Shinjuku, in Tokyo, is one of the busiest neighborhoods in the world; 3.4 million people travel through Shinjuku station every day. Shinjuku Ni-Chome, or second district of Shinjuku, has the highest concentration of gay and lesbian bars in the world, with an estimated 350 bars in one city block, providing for every different kind of taste. The book Shinjuku Story is a result of interviewing gay and lesbian bar owners and bartenders over the past three years.
Bars in Shinjuku Ni Chome are like living rooms, through often even smaller than those you’d find in homes in the United States. Many of them are smaller than 40 square feet, the size of a walk-in closet, and seat only four to 10 people. Each bar has a different clientele; some have a specific theme or serve a particular sexual fetish, but all of them have bar owners who are called “Momma” and who are the center of the bar. The Momma greets newcomers, keeps the conversation moving, decides on music and entertainment, and connects the people in the bar. The Momma sets the stage for us, and then all of us entertain each other on that stage. Bars in Shinjuku are also secret living rooms where we can share our stories, where everyone can be who they want to be.
Kaz Senju is a Brooklyn-based photographer who recently published his book Shinjuku Story, where more than 45 gay bar owners from Tokyo were interviewed and photographed. Kaz will be displaying his Shinjuku project at Bureau of General Services – Queer Division, at the LGBTQ Center in New York September 25-30. His book signing event will be at the BGSQD, September 28, starting at 7 p.m.