Our Ultimate Gay Japan Travel Itinerary: Experience the Rich Culture and Warm Hospitality

gay japan travel

Welcome to the future!

That’s the exhilarating feeling we get every time we step foot in Japan. It is undeniably one of our favorite countries to visit. On one hand, it provides the awe-inspiring culture shock that we crave from our travels, while on the other, it feels like stepping into a time machine that transports us years into the future.

Everything in Japan exudes advancement, precision, immaculate attention to detail, and a warm smile. The rich Japanese culture, dating back thousands of years, is not only evident in the numerous beautiful temples but also in the delightful Japanese cuisine and the way people treat each other.

As a gay couple traveling in Japan, we were overwhelmed by the warm welcome and acceptance we received. We experienced no judgment or problems from anyone, which is why we rate Japan as one of the most gay-friendly places in Asia.

So, here is our ultimate gay travel itinerary for first-timers visiting Japan. Get ready to discover the best this captivating country has to offer, from the bustling capital city to the picturesque Japanese countryside and the cultural wonders of Kyoto, ending with a significant visit to Hiroshima.

Is Japan safe for gay travelers?

Absolutely!

As a gay couple traveling in Japan, we never encountered any homophobia. Booking a double bed in a hotel was never an issue. Instead of funny looks, we were always treated with utmost respect, warm smiles, and respectful bows from everyone we met.

That’s the essence of Japan, and that’s why we are confident that you will quickly fall in love with it too!

Of course, it is worth noting that while this was our experience as gay foreigners, the situation can be different on a local level. Japanese society remains conservative. However, the local LGBTQ+ community has been making incredible strides forward, which you can read more about in our interview with Shintaro, a gay Japanese local from Tokyo.

Compared to LGBTQ+ rights in the USA, Canada, or Europe, Japan may lag behind. But when compared to the rest of Asia, a continent notorious for its conservative attitudes towards LGBTQ+ rights, Japan stands far ahead of the pack.

How to get to Japan?

Tokyo, the vibrant capital city, is the main point of entry into Japan. It is also one of the coolest places in the world to visit, making it an exciting gateway to the country!

Most international flights to Japan first land in Tokyo. From here, you can easily catch another flight or take a train to explore other parts of the country.

Tokyo has two major airports – Haneda (HND) and Narita (NRT). Both airports serve long-haul flights to destinations around the world. Haneda is approximately 13 miles from central Tokyo (around a 40-minute taxi ride), while Narita is further out, approximately 47 miles away (around a 1.5-hour taxi ride). Taxis in Tokyo can be quite pricey, with fares ranging from $100 to Narita and $215 to Haneda. However, both airports are also well-served by the city’s efficient public transport system. Foreign travelers arriving for the first time will find everything conveniently designed to assist them, with signs in English and helpful staff available to guide them in purchasing tickets and finding their way.

Flight times to Japan vary depending on your location. For example, it takes around 14-15 hours from New York, 11 hours from San Francisco, and approximately 12 hours from London or Paris.

Day 1-3: Discover Tokyo

The first leg of our gay itinerary takes us to Tokyo, the vibrant and captivating capital city of Japan. Tokyo is a city that never sleeps and offers endless excitement and entertainment. It is also the main transport hub, making it a perfect starting point for your Japanese adventure.

While it is easy to spend two weeks in Tokyo and still feel like there’s more to explore, our 10-day itinerary allows for a couple of days to get a feel of the city and recover from any jet lag.

Tokyo boasts one of the highest concentrations of gay clubs in one area, known as 2 Chome in Shinjuku. It’s often described as a “gay bar buffet,” which is a hilarious but accurate description. Some of the best gay bars in Tokyo include Arty Farty, Campy! Bar, and AiiRo. For gay clubs, be sure to check out The Annex and Dragon Men. While the gay scene outside of Tokyo may be limited, it is worth reserving at least one weekend in your itinerary for a gay night out in the capital.

For more information, check out our comprehensive gay guide to Tokyo.

1. Top things to do in Tokyo

  • Transform into a geisha: Immerse yourself in the elusive world of geishas by experiencing a geisha transformation. We highly recommend our own geisha transformation experience at the Studio Geisha Cafe.
  • Onsen: Indulge in one of Japan’s most cherished traditions by visiting an onsen. These natural hot spring baths offer relaxation and can help conquer jet lag. Our favorite is the Maenohara Onsen, located near Shimura-sakaue metro station. It costs 1,180 yen ($11) per person.
  • Food tour: Embark on an innovative food tour to discover the unique culinary delights of downtown Tokyo. Arigato Food Tours, priced at $120 per person, will take you to the best izakayas (Japanese gastropubs) in Ginza, Yurakucho, and Shinbashi.
  • Toyosu Fish Market: Explore the world’s largest fish market, where you can witness the bustling business of seafood trade. If you miss the early morning auctions, you can still enjoy some of the freshest sushi at the nearby restaurants before the market closes at midday.
  • Gourmet fine dining: Treat yourself to a memorable dining experience at Nadaman restaurant, located in the Shangri-La hotel. Enjoy Kaiseki, a traditional Japanese fine dining experience, while marveling at the breathtaking views of the city.
  • Cooking class: Learn the art of making sushi, bento boxes, and more in a cooking class.
  • Karaoke in Shinjuku bars: Immerse yourself in Japanese culture by belting out your favorite tunes in the karaoke bars of Shinjuku. It’s a fun way to embrace the local nightlife.
  • Shibuya crossing: Experience the vibrant energy of Tokyo by visiting the famous Shibuya crossing. This pedestrian intersection becomes a spectacle when the road signs turn red, and a crowd of people floods the area.

2. Gay-friendly hotels in Tokyo

Tokyo offers a range of excellent gay hotels and gay-friendly accommodations. Here are some of the best options:

  • The Shangri-La Hotel: Located in the heart of Tokyo, this luxury hotel offers a warm welcome and exceptional care for its guests. With stunning views of the bustling city, a heated pool, spa, and fitness center, it provides a perfect base for your stay. Prices start from 71,200 yen ($650) per night.
  • The Hyatt Regency Tokyo: Situated in Shinjuku, near the city’s vibrant nightlife, the Hyatt Regency is a great mid-budget choice. Its beautifully decorated entrance and popularity for wedding receptions make it a unique option. Prices start from 27,000 yen ($247) per night.
  • Imano Hostel: For budget travelers, Imano Hostel in Shinjuku offers convenient and affordable accommodation. With dorm beds starting from 3,500 yen ($32) per night, it is a comfortable and welcoming option.

Day 3-5: Takayama, the Japanese Countryside

For the next part of our gay itinerary, we suggest exploring something slightly off the beaten track – the picturesque Japanese countryside.

Hida-Takayama, also known as the Japanese Alps, offers a unique opportunity to experience traditional village life surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. Takayama itself boasts a charming old town that is worth exploring, along with top-rated ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) for a truly authentic stay.

1. Things to do in Takayama

  • Takayama Old Town: Immerse yourself in history as you explore the beautifully preserved Takayama Old Town. This area features buildings and streets dating back to the Edo Period, with traditional houses, shops, coffee houses, and sake breweries that have been in business for centuries.

  • Cycling in the Japanese countryside: Embark on a guided cycling tour with Satoyama Experience, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains, visits to local villages, waterfalls, and insights into Japanese village life. The tours are priced at 7,300 yen ($67) per person.

2. Gay-friendly hotels in Takayama

Takayama offers a range of traditional Japanese ryokans, providing an authentic and memorable stay. One of our favorite choices is the gay-friendly Sumiyoshi Ryokan. Here’s what makes it special:

  • Traditional Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats, sliding doors, and comfortable futon beds.
  • An onsen (hot spring) for pure relaxation.
  • Delicious Kaiseki meals, presented like works of art.
  • Prices start from 160,000 yen ($145) per night.

Day 5-7: Temple Fever in Kyoto

Kyoto, known for its regal charm and captivating cultural heritage, is a must-visit destination to immerse yourself in Japanese traditions. This enchanting city offers beautiful gardens, magnificent monuments, and a plethora of awe-inspiring temples.

1. What to do in Kyoto

  • The Golden Temple (Kinkaku-Ji): Visit this iconic temple, often considered the crown jewel of Kyoto. It is a magnificent sight and a symbol of Japan’s rich history. To avoid the crowds, we recommend visiting early in the day.
  • The Philosopher’s Path: Take a leisurely stroll along this stone path, lined with cherry trees and running alongside a picturesque canal. It’s an idyllic spot, especially during cherry blossom season.
  • The Silver Temple (Ginkaku-Ji): Explore this temple, famous for its beautifully preserved gardens. It was a place of contemplation for former emperors.
  • Fushimuri Inari Shrine: Discover the awe-inspiring shrine dedicated to Inari, the Japanese god of rice and business. The shrine is renowned for its thousands of torii gates that form distinct corridors leading up the Sacred Inari Mountain.
  • Geisha spotting in Gion: Experience the magic of the geisha district in Gion, where you might catch a glimpse of these elusive figures. Take a step back in time and learn more about the geisha culture.
  • The Sagano Bamboo Forest at Arashiyama: Immerse yourself in the serenity of this enchanting bamboo forest. The rustling sound of the wind through the bamboo creates a tranquil and romantic atmosphere. Arashiyama, located 30 minutes by train from Kyoto, is also worth exploring.

For more information, refer to our comprehensive guide on what to do in Kyoto.

2. Gay-friendly hotels in Kyoto

Kyoto offers a range of gay-friendly hotels to suit different preferences and budgets. Here are two recommendations:

  • Hotel Granvia Kyoto: Enjoy a royal experience at this luxurious hotel located above JR Kyoto Station. With modern architecture, a stunning swimming pool, and a buffet offering a wide selection of Japanese and Western cuisines, it provides a perfect blend of comfort and convenience. Prices start from 26,000 yen ($260) per night.
  • B&B Keiko: Immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture at this guesthouse, occupying a charming old Japanese house with a beautiful garden. Located just a 5-minute walk from the Imperial Palace, it offers cozy rooms and personalized service. Prices start from 10,000 yen ($100) for a double room and 7,500 yen ($75) for a single.

Day 7-10: Hiroshima

The final leg of our gay itinerary takes us to the famous city of Hiroshima. While it is renowned for the tragic atomic bomb attack during World War II, Hiroshima has rebuilt itself into a vibrant and modern destination with plenty to offer gay travelers.

1. Things to do in Hiroshima

  • Visit the Peace Memorial Park: Explore this powerful park to gain a deeper understanding of the tragedy that occurred in Hiroshima. The park houses a museum that explains the events and history, as well as sculptures that commemorate the victims. It is a sobering experience but crucial for comprehending the consequences of war. Don’t miss the A-Bomb Dome, a partial structure that survived the blast and now stands as a symbol of peace, adorned with paper planes created by children from all over Japan.
  • Visit Hiroshima Castle: Discover Hiroshima’s history as a castle town by visiting Hiroshima Castle. Despite the original castle being destroyed during the atomic bomb attack, it has been meticulously reconstructed and showcases traditional Japanese architecture. Inside, you can enjoy stunning views of the countryside and admire a collection of historical artifacts and artwork.
  • Take a day trip to Miyajima: Just an hour from Hiroshima lies the enchanting island of Miyajima, famous for its iconic Torii gate standing in the water. This makes for a perfect day trip, where you can also encounter the friendly wild deer that inhabit the island.
  • Try Okonomiyaki: Don’t miss out on sampling Hiroshima’s most famous traditional dish, Okonomiyaki. This savory pancake is made with various ingredients, such as squid, egg, pork, and noodles. There are plenty of places in Hiroshima where you can savor this delicacy. For a unique experience, visit the Wood Egg Okonomiyaki Museum to learn about its history and even try making it yourself.

For more exciting things to do in Hiroshima, you can refer to our guide on how to spend two days in Hiroshima.

2. Gay-friendly hotels in Hiroshima

Hiroshima offers a range of gay-friendly accommodations that cater to different needs and preferences. Here are two recommendations:

  • Sheraton Grand Hiroshima: This five-star hotel, a part of the gay-friendly Marriott brand, provides a luxurious experience in Hiroshima. Conveniently located just a minute’s walk from the Hiroshima Station, it offers stylish rooms with stunning city views, four dining options, an indoor pool, and a fitness center. Prices start from 26,000 yen ($260) per night.
  • Roku Hostel: If you’re on a budget, consider the Roku Hostel, a family-owned hostel that offers cozy and affordable accommodation. You’ll feel like you’re having a sleepover with friends and enjoy the rustic charm of the bar and front verandah. The hostel welcomes LGBTQ+ travelers, and prices start from 2,900 yen ($26) per night.

Japan offers a truly unforgettable experience for gay travelers. It combines a fascinating blend of tradition and innovation, captivating culture, and warm hospitality. Whether you’re exploring the bustling streets of Tokyo, immersing yourself in the natural beauty of the Japanese countryside, admiring the cultural wonders of Kyoto, or reflecting on history in Hiroshima, you are sure to create lasting memories in this enchanting country. So, pack your bags and get ready for an adventure of a lifetime in gay-friendly Japan!

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