Traveling nowadays seems like the ultimate dream. We’re living that dream, and it is an absolute fairy tale! But, traveling the world as an LGBT traveler isn’t as easy as packing your bags and go.
We have traveled to countries with anti-gay laws, and we refuse to boycott countries for that reason. We believe traveling the world is for everyone! However, it’s important to do it safely.
Lesbian Japan is a very safe country to visit, but there are a few important questions to keep in mind before flying to a new destination: what are the LGBT rights? What’s the public opinion like? Where are the LGBT safe spaces?
It’s our goal to make you worry less, and have more fun during your travels. So let’s answer the questions and find out how LGBT friendly Japan is for (lesbian) travelers!
LGBT Rights in Japan
Japan has some of the most progressive LGBT laws in all of Asia. Gay activities are legal, gay marriage not yet. Japan has been making great steps forward in the past years.
Since March 2009, Japanese gay couples can get married outside of Japan, in countries where it’s legal. In 2012, a law was passed allowing transgender people to change their gender legally after surgery.
In 2015, Shibuya was the first area in Japan to recognize gay partnerships with a certificate, making it easier for gay couples to find housing and to visit each other in the hospital.
Other areas and some major cities followed, nowadays seven cities (Sapporo, Fukuoka, Osaka, Iga, Takarazuka, Naha, and Chiba) and four wards in Tokyo offer partnerships (or will in the near future).
In October 2018, Tokyo passed an anti-discrimination law concerning gender identity and orientation. Plus, the city decided to conduct public education about LGBT rights.
Although discrimination isn’t common in Japan, we hope to see this law pass nationally. Sadly, adoption by gay couples isn’t allowed and lesbians aren’t able to access IVF.
Still, the city Osaka is making great steps forward in this topic, since April 2017 gay couples are recognized as foster parents. Still, a lot to work on, but a country is more than its laws, so let’s dive into Japan’s public opinion.
Recommended read: How To Travel The World As A Lesbian Couple?
Being LGBT in Japan: What do Locals Think?
Over half of the Japanese people is in favor of LGBT people and gay marriage, especially the younger generation. So, the LGBT community is accepted but in a Japanese way.
People don’t speak about it much, they don’t speak about intimate relations or gender in general. Many political parties don’t openly support nor oppose LGBT rights, as it’s a topic rarely discussed in public.
Nevertheless, there are some LGBT politicians openly out.
The Japanese culture of being polite plays a big role in public opinion. The concept of omotenashi, or selfless hospitality, is a cornerstone of Japanese culture, which is why Japanese people go out of their way to be of service – in any field.
In addition, the Japanese avoid conflict. Instead of saying no, they prefer not to answer. In Japanese culture intimacy, in general, is an interesting topic (and not to be talked about in public), and a decreased ‘lust’ nationwide has caused Japan to have one of the lowest birth rates in the world. But that’s a whole other topic!
In addition, a lot of queerness can be found in Japanese culture, for example kawaii, Taikomochi/Geisha and cosplay (maid cafés for example).
Exploring Asia? Gay Taiwan is AMAZING to visit as an LGBT traveler.
Lesbian Japan: Our Experience
Japan is an incredibly safe country to travel to as a woman, also as a lesbian traveler. We spent 5.5 weeks in Japan and absolutely loved it.
Hitchhiking through the whole country was the best decision we made, we met many locals! Japanese are the friendliest and most polite people we’ve ever met (omotenashi all around!).
Whenever we told people we’re in a relationship they weren’t very responsive (neither negatively nor positively) – they considered it ‘not their business’. They also never asked any questions, as we said before, they are very polite.
You could probably show all the PDA you want, without anyone saying something, though it would be considered indecent. Holding hands and a quick kiss now and then isn’t a problem, but we don’t recommend more.
PDA isn’t a usual sight in Japanese culture, so it’s best to respect the culture and adapt.
In the big cities, there are often quite some places where you could go to if you are looking for lesbian nightlife. In Tokyo, there are even more lesbian bars than in Amsterdam. More about hotspots in lesbian Japan below!
As a traveler, the Japanese concept of gaijin is important to understand. Gaijin means foreigner – or simply non-Japanese. The word comes from kanji and jin: outside person.
As a traveler (even as an ex-pat or as a person who’s born there but isn’t racially Japanese) you are considered a gaijin and therefore you are treated differently. People will be a bit more distant and misunderstandings can happen.
But never mistake unresponsiveness for homophobia!
Gay Travel Japan: Gay Men Travelers’ Experience
Of course, our experience as lesbian travelers doesn’t represent the experience of queer males in the community. That is why we’ve asked our gay travel-friends Karl & Daan from Couple of Men to share their experience of traveling to Japan (as a couple).
When we decided to start planning our first ever travel to Japan, we both made one of our biggest dreams come true. For many years, a trip to the island nation was top of our bucket list, before we actually started blogging about our trips on Couple of Men.
After we finally arrived in Tokyo, our one-month adventure started with some first days in the Japanese capital city. And guess where we theme park nerds started!
We spent four full days in both Disney Parks getting amazed by the uncountable amount of dressed-up Japanese people. The next couple of weeks can be described as a spiritual journey from Kyoto to our Kumano Kodo pilgrimage in the Wakayama mountains.
We fell in love with the calm, friendly people, the welcoming environment and the peaceful traditions.
Coming from one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, the Netherlands, it is needless to say, that we are used to holding hands, giving each other a kiss in public and actually we are used to not even think about that we are “gay”.
We have been prepared to be respectful and sensitive in the presence of the Japanese people. But, honestly, we did not face a single moment of homophobia, discomfort or even danger in Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, or in the countryside.
The “worst” thing that happened: A group of teenage boys passed by us holding hands in Tokyo starting to giggle. Recently, Japan started to become more progressive in supporting the LGBTQ+ community.
Happy Pride Japan! We cannot wait to be back.
Lesbian Safe Spaces in Japan
There are a few big cities you can’t miss during your Japan trip. Tokyo and Osaka are two of them. The largest and welcoming lesbian Japan scene is in Tokyo.
Though Osaka has a fairly big LGBT scene as well. Most cities have some LGBT bars but they don’t all welcome foreigners. In Tokyo, the place to be is the Shinjuku district.
Around Shinjuku station, there’s a big shopping area, a lot of businesses, tall buildings, and Japan’s largest red-light district. It’s a busy area in the city; Shinjuku station is the busiest railway station in the world!
For men, popular places are Arty Farty, Campy! Bar, and Aiiro Cafe Bar, and FTM Bois Bar is famous amongst the trans community.
LGBT events in Japan
- Tokyo Rainbow Pride – every year in April or May (since 2012) during the Japanese golden week holiday.
- Kansai Rainbow Festa – one of the biggest celebrations (sometimes an entire weekend), in Osaka. Yearly in October since 2006.
- More Pride – Sapporo Rainbow Pride, Kyushu Rainbow Pride (Fukuoka)
- Rainbow Reel Tokyo – formerly known as Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival is a film festival for LGBT audiences. Held every year in Tokyo in July since 1992.
And most importantly: HAVE FUN! Enjoy your travels in lesbian Japan. The country is absolutely fantastic.
Recommended read: How LGBT-Friendly is the Netherlands?