The Spatialisation of Desire in a Japanese Gay District Through Signage

Keywords: queer space, linguistic landscaping, Japanese gay culture, social stratification, signage


Shinjuku Ni-chōme (an area in central Tokyo) contains the highest concentration of queer establishments in the world, with some estimates suggesting that there are approximately 300 gay male bars within its confines. Each of these bars targets a specific subset of the Japanese gay community, with bars coming to be associated with semiotic structures indexing certain subjectivities (known as Types). Through an ethnographic study of the district, I argue that signage plays a crucial role in differentiating Ni-chōme from the surrounding cityscape, creating a queer space. Furthermore, drawing upon the emerging discipline of Linguistic Landscaping, I analyse how signage can be read as “mapping” particular Types onto areas in Ni-chōme. I suggest that eroticised images of men, Japanese scripts, colour and language choice all act as queer semiotics that gay men visiting the district utilise to determine the Type of a bar. Finally, I discuss how this process of mapping normalises certain identity categories whilst marginalising others and how one particular identity category based in heteronormative understandings of masculinity has come to dominate the district, pushing other “niche” identity categories to the fringes of Ni-chōme. 

Author Biography

Thomas Baudinette, Department of International Studies Japanese Studies Program Macquarie University

Lecturer in Japanese Studies
Department of International Studies


How to Cite
Baudinette, Thomas. 2017. “The Spatialisation of Desire in a Japanese Gay District Through Signage”. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 16 (3), 500-527.
Themed Section - Critical Geographical Queer Semiotics (Guest Eds. M. Zebracki and T. Milani)