From sex toys to friendship marriages.
By
Stephanie Marie Anderson

16 Nov 2016 - 11:29 AM  UPDATED 16 Aug 2017 - 6:24 PM

1. The gay district of Japan is Shinjuku Ni-chōme (新宿二丁目) in Tokyo, and is also known as Ni-chōme or "Nichō".

With 300 bars in a five-block radius, it's not just the gay district of Japan, but also has the highest concentration of gay bars in the world, so you can pretty much rest assured that there's something for everyone. According to the owner of Yo Chan Chi - a bar Ellen Page tells us is "one of the smallest and oldest gay bars" in the area - Ni-chōme was at one point the red light district, and rent was cheap, and one by one, the gay bars moved in. 

2. The owner of a bar called Cholesterol went viral for performing a trick with his "special throat", and now he has his own line of sex toys - a replica of his mouth.

They've sold 20,000 so far!

"I wanna have a penis just to try it!" exclaims Ellen as they leave the bar. 

3. Women have it harder than men.

While visiting Goldfinger - a women only lesbian bar - Ellen talks to the patrons.

"When a gay man comes out, it fits a stereotype, it's fun for the media," says one bar patron. "If a woman comes out, people don't sympathise because of a Japanese idea of what is ladylike." 

4. There's a bar where men can dress as "casually experience" dressing as a woman.

"In Japan it's a trend to dress like a girl," says the bartender, who notes that 70% of the bar's patrons are straight. "So-called straight people cross-dress... more and more men are curious about what it's like to be a woman."

The bar isn't just for cis-men to wear a dress, though, as it's also considered a safe space for transgender women.

Satsuki (pictured above), a transgender woman, says she finds it "absolutely positive", saying that she considers it "a form of self-expression that is not restricted by the concept of gender."

As for the trans community in Japan, Satsuki says that "Japan has been relatively open to the idea from the beginning," but adds that it was "especially closed towards cross-dressing" until about five years ago. 

5. Yaoi (pronounced "Yowie") - or "boys love" is a popular type of homoerotic manga comic written by straight women, for straight women.

Fans of Yaoi are referred to as "rotten women", but the women embrace it because - as one superfan puts it - "we love that sense of immorality".

"Since [gay marriage] is illegal, gay love is in a sense taboo," agrees her friend. "We 'rotten women' recognise that homosexuality exists and it is beautiful." 

6. Japan is not welcoming of people living openly as LGBTQ+

An openly gay couple who have been in the paper representing their law firm both agreed that they would not feel comfortable holding hands in the street because of the "intense looks" they would get from passers by.

Another man who is only referred to in the show as "Mr X" says: "They look at us like we're different, so I struggled to come out for a long time."

Kanako Otsuji, an openly gay politician and LGBTQ+ rights advocate, echoes these sentiments, saying:

"For many politicians, same-sex marriage is a topic to avoid," she says. "Another contributing factor is Japan's culture of shame. Coming out is considered shameful in Japanese culture, so if one comes out, it's not encourages or looked upon favorably by others. For East Asia in general, there is an attitude of 'don't rock the boat'. Homophobia is invisible here and we have to fight this silent avoidance. 

7. "Friendship marriages" are organised in Japan to help LGBTQ+ people convince their families and friends that they're straight

An underground organisation, Mr X says that his friendship marriage works "as a disguise from our families and friends".

"Basically we live together but we don't spend a lot of time together. We share common spaces like the kitchen and living room, so we take turns using that, but if we overlap of course we'll say 'hi'," he explains, adding that he tells any man he's interested in about his marriage, but will "only date him if he understands".

When asked if he would one day want to be in a same-sex marriage, Mr X says that although it is "of course [his] dream", he would "probably still choose" his friendship marriage even if Japan's LGBTQ+ culture changed drastically because of his responsibilities to those around him.

"My actions have consequences," he says.

8. There is a company called "Family Romance" that rents out people to act as family members, friends or partners for events such as weddings, funerals and parties.

LGBTQ+ people have been utilising the company, hiring its staff to act as friends as they come out. Mr Ishii, the owner of Family Romance, says that the company's goal is to "help people fit into society", adding that it helps clients "look good for their parents". 

Missed Gaycation last night? Catch up right now, on SBS On Demand: