tokyo ‚Boys for Sale‘: Straight Lads Need To Pay the Rent, Too
“I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy,” Steve Martin has noted. The comedian’s not alone in his praise for the oldest trade, causing one to wonder if cavemen gleefully paid with five rocks for oral and ten for anal, or if they were like priests, and got it for free.
Narrative cinema with a gay bent has long plowed this pay-as-you-go aspect of life with applaudable results (e.g. Mysterious Skin (2004); Eastern Boys (2013)), and even academia has recently explored this topic with Victor Minichiello and John Scott’s Male Sex Work and Society, a truly engulfing work that includes chapters on “Male Prostitution from Ancient Times to the Near Present” and “Mental Health Aspects of Male Sex Work.” There is also coverage of the carryings-on in Africa, China, Russia, Latin America, Germany, and Northern Island, but not in Japan.
Director Itako’s highly detailed and engrossing documentary, Boys for Sale, which just had its North American premiere in Los Angeles, thanks to Outfest, remedies this omission.
The action takes place in the Shinjuku 2-chrome section of Tokyo, which one male prostitute or urisen notes is “the gay center of Asia.” Someone adds, there are over 800 gay businesses in Japan.
We then we meet the “boys” ranging in age from 19 to 30 who are interviewed, apparently for cash. Some don sparkling, Mardi-Gras-like masks to hide their identities. Others don’t care. The majority here insist they are either straight or bi, often with girlfriends. (Please note: all their reminisced sex acts are depicted with animation.)
So how does a heterosexual hustler copulate with another guy? “I’m detached. My mind goes blank” is one response.
An alternative reply: “When I sleep with men, I remain composed, and satisfy them in various ways. But when I’m with a girl, I get so excited, my mind goes blank, and I obsessively play with their tits. . . . Just the fact [girls] don’t have dicks excites me. ”
As for the reasons the boys went into prostitution: they weren’t dating at the time, they needed the money, they were homeless, a parent died, or their villages were devastated by a tsunami, a nuclear disaster (Fukushima), or an earthquake.
One young gay man, Tamura Hisanori, 28, in fluent English, notes why there is such a big need for male prostitutes: “Japan is an island with a very conservative kind of mentality. If you are ethnically or sexually different, they tend to discriminate against you, but not in a homophobic way as we know in the Western countries. They won’t hit you. They won’t aggress you, but they will morally aggress you.” Hisanori then explains how his teacher mistreated him on learning of his sexuality.
Shinjuku 2-chrome, by the way, ironically became a gay mecca after the 1964 Olympics when the government outlawed heterosexual brothels in the area. Man-on-man lovers quickly moved in along with these “bars” where the boys are lined up, a customer picks one to have a drink with, and then if all goes well, the sex follows in small, bare rooms.
“We are something like products, and that is how I conduct myself,” a cynical chap reflects.
For the lads, the anticipation of the first time is the most anxiety-ridden. What if we can’t get it up? they ask on getting the job. “Making money will get you hard” is the reply.
Some opening nights went smoothly for the guys, just oral sex or masturbation. However, one, who wasn’t ready for anal sex, stated he was raped. Other encounters also had their ups and downs. One sex worker admits that a 63-year-old customer gave him the best blow job he ever had, better than the ones from the girls he dated. Another recalls how he was handcuffed and blindfolded then brutally gang-raped.
As for safe sex, one fellow had no idea how AIDS is transmitted. Others admitted they started out bare-backing, then switched, but it’s hard for some to insist on condoms when the customers are adamant, stronger, and pay more. The revelations mount up. “Sex is still something the Japanese cannot talk about. . . . This is one of the only developed where HIV is growing,” an interviewee explains.
Without argument, here’s an eye-opening, unflinching take on the exploitation of sex workers, even though admittedly several admit they enjoy the job and the money. In the end, Boys for Sale delves into its chosen topic with unbridled finesse, unearthing the country’s hypocritical attitude towards gays and sex in general.
(Winner of the Fox Inclusion Feature Film Award at Outfest 2017.}
(Boys for Sale will be screened at the following film festivals: Durban Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in August in South Africa; Camera Japan in September in Holland; and Playa Pride in November in Mexico.)
10 most gay friendly countries in Asia
We love Asia. Whether it’s chilling in the oh so heavenly beaches of Thailand to gobbling up as much sushi as our tummies can handle in Tokyo, we always look for an excuse to return.
This is a continent that offers so much in terms of cultural experiences, food and landscapes, with some of the most humble people you’ll ever meet. We spent the first 2 years of our Nomadic Boys adventure travelling around Asia and have since returned several times for more. However, when it comes to LGBTQ rights, Asia is on the more conservative end of things.
Despite this, there are a number of gay friendly Asian countries that are paving the way forward in relation to LGBTQ rights. We honour them in this breakdown of our top 10 most gay friendly countries in Asia.
A Guide to Gay Bar Etiquette in Japan
Looking for a more local gay bar experience? Here are some essential tips to keep in mind.
Tokyo’s famous gay district, Shinjuku Ni-Chome, has one of the world’s highest concentrations of LGBT-friendly businesses. For the most part, it’s a place where first-timers can hang out without needing to worry too much about special customs or cultural knowledge.
Ni-Chome is used to tourists but, those who want to sneak into smaller, more local LGBT bars might find some cultural practices surprising. In Japan, manners are everything, so here are some insider tips on what to expect when visiting LGBT bars off the beaten path, and how to get the most out of the experience.
How Tumblr Porn Let Gay Asian Men Be More Than a Fetish
How Tumblr Porn Let Gay Asian Men Be More Than a Fetish
Porn is riddled with racism and Tumblr was one of our last safe spaces.
The joke being me. I didn’t learn the joke so much as absorb it like osmosis through the pores of my skin. A fact as American as apple pie: I was neutered both sexually and socially. Of course this was coded in nearly everypopular culture, that East Asian men, even the straight ones, are failed men. Which meant I had failed twice. My intrinsic bottomhood, though, was most evident in the only depictions of gay Asian men available to me at the time: the dizzying, electrifying, and often dismal galaxy of online porn.
Tumblr’s ban on adult content, effective today, feels particularly devastating—it was one of the few spaces where Asian men could see themselves depicted with any sort of sexual agency, even doing the unimaginable: topping. I was a teenager in the early 2000s, a bygone era of pornography. (We had dial up then.) But the images of the early aughts have largely endured: gay Asian men exoticized as objects of servitude for the pleasure of mostly white tops. Gay Asian displays of sexual dominance are so rarified that last year the podcast Nancy dedicated nearly an entire episode to Brandon Lee, porn’s “first Asian top,” who is viewed as a kind of sexual unicorn.
The first time Joel Kim Booster remembers seeing gay Asian men in porn was in college, when an internet search roped him into the esoteric realm of Japanese imports. “No shade to my friends who may be into this, but it was so weird,” says the Korean-American comedian and writer. “Everyone was wearing gas masks and all the dicks were pixelated. I didn’t specifically seek out Asian porn for a while after that.”
Joel grew up in an adopted white family, in a predominately white suburb just outside of Chicago. “I think my tastes were definitely shaped by Baywatch and gay porn in tandem,” he says. Online, the first porn he consumed after “famously dabbling in Pokémon erotica” was from a site called Straight College Men, which mostly featured toned white Adonis types. He was 13 or 14 then, but to this day, the 29-year-old remembers one model named Chip. “It’s not exactly a revelation to say that for a while, white with an athletic build and forgettable faces became sort of the baseline for what I was into as my sexual desires began to form,” he says.
When he got to college, stumbling onto videos featuring black and Latino men under tabs like “BDSM,” “Military,” and “Tattoo” helped expand his desire. “That kind of casual diversity really did affect how my real world tastes began to shape,” he says. “I think for me, it’s about not only the racial diversity, but the genre diversity. I wish some kid going through the ‘Bear’ tab could just happen to see an Asian guy in that mix. How would that change how he thought? Sometimes I want to see two fucking jacked Asian men wrestle in singlets. I know if I search ‘wrestling’ in Pornhub, I won’t just happen to see that.”
Other sites he looks to include PeterFever, a porn studio run by the actor Peter Le, with the stated mission of producing “gay Asian porn fantasies” predominantly featuring Asian men and other men of color. “I think PeterFever is doing the Lord’s work,” says Joel.
Though he hesitates to draw a definitive line between porn and how he’s perceived sexually— “Attraction is a complicated thing to dissect,” he says, “and I’m not a social scientist, clearly”— Joel does notice that prospective partners often make assumptions. “I don’t want anyone to think it’s wrong to want to bottom, I love to bottom,” he says. “But I love to fuck too, and I’d like to see that. The number of strangers who assume I’m a bottom—I do think some of that is racialized assumptions. I’ve literally had men say ‘You’re so hot, but I’m a bottom’ and it’s like… ‘Well great, what’s the issue?’”
The LA-based Canadian-born pornstar Damian Dragon, who’s part Northern Indian, Japanese, and South Pacific Islander, has experienced similar assumptions. Growing up in the ’90s, he identified exclusively as a bottom, spurred in part by mostly white partners who expected him to be “more into the servitude of them, rather than being pleasured myself,” he says. “I just sort of fell into those roles, until I realized that I wasn’t comfortable in those roles and then kind of evolved into topping more. It’s a lot of fun to see life from both sides and be able to flip back and forth and have that fluidity.”
On screen, with his shaved head and tattoo-adorned body, the 48-year-old cuts a domineering figure. On PeterFever, he’s often cast as a top. The studio’s mission was a big reason he returned to the industry last year, after taking a nearly decade-long hiatus. In 2009, he says “it was hard for me to connect as an Asian man with people who were filming porn at that time. I didn’t feel like I found my place. It was a little bit disparaging.”
4 Common Problems when Dating Japanese Men
Hi, I’m Nobita, a native Japanese working as a Japanese teacher in Japan. My YouTube channel, “Find Your Love in Japan” is mainly about dating in Japan.
I’m making YouTube videos because I noticed a lot of foreigners are very skeptical when it comes to dating in JapanIt makes me sad that some think it’s impossible and give up before even trying, especially foreign women.
Well, yes, there seem to be more couples consisting of a foreign man and a Japanese woman than the other way round.
Nevertheless, I strongly believe that you can find a Japanese partner regardless of gender, nationality or race and that’s why I’m making videos to encourage foreigners in Japan.
Meet the Mr Gay Japan 2019 finalists
Every year, contestants from all over the world participate in the Mr Gay World competition to act as LGBT representatives of their respective countries while advocating for LGBT equality. There is no age limit for this highly publicised event and the international delegates are judged on a point system for components such as social responsibility as well as a swimsuit contest.
This year’s grand final in early May will be held in Cape Town, South Africa. But before the final competition, there will be a local round in Tokyo to determine the Mr Gay Japan winner who will represent the country at Mr Gay World 2019. There will also be a separate contest for the Best Social Media award, where members of the public can vote for their favorite contestant by liking their photos on the official Mr Gay Japan instagram page.
Before the finals this Sunday, let’s take a look at the finalists who are competing for the Japan crown.
A post shared by MR GAY JAPAN (@mrgayjapan) on Mar 23, 2019 at 7:01pm PDT
The hidden lives of gay men in the Middle East – in pictures
Photographer Hoda Afshar was born in Tehran and is now based in Melbourne, Australia. Her latest series, Behold, was photographed in Iran in a town which mostly leaves gay men to be, on the condition they conduct this part of their lives in secret. A group of men invited her inside a traditional bathhouse to document part of their world. Behold was first exhibited at Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, and is now at Horsham Regional Gallery until 14 May
Tue 27 Mar 2018 18.00 BST Last modified on Thu 26 Mar 2020 14.32 GMT
Japan’s ‚love hotels‘ accused of anti-gay discrimination
Same-sex couples say hotels make excuses to turn them away despite 2018 law change
In May this year, at the height of the coronavirus’s first wave, two gay men living together in Amagasaki, western Japan, thought they would ease the boredom of the country’s soft lockdown with a visit to a love hotel, where couples pay for short stays to have sex.
But rather than the carefree time they had anticipated, the couple, in their mid-30s, did not even get as far as the door to their room.
“The receptionist was very polite,” one of the men told the Kobe Shimbun. “He just said men aren’t allowed.” An attempt to find a room at another love hotel nearby also ended in disappointment. But this time the language was overtly homophobic.
“Gay men don’t use the facilities properly,” the female receptionist reportedly told them, without explanation. “It was a clear case of discrimination,” the man, who has not been named, told the newspaper. “We were being treated like second-class citizens.”
He and his partner, who are in a civil partnership recognised by the local government, are not alone. While Japan’s thousands of love hotels welcome millions of heterosexual couples in search of the privacy and intimacy denied them at home, gay couples say they are routinely turned away.
Despite rising awareness of LGBT rights, Japan is the only G7 country that does not recognise same-sex marriages, and much of the country’s multibillion-dollar love hotel industry accepts only heterosexual couples.
Taiga Ishikawa, Japan’s first openly gay MP, estimated that of 143 love hotels in Tokyo’s Toshima ward, where he began his career as an assembly member, 30 refused entry to same-sex couples.
The expectation that they will be rejected means many gay men have come to regard love hotels as off-limits, according to one member of Tokyo’s LGBT community, who told the Guardian: “Nothing dampens the prospect of a romantic evening out more than a homophobic hotel policy.”
Akira Nishiyama, assistant executive director of the Japan Alliance for LGBT Legislation, said hotel rejections of same-sex couples were common, even though it is illegal under a 2018 revision to the hotel business law, which states that hotels “should not reject guests on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity”.
On the rare occasions that customers report a hotel for homophobia, authorities simply offer the proprietors “administrative guidance” – a measure campaigners say lacks legal clout.
Modern love hotels, so named after the first of their kind – Hotel Love – opened in Osaka in the late 1960s, originally catered to couples desperate to escape their extended families, who traditionally lived under one roof, for a few hours of intimacy.
But a decline in the young population, the rise in single households, and the pre-pandemic boost in international tourism have prompted many to undergo image makeovers to appeal to travellers, including single guests looking for comparatively cheap and comfortable accommodation.
As a result, the number of hotels with an overtly sexual theme has dwindled to less than 10,000 in recent years, compared with around 30,000 two decades ago. Still, every day an estimated 1.4 million Japanese people visit a love hotel, and analysts believe the industry generates between ¥2-3tn (£14.8bn-£22.2bn) a year.
Gon Matsunaka, founder and president of Pride House Tokyo, which opened this month, believes most hotels will continue to ignore the law. “They often get away with discrimination as they don’t give an explicit reason for denying rooms to same-sex couples,” he said. “They make excuses, like claiming there are no rooms available.
“We could have people coming from all over the world to next year’s Olympics, and if gay couples are denied entry to love hotels it will not reflect well on Japan.”
Although some websites have started listing “gay-friendly” love hotels, Matsunaka said Japan’s refusal to fully accept the LGBT community, exemplified by the ban on same-sex marriages, made homophobia socially acceptable.
“There are a few love hotels that accept same-sex couples, like in the ni-chome gay district of Tokyo, but it’s very limited,” he said. “There is no pressure on the industry to change its ways.”
Japan has not passed an LGBT equality act, and a survey published this week found that 79% of LGBT respondents said they had heard discriminatory remarks about sexual minorities at work or school, although a large proportion – 67% – said social attitudes towards diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity had improved over the past five years.
Only this month, Masateru Shiraishi, a conservative assemblyman in Adachi ward in Tokyo, was forced to apologise after saying the neighbourhood would be “wiped out” by depopulation if the rights of sexual minorities were protected by law.
The lack of legal protection for sexual minorities makes it “really difficult” for many LGBT people to come out, said Nishiyama. “Places like love hotels where LGBTQ+ people can be guaranteed privacy are really important. They make it possible for them to be who they are, and to be with their partner, without fear.”
The two hotels in Amagasaki were reprimanded after the man lodged a complaint, prompting officials to order them to stop discriminating against same-sex guests. Last month the city’s assembly said it planned to drop “opposite sex” from a local ordinance definition of love hotel clientele.
“This is a great decision,” said Nishiyama. “A change in attitude among government organisations so they no longer exclude same-sex couples from love hotels will enable people to use them in safety. And it will raise awareness among hotel staff.”
Although technically not illegal, gay prostitution remains cloaked in secrecy, and a new film reveals the ‘boys’ themselves often have no idea about the health risks they are taking
Although technically not illegal, gay prostitution remains cloaked in secrecy, and a new film reveals the ‘boys’ themselves often have no idea about the health risks they are taking
Homosexuality in Asia
Homosexuality across most of Asia is still very taboo. In fact, there are still many places where being gay can not only get you arrested (like in Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore) but can also get you legally executed (such as Brunei and Afghanistan)!
Overall, we found that LGBT rights in Asia have a long way to go to catch up with Europe and America. For example, in quite a number of Asian countries where being gay is legal, it remains such a taboo in society, that most men end up just leading “closet” lives, marrying a girl, just to please their family – we saw this a lot in Russia, China and India. However, we also found the younger generation to be more tolerant and openminded – a sign of hope for the future.
Gay marriage in Asia
As much of Asia remains firmly in the closet, it’s unsurprising that very few nations on the continent have legalised gay marriage. To date, there is only one part in Asia that has legalised gay marriages, which has earnt it its place as our top #1 gay friendly place in Asia – Taiwan!
The “race for second place” is a fascinating one to watch. Currently, Thailand is on the brink of introducing civil unions (the step below gay marriage) with limitations. On a more regional level, some countries have started to recognise limited rights and benefits to gay couples such as Cambodia, certain cities in Japan and Hong Kong.
Our criteria for ranking the top gay Asian countries
We have taken it as a given that homosexuality is legal in the countries we’ve selected, which is why we haven’t included Singapore despite it having quite a vibrant gay scene and a famous LGBTQ PinkDot festival in June/July.
We have also included two “places” (Taiwan and Hong Kong) rather than “countries”, because although they’re not officially recognised “countries”, they can still be regarded as a “country” given they have their own flag, currency, national anthem, set of laws etc
1. Taiwan, the gayest country in Asia
Taiwan is the runaway pink trailblazer of Asia. In May 2019 it broke all records by becoming the first (and to date, only) place on the entire continent to pass equal marriage laws. Whilst the other countries in this list are still grappling with civil union legislation (if at all!), Taiwan has powered ahead and is the clear leader on our list.
Thailand is often cited as one of the most popular gay destinations in Asia and we totally agree. Thailand is our happy place in the world, especially the . We love the Thais and found them to be very welcoming and friendly. What sums it up is a recent Nida Poll, which showed a whopping 88.72% of Thais to be accepting of gays (although in the same survey, a less impressive 59.20% in favour of gay marriage laws).
In the “race for second place”, Cambodia is often touted as the next most gay friendly place in Asia after Taiwan. When we arrived in Phnom Penh, we found an unexpectedly large gay scene, which we loved. Throughout our travels in Cambodia as a gay couple, we found people to be very accepting towards us, particularly in the big cities like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Didn’t you also fall in love with Antoni when he was making apple pie with sweet old Yoko in Queer Eye’s: We’re In Japan? For us pure magic – our favourite Netflix show in one of the place in Asia we love…it was everything! What was also interesting in this series was the second episode when the Fab Five were exploring the gay scene of Tokyo, which we highly recommend watching it. The LGBTQ community of Japan is, of course, not without its challenges. But as far as Asian standards go, we found Japan to be one of the more LGBT friendly countries in Asia.
5. The Philippines
As far as we’re concerned, the Filipinos are one of the friendliest people on the planet. The Filipino Hospitality is a thing and it is very important to them. Every time we hang out with Filipino friends anywhere in the world, whether in London, Toronto or Manila, we always leave feeling loved and happy. They have that power and we ADORE them for it.
The 2013 Pew Research Centre study about society’s attitudes to homosexuality around the world found that 73% of Filipinos felt that homosexuality should be accepted, which was one of the highest. However, the Philippines is still heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, with large parts of society retaining very backward, conservative and homophobic views; hence the comparatively low Spartacus rating of #95. Despite this, we strongly feel that the Philippines is one of the most LGBT-friendly countries in Asia.
6. Hong Kong
Whilst Hong Kong is generally regarded as part of China, we list it here independently because, like Taiwan, Hong Kong is a fabulous pink breath of fresh air in what is a very conservative region of the world. Being gay in China is tough, especially due to the strict freedom of expression laws. These laws ban any online display of “abnormal behaviours”, which includes homosexuality. In addition, there are no anti-discrimination laws in place in China and gay marriage is a looooong way away from becoming a reality.
In Hong Kong, things are more relaxed. Society in Hong Kong is still quite conservative but its reputation as an international financial hub and its independence from China has allowed it to thrive to become one of the most gay friendly places in Asia.
7. South Korea
South Korea is a bit of a paradox. On the face of it, it is renowned for having a persistent LGBTQ intolerance due to antipathy from influential evangelical conservative Christian groups, hence the low Spartacus rating at #122.
Yet the capital Seoul has not only one of the best (and biggest) gay scenes in Asia, it has the second largest gay festival and has also become a cultural hub for queer culture. Remember, this is where Kim Chi and Soju from RuPaul’s Drag Race come from. Also, one of our favourite gay icons originates from South Korea: comedian, Margaret Cho.
Vietnam is a gay friendly country with a relatively high Spartacus ranking of #68, mainly due to it having quite progressive LGBTQ laws. We certainly found the Vietnamese people to be accepting and welcoming to us as a gay couple.
But while we’ve included it in our list we’ve placed it towards the lower end, below South Korea. This is because despite the progressive laws, the country lacks a big gay scene, particularly when compared to more conservative countries like South Korea and Hong Kong.
India has the potential to become a big gay mecca in Asia. It has a huge LGBTQ community (this is, after all, a country of almost 1.4 billion people), which is growing more and more visible and confident by the day, particularly since the country revoked its anti-gay laws in a . This is why it scored quite high on the Spartacus list with a rating of #57.
However, we place India towards the lower end of our list because society remains very conservative. For many gay Indian men, they have to lead a very closeted life and marry a woman to please their family in order to avoid being ostracised by their local community. In addition, the gay scene is small quite small and underground compared to other places further up on this list.
Nonetheless, India is one place in Asia we are keeping an eye on. We think it’s very likely to become one of the next Taiwan-like pink trailblazers on the continent…they have an openly gay Prince after all (read about him below) as well as a camp-as-hell movie industry, which released an unapologetically gay Bollywood film called Saavdhan (Extra Careful of Marriage).
Nepal has the opposite paradox of South Korea. On the Spartacus listing it’s the joint highest placed Asian country at #41 (joint with Taiwan). This is mainly due to the extremely progressive constitution introduced in 2007, which brought with it a whole array of LGBTQ friendly laws. However, like India, Nepalese society remains conservative, with men expected to marry and have children, so many gay men lead closeted lives. In addition, much like Vietnam, there is a comparatively small gay scene given how how queer friendly the laws are.
Gay travel in asia: is it safe?
We found gay travel in Asia to be very safe. The people are so respectful and love welcoming foreigners. We never once experienced any problems anywhere. In the worst-case scenario, people thought we are brothers. However, we were always careful to respect local customs by avoiding PDAs in certain places. We also checked in advance that the hotels we stayed at were ok to host a gay couple.
We also discovered that regardless of the LGBTQ laws, most places have some form of “gay scene”. At the end of the day, whether you’re in Bangkok, Moscow or Seoul, there will always be an LGBTQ community living and working there.
Gay and Lesbian Japan: The Japan Gay Experience ゲイ日本
Vagueness, blurring of lines, ambiguity, possibility: these are some of the clichés that tend to spring to the Western mind when addressing the topic of . How much of it is wishful and how much of it is cultivated by Japanese themselves is debatable.
It is a fact that samurai were pederasts, that kabuki is a theater of cross dressing, that to Westerners many society.
Unfortunately for gay Japanese men, it is not necessarily so. The issue on which gayness founders in Japan is marriage. Traditionally, getting married is seen not so much as the next step after falling in love, but more as a duty to maintain the family name. Any claim that sexual preference makes marriage impossible is seen as „selfish“ and is to be sacrificed to the demands of duty. Like most of Asia, Japan is a highly conformist society, and refusing to marry is a mark of egregious nonconformity. Being openly gay in Japan only rubs the fact of this nonconformity in, making for an environment where gay Japanese men rarely venture out of the closet – at least before night falls.
Being ‚out‘ is an idea that has yet to come of age in Japan, and at present is a luxury allowed those only who support themselves or are in positions where ‚it doesn’t matter.‘ Conversely, however, sodomy is not a crime. (It was legislated against briefly at the beginning of the country’s Westernization process, but the law was quickly repealed). Also, as mentioned above, Japan has its own comparatively recent tradition of homosexual junior/senior relationships. One writer on the subject says: ‚one of the fundamental aspects of samurai life was the emotional and sexual bond cultivated between an older warrior and a younger apprentice, a love for which the Japanese have many names, as many perhaps as the Eskimo have for snow.‘
Even today, a casual observation of Japanese males reveals a lot more touching, horseplay, bonding and open displays of male devotion and intimacy than are generally tolerated in English-speaking countries. While for men of equal status outright sex may nevertheless be taboo, tales abound of ritualized homosexual activity (often, admittedly on the knife edge of affection and abuse) between initiating older members of a group and receptive younger members – most notably in high school sports teams and the like.
Also, for all the lack of any concept of sin attached to sexuality, an uptight prudishness between men and women often prevails which makes homosexual relationships all the more likely. Furthermore, since the 1980s portrayals of sympathetic homosexual characters have been plentiful in popular entertainment – albeit for the sense of soppy, wistful ‚loneliness‘ they are made to symbolize to an overwhelmingly female audience
All the same, expressions of distaste of homosexuality are by no means absent. It seems that asking the tradition of pederasty in Japan to stamp its approval of modern ‚out‘ gayness is still asking a little too much. Making an open lifestyle of a till now strictly in-group phase of a certain form of male social bonding may well be too close to the bone (so to speak!)
It must be added, however, that any such distaste encountered does not go as deep as the morally tinged abhorrence often encountered in the West. The majority of Japanese are still fairly ignorant of things gay, and are probably more likely to respond to gayness with confusion, dismissal – or plain curiosity – than with blatant negativity. Generally, Japanese men do not feel constrained to prove their straightness in the kneejerk, homophobic way often encountered in other countries.
In the kind of environment where being gay is not considered 100% ‚real,‘ it is natural that a very large number of gay people get married. But in a country where marriage is as much a business relationship as it is a personal one, this does not pose an insurmountable problem. The more anonymous areas of the male gay scene, (cruising, sauna, and internet), are full of gay and bisexual men locked into straight marriage.
For the casual gay visitor to Japan, however, all he or she will see of the gay scene is its minute tip-of-the-iceberg ‚out‘ manifestation, i.e. the world of gay clubs and bars. The Tokyo scene is the exception to the adjective ‚minute,‘ but only because in the Umeda district. But even here the gay scene is probably not what the Western visitor will be used to.
The vast majority of gay bars are – given the price of land – tiny holes in the wall with regular clientele. While they may be curious about a foreigner and ply him with questions, the group mechanics are such that, with everyone knowing each other, it can be very difficult to pick up.
If you are looking to practice your Japanese and/or observe Japanese group behavior, you might try a small bar. Be advised, however, that even Japanese gay guys off the street are not usually welcome at hole-in-the-wall joints. With space at a premium they cater pretty much exclusively to the (i.e. ‚regulars‘). Anyone looking for a hook up is advised to go to a bar, club – or sauna – that welcomes foreigners and where the atmosphere is freer and more anonymous.
An aspect of the gay scene in Japan that sets it apart from most others is the level of specialization. Japanese in general are very focused in their preferences and desires, and on the gay scene (as well as the straight scene) this translates into the word ), used as a suffix.
For example, debusengarisen (‚foreigner friendly‘) bars or dance clubs (see link below) if you’re looking to enjoy some intimacy.
Tip: if you are cruising in public areas, and someone comes up and warns you of police being around, do not leave that public area until someone has assured you that it is safe to leave.
Click here for links to foreigner-friendly gay and lesbian bars and clubs in Japan, as well as useful Japan-related gay/lesbian web links.
Venturing away from westernized gay bars
Photo by: Alex Rickert Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name, but sometimes you gotta venture into the unknown.
Most gay bars in tourist spots like Ni-Chome or Doyamacho in Osaka mimic American-style bars that feature large shot bars, dance music and dark atmospheres where customers of various sexes, genders, sexualities and identities can drink and make merry. You can certainly find these kinds of bars, especially in Tokyo, but the vast majority are similar to what is commonly referred to as a スナックバー (snack bar).
Obviously, the mama in gay snack bars is usually a man, although in true LGBT fashion, some are staffed by drag queens.
Snack bars — or “snacks” for short — are small, intimate bars where bartenders (led by the owner, i.e. the “mama”) chat more intimately with the customers, serving them drinks and, well, snacks. Obviously, the mama in gay snack bars is usually a man, although in true LGBT fashion, some are staffed by drag queens. Gay snacks tend to appear more often in cities outside of Tokyo, due to the more community-driven atmosphere they offer.
Expect some gender exclusivity
Photo by: BarDaiDai BarDaiDai in Fukuoka is strictly for gay men only.
The “drawback” of more rural gay bars is they are usually too small for dancing or large gatherings. Moreover, make sure the bar isn’t single-sex (i.e. “men/women only”), because gender-exclusion is not unheard of in East Asian queer bar culture. Trans folk should feel free to go to mixed-gender bars, or bars that cater to their preferred gender, but most trans-specific bars are still located in bigger cities.
It’s possible that more exclusive bars may deny you entry for a variety of reasons, but usually on the basis of sex and gender. Before getting upset, just ask yourself, “Does this bar really have the vibe I’m looking for?” Probably not. Most of the bars recommended in the GaijinPot LGBT section specify if there are any customer restrictions to keep in mind.
Don’t forget to enjoy the conversation
The bartenders at 8men in Okinawa are always happy to chat with customers, so no need to be shy!
Even Japanese folks visiting small gay bars can feel a little shy, so bartenders are trained to help quiet customers feel comfortable. Bartenders often talk, joke, and even sit down and drink with patrons. The owners should be especially social because they are declaring themselves as leaders of the local gay community.
If you’re going alone, skillful bartenders can help you get to know other customers. When going with friends, make sure to include the bartender in your conversation if he isn’t entertaining other customers. Try asking him about the bar, its history, advice on other gay businesses in the area, but avoid prying too much into his personal life unless the conversation heads that way.
Respect everyone’s privacy
Photo by: strondh Unless a queen is onstage serving looks like this, it’s probably not a good idea to be live streaming on Insta.
If you’re waltzing up to a smaller, more local bar, they may not be used to serving non-Japanese people. If you think about it, these bars are generally lesser-known spaces for queer people to meet each other, and many of the patrons would like to keep their visits private. Many LGBT folk are not “out of the closet” professionally, and a 2013 survey carried out by Ipsos purports that only 51% of Japanese participants were in favor of same-sex marriage, placing them at the bottom of a list of 16 countries. Japanese views on LGBT rights are evolving rapidly, though, according to the survey.
A general rule of thumb is to feel out the atmosphere and go along with what’s happening there. If it’s quiet, keep it low-key. If no one else is taking photos or live-streaming their whole experience on Instagram — probably a good idea to refrain from this, too. Feel free to talk to other bar patrons, but keep in mind that they may not want to reveal too many personal details, especially at first. Keep it cool.
Flex your foreign language muscles
Visiting Japanese spaces is fun, but actually learning Japanese is such a drag… queen. Luckily, there are so many ways to practice and learn Japanese online, like through the GaijinPot Japanese lessons. Once you’ve learned a bit, bars are excellent spaces to practice speaking, so swallow some and sling that Japanese!
Gay bar staff may occasionally be able to speak English or other foreign languages especially in Tokyo but to feel fully immersed in the conversational atmosphere, Japanese skills or an interpreter are suggested.
A different kind of tipping
Gay bars are expensive – expect to spend more than ¥2,000 per person – and while you don’t have to tip, you are expected to supply the bartender with drinks on your own dime.
…While you don’t have to tip, you are expected to supply the bartender with drinks.
The easiest way to do this is to order “bottle service” and purchase a bottle of liquor for the bartender to pour you mixed drinks with. It’s suggested to invite the bartender to pour himself a drink while making yours. Think of it as a courtesy to your bartender for all the terrible karaoke solos he has to listen to throughout the night. Other bar services, like snacks or the karaoke machine, may also cost additional charges. Be sure to ask.
“Are you gonna buy a bottle of whiskey or just sit there and stare at me?”
No matter how many weekends in Ni-Chome you’ve got under your belt, these rules are important to keep in mind before planning adventures to lesser-known LGBT joints. It’s important to be realistic about cost and what kinds of clientele these bars may allow. Venturing outside of tourist-friendly neighborhoods like Ni-ChomeDoyamacho is especially recommended for more experienced expats.
YouTube Interview: Common Problems When Dating Japanese Men
Over the past few months, I’ve interviewed various foreign women who’ve actually dated Japanese menDuring the interviews several common problems when dating Japanese men were mentioned, so let’s have a closer look at them.
2. Japanese Men Don’t Show Their True Feelings or Intentions
This is the most common complaint I hear from foreign women when they’re dating a Japanese many Western countries, the majority of men show their affection directly through words and action (hugging, kissing) – even in public.
In comparison, most Japanese men are too shy and reversed to do in a romantic situation where it’s just the two of you, he might not show his affection clearly enough for you to notice / understand.
The majority of Japanese men admit that they’re never saying the “3 little words” (I love you) hardly ever give compliments such as “You look so beautiful today.”
As a woman, if you never get to hear such words, it makes you feel insecure and unloved.
You’ll keep asking yourself : “Does this guy really like me?”
Many Western men are quite outgoing and communicative, while many Japanese men don’t talk much in general, let alone in a you’re a girl who doesn’t talk much either, chances are the conversation gets very awkward or stressful, even if you speak Japanese fluently.
As you might know, Japanese people are very sensitive about how they’re judged by others (the so-called fear of “losing face”). That’s probably one reason why we’re careful how and what we convey.
I get it! It’s hard to tell whether a Japanese guy is interested in you or , I want you to pay very close attention to their body might be difficult to notice at first, but we definitely show some sort of interest or subtle emotion.
In our culture, we heavily rely on non-verbal it’s tremendously important to focus on non-verbal subtle signs, like shy eye contact or by behaving a bit awkward.
Japanese language itself is quite a subtle use nuanced words, tone of voice and other subtle clues that communicate feelings all the time.
By immersing yourself in the Japanese culture and talking to as many Japanese people as possible, you’ll surely get used to it at some point.
3. Japanese Men Are Always Working Too Much
Growing up in Japan, I thought it’s completely normal to work all day long with lots of overtime.
What makes me sad is that it’s not because we’re workaholics or passionate about our jobs, but because work in Japan is extremely inefficient.Meetings are too long, too frequent and energy is being wasted on redundant, often unnecessary it weren’t for those things, we could actually go home much earlier!
As a Japanese man you’re being raised to be the breadwinner, supporting your family. And as such it’s normal to work this traditional thinking is slowly changing, it’s still very present.
Quite a few Western women I interviewed complained that their Japanese boyfriend has never time because of work. One of my American friends even said: “I can’t get married to a Japanese man, because he’s already married to his job!”
It’s actually quite stressful to work in Japan, because many companies literally force the employees to invest their whole life. If you’re truly passionate about the job, it might not be a problem. But I think most Japanese men aren’t passionate about their job.
An employee needs to sustain a good relationship with his boss in order to get a promotion in the future. There’s no way he could reject an invitation by his superior to join a drinking party after work. You have to go – even if that means you have to cancel the plans you had with your (foreign) girlfriend or never seeing your kids …
How to hit Ni-Chome: a guide to Tokyo’s gay town ゲイ新宿２丁目
You’ve just come to Tokyo, you’re passing through Tokyo, you’ve just come out in Tokyo, you’re „curious“ in Tokyo – whatever it is, there’s Shinjuku Ni-Chome (: „Shinjuku block no.2“). Shinjuku N-Chome is a dense, multifarious neighborhood of tiny bars and club. Ni-Chome never sleeps, and offers something for the gay visitor any time of day or night (but especially at night!)
Not even 10 minutes walk from the east side of Shinjuku station, 2-Chome is as unremarkable from the outside as any Japanese street block.
From Shinjuku-dori, turn left at Shinjuku 2-Chome intersection (at the big Sekaido art and crafts store).
From Yasukuni-dori, turn right at Shinjuku 5-Chome Higashi intersection.
From Shinjuku Station, go all the way along the underground Metro Promenade to Exit C8.
Then, venture into the alleys of Ni-Chome and, bang, you’re going to be surprised at how much you didn’t count on seeing.
Shinjuku Ni-Chome is the gay center of Tokyo, which is the world’s largest urban agglomeration, with over 34 million people. That alone makes Shinjuku Ni-Chome something to write home about (or at least text your besty). Compared with the gay quarters of major Western cities, 2-chome stands out in two ways: first for its small-scale profuseness.
You are not going to find any big establishments with a capacity of any more than a few dozen people. Tokyo does have major gay and lesbian club nights (see, for example Gay/Lesbian What’s On), but not in Ni-Chome.
Everything is tiny, but it’s there in great abundance. Shinjuku Ni-Chome also stands out for its multifariousness. We all know gay and lesbian. We all know the scenes as well. Well, we think we know them.
But until you come to Japan you are unlikely to have seen just what a scene can be in a way that is as concrete, organized, established, and taken for granted as it is in that focus of gay Japan: Ni-Chome.
The abundance of bars in Shinjuku Ni-Chome is something easily verified by a ten-minute stroll around its narrow precincts. Glance into the foyers of buildings and up at their sides for confirmation. The whole area is a crazy checker board of lit-up bar signs. The colors, shapes, sizes, fonts all talk about being gay. But each speaks the dialect of a particular scene.
The names themselves form a delightfully diverse vocabulary possible only in Japan where English is still foreign enough to treat entirely as you please and whose meanings and associations have a Japanese-shaped history of their own. To map these dialects out would take a decade and superhuman catholicity of taste.
At any one time, most of the bars represented by these signs each hold no more than about 15 people – max! In a space this small, the „master“ („master-san“—or „mama-san“ – to the customers) defines who comes. Those who come are generally regulars, and generally subscribe to a particular scene, or, in Japanese, sen: short for senmon: „specialty,“ area of expertise‘. With individual bar space at a premium, there is little room for diversity. The hapless foreigner who wanders innocently in off the street via close echoing staircases or a clanking old elevator may actually find himself lucky, at least for a time.
However, if you’re an innocent to the language and the culture, such serendipity can be rare. If you find yourself in the wrong place, you may be oh-so-politely tolerated, perhaps ignored, or—in the very worst case—refused service and asked to leave (yes, it sometimes happens). It’s best to stick to the beaten track at first, which is where we will point you to here.
If you haven’t eaten, and its still early evening, why not make a complete gay night of it and head to Ni-Chome for dinner? The Bygs Building (on block ‚C‘ of the gay Shinjuku map) has an excellent izakaya (Japanese-style restaurant) called ‚Uoya Itcho‘ on the B1 basement floor. Uoya Itcho is big enough to never have to wait long, it’s cheap enough to eat and drink your fill for under 3,000 yen, the food is good enough to be memorable. Uoya Itcho is well patronized by gay and lesbian visitors to the district, but the waiting staff generally seem to be straight. The menu at Uoya Itcho is extensive, running from the hale and hearty: fat unpeeled potato fries with cheese sauce, to the exquisitely otherworldly: a whole skewered and sashimi-ed fish, still vainly arching its back, wide-eyed and gaping at its own garnishings.
Another option is Cocolo Cafe, an LGBTQ-friendly establishment that is a restaurant as much as a cafe. CoCoLo serves not only tea (all sorts of it), coffee, and snacks, but substantial meals as well. CoCoLo has smoking and non-smoking sections, which are well separated. Open noon to midnight.
AiiRO Cafe is one of Ni-Chome’s two open-air bars. It is distinctive for its novel traditional vermilion torii gate entrance. Like the other, bigger one, Dragon Men, AiiRO’s openness gives the crowd there the kind of fluidity that few other Ni-Chome places have.
AiiRO is the ultimate in easy-come easy-go: a great place to get chatting to strangers. Especially when the weather’s warm, the crowd at AiiRO spills way out into the street, giving it something like the feel of a block party. There are flyers at both AiiRO and Dragon for other bars and events, and, if you really need to know something, the staff of both bars speaks adequate English.
Take the first on your left after Nakadori and on the second block you come to, on the left, you’ll see the entrance to Bar GB downstairs.
GB is dominated by the big central square bar, around which the customers sit and stand. The staff at GB is welcoming and friendly. The drinks at GB are generous, and GB is rarely less than full.
Campy Bar is a more recent gay bar that has quickly become a Ni-Chome classic. Campy Bar was started in 2013 by the celebrity drag queen, Mlle. Bourbonne. Located on the main Nakadori Avenue, it is a fun, flirty place for a cocktail or two – or three or four. And Campy Bar has the kind of reputation that makes it a stopping point for friendly straights as well.
Down an alley off Nakadori Avenue is Vox, an „all-gender“ bar that serves shots for a standard 500 yen (300 yen cover charge on entering). With a DJ booth, Vox hosts various different parties throughout the year (extra charge for event nights). This mod, intimate, friendly bar is a great place to get to know people. Look for the rainbow flag hanging outside.
Once it’s heading for midnight, you might feel like a more all-out dose of fun. Take another look at the flyers you picked up. Like the bars for the Japanese, the club nights are also strictly segregated.
There might even be a big gay party on that evening somewhere off Ni-Chome.
Arty Farty is often a good place to start. Arty Farty is a second floor dance club with as diverse a crowd as you’ll find anywhere on Ni-Chome. Like anything gay in Japan, however, it is generally young, with few over-40s, but whoever turns up is not going to feel out of place.
No matter how quiet things might seem on the street, Arty Farty is routinely jam packed on Saturday nights – somewhat less on Friday nights. On walking in you line up at the bar. Even at its most packed it doesn’t take more than five minutes to get served. Unlike the other clubs, entrance is free, but buying a drink – upon which you get a stamp on your hand – is obligatory before you can enter the dance floor, a step or two down from the bar. The place is usually thronged, with generally two-thirds to three-quarters of the crowd on the dancefloor. The decor is, as the name suggests, whackier than it is conventional, but not very noticeable when it’s crowded.
Ni-Chome caters to gay women as well as gay men. One of the longest running lesbian nights here is Goldfinger, around since the early 1990s and still going strong. The bar known as Goldfinger is not exclusively lesbian, but Saturdays here from 6pm on, when it is known as „Club Goldfinger,“ are. If you’re a woman and get here early on a Saturday evening, between 6pm and 9pm, it’s all you can drink for 2,000 yen. Fridays are „LGBT Karaoke Night,“ for both gay men and women.
Arty Farty has a sister club known simply as the Annex. It is quite a different space from Arty Farty in that, while still small, it has way more headroom – to the point of incorporating a mezzanine floor. Club Annex tends to go cater to the beefier more macho crowd, but by no means exclusively, and attracts a somewhat less frenetic crowd on Saturday nights than Arty Farty. Annex is recommended for those who want to drink and dance without feeling like they’re commuting on a crowded Tokyo train.
Whatever time you stumble back out into faintly lightening air, Ni-Chome will still be peopled. if you’re hungry, there’s a raamen (Chinese noodle shop) across the road from the Bygs Building, or the 24-hour Shinjuku-Gyoen branch of Freshness Burger (the more gay-friendly option) on the other side of Shinjuku-dori avenue across from Block V.
There has been talks that Narimiya would court patrons when he used to work at 2-chome before his debut. He is also said to frequent Kabukichou. (Kabukichou is essentially the red light district of Tokyo. It’s home to love hotels, bars, night and host(ess) clubs, etc.)
There is evidence that he used to work at a Shibuya Brothel. A customer retold an account of how they like Tatsuya and how he had a boyfriend.
He is the person that sang the theme song for Princess Mononoke. In the past he was hit with a shocking gay prostitution scandal that cause quite an event. But in an interview he said „To sum up my taste, I like beautiful people. Rather than being gay, I want to embrace beautiful things. I have expensive taste.“
In the past, on Music Soldier (Nihon TV) regarding a rumor involving „Wentz and Koike“ Teppei Koike answered „no“ and Wentz answered „yes“ causing the conversation to resurface. Subsequently 5 years later they casted more doubt on themselves as they spent Christmas together. It is speculated that they spend their time together even now.
In the past, he was to be said in deep love with Misaki Ito, at that time it was said to be a great plan to conceal any doubt about his sexuality.
To add to this list of gay men in the Japanese industry that may not have officially come out is a list men that have officially come out as either gay or bisexual.
(Fun Fact: Has an interesting action figure)Ken Maeda
Has announced that he is gay. He is the leading writer when it comes to the genre of Gender/Sexuality
(Expert of Education and psychology in raising a child with a disability. Social worker and Congressman)Together with Taiga Ishikawa he became one of the first two openly gay politicians in Japan.
And for those of you curious there will be a list for women out soon
How does the japanese public react to homosexual celebs?
It can go either way honestly. They can be blacklisted and lose their fame or maintain it if they are talented/ have a decent enough fan base. Although I do know that gay actors may get typecast into really stereotypical roles
And for those of you wondering those who are married to women fall under the bisexual catagory. The article just said gay so I wrote gay.
It can go either way honestly. They can be blacklisted and lose their fame or maintain it if they are talented/ have a decent enough fan base. Although I do know that gay actors may get typecast into really stereotypical roles
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Asian countries that have legalised LGBT
Currently, the countries in Asia where being gay is legal are: India, Nepal, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, Mongolia, South Korea, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia (but not in Chechnya which has gay concentration camps).
See the sights of Asia on a gay tour
From the chaotic streets of New Deli, India to the quiet zen of Hakone, Japan, Out Adventures‘ has a vast roster of gay Asian tours showcasing the continent’s incredible diversity. Hikers will love their industrious Everest Base Camp climb in Nepal while foodies will naturally be drawn to their signature Thailand tour. Looking to get off the beaten path, you say? Well in our opinion, there’s no better escape than Out Adventures‘ far-flung Mongolian adventure.
LGBTQ rights in Taiwan
A big part of what makes Taiwan the most progressive Asian counry is that after the 38 years of the restrictive Martial Law era ended in 1987, there was a huge push for democracy and change. Anti-discrimination laws were passed in education (2004), employment (2007) and other areas of business (2017). In addition, gays were allowed to openly serve in the military from 2002, the right to change legal gender introduced in 2008 and conversion therapy outlawed in 2018.
The gay scene of Taiwan
The biggest LGBTQ community of Taiwan can be found in the capital, Taipei, which also has one of the best gay scenes in Asia. Most of the gay bars of Taipei are based in and around the Ximen Red House Complex, such as Cafe Dalida, Secret Garden and the Commander D fetish bar. Other gay bars nearby include Hero, Hunt, Goldfish and Fairy. In terms of gay clubs in Taipei, Gstar and Cercle are the most popular. Other cities in Taiwan like Kaohsiung, Tainan and Taichung City also have a few gay hangouts.
Gay events in Taiwan
Taiwan is notorious for having the largest gay festival in Asia: Taipei Pride. It takes place on the last Saturday in October, attracting crowds of around 150,000. Some of the best gay parties in Taiwan happen around Taipei Pride, in particular the WOOW Pool Party and the Formusa Pride Party. The Mr Gay Taiwan pageant also takes place in late October, usually coinciding with Taipei Pride. The other big gay event in Taipei to look out for is the monthly queer party called Blush. Find out more in our interview with local boy Po-Hung about gay life in Taiwan.
Did you know? Taiwan has its own God for homosexual love called Tu’er Shan or the Rabbit God. Tu’er Shan has his own temple in New Taipei City, making it the only gay religious shrine in the world!
Gay tour of Thailand
Discover how Thailand earned its moniker ‘The Land of Smiles‘ on this awesome gay tour with Out Adventures. The boys over at OA run four annual departures through the country with stops in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Krabi and Phuket. Their April departure even aligns with the country’s famous Songkran water festival. As the old circuit ditty goes, LET’S GET SOAKING WET!
LGBTQ rights in Thailand
Thailand legalised homosexuality in 1956. At the time, it was one of the first Asian countries that legalised LGBT. Since 2015, it has had an array of anti-discrimination laws in place in education, employment and elsewhere, including hate speech. In relation to the military, gays have been allowed to openly serve since 2005 and homosexuality was declassified as an illness in 2002.
With regards to gay marriage, unlike Taiwan, this is not on the cards sadly. However, Thailand is in the process of reviewing a Life Partnership Bill. When this becomes law, it would grant LGBTQ couples limited rights relating to property and inheritance, but not for public welfare, tax benefits, or adoption.
The gay scene of Thailand
The majority of the gay scene of Thailand is in the capital, Bangkok, particularly around Silom Soi 4 and 6. We love it because there is always an exciting atmosphere and we always have a great time. Some of the main gay bars to check out include Stranger, Telephone and Balcony. The best gay club in Bangkok is DJ Station. Other places in Thailand with a gay scene include Phuket and Pattaya, and to a lesser extent, Chiang Mai.
Gay events in Thailand
Whilst the country doesn’t have a formal Pride taking place each year, Bangkok’s Songkran Gay Circuit Party in April is one of the most exciting gay festivals in Asia. Around this time of year, there is also an equivalent gay party taking place in Phuket and Pattaya. Also in Pattaya is the annual Asia Circuit Festival in June.
Bangkok had its first gay film festival in 2015, which is now the BangkokThai International Film Festival (BANGIFF), open to all. Whilst it’s lost its gay title, it still retains a significant LGBTQ segment. The BANGIFF takes place in October.
Did you know? Thailand is one of the most trans and LGBT friendly Asian countries. Find out more about transgender life in Thailand in our who moved from the Philippines to live in Bangkok. Also of note is that in March 2019, transgender filmmaker Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, was elected to the Thai parliament, becoming the country’s first ever transgender MP.
Gay tour of Cambodia and Laos
Every November, our friends at Out Adventures organise a fabulous gay tour through Laos and Cambodia. Channel your inner Lara Croft as you sashay your way through the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, explore the vibrant nightlife of Phnom Penh with a group of fabulous like-minded men, immerse yourself in the serenity of Luang Prabang and try a few exotic culinary discoveries…barbecued spider anyone?
LGBTQ rights in Cambodia
Cambodia has no record of ever having any anti-gay laws in its history! The equal age of consent has always been 15 for everyone whether straight or gay. However, there are not yet any anti-discrimination laws in effect. Whilst gay marriage is not yet legal in Cambodia, in 2018 the government introduced a civil contract that gay couples can enter into called a “Declaration of Family Relationship” (DoFR), offering limited rights. The DoFR is a symbolic civil contract between two people who are willing to be together and share responsibility of taking care of family, children and to distribute joint assets.
The gay scene of Cambodia
The capital, Phnom Penh, is where you’ll find the best gay bars and clubs like Toolbox, Space and Blue Chilli. Siem Reap, the base to visit Angkor Wat, also has a fun gay scenewith gay bars like Miss Wong, Barcode and Heaven & DreamBoys.
Gay events in Cambodia
In May, there is an annual Pride in Phnom Penh going strong since 2003. More recently since 2018, Siem Reap also has an annual Pride taking place in May.
Did you know? Rumour has it that ! Nothing is official but this ballet-dancing-lifelong-bachelor remains a much-loved figure in Cambodia. Whether King Sihamoni is gay or not, one thing he has publicly come out for is for progressive LGBTQ rights, including gay marriage. Read more about gay Cambodia in our .
Experience Japan on a gay tour
Psst! Want in on a secret? Our friends at Out Adventures recently launched a super kawaii tour of Japan. On this all-gay foray, travelers will ride the Shinkansen bullet train between Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. Highlights include a street food tour, samurai experience, a night in an authentic onsen, and an evening in Tokyo’s gay district, Shinjuku Ni-chōme.
We place Japan high on this list because from our perspective as foreigners, we feel it is one of the safest and most welcoming nations in Asia. And where else in the world are you going to find a city with over 300 gay bars?!
LGBTQ rights in Japan
Japan got rid of its anti-gay laws in 1880 and interestingly has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world – 13 (which is the same for everyone, straight or gay). Other progressive laws include the right to change your legal gender (introduced in 2003) and gays allowed to openly serve in the Japanese military.
With regards to anti-discrimination laws, there are none nationwide. However, Tokyo and Ibaraki each have their own anti-discrimination laws in place. In relation to gay marriage, it is not legal in Japan, although some parts of the country allows LGBTQ couples to register a “Partnership Certificate”, which gives limited rights to aid with hospital visits and renting apartments.
The gay scene of Japan
Tokyo has a whopping 300 or so small gay bars crammed together in the “Ni-Chōme” area of the Shinjuku district. Some of the main gay bars and clubs of Tokyo to check out include Arty Farty, Campy! and AiiRo. Check out our for more details. Other cities in Japan that have a few notable queer hangouts include Nagasaki, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima.
Gay travel to Japan
As gay travellers to Japan, we felt very welcome. When it comes to customer service the Japanese are ahead of everyone. They do everything with such precision and attention to detail, always with a smile. Whoever you are, you’ll feel this in Japan. For locals, however, the situation is more complex because Japanese society is quite conservative. Despite this, it’s changing and improving all the time; certainly by Asian standards.
Did you know? The original geisha of Japan were men not women! The taikomochi were male advisors, artists and gifted storytelling entertainers to their feudal lords dating back to the 1200s. The first female geisha didn’t actually appear in Japan until the 1700s, but quickly grew so popular that “geisha” became associated with women rather than men.
LGBTQ rights in The Philippines
Homosexuality has always been legal in the Philippines and the age of consent has always been the same for everyone throughout its history. Interestingly, the Philippines has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world: 12!
Anti-discrimination laws are in place across parts of the Philippines and will soon be applied nationwide. In relation to the military, gays have been allowed to openly serve in the Filipino army since 2009. With regards to gay marriage, although this is not yet legal in the Philippines, the Civil Partnership Bill was introduced in October 2017 and is likely to become law very soon.
The gay scene of The Phillipines
The main gay scene of the Philippines is in the capital, Manila, which has hangouts like O Bar, Adonis and Nectar. Other cities with notable LGBTQ hangouts include Davao City, Quezon City and Cebu.
Boracay Island used to be a massive gay party destination. Find out more in our . You can also read about what it’s like growing up gay in the Philippines in our .
Gay events in The Philippines
Manila Pride in late June is the largest gay event in the Philippines, attracting around 25,000 people. Quezon City also has a Pride in March. The annual QC International Pink Film Festival (QCIPFF) in Quezon City in November is famous for being one of the largest and best LGBTQ film festivals in Asia.
The Filipinos are very enthusiastic about beauty pageants, particularly the Mr Gay competitions. Every year the Philippines send their representative to the Mr Gay World competition, and have even won it twice: John Fernandez Raspado in 2017 and Janjep Carlos in 2019.
Did you know? The Phiippines has the only LGBTQ political party in the world! In 2003, the LGBTQ political party (meaning “out of the closet”) was established by writer Danton Remoto. Sadly, due to lack of political funding, their campaigning efforts were limited, so they only managed to get 0.38% of votes in the 2010 election, 0.37% in 2013 and were disqualified in the 2016 elections.
LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong
The anti-gay laws were revoked in 1991 with the age of consent equalised to 16 in 2006. There are anti-discrimination laws in place but only for government employees. In terms of gay marriage laws, there are none, but this is currently being challenged in the Hong Kong High Court. Foreign registered gay marriages are however recognised in Hong Kong.
The gay scene of Hong Kong
Despite its small size, there are a number of gay bars across Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, particularly in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. Some of the best gay bars and clubs in Hong Kong include: FLM, T:ME Bar, Petticoat Lane and Bing Bing.
Gay events in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Pride in November is the largest gay festival, attracting around 10,000 people. In addition, on the 17th May, there is an annual procession for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). The Hong Kong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in September is regarded as the oldest LGBTQ film festival in Asia, dating back to 1989.
Did you know? Hong Kong is confirmed to host the Gay Games 2022. The Gay Games is like the LGBTQ equivalent of the Olympic Games, held every 4 years. It started in 1982 in San Francisco and has been hosted in a different city ever since, mainly in North America, Europe and Australia. This will be the first time it takes place in Asia, which is terrific news for the LGBTQ community of Hong Kong!
LGBTQ rights in South Korea
On the one hand, South Korea has never had any anti-gay laws ever in its history. The age of consent has always been equal at 13, and the right to change legal gender was introduced in 2006. But on the other hand, there are no gay marriage or civil union laws, no national anti-discrimination laws and there is an outright ban on LGBTQ people openly serving in the military.
The silver lining: whilst there are not yet any national anti-discrimination laws, many provinces are enacting them at a local level and in 2014, the government voted in favour of an anti-discrimination UN resolution against LGBTQ people. In addition, homosexuality was officially declassified as “harmful and obscene” in 2003. In relation to gay marriage, there is a strong push to change the constitution in favour of gay marriage, with important court cases taking place about it.
The gay scene of South Korea
Seoul has one of the largest gay scenes in Asia with queer hubs in Homo Hill in Itaewon, and also in Jongno. Homo Hill is where the majority of the popular gay bars of Seoul can be found like Lollipop, Queen, Q-Bar, Almaz, Always Homme, Bottoms Up and Why Not. Jongno is where the original Seoul village started out and is now more of a local scene with places like OWOO, Wallpaper Karaoke Bar and The Nine.
Seoul also has some of the best gay parties, like Trance and Shade @ CakeShop, Gray Club, SOHO, King, HIM by Pulse and the HOMPA by Le Queen. The Seoul gay scene also has a large drag show scene, which has given us the likes of Kim Chi and Soju on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Gay events in South Korea
What South Korea has in terms of conservative Christian intolerance, it sure as hell makes up for it in terms of a gay scene and queer events! Seoul Pride sums this up. Every year, usually in June/July, the capital hosts the second largest LGBTQ event in Asia (after Taipei Pride) called the , attracting crowds of around 120,000.
Sadly, as popular as this event is, conservative Christian groups always try to hinder it. They managed to get it cancelled in 2015 and in 2018, an managed to get almost 220,000 signatures! Thankfully, it still went ahead successfully, as have all subsequent Seoul Pride events since.
The Seoul Drag Parade started in May 2018, campaigning for awareness for the queer community. It was so successful that it become an annual event every May. In terms of film festivals, the Korea Queer Film Festival (KQFF) takes place in July. Finally, the circuit parties in August rival the Songkran Circuit parties of Thailand as some of the best in Asia.
Did you know? Seoul has become one of Asia’s top destinations for plastic surgery, particularly among men looking to achieve a “pretty boy” look and a macho physique; usually inspired by the strong K-Pop culture like boy band Shinee.
In the K-pop world itself, more and more celebrities are coming out. For example, in March 2016 the girl group Mercury debuted with Choi Han-bit – a transgender model; and in January 2018 the singer Holland famously came out, becoming the first openly gay K-pop idol in the country.
LGBTQ rights in Vietnam
Vietnam has never had any anti-gay laws, has always had an equal age of consent for intercourse (17), gays are allowed to openly serve in the military, the right to change your legal gender was introduced in 2017 and single gay people are allowed to adopt. There are no anti-discrimination laws yet, but in 2006, the Government passed an anti-discrimination law to protect people with HIV from discrimination, which included provisions for free health care.
Whilst there are no gay marriage laws yet in Vietnam, in 2015 the government passed the Law on Marriage and Family, which outlaws the ban on gay weddings. Whilst this doesn’t give any recognition to gay couples, it does allow gay marriage ceremonies to take place without fear of arrest.
The gay scene of Vietnam
Despite having a large LGBTQ community in Saigon and Hanoi, the gay scene is not that big at all, with only a handful of queer hangouts. The main ones are in Saigon and include Republic, Le Pub and Thi Bar. The capital, Hanoi, only has one gay bar called GC Bar. With such a small gay scene, the gay dating apps are your friend in Vietnam, so we recommend using them to tap into the local LGBTQ community.
Gay events in Vietnam
Viet Pride is the main gay event in Vietnam, which takes place in Hanoi every August. It includes a bike rally parade, a film festival and an After Pride party. Find out more about what gay life is like in Vietnam in our interview with gay local Quan from Saigon.
DId you know? Vietnam had an openly gay US Ambassador in 2014/15 called Ted Osius. He was always very supportive of LGBTQ events and frequently posed with his husband and children.
LGBTQ rights in India
Up until 2018, it was illegal to be gay in India under Article 377 of the 1861 Indian Penal Code, introduced during the British colonial years. This law was revoked by the Delhi Court in 2009 but then brought back by the Supreme Court in 2014, then finally revoked again in 2018. We hope it stays this way!
There are some anti-discrimination laws in place in India, but only against the state. In addition, gays are banned from openly serving in the military, and homosexuality has been declassified as an illness.
In relation to adoption, single gay people are allowed to adopt in India regardless of orientation. India also has some pretty progressive laws for trans people: the right to change gender and third gender option laws were both introduced in 2014. In relation to gay marriage/civil union laws, whilst there are none, they are under review by the Indian Law Commission with some high profile court cases taking place. Find out more about gay life in India in our interview with Raj from Delhi.