Take a daytime stroll through Tokyo’s famous gay neigbourhood, Shinjuku Ni-chome, and it doesn’t look much like the gay capital of Japan. You might spot a few rainbow-adorned signs around but it’s at night when the district really comes alive.
But what about members of the community who prefer daytime hangouts over night clubs, or a coffee over a cold pint? Over the past few years, gay venues in Tokyo have started opening much earlier to welcome those who might not be into the night scene. Here are six excellent LGBT cafés open during the day in Ni-chome.
RECOMMENDED: Spend a day exploring Shinjuku
Footbath Cafe & Bar Donyoku delivers on its name – it's a café/bar that also has footbaths, so you can sip on a cuppa while dipping your toes in the hot baths set up under the tables. But what sets Donyoku apart even more than that is the warm community they foster with their patrons.
Along with two tables with footbaths, they have a couple of conventional tables, hammocks and counter seats. Families and teenagers are also welcome to drop by and chat with the staff or pick up a book to read from the ‘travelling bookshelf ’, where customers regularly drop off and pick up tomes for free.
As for the food, Donyoku’s Vietnamese sandwiches are especially noteworthy, and they also have salads and Japanese rice bowls on their menu that start from just ¥800.
Located just a few minutes' walk from Ni-chome, this café and bar is all about creating a better world. It focuses on raising money and awareness for sustainable development goals such as clean water, gender and LGBT+ equality and green energy.
Shinjuku Dialogue is headed by transgender spokeswoman Syun-san, whose upbeat personality you can catch during its bar opening hours from 6pm to midnight. This safe space prides itself on being a place anyone can visit and have an open dialogue while enjoying tasty food and drinks. A portion of the proceeds from every drink order is donated to the social cause of your choice. The café menu includes seasonal Japanese-style rice dishes, Western sweets and snacks starting from ¥250.
Best summed up by its motto ‘Música y Anti-Capitalismo!’ (‘Music and anti-capitalism!’), Lavanderia offers a refreshingly Spanish-focused space. You’ll find a remarkable selection of Spanish books on its vast bookshelves. Japanese and English books are available too, and the collection features a wide variety of art books and publications on music.
True to its anti-capitalism roots, Café Lavanderia is run by a collective of 18 members. The coffee costs between ¥300 and ¥500, depending on how much you want to pay, with several other drinks including orange juice and ginger ale also available. Best of all, the place is home to four ginger cats who will give you the warmest of welcomes.
Hoshio is not just any bar in Shinjuku Ni-chome; it’s also an art gallery, music venue and event space. The gallery focuses on young, up-and-coming artists while the exhibition changes every fortnight – plus, it’s manned by a different arts practitioner every day, be it a musician, photographer or visual artist.
From Monday to Thursday, you can also drop by Hoshio for lunch (11.30am-2.30pm). A collaboration with travelling curry specialist Spice Hut, the curry menu by chef Kobayashi has been a hit with the locals. The curry dishes (from ¥800) are made with fresh seasonal ingredients, and since it’s not too oily or heavy, you can easily pair them with a cold beer.
Shinjuku Ni-Chome, Tokyo’s gay district, is famed for its high concentration of bars, clubs and eateries catering to the entire LGBT community. But the neighbourhood is also home to a few more unlikely operations, including this book café – Tokyo’s only shop dedicated to LGBT-lit. Okamalt is run by Japanese gay culture pioneer To Ogura, a writer and magazine editor who is known as Margarette in drag queen circles. 500-600 titles from his collection of 10,000 publications can be freely browsed at the café – ¥1,500 gets you 90 minutes of access, plus a drink and snacks.
Located off the main Naka-dori crossing of Ni-chome, this cute LGBT-friendly venue is one of the few in the area that caters to both the day and night crowds. While after dark sees Cocolo draw in the party-goers, the diverse daytime crowd pluck treats from the extensive menu which includes 18 different kinds of tea, Vietnamese coffee and fruit cake that changes monthly. It also serves light options like salads, but go for the delicious taco rice if you want something more filling to line your tummy for the night ahead.
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