The Rules of Japanese Gay Bars

The lifeblood of the gay neighborhood, the majority of Nichōme’s hundreds of night clubs typically seat fewer than a dozen customers, who preferably represent a club’s specialized subset of the gay subculture. In a society where traditionally most of the population was expected to marry, many LGBT Japanese choose to privately express their sexuality within the anonymity of specialty clubs in areas like Ni-chōme. To achieve this specialization, clubs are typically segregated by “scene.” There are bars that cater specifically to the bear community, BDSM, muscular men, young men, butch and femme lesbians, etc. Club owners called “masters” or “mama-sans” try to attract the unique crowds that characterize their clubs, going so far as to deny service or charge additional fees to less-desired customers. For example, Nichōme nightclub Avanti charges a 1000 yen entrance fee to women and gay men, and 1500 yen to “typical” men; club Kusuo, 1000 yen to men, 1500 yen to women; and club Koimo, 1500 yen to gay men, and 2000 yen to everyone else.

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