Shinjuku – Ni-chome
Shinjuku-ku is one of the 23 wards of Tokyo, Japan, currently conveniently located in the center of the municipalities.
Shinjuku is located North of Shubuya and Minato, East of Nakano, South of Toshima and West of Bunkyo and Chiyoda.1
The kanji for Shinjuku translates to “new inn”, which can be traced back to the early Edo period (1603-1868) as it was a temporary resting place for travelers.2 During the Edo period, there were obviously no trains or cars, so most people had to walk to get places. There were five main highways, called Gokaid?3, and people had to rest and sleep while taking these roads, with the current Shinjuku being one of the stops.
Considering its history, it makes sense as to why Shinjuku is currently a main connecting hub for train traffic as Shinjuku Station was used by an average 3.64 million people a day (earning the station a spot in the Guinness World Records in 2011).4 According to the Census in 2010, Shinjuku has a nighttime population of around 330,000 (about 18,500 people per km2) and a daytime population of 750,000 (the 4th most popular out of all 23 wards).5 Shinjuku only began to develop into its current state after the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923, increasing the population from 290,000 in 1920 to 394,000 in 1940. The impact of World War II soon came around for Shinjuku (and the rest of Tokyo) though, as the Tokyo air raids of 1945 destroyed almost 90% of the buildings in the area of Shinjuku, decreasing its population to 83,000.5, 6 These attacks, along with the American Occupation of Japan from 1945-1952 afterwards soon became a big influence on the culture and subcultures of Shinjuku and the government of Japan.
Before 1957, Tokyo’s popular red-light district in Shinjuku, specifically Kabukicho, had flourished as a legally-licensed center for sex workers. This changed, though, as Japanese women’s Christian groups successfully lobbied to pass the Prostitution Prevention Law in 1956, making prostitution illegal in Japan.7 The traditional sex industry left Kabukicho, and not too far away in Ni-chome, a gay subculture began to take its place. As early as 1948, a gay Shinjuku tea shop is mentioned, and by the 1950s, more and more gay bars publically emerged in name and form of Ni-chome.8 Today, Ni-chome distinguishes itself as Tokyo’s hub of gay subculture, housing the world’s highest concentration of gay bars.9 There is an estimated amount of 300 bars and nightclubs in Ni-chome.10 Although the number of gay-related business are highly concentrated in Shinjuku, there are also many in Taito (Ueno and Asakusa), Minato (Shinbashi), and Toshima (Ikebukuro).
Homosexuality, though, is nothing new to Japan at all. Although partly ambiguous, Western scholars have found evidence of homosexuality in Japan according to records of men having sex with other men dating back to the ancient times. In regards to religion, particularly Shintoism, which is based almost solely on tradition and no physical book or written work, is described by Pflugfelder, author of Cartographies of Desire: Male–Male Sexuality in Japanese Discourse:11
“Shinto authorities did not so characterize male-male sexual practices, showing far less
preoccupation with the theological implications of such behavior than their European
counterparts. No explicit condemnation of male-male sexuality appears in the Shinto
canon, which in fact remains silent on the topic altogether.”
In regards to Japanese Buddhism, several writers have discussed the historical tradition of the openness of bisexuality and homosexuality among male Buddhist institutions in Japan. Kuukai, a Buddhist monk, credited for the creation of hiragana and katakana, spent some time in China in 806 AD. There, it is said that he learned about the idea of nanshoku, which translates to “male colors”.11 Chigo Monogatari, translating to “acolyte stories” of love between monks and their “chigo” (prepubescent boys) were popular, and such relationships appear to have been commonplace, and sometimes public.11
There was a quick and almost instant shift from homosexual acceptance to homosexual condemnation with the introduction of Meiji Restoration beginning in 1868. With the opening of borders and Western influence, particularly from Europe and America, media within Japan and abroad called for the criminalization of homosexual relationships, which was soon agreed upon in Japan.11
Today, same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan. Shibuya and Setagaya wards in Tokyo allow same-sex partnership certificates. It is clear that although there may not be much mention of homosexuality in religion of Japan, there was no history of hostility towards homosexuals. The government of Tokyo has passed laws that ban discrimination in employment based on sexual identity. It is pretty interesting to see that almost 100 years after the condemnation of homosexuality, it becomes public once again in Ni-chome, along with other neighborhoods.
The popularization and acceptance of the LGBT communities in Tokyo, such as Ni-chome, moved to create two gay pride parades in Tokyo (Tokyo Rainbow Pride and Tokyo Pride). However, in 2010, Antoni Slodowski of Reuters wrote: “Although the number of participants in the parade is on the rise, it is a small crowd in a city of 12.8 million people and the event is relatively small even by Asian standards.”12 Even the population of Ni-chome has slightly declined recently. The Japan Times reported in 2010 that Ni-chome was in decline, with the number of gay-oriented clubs and bars having declined by one-third. The decline was apparently attributed to the construction of the nearby Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line, which has raised property values in the area, and also the rise of the Internet makes it easier to be anonymous while online.10
Despite all of the ambiguity of feelings towards homosexuality and LGBT communities within Tokyo and Japan, according to polls, a majority of Japanese citizens are reportedly in favor of accepting homosexuality, indicating that 54% agreed that homosexuality should be accepted by society whilst 36% disagreed, with a large age gap (with 83% of people younger than 30 saying homosexuality should be accepted).13
It is a question now whether thoughts and views towards the LGBT community will ever change. Will it always stay ambiguous because of the thoughts of the Western world? Do the Japanese involved in the LGBT community see a need for change? If so, what action will be taken and who, and how many people, will actually take a stand with them?
Leupp, Gary P. “The American Historical Review.” The American Historical Review, vol. 106, no. 3, 2001, pp. 959–960. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2692370.
McLelland, Mark, Kazumi Nagaike, Katsuhiko Suganuma, and James Welker, eds. Boys Love Manga and Beyond: History, Culture, and Community in Japan. University Press of Mississippi, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt13x1spg.