"Are gays vanishing from Shinjuku 2-chome!?" exclaims the headline in Spa (Apr 21).
Straight people unfamiliar with Tokyo night life might even be surprised to learn that Asia's "largest gay town" -- an area with an estimated 300 to 400 businesses -- even exists, let alone is in decline.
"Up until five to six years ago, about 80% of our patrons were gay," says Yu, the 34-year-old male "mama" of bar "K," a gay hangout that's been in operation for 13 years. "Now it's around 60%. In the past, a lot of bars refused to admit straight females, but those types of 'hard' shops have become fewer. The shops can't depend on business solely from gays any more."
According to Yu, the absence of younger people from the area has been particularly conspicuous. For some reason they no longer gravitate to this "sanctuary," as they once did.
"I go to 2-chome, but only for special events or parties," a 26-year-old Tokyo-based designer tells the magazine. "I've almost never hung out at a gay bar." The patrons, he complains, tend to be exclusive to outsiders and territorial.
"A lot of my friends say they never walk around there, because they might be mistaken for a male prostitute or get solicited by some chubby old guy, which is a real turnoff," he adds.
The district's decline has already been observed some time ago by those familiar with Shinjuku. Earlier this year, author Susumu Ryu published a 276-page manga titled, in English, "Vanishing Shinjuku 2-chome -- who severed the jugular of a flower garden of heretical culture?"
"When you think of 'gays," you get the image of those flamboyant types who mince around on TV variety shows," Ryu observes. "In other words, they're viewed as male herbivores. A lot of gays get depressed just thinking about going into a gay bar in 2-chome and striking up a conversation and making friends with someone they don't know."
It appears that what is happening in 2-chome is only part of the economic zeitgeist.
"Young Japanese don't go out drinking much these days," Ryu notes. "More of them either belong to the underpaid 'working poor' or have been laid off, and even though 2-chome tends to be inexpensive, you still pay more than 1,000 yen just to sit down and buy one drink. That's a lot for someone who's broke. They aren't going there because they can't afford it."
"With the opening of a new subway station on the Fukutoshin Line," 2-chome is no longer isolated," says Bungaku Ito, 77-year-old editor of Barazoku magazine. "New buildings are sprouting up and rents are soaring. So some of the old established shops are migrating to Ueno, Shimbashi, Asakusa and other, less-expensive areas. At these places, gay patrons age 50 and over begin their imbibing from 3 p.m.
"They're old now, and they don't have the stamina to be night owls any more," remarks Ito.© Japan Today