Gay Life in Osaka: Guide to Gay Travel In Osaka Japan
Gay Life in Osaka: Guide To Gay Travel In Osaka Japan
Osaka boasts the biggest gay scene in Japan after Tokyo, which is making the city increasingly attractive to gay and lesbian tourists who want to see the sights and experience something of LGBT+ life in Japan at the same time. What exactly can you expect from gay life in Osaka? We reveal all in the following guide.
The basics to gay life in Osaka
Historically, Japan has had one of the most progressive attitudes to homosexual relationships in the world. Such relationships have been legal since 1880, and only ever criminalised for eight years before that date. However, same-sex couples do not enjoy any real legal recognition. Around 20 cities issue ‘partnership certificates’ which offer couples some benefits, and there is a growing demand for gay marriage to be made legal, with public opinion split largely along age grounds.
What to expect
Anyone used to the all-encompassing gay scenes of cities such as New York or London, where the existence of a rainbow flag might be the only difference between any other nightspot, might be surprised by the more discreet and niche nature of gay life in Osaka. While homosexuality isn’t considered shameful, it also does not tend to be flaunted openly.
Gay bars tend to cater to specific subsets of the LGBT+ community, such as otters or bears, and are often divided into semi-private booths. Women are often not welcome in gay bars, which are seen as a male-only environment. This means mixed groups looking for a night out will have to look elsewhere, while lesbians have their own dedicated bars. Places are usually small, with patrons generally sitting at the bar or opting to participate in the ever-present karaoke.
Smaller bars normally have a regular clientele that turn up often enough that they have their own dedicated bottles of whiskey behind the bar. Forming much needed social clubs – with life in Japan being increasingly isolating – they also often organise days out to sporting or cultural events.
To be sure of a warm welcome at your chosen accommodation as a gay couple, the easiest thing to do is stick to the international hotel chains, which receive their guidance on how to treat guests from head office.
Where to find gay life in Osaka
There are three main gay areas of Osaka, with Doyama being the largest and the most welcoming to foreigners. You’ll find it close to Umeda railway station, which makes it a great base for exploring the city whatever your sexuality.
For those interested in the full story, the other gay areas of Osaka are Kabukiza-ura in the Namba district of the city, and Tennoji near Tsutenkaku Tower. The ‘original’ gay area in the city, this is mostly visited by the older generation, and you’ll need to speak Japanese too. What’s more, many places outside of Doyama require introduction by a member, ruling them out for most visitors to the city.
Osaka’s gay scene is as broad as it is niche, and whether you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy a quiet cocktail after hours, dress up for an extravagant night out, or dance right into the small hours, you can find it somewhere in the city.
Osaka’s top alternative attractions
While the city’s gay life may make up part of your planned trip, it certainly won’t be the only reason you have decided to visit Osaka. How else can you fill your days? Check out our thoughts on some of Osaka’s top alternative attractions, for once you’ve ticked the castle, river cruises, and Ferris wheel rides off your list.
If you’ve got an international driving licence and a soft-spot for computer games, you won’t want to miss Mario Go Kart Adventure, which sees participants dress up as characters from the Nintendo games and hit the streets of Osaka in fully road-legal go karts that are sure to turn heads. Alternatively, head to one of the city’s video arcade centres. Popular with adults as well as teenagers, you’ll find all manner of games to choose between, from classic beat’em ups to more modern dance-move competitions.
Animal lovers have a couple of options too. Firstly, there’s the Mameshiba Café in Osaka’s Dotonbori district. Running along the same lines as better-known cat cafés, the café gives you the chance to spend at least 30 minutes with a hot drink and some very cute dogs belonging to the Mameshiba breed. If that’s not for you, then take the short journey to the UNESCO-listed site at Nara instead. Not only does it offer up incredible temple structures dating back to the eighth century, but also a herd of deer that have learnt to bow to passers-by!
Gay nightspots in Doyama
Here we outline some of the most welcoming and dependable gay nightspots in the Doyama area. Use them as a starting point for your explorations of gay life in Osaka – since the list is surprisingly long and fashions change quickly!
One of the largest gay bars in the city, Grand Slam is always welcoming, with English-speaking staff and a great mix of local and foreign clientele. The bar stools, comfy banquettes, and regular karaoke mean making new friends is very easy, even if you’re travelling alone. Just upstairs you’ll find the slightly more exclusive (and expensive) Pump Up Bar. Don’t let the fact the bar staff don’t speak English from putting you off.
Kuro is worth visiting if only because it’s one of the oldest gay bars in Osaka. It offers a more traditional side to the city’s gay nightspots, making it an extraordinary way to experience authentic Japanese culture. Catering to an altogether younger crowd is J’s Osaka, with pricing to match. There’s karaoke, and the bartenders speak good English. What’s more, if you’re part of a mixed group, women and straight men are also welcome.
The largest dance-orientated club in Osaka, Maharaja Minami was created to provide a luxurious space for locals to let their hair down. Since 2005, it has also hosted regular lesbian nights called Lady Killer, which has a no-men allowed rule that extends to the live DJs. Open from 8pm, it truly gets going around midnight, and keeps going until sun up.