By Colin Cairns
Fukuoka’s Gay Scene
Every city has its own unique gay bar scene. Fukuoka is no exception, but it takes a little hands-on research to get to know its ins and outs. When our intrepid Irish reporter Colin came to Fukuoka six months ago, he plunged right into the gay scene. What are Fukuoka’s gay bars like? How are they different from those back home? Colin tells all…
In Belfast, Northern Ireland, even my grandmother knows where to find the gay bars. A visitor to the city need only pick up a local listings magazine, look out for the rainbow flags or ask a nice policeman to show him the way (never fails). Fukuoka, however, requires a complete change of tack.
When I first arrived in Fukuoka, I tramped around in the swamp-like summer heat for two long nights before I learned that things are done differently here. Having identified Sumiyoshi and Haruyoshi as the center of the gay scene by way of a 10-minute Internet search, I set off looking for neon and noise. This was a mistake. Gay bars in Fukuoka are intimate snugs found on quiet residential street corners, indistinguishable from any other kind of establishment. Their locations are not advertised, and even locals who live opposite will profess to having no idea (or pretending not to know) where they are.
Admittedly, this anonymity was a little intimidating at first. When I at last found one of the bars listed on my sweaty little printout (Forward, just off Sumiyoshi-dori) it took an effort to ignore the “members only” sign on the door and swagger in looking fearless. I needn’t have worried; I was greeted with a smile, handed a warm oshibori and told jokingly that I needed it to wash up in the kitchen. I’ve been going back ever since.
This kind of humor typifies an attitude that I have found very common in Fukuoka gay bars. While always friendly and polite, both masters(owners) and regular customers can be at the same time very direct, bluntly honest and often embarrassingly nosy. For example, you can expect to be asked what you like to do in bed straight after youﾕve introduced yourself. Or you could be questioned about your own vital statistics and dimensions (you can always blame your blushing cheeks on the shochu). Nevertheless, this attitude allows for a very relaxed atmosphere and makes a refreshing change from being treated with “gaijin gloves”.
One major difference in the gay scene in Fukuoka and Ireland is that bars here specialize in “types”. For instance, if you’re looking for the trendy young crowd, head for Vinyl Closet. If you’re a chubby chaser, get down to Hachibankan. Idols can be found at Crescent Moon and bears (big, hairy, older guys) gather at Kuma. Despite this specialization, you’ll find a diverse range of characters everywhere you go. My first visit to my now-favorite bar in Sumiyoshi, Bros (for muscle marys, but not a strict requirement as my scrawny frame testifies) involved sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with salarymen, skaterboys and female impersonators in civilian gear, all packed around a counter that seats only eight. I chatted to a pizza delivery guy on one side and a medical doctor on the other. Their English was marginally better than my Japanese, but it didn’t matter. By the end of the night we were all talking like washing machines and swapping business cards.
Both of these men were in fact married, which is not particularly surprising in a society that perhaps places greater importance on marriage and conformity. One master estimated that as much as 90 percent of his customers were closeted and that maybe half of these were married, some with children. What is interesting is that many of these men have found their sexuality compatible with straight marriage, even if it means having to be eternally secretive about it. However, anyone wanting to delve deeper here should obviously proceed with caution. You might be better off sticking to a discussion of the last Daiei Hawks’ game.
On the other hand, if you’d prefer not to discuss anything at all and simply get intimate with someone, there is no shortage of Hattenba. These are cruising spaces such as parks, saunas and bathhouses where men meet for largely anonymous encounters. Typically they are frequented by closeted guys who aren’t interested so much in socialization as sex with other men. These places can be found mainly, but not exclusively, in the Sumiyoshi and Haruyoshi areas. It is also here where you can find both of Fukuoka’s gay bookstores (which stock books unavailable at the public library).
While there are dozens of gay establishments for men to be found, unfortunately few cater solely for lesbians. Nevertheless, this shouldnﾕt deter girls: ladies-only bars such as Oshiri-na can provide a good introduction to the generally private lesbian scene. Some bars welcome both sexesﾑtry Shin & Keiko if you’re going out with friends of either sex (this is also a popular haunt for transgender people).
Although these differences may be interesting, there is something quite reassuring in the fact that no matter where you go in the world, every town has an ample supply of one thing: drag queens. Fukuoka is no exception. You can guarantee that, most nights, there’ll be at least one glammed-up tranny, lip-synching wildly or abusing willing customers in the name of entertainment. Some of these drag queens in fact double up as masters at bars.
Fukuoka has a lot to offer the seasoned “gayjin” or anyone simply exploring their sexuality. I have found an extremely friendly, supportive and sincere group of people. My only advice would be to try and speak as much Japanese as possible, to become a participant as opposed to an observer. Expect to pay a cover charge in most bars and cast aside any inhibitions. And if you try to chat up the masters, prepare to have your heart brokenﾑthey’re all taken.
Just next to Sumiyoshi’s Hyotan Pond. Opened 35 years ago. Second-generation master Ume describes his patrons as big tough men and heavy drinkers. Lively chatter always surrounds Ume, who occasionally performs as a drag queen around town.
Address: 2-13-6 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Prices: Charge 500yen、Drink 700yen～
Open to every type, including straights. Possibly a good starting-point for people looking to enter the bar scene. Master Tatsu says his patrons party hard, while he and his staff make sure things stay lively. The last Saturday of every month is CM Night!
Address: 2-19-1-1 Haruyoshi, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
Hours: 20:00～03:00、Fri.& Sat.& Sun.～05:00
Prices: Charge 1,200yen includes 1drink and snack, all drink 700yen
Address: 4-15-3 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
The door features a Rainbow sticker, and the interior is compact, with only eight seats. Posters of pro-wrestling stars hang on the walls, suggesting a love of combat sports among the patrons. Bros has a cozy atmosphere, an extension of Master Nori’s genial personality.
Address: 4-9-4 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Hours: 21:00～03:00、Sat.& before hol.～04：00
Prices: Charge 500yen, Alcohol drink 700yen、Non-alcohol drink 600yen
Address: 4-15-3 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Tel: 092- 483-2721
Address: 4-9-3 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Address: 4-27-18-101 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
More info on the Scene…
According to our sources there are roughly 50 gay establishments in Fukuoka. Because many of them are not that obvious, it’s a good idea to do some research before breaking into the scene. Below are some leads for more information on what’s where. Finally, if you’re not into the gay scene don’t bother with any of this, just turn the page.
Unsurprisingly, the Fukuoka gay community has been quick to get its message into cyberspace. There are plenty of places online to look for bars or partners, although it obviously helps if you can read Japanese. The site to check out for Kyushu information is the all-Japanese k-toom.
You can usually find a variety of publications in gay and lesbian bars, from guidebooks to specialist magazines. But you can’t always get a copy of your own at the corner bookstoreﾉ
The next stop on our tour of all things gay in Fukuoka is the gay specialty shops. These places are a great source for the latest information on gay events. We canﾕt give you their addresses or phone numbers, but we’ll give you a hint: there are two of them in the Sumiyoshi area. It’s up to you to find them. Gay customers only please.
Major gay events are rare in Fukuoka. One recent exception was the three-day Hakata Summer Festival 2002, sponsored by Tokyo’s Terra Publications. With over 1,000 attendees, it was wild success! Plans for the next big event are still up in the air, but if another is held, it will probably be organized locally.
“Hey, what about us girls?”
“I’ve heard that there was a lesbian bar in Nishi-Nakasu about twenty years agoﾉ” says Oshiri-na owner Inomori-san. Other than that nearly-forgotten bar from way back, Oshiri-na was the first “women-only” bar in Kyushu when Inomori-san opened it three years ago. Oshiri-na was launched when Inomori-san borrowed a gay bar on closed days, establishing the club that at first opened only one day a week. From the beginning it was a ringing success, and Inomori-san decided to set up her own nearby. To this day, four or five new patrons join Oshiri-na every month for a total of about 500 members annually. Oshiri-na’s growth has exceeded Inamori-san’s expectations: “I’m sure there are more lesbians out there, but I don’t think they’re as likely as gay men to come out in the open,” she says.
Those in the know believe the lesbian bar scene in Kyushu now consists of one bar in Saga, one in Kumamoto, and about three in Fukuoka. Nao-san worked as an office lady before she opened Lady’s Bar N in Fukuoka’s Haruyoshi district. She says her customer base typically comprises “people who see our website or people who hear about the bar from their gay friends.” Her patrons vary wildly in occupation and age. Because there are so many varieties of specialty bars in the Sumiyoshi/Haruyoshi area, leaving potential for the wrong kind of customer to wander in unwittingly, Ladies Bar N has a “members only” sign on its door. Doze Dose is an open bar, where lesbian customers mix freely with anyone else who wants to visit. One of the bar’s staff has participated in gay parades all over the world. Bar owner Maki-san confidently asserts: “We’ll get a gay parade in Fukuoka someday!” Having already changed quickly in recent years, the Fukuoka lesbian scene promises to evolve dramatically over the next decade.
Opened three years ago as a forerunner of the Kyushu lesbian bar scene. A wide variety of women come here, from students and office workers to housewives and foreigners. Lots of exciting special events including regularly scheduled party nights.
Address: 4-27-15 Sumiyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Prices: Charge 1,000yen、Drink 500yen～
Lady’s bar N
A distinctive incense fragrance greets you at the door. Many patrons are in their thirties or over, and the oldies’ tunes, carefully selected by the staff , create a mellow atmosphere. Wednesday is Mix Day, when men can come if accompanied by a regular patron.
Address: 1-13-1 Haruyoshi, Hakata-ku, Fukuoka
Hours: 21:00～around 03:00
Prices: Charge 1,000yen includes 1drink , Non-alcohol drink 500yen～, Cocktails 700yen～, Foods 350yen～
Mostly female patrons, but the bar is open to everyone regardless of sexual preference. Of course, men are also welcome. With plenty of space between the chairs and the bar, you can relax and enjoy your drink. Several staff members also speak English!
Address: 3-5-12-2F Tenjin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
Hours: 19:00～around 03:00
Prices: Charge 300yen, Non-alcohol drink 350yen、 Cocktails 700 ～