Frequent Flyer Fantasies
We know, your vacation fund isn’t as fat as it used to be. But now’s the time to stuff your piggy bank, tabulate your frequent flyer miles and start planning a trip to somewhere far, far away: Tokyo, Japan or Queensland, Australia.
LUST IN TOKYO
If you’ve ever seen Lost in Translation, you’ll know that Tokyo is an assault on the senses, especially for the first-time visitor. But once you navigate the subway and your vision adjusts to the dizzying onslaught of neon and cutesy ads, you’ll discover that Tokyo is a fascinating city that seduces like an exotic piece of sushi—it looks dubious, but once you taste it, you want to roll it around in your mouth and savor every bite.
What to See
Tokyo is a strange blend of pop culture and ancient spirituality. Stroll the streets of Akihabara, the bright, blaring, commercial center of anime and electronics stores. Admire the girls dressed as Anime characters and fetishy maids then drop by the Tokyo Anime Center to get your fix of Japan’s biggest cultural export (animecenter.jp).
You could spend all your time reading comic books in Manga Cafés, but then you would go home without a glimpse of Tokyo’s magnificent past. The bustling neighborhood of Asakusa retains the colorful market flavor of the Edo era (1600-1868) with its many craft shops and traditional restaurants. It is also the site of Tokyo’s largest and most revered Buddhist temple Senso-ji, where you can toss in a few coins and pray for good fortune.
Tired of urban mayhem? Escape the crowds at Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine in the middle of a forest, surrounded by serene gardens (meijijingu.or.jp). Or visit Ueno Park, home to four museums, including Tokyo National Museum with its impressive collection of Japanese art, calligraphy and costumes (tnm.go.jp). If you only have a short time to spare, stop by the Imperial Palace East Gardens, a quiet oasis located right in the center of Tokyo.
Where to Eat
Whether you’re eating the finest sushi or slurping noodles, Japanese food is always well presented. Sample a variety of artistic dishes in the izakayas (Japanese pubs) or go to 7-11 and buy a pretty bento-box for lunch. If you’re craving Western food, the L.A.-like neighborhood Akasaka has an appetizing selection of European restaurants. You’ll also find bakeries with pastries that rival France.
Crayon House (Kita-Aoyama, Omotesando, 3-8-15 3406-6409) is the place for a super-healthy organic Japanese meal. The millet croquettes ($11) are delicious.
Other Asian cuisines are top-of-the-line in Tokyo. Chao Thai (Dogenzaka 2-9-10, K&K Bldg. 2F, 3463-4000) with branches in Shibuya, Ginza, and Harajuku, has filling meals set at moderate prices. See Tokyo Food Page (bento.com) for more options.
Where to Party
Although Japan has a history of LGBT tolerance and a penchant for cross-dressing, modern Japanese society does not necessarily embrace queerness with open arms. As a result, gay culture is discreet and contained mostly within the five-block district called Shinjuku-Nichome. But what a fabulous five blocks they are!
The lesbian bars in Shinjuki-Nichome are generally low-key, although if you cruise around, you’re sure to find flyers promoting “women-only” dance parties. The most popular bar is Kinswomyn (3F Dai-ichi Tenka Building, 2-15-10 Shinjuku, Shinjuku, 03/3354-8720), a cozy place drawing a mix of local Japanese and gaijin (foreigners).
After an evening of Kabuki theatre or jazz, head over to Motel #203 (Sunnycorpo Shinjuku #203 2-7-2 Shinjuku Shinjuku-Ku, 160-0022, bar-motel.com), a swanky lounge (nothing like a motel) that claims to be “women only”, although men are welcome on Thursdays. Enjoy free snacks with a $10 drink as The L Word screens on a zebra wall. On Friday and Saturday nights, the mixed gay/lesbian crowd at Advocates Café spills out onto the streets (Seventh Tenka Building, 2-18-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku 03/3358-3988, advocates-café.com).
Desire some kinky fun you won’t find on your home turf? Indulge in karaoke with a twist at one of the cross-dressing bars (referred to as "New-Half" bars in Japanese) in Kabuki-cho, Tokyo’s red-light district. At Bar Malilin 2, you pay a set price for drinks and conversation with cute boi hosts. Unlimited karaoke is included (Tokyo-to Shinjuku-ku, Kabuki-cho, 2-24-7, MRT Bldg 1F, 03-5287-2961).
During summer, Tokyo pulses with festivals, queer and all. You may catch the Pride parade in August (parade.Tokyo-pride.org/6th/ English) or the Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival in late July (tokyo-lgff.org), if you can bear the heat.
Where to Sleep
Japan has accommodations for every style and budget, from hostels to luxury hotels. Ryokans are traditional Japanese hotels, usually family-run, with tea service and futons for sleeping on the floor. Gay-friendly hotels are usually not advertised as such, but they exist in Shinjuku-Nichome. For guaranteed discretion, Love Hotels allow you to check in via a computer in the lobby: a “rest” is around $40, overnight is $70. When checking in elsewhere with your girlfriend or a beautiful stranger, it is best to be discreet about your relationship.
Park Hyatt Tokyo (3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, 03/5322-1234), featured in Lost in Translation, is expensive but near the lesbian hot spots (from $400, parkhyatttokyo.com).
Weekly Mansion Tokyo at Akasaka offers short-term and extended stays in comfortable apartments located near the subway and many restaurants (from $108, 2-17-54 Akasaka, Minato-ku, 03-5570-0230, wmt-tokyo.com).
Budget-minded travelers flock to friendly, international Tokyo Hostel, a cheap option for singles, couples or small groups ($18–65, 3-12-5 Fyusen Taito-Ku, 81-3-3875-3264, tokyo hostels.com).
THE QUEEN OF AUSTRALIA
When it comes to gay and lesbian tourist destinations in Australia, Sydney gets the most exposure, but there is an ample stretch of north-eastern seaboard that is fast becoming a lesbian paradise thanks to its natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle. For surf, sun, and tropical fun, Queensland is an increasingly popular place for lesbians to live and visit. Named in honor of Queen Victoria of England, things have loosened up in the “sunshine state,” especially in the past two decades. Once the most conservative part of Australia, which looked to a colonial past rather than to the future, Queensland now has the fastest growing economy in the country, and with that growth comes an influx of young and old, straight and gay, looking for the good life.
Brisbane, situated just north of the New South Wales border, is affectionately referred to as BrisVegas by locals (thought to be an ironic nod towards Brisbane’s developing nightlife). With 1.8 million people, the city has a visible and vibrant gay and lesbian community. The Brisbane Pride Festival (pridebrisbane.org.au), a relaxed outdoor event featuring a street parade, markets, and local entertainment, is now in its 20th year, while Brisbane’s Big Gay Day (biggayday.com.au) draws over 6,000 people in a street party.
Monique Forrest, coordinator of City Lickers (citylickers.com), a faction of lesbians who plan regular social events, describes the Brisbane lesbian scene as relaxed, diverse and friendly. “There is a strong sense of community and women are very supportive of lesbian events and businesses as well as each other,” says Forrest.
To appeal to a broad range of tastes, City Lickers events include picnics, clubbing, theatre, winery tours, camp-outs, snow trips, weekend getaways, barbecues, and the popular monthly girls’ night at Scarlet Live Venue & Night Club (Upstairs St Pauls on Wharf and Leichhardt Streets, Spring Hill). Other regular lesbian nights include Shibar at The Sportsman Hotel (130 Leichhardt Street Spring Hill), and BrisVegas at The Wickham Hotel (myspace.com/brizvegas_gangstars). The Wickham Hotel (308 Wickham St Fortitude Valley, thewickham.com.au) is not just a place of accommodation, but a one-stop-shop for a lesbian night out. As is customary in Australia, gay and lesbian bars are usually located in pubs or hotels, and The Wickham is a classic example. It is an old-fashioned Australian pub built in the mid-19th century in “Queenslander” style: a wide
verandah and wrought iron lacework. There you can pick up the free, local LGBT newspaper, QNews (qnews.com.au), which offers a complete listing of current events. If you are headed to the glitzy Gold Coast, which is like a miniature Miami Beach located about 50 miles south of Brisbane, head to MP’s Nightclub, the coast’s only permanent gay and lesbian venue (Forum Arcade, 26 Orchid Ave, mpnightclub.com.au).
The Sunshine Coast
Aptly called “the sunny coast” by locals, this beautiful region north of Brisbane is known for its stunning beaches, expansive coastal views and lush, fertile hinterland. If you can, pull yourself away from the lesbian scene long enough to visit the area’s five stunning national parks which offer unspoilt natural beauty. One of the prettiest beaches on the Sunshine Coast is Peregian Beach, and from October 17 to 19 it plays host to The Big Lesbian Beach Escape. This City Lickers event invites lesbians of all ages and styles to shake up the sleepy beach town with parties, beach volleyball, slip ‘n’ slide races, and a good old fashioned Aussie barbecue. There’s even a singles-only brunch for those who haven’t paired up.
The long lesbian weekend is becoming a Queensland tradition. The biggest of its kind, Girlfest (girlfest.org), is a Dinah Shore-style, exclusively women’s weekend that began in 2006. Accomodations are offered at the five star Hyatt Regency Resort in Coolum (from $235), performances by bands like Finding Stella, comedian Lady Julia Morris, and a huge variety of leisure activities over the three-day weekend celebrating Australia Day (January 23–26, 2009). A hit with locals, it now attracts international visitors who “can’t believe the amazing feel of the weekend and how friendly all the Aussie girls are,” says event organizer Nicci Madden.
Because of the bountiful fresh seafood, tropical fruit and organic produce of the Queens-land hinterland, you can’t really go wrong when dining out. The small but thriving towns of Noosa and Peregian Beach offer many good eating options. Humid (195 Weyba Rd, humid.com.au), offers superb Modern Australian cuisine, prepared by award-winning chef (and lesbian!) Michelle Gordon-Smith.
Where To Stay
Queensland is a large state and there are many “pink” accommodation options, especially in the tropical far north. Turtle Cove Resort (from $100, turtlecove.com) holds its own women’s week (October 9–13, 2008), is exclusively gay, and has its own private beachfront. The stylishly furnished two- and three-bedroom apartments at gay-managed Horizons at Peregian (horizons-pere gian.com), also starting at $100 a night, are the perfect option for the self-catering lesbian. For more recommendations go to the Gay And Lesbian Tourism Australia web site (galta.com.au/qld.asp).
How to Chat Up an Aussie Girl
Queensland’s attractions aside, the friendliness of local lesbians also rates highly. Monique Forrest’s advice to an American girl on how to approach a Queensland lesbian? “Good relationships stem from good friendships. Queensland lesbians are looking for great fun with good friends. Then let's see what happens.” Wining, dining and beer-tasting are popular pastimes, so there will be no shortage of opportunities to make new friends.
Gay & Lesbian Events
March–Big Gay Day (thewickham.com.au)
May–Brisbane Queer Film Festival (bqff.com.au)
June–Brisbane Pride Festival (pridebrisbane.org.au)
July/August–Brisbane Festival (brisbanefestival.com.au)
November–Brisbane Sleaze Ball (sleazeball.com.au)
When you plan your trip down under, consider some northern exposure. “Sydney will always have that high energy feel and the world-renowned Oxford Street night life,” says Nicci Madden, “but Queensland is fast becoming a refreshing option for lesbian tourists. We offer some of the best beaches in the world, gorgeous weather all year round, the Great Barrier Reef, which is surpassed by nothing in Australia, and a very laidback atmosphere and lifestyle. These two very different options put Australia firmly in any lesbian’s top travel destinations.”