Saturday, September 1, 2012

An Idiot's Guide to Shinjuku Nichoume

I recently realized that my hard won first-hand knowledge of the lesbian scene in Tokyo- gleaned when I stayed in Tokyo for two months last summer- might be appreciated by folks looking to explore it. So here are some notes.

To get to Nichoume:

To the west of Shinjuku station, you have the business district- your classic concrete jungle of skyscrapers honeycombed with offices. To its east, you have the shopping and nightlife area. (Including an Animate!) I worked as an intern on the west side, and first visited Shinjuku Nichoume after a middle-aged male co-worker warned me that I should avoid that area. Thank you for the reminder, good sir. ^_^

Exit the east side of the station and keep walking until you start seeing bars full of men only and shops filled with images of buff, half-naked men. Why did I not mention bars full of women? Most of the businesses in the area- including bars at the ground level (a lot of bars in Tokyo are on higher stories in buildings, requiring you to look up to see the signs for them), are aimed at the dudes.

Want a shop aimed more at queer ladies? (I'll get to bars and events.) Go to the Love Piece Club- a.k.a. the place that produced and sells the Plica-chan movie- which is in a different area of Tokyo. I visited it once. It's a nice, if very pink, place, with an interesting bian manga selection towards the back- mostly tankoubon by Takeuchi Sachiko
and issues of Carmilla, a lesbian magazine that made me wonder who the hell buys it.
Love Piece Club's address:
文京区本郷7-2-2 本郷ビル2F
Directions to LPC (in English!) found here.

Bring a map! Ideally ask a business owner or an officer at a police box for directions, since they're more likely to know the area well than a random passerby. Obviously, you should make it easier for the people you're interacting with by learning basic conversational Japanese and how to ask for directions. Don't make your server at the restaurant you dine at cry on the inside from having to pretend you deserve a cookie for knowing "Konbanwa" and "Arigatou."

My guidebook (Frommer's) didn't remotely list every lesbian bar- just some popular/especially foreigner-friendly ones. The night before I left Tokyo (where I got a drink at a Nichoume bar to wind down and rest my feet after having spent the day visiting a maid café and buying doujinshi with a friend, and going around Tokyo by train to see certain sites one last time), I was given a list of all of the lesbian bars in Nichoume and their addresses by someone who works there, but I...uh, didn't find it where I thought it would be. (With a couple event flyers I've kept.) But I know there are a lot. ^_^; I wouldn't post it here anyway, since I assume that at least some of those bars may not want to be that easily found.

This past year, the popular Motel #203 bar changed its name to Bar Gold Finger and moved to a shagadelic-looking new ground-level location. I assume it’s still a good bar.
Photos not mine, from Bar Gold Finger's website. (CLICK THE LINK. That amazing music.)

Bar Gold Finger's address:
Click here for a map showing how to get there.

Be prepared to answer how you found out about whichever bar you're visiting. The super-nice bar owner at Kinswomyn (Nichoume's most famous, established bar) seemed to get a kick out of seeing the description of her bar in my guidebook.

But god damn, Kinswomyn. You're a lovely bar, but you don't make it easy for me to find recent pics that show that. (Used interior ones only, since there are no exterior pics, and exterior pics wouldn't work anyway because the entrance is just a door in a hallway.) I gleaned a few from Kinswomyn's Twitter account, found here, here and here.
I included the third pic because of the character I spotted in its background.

Kinswomyn's address:
新宿区新宿 2-15-10 第 1 天香ビル 3F

You'll have to work harder to find this one. From the direction of Shinjuku-doori, walk up Naka-doori. Down one of the first few roads to your right, you'll find it in a building to your left. When I visited it, its outside sign was faded. Hopefully they've replaced it. If you get there before the crowd arrives at 9:00, you may pass by its door without realizing you just did and wondering if you got the address wrong, before asking someone else in the building where Kinswomyn is, being pointed back there, and staring like an idiot before opening it. ^_^ Good luck! In all seriousness, just bring a map and the address and say "Sumimasen, kono basho o sagashiteimasu" ("I am looking for this place") to someone. (Maybe more than one someone.)

There's an all-women's party every week in the area, and the lesbian bar owners are big on promoting each other's events, so when you visit one, you're likely to get a recommendation or flyer for the next party coming up. Best thing about the event flyers- they have maps! If you go to a Nichoume party, be prepared to cough up a 2,000 to 3,000 yen cover.

The best place to find flyers for all of the upcoming lgbtq events in the area is the CoCoLo Café. CoCoLo Café accepts credit cards, but the bars don't. The Advocates Café does, but only if you charge 5,000 yen or more at once. The Advocates Café is really a bar that opens and closes early, renowned for being a good place to get word-of-mouth event/club recommendations. Like CoCoLo, it is aimed at all genders and sexualities, but unlike CoCoLo, men make up the vast majority of its clientele- including quite a few non-Japanese folks.
 Don't own these photos, screencapped them from Advocates's front page.

Advocates' address:
新宿区新宿2-18-1 第7天香ビル1F
You don't need an address or a map. You can't walk down Naka-doori and miss Advocates.

Ditto, from CoCoLo's website.

The food at CoCoLo is decent, and I had a dessert drink (a matchacchino) that I quite liked. But it's especially nice for its flyers and the ability for gay couples to be lovey-dovey at a restaurant without worrying about getting side-eyed. Or getting awkwardly hit on like I was, before ditching the woman in question with the other girl she hit on at the same time (really) because she creeped us both out and we got along and were sick of being politely tolerant while craning our necks around her to speak to each other more. CoCoLo also stays open until 7:00 in the morning on Friday and Saturday nights (midnight on Sundays and Mondays through Thursdays), so it's a good place to get a slice of cake or coffee or something late at night. Here's a video tour of the café.

CoCoLo's address:
新宿区新宿2-14-6 第1早川屋ビル1階
Map (in Japanese) found here. It's easy to spot from Naka-doori.

The trains in Tokyo stop some time between 12:00 and 1:000 in the morning, so if your home base isn't in the area and you don't catch the last train (check the train station schedule if you want to catch it, or the first train at 6:00-ish in the morning) and you really don't want to make yourself stay awake until the morning train, your best/cheapest bet is one of the internet/manga cafés. Just start walking in the nightlife area of east Shinjuku, and you're bound to see one. See here for more details on what internet/manga cafés (and other lodgings) are like. Unlike the author of that article, I think internet/manga cafés are the most miserable places in the world to sleep (you're basically paying for a booth with a computer, a pleather pad covering the ground, and a cracked beanbag chair, with nothing to block out the light), but if you're dead tired it'll do. Sometimes the booths with the pads are sold out, so you have the option of buying one sans a pad.

Anecdote: I once locked myself out of the sharehouse I was staying in because I'd left my house key in my other bag. My housemates weren't home, and I  couldn't contact them. I tried to break in- checking the doors and windows and trying lock-picking with hairpins for the first time. My housemates weren't back by the time the last train to downtown Ikebukuro (I was in a residential area outside of it) was about to arrive, so I took the train downtown to find an internet café. At the first place I visited, the guy at the counter said they only had padless booths left. I was like "lol No" at the idea of paying to sleep on a floor, and left to check out the other internet café in the area. Their credit card machine was wonky, so they could only accept cash, but I was too low on it. (Spent the day in Shibuya's shopping area- which, incidentally, has a wonderful Mandarake.) Long story short, I went back to that first internet café, and the guy at the counter was like "lol No" when I asked if they still had any booths available. Sleep-need aside, my nerves were frayed by the pick up artists hanging around outside (there because of the love hotels downtown) whose presence dominated the area (due to there being a lot less normal people out at that hour) and who were, like, ten times more persistent and than they are during the day. I normally don't curse out people, even creepers (my tactic usually being to ignore them), but I snapped and (sensibly, in English) told one of them to f*** off. I finally walked back to the sharehouse...and miracle of miracles, there was a light in one of the rooms! The front door wasn't loud enough when I knocked, so I sensibly (and cathartically) kicked the door until I hear my housemate coming.

Uh...the point is that there's always something worse than sleeping on a pad and misplacing your house key can screw up your night. And here's another good article on cheap lodgings.

Last but not least, some Twitter accounts of interest for their event announcement tweets. More convenient than getting a flyer, although you can get a cheaper cover at some events if you bring a flyer.

Bar Gold Finger (which holds a Gold Finger party on the third Saturday of each month)
Dyke Weekend 2012
La Niña (The account for the La Niña parties held on the second Saturday of each month.)
Stonewall AJET Japan (An English-language Twitter account for a new LGBTQ community group aimed primarily at English-speaking expats and visitors in Japan.)
Tokyo Wrestling

If you have other suggestions for the list, let me know!

So...uh, yeah. That's what I've got. If you visit Shinjuku Nichoume (or any other nightlife area where my ramblings may be relevant), godspeed. *salute* I hope this post proves useful.


Erica Friedman said...

You know my story about going to a lesbian bar in Ni-choume? Rica and a friend only wanted to take my wife and I to a lesbian bar. They bought the newest issue of Anise and pondered the map for a while. Then they closed the book and headed in opposite directions. Wife and I laughed until we thought we were gonna die.

We ended up in Kinswomyn. Hard to find is totally underestimating the situation. ^_^

Katherine Hanson said...

@Erica- Thank you, in all seriousness. It's comforting to know that other intelligent people have gotten lost looking for it too. ^_^