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.
Katsuki became a mama at Kusuo five years ago when a legendary mama, Matchan, transferred the bar to the second generation of "mama-ship". Kusuo is one of the oldest and largest. Pretty much every gay man in Tokyo has some fond memories of Kusuo. It’s been here for 41 years now.
Margaret is a famous drag queen in the evening, but is known as Toh OGURA-san during the day as he runs his Café Okamaruto. Margaret collected more than ten thousand gay, lesbian, homosexual, and drag queen theme books. He displays a small part of his collection at his café.
At around 25 years of age, Nanase decide to try a lesbian bar in Shinjuku 2 Chome. Searching for info on her phone, she went to one bar, held the door knob, but it was a metal fire proof door and felt so heavy. She couldn’t open the door so she went to a regular bar, had few drinks to relax, went back the bar where she heard people were talking and laughing, and decided to open the door. Once she was inside, it was packed for the weekend, everyone was friendly, and Nagase suddenly felt at home.
Ken was born in Tokyo and has six brothers. His father passed away when he was 7. Ken stopped going to school at around the 7th grade and started to hang out in the Kabukicho porn district. When Ken was 15, he walked into porn theater to watch straight sex, but noticed other men were chasing him. He realized he could make his living by hanging out there.
His bar measures 8.5 feet x 8.5 feet, and seats only 6 people. It’s so small that everyone has to get up when a customer at the end of the bar wants to go home, or use the toilet. He started his bar 32 years ago right after he had his first heart attack and was told that he had only 5 years to live.