Valentines Day is a day of love and some women love women, while some men love men, and then there are bi people like me who date both! For LGBTQ people in Japan, generally dating out and about isn’t met with harassment. At the same time, when it comes to a romantic special day, you might want to go to a place that openly accepts and celebrates your special love.
This list is welcome to all preferences, no limitations to boys only or girls only. I’m focusing here on mainly cafes and restaurants for sit down meals, since Valentines is supposed to be romantic and all. However, there are a few sit down bars and such in the mix as well.
The Shinjuku area, specifically the Nichome part of town, is the gay friendliest place to go in Tokyo. Although it’s seen as more of a clubbing area, there are a few places tucked away where you can sit down to just talk, eat and/or drink.
Cocolo Cafe is the number one recommendation. The mostly LGBTQ staff welcome everyone in to dine with a smile and sweet pop music playing in the background. “Cocolo” is a play off of the Japanese word “kokoro” (which means heart-or mind depending on context), for the restaurant warms the hearts of all who enter.
People love the food here. There are Western-style plates along other Okinawan-style dishes. Their taco-rice is super popular, and often mentioned in reviews as their best side dish. With delicious food and a nice atmosphere, you can’t go wrong in bringing a date here.
R Diner makes for a nice date night location as well as a great queer hangout spot. With its casual atmosphere, you can pop in for a lunch with a special someone, and then go back later that night for some drinks. They’re even selling chocolate there specifically for Valentine’s Day!
The diner provides good meal food too, with a bit of an American/Western fusion. The plates are rather big, with side salads and a drink all in a set. It also features some lovely specialty drinks, such as the Cointreau hot chocolate that’s to die for.
Cafe Lavendaria is a great little cafe that’s out from the main Nichome drag. It’s a cozy little place, and I love the tea and beer selection there. They have a large selection of books on one wall that are LGBTQ friendly, most of them in Japanese but there are a few English ones if you search for them. There are couches in the back and tables out front, but that’s not even the best part of this place.
Lavendaria has cats! They’re not advertised, and sometimes they’re a little human shy, but if you stick around the little orange fluffy kitties will come out. The only downside for Lavendaria is the food is only of the snack variety. Still, it’s a great place to go with a date to grab a drink with a date (and possibly pet a kitty).
Shinjuku isn’t the only place that welcomes LGBTQ customers. In the back streets of Harajuku there’s Irodori, another comfy style cafe like Lavendaria. It’s run in collaboration with Colorful Station, a Shibuya based community focused social group. Because of that, it’s a great place for LGBTQ events and meet ups.
The cafe features some good eats, like its meat pie and melon shortcake. And of course, coffee and tea are a staple, so grab a nice hot mug to keep this lingering winter chill away. A date here will be nice and pleasant, as well as helping out a good cause!
Out in the Kansai area, Osaka has the Do With Cafe. It features a drag show every night that its open which makes it for a fun place to eat, drink, and have a show! The cafe might be more for the person who wants something a little more excitement, and not just romance.
The menu is focused on Japanese/Asian cuisine. The meals range from soba salad to fried chicken to beef rice bowls. As for drinks, you can choose anything from a hazelnut latte to pear tea to the longest whiskey menu I’ve ever seen in my life.
This Sunday they’re actually doing a Valentines Day special event! Head on over there with your special someone to have some fun.
Close by is a little place called Ducks. It’s fairly new, only a couple of years old, but it’s steadily growing a following. Another kind of a hidey-hole style place, Ducks is great for a meal, or maybe just a nightcap with your special someone.
Their food is seasonal, so the menu changes every few months to spice things up. At the moment, the chef makes meat in tomato sauce with chickpeas over rice, as well as a chocolate torte for dessert.
A great resource for finding other places to date in Japan is Utopia Asia. This site has many different LGBTQ friendly places available: bars, clubs, restaurants, you name it. Most of the listings are for gay men, but there are a fair share of lesbian friendly places too. Some of the information is a bit outdated, so be sure to check links and do a quick internet search about the location of the places (some I found for Osaka and Kyoto had closed down, be careful).
Even though it’s generally safe to go to just any other Japanese restaurant, if you want to be proud and queer, these are the places to go. And also, you’ll be supporting the efforts of the owners who want to help Japan become more accepting of the LGBTQ community. Most of these restaurants and cafes support endeavors to strengthen visibility, such as sponsoring and/or participating in Rainbow Pride. Love begets love, and when is a better time for love than Valentines Day?
If you know of a great LGBTQ restaurant or neat dating spot in general, please put it in the comments!
A very special thank you to Stonewall Japan members for helping me with recommendations. They’re the best for LGBTQ events and resources, along with just being awesome people in general.