Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Japan: Where the Grrls Are

(Link) A handy guide to Japan's underground grrl bar scene and where to find the hangouts. Hello Kitty, indeed!


LNewsEditor said...

JIC Post:
by Genevieve

Back home, girls don’t usually hold hands. Well, not unless they’re six years old or they’re a couple. When I first came to Tokyo as a naïve, optimistic gaijin, I saw all this hand-holding and stupidly thought: “wow, what an open city!” Little did I know that homosexuality in Tokyo (and throughout Japan) is pretty closeted. And, much to my disappointment, 99% of those hand-holding girls are undoubtedly just good friends.
Tokyo is no San Francisco – or New York, for that matter – in terms of gay visibility. The scene is definitely smaller and harder to sniff out. But it’s there, and it's thriving. You've just got to know where to look.
First stop: ni-chome. This neon section of Shinjuku borders the quaint restaurant district of san-chome physically, but they share little else in common. Like many Japanese, it wears two faces. By day, it’s a fairly typical area (if you ignore the conspicuous bar signs) where businessmen and the occasional obasan mill about. By night, it’s an out and proud gay district, where Drag Queens, old guard butches and everyone in between come to party.
What Tokyo does have in common with other cities around the world is that nightspots for men far outnumber those for women. But whether you’re looking for a laid back night with friends or to dance until the sun comes up, here’s a selection of the best alternatives to staying home with your cats.

Advocates Bar
Around the corner from Advocates Café, this club-style bar has a very different feel from its sister pub. Located in a sometimes overcrowded basement, Advocates Bar is more of a place to party. They have events nearly every night, many of which are mixed. With the Drag Star night out the door, the two female-only parties left are Panache and Samba Diva.
Panache (Pleasing Atmosphere, Natural and Affable Conversation, Heartwarming party for Everywoman) is held on the first Sunday afternoon of every month, 14:00-19:00, for women 23 and older. A sense of community and a relaxing atmosphere make it a good venue to hang out with a girlfriend – or meet a new one. And relaxing does not equal dull: they spin “ni-chome house” and feature special shows, ranging from comic skits to Drag Queen performances. ¥2500 gets you admission, one drink, and hors d’oeuvres.
Panache’s mellow classiness is a stark contrast with Samba Diva’s wild party vibe. This huge event, held once or twice a year, brings a Latin flavor to Tokyo. The sexy samba dancers and strip show are worth the ¥3000 admission (with one drink). Bring a flyer and it’s reduced to ¥2500 until 24:00.

Monthly events vary. For the current calendar check
7th Tenka Bldg B1F
2-18-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
(03) 3358 8638
Shinjuku-Sanchome station, exits C7, C8

Club Wire
Hard to believe that, less than 20 years ago, the gay scene here consisted of just small watering holes and karaoke bars. Club Wire broke that norm back in the 80s, when (under a different moniker) it held the first gay night in all of Japan. Set a bit outside of ni-chome, it continues to take a novel spin on gay and lesbian nightlife. As an “authentic rock club”, it stands out from the usual house- and techno-centric joints elsewhere. It’s a lot bigger than most ni-chome haunts, too: with two rooms, a lounge area and a decent dance floor, there’s actually space to scope out the crowd. Throughout the week there is a mix of events for guys and girls, with everything from ska to reggae to UK rock. The Bian Trap women’s-only event is held once a month. Special events are ¥2500 (2 drinks) and regular nights are ¥2000 (1 drink).

Open nightly
Hanazono Bldg B1F
5-17-6 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
(03) 3207 6953
Shinjuku station, East Exit

Cocolo Café
“Cool, strange, funny, straight, gay… all are welcome,” says Yuichirou Kuriyama of his chilled restaurant. Indeed, it’s arguably the most diverse hangout in ni-chome. While daytime draws in a fairly typical lunch crowd, on any given night there may be New Halfs, straight couples, middle-aged lesbians and gay teens dining side by side. That straight diners abound is no surprise: the food is really good. The menu (in English) includes appetizers, soups, light meals, main dishes, desserts, and just about anything else you may crave. Kuriyama rotates the gay- and lesbian-themed art collection monthly, and chooses music to complement the pieces. All in all, Cocolo Café is a stylish yet comfortable place for a meal, pre-party snack, or an early morning, hangover-preventing bite to eat.

Mon-Thu: 11:30-6:00, Fri: 11:30-7:00, Sat: 15:00-7:00, Sun: 15:00-5:00
1st Hayakawaya Bldg 1F
2-14-6 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
(03) 5366 9899
Shinjuku-Sanchome station, exits C7, C8

If you live in the outskirts of Tokyo, a girls’ night out can be quite a trek. Retsu, and her partner Piyo-maru rose, created D’Arc this past June to solve that problem. As the only lesbian bar in Yokohama, D’Arc is naturally unique. With its medieval, Gothic interior, it’s also pretty singular in its own right. Named after Joan of Arc, this tiny candle-lit bar is a nice, quiet place to have a few post-work drinks. Go with a friend or girlfriend.
Note: The bar is not clearly marked (a safety precaution), so feel free to call for directions once you're in the area.

Open Wed-Mon, 8:30-12:30
Eight Center Bldg 2F
8-136-8 Chou-jam, Naka-ku
(045) 253 0710
Nearest stations: Kannai (North Exit), Hinodecho & Isezaki-Chojamachi

Diamond Cutter @ Ace
If you’ve ever been to a bonenkai and played Bingo, you'll know how much Japanese love to combine drinking and games. Diamond Cutter’s monthly party has its own game of sorts. Upon entering the club, you must tell the clerk your type – Neko, Tachi, or Chusei (femme, butch, or androgynous) – and whether you are looking for a friend or a girlfriend. Your information is then marked on a numbered name tag. Along the wall are mailboxes with a corresponding number, where interested girls can leave a message.
Diamond Cutter definitely brings in a younger crowd (at 25, I felt that I was approaching the limits), and the club can become too tight to dance. But, like any game, you've got to play it at least once.

First Friday of every month, 21:00~
Daini Hayakawa Bldg B1F
2-14-6 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
(03) 3352 6297
Shinjuku-Sanchome station, exits C7, C8

Unlike its neighbor Agit (who unapologetically refused a Japanese friend and I entrance because I’m foreign), Hug is as welcoming as its name. Much of that has to do with the owner/bar tender, Chako. Quick-witted and forever smiling, she has clearly chosen the right profession. She doesn’t need a menu, but rather chats up the customers and fixes what they want. Women of all ages come to this neighborhood style bar, but it caters mainly to 30- and 40-somethings. Chako chooses music that is natsukashii (nostalgic) for this age group, which means 80s bands like The Bangles or Go-Go’s.
One of the reasons Hug’s customers are somewhat older may be due to the price: it’s a bit dear, and there's a ¥1000 table charge.

Mon-Sat 21:00-5:00
2-15-8 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
(03) 5379 5085
Shinjuku-Sanchome station, exits C7, C8

Kinswomyn is by far the best known lesbian bar in Tokyo: I’ve never met a bisexual or lesbian woman who hasn’t gone there at least once. With an American bartender now working Fridays, it’s also the most foreigner-friendly joint around. They spin a lot of hip-hop and R&B, which suits the 20-30-something crowd. Some people come for a quiet chat with friends, but most women are sociable and open to meeting new people. Depending on the night, there are several different bartenders, all of whom are friendly and make everyone feel at home. Another big plus: it’s one of the few places that doesn’t have a “snack charge” or table fee.

Wed-Mon 20:00-4:00
Daiichi Tenka Bldg 3F
2-15-10 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
(03) 3354 8720
Shinjuku-Sanchome station, exits C7, C8

Genevieve said...

Konnichiwa! I am the writer of this article. Was surprised and flattered to see that you linked it to your site:)

LNewsEditor said...

Thanks for writing it, Genevieve! It's by far the best lesbian bar review I've seen in ages. If you'd like to send us the occasional write up of what constitutes the grrl scene in Japan, we'd love to share it with the rest of the live studio audience.