Japan by Vicky Lee & Frederike de Jonge

Photo by Frederike de Jonge - Maiko (apprentice Geisha) in Kyoto

Geisha Girls

Artist Viviene at her exhibition with Zil ....

An example of Viviene's art


Lovely Lisa took a special day to prepare hair and costume to meet Vicky


We had studied for hours our Tokyo Time Out and Rough Guide and with map in hand everywhere was easily found by tube. However specific addresses are impossible to find as streets are not sign posted and, businesses and dwellings all mixed in the multi-level buildings. We were amazed at how safe we felt - crime and violence is very rare in Japan. However this was not true in the Ropongi district where the ‘Gaijin’ nightclubs are grouped together. Here I felt like my cloak of invisibility had also lost its magic.

We had assumed that food would be very expensive and it is true that if we had eaten in the hotels it would have bankrupted us. However street bars and restaurants are numerous, cheap and great fun - if approached with an open mind and a steel stomach (luckily we are equipped with both). Some westerners would starve in Japan as even in western style hotels nothing quite looks, or tastes, like anything we would recognize as food. We giggled every morning as we woke in the Kyoto Hotel Miyako used by the Prince Charles and ‘Diana’ Princess of Wales, to a breakfast of pot noodles from the little supermarket near our hotel, made with our room kettle before hitting the streets later for brunch.

Tokyo is a visual feast. At night the neon lights and giant outdoor screens showing pop videos and film previews are electrifying. Statisticaly Tokyo is populated predominantly by single women and shops and bars and fun parlors cater to this market, so Tokyo is girly heaven. However even Lesley at UK size 12 could not find anything that fitted, but that did not stop us looking. Fun parlors not only feature karaoke but also dance games and picture tents that are light years ahead of our best photo booths. plus game machines yet unimagined.

20 years ago no one in Japan had colored hair. Young people were all cramming for top grades at school and ‘salary men’ in dark suits did their duty and drank together after work to bond for better productivity. But times have changed. Japan no longer offers careers for life and company loyalty and uniformity has been replaced with individuality. "But everyone looks the same" - this has lead the young to adopt a ‘style’ and use themselves as a canvas to create their character.

We saw groups of ‘Pamela Andersons’ girls with bleach blonde hair, silicone tits and 8inch hooker shoes. Groups of ‘School Girls’ in their 20s with white socks and trainers, school uniform and bleached ginger hair in bunches. ‘Goth Girls’ with piercings and florescent colored streaks through their black hair. Everywhere we looked, late into the evening, we saw on the streets a fancy dress party of styles and fashions. Hip Hop, Rasta, 50s, 60s (luckily no 70s). It was amazing. As you can imagine this means that whatever I wore was not questioned anywhere.

I have had a loyal correspondent from Japan for many years. Zil Femele has regularly sent reports to the Tranny Guide and in 2000 I met her with a group of friends in London. They visited WayOut and we were together at the Skin Two Rubber Ball.

In Tokyo Zil was more than welcoming she made our weekend in Tokyo very special. Zil took us first to an art exhibition by her friend Viviene. The exhipition was held in a trendy store. Here we met many ex-pats from the UK, France and Germany who are living in Japan and are brought together by art and style. Trannies are a fundamental part of this scene and their art is in their own presentation. Zil took us on to meet many friends at a restaurant.

I was amazed at how much of a celebrity I was made to feel - amongst people and in a place that I was totally in awe of. Our next stop was a ‘tranny bar’ one of many in one small area. We would never have found these without help from Zil. The bar we visited had a ‘mama san’ to welcome the customers and a drag queen to entertain.

The ‘girls’ were as mixed a crowd as you would meet in any Beaumont meeting. Unlike other Asians, Japanese trannies often have unique physical features that they struggle to feminize. However skillful, few feel they truly ‘pass’, on home ground as on average, Japanese females are so much shorter than males. What works for me in Japan as an invisible westerner works in reverse for locals who feel very easily recognized as trannies. The solution, as anywhere, is to dress to impress and not to ‘pass’ which some, like Zil are proud to do. This type of bar is very expensive (as any private bar in Tokyo tends to be). However for local ‘girls’ they provide an oasis for closeted trannies.

Zil completed the night with a visit to the launch of the Tokyo LGBT film festival. An event that brought a very cosmopolitan crowd together. Zil said to me "tonight you have seen every queer in Tokyo". I felt very at home and can’t thank Zil enough for such a wonderful night.

Zils friend Lisa was also a constant companion. Lisa is transsexual and very feminine. She talks very good English with a very soft sexy accent. The next day Lisa took us on a trip through shops parks and bars that completed a wonderful weekend.

One area that Lisa introduced me to, gave a rare glimpse of Tokyo as it was before the almost total destruction of the city, by war time bombing. This small street of two floor wooden buildings were used by prostitutes before the war and this particular cluster of buildings was famous for trangendered courtesans. I could not help thinking how fate is strange - as I looked at these rare survivors. The urban myth was proved true - Here was the brothel that survived beside the cathedral that was destroyed.

Kyoto is the countries historical gem. Deliberately preserved during war with no military targets there is ample evidence of the ancient culture of Geisha, (Did you know that the very first Geisha were boys), set amongst Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. In Kyoto it is possible to go much further than just immersing yourself in the gardens, temples, streets and history. It is possible (male or female) to take Geisha classes and ‘dressing services’ are available for Geisha makeovers. Every day, but particularly on Sundays, girls enjoy ‘dressing’ in traditional Kimono and visiting the temples and the gardens. They assume the walk and the studied feminine gestures of a former time – a time of even more extreme femininity than exists in Japan today. What does that remind you of ?? Yes Trannying…

If you'd like the trip of a lifetime I suggest going to Japan. It is unlike anything I've ever experienced in my life and one I will cherish for the rest of my life!

A word of advice: PLEASE remember to take a phrase book or dictionary as there are few who speak more than several words in English. It might be a good idea to learn a few words by heart to be courteous.

The Japanese are very polite and will try to help you wherever you are going. Make sure you have a reference point in the area you are staying so you can find your way back home - all street names & hotel names are in Japanese! Purchasing a copy of 'The Rough Guide To Japan' is essential..

Tokyo has too much to recommend but try to see these places. Kabuki-za has been the city's principal Kabuki theatre since its inauguration in 1889. If you are a Kabuki fan this is THE place to go. All female roles are played by onnagata - actors who specialise in female roles. Shikan (onnagata) who performs one of Kabuki's most famous and colourful dances Fuji Musume is considered to be a National Treasure. Performances take place daily during the first three weeks of the month and I can highly recommend sitting through an entire performance. It is an experience you will never forget. You may not want to do this if you are pressed for time since they can take up to 4 hrs or more... You can also go to the ticket office about a half hour or so before showtime and buy a ticket for one or several acts. This is also significantly cheaper. Price for the entire performance is 10,000 - 16,000 Yen depending on your seats. You can also enjoy the show in English, for an additional fee. Kabuki-za Theatre (Ginza) Take the tube/subway to Higashi-Ginza. The theatre is directly outside the station. Can't miss it. For reservations or information call: +03-5565-6000

Shibuya, Harajuku and Shinjuku are areas where you can literally shop untill you drop for the latest in everything, etc. Mass amounts of people are here night and day. Shibuya is department-store heaven, if that's your thing. Shop, shop, shop & shop............ have fun!

In Tokyo I stayed at the Central Hotel Shinjuku 3-34-7 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku Phone: +03-3354-6611 Fax: +03-3355-4245 It may take a while before you speak to someone who actually speaks English and can help you with your reservation. The location is excellent, 5 mns. walking distance from Shinjuku Station. Price: 15,000 - 20,000 Yen.



Kyoto was the capital of Japan for more than a thousand years, Kyoto is endowed with an almost overwhelming legacy of ancient Buddhist temples (more than 1600), majestic palaces and gardens of every description, some of the country's most important works of art, its richest culture and its most refined cuisine.

First impressions of Kyoto may be disappointing, however, if you stray off the tourist track you will find the old glory; traditional wooden houses, geisha in coloured silks, etc. This I highly recommend doing!!!!

One of the ways to get to Kyoto from Tokyo is by JR-Shinkansen (bullet train). This is not a cheap way to travel, but it is the fastest way to get there. It all depends on your budget and your schedule. Another way would be by plane directly.

It would take weeks to fit in all of the sights in Kyoto during your trip.....I've listed a few I really enjoyed visiting....

To-Ji temple (daily 9am-4.30pm), south of Kyoto station, founded by Emperor Kammu in 794 contains some of Japan's finest Esoteric Buddhist sculpture. Also the only temple with a five-storey pagoda (Japan's largest, erected in 826 and last rebuilt in the mid 17th. Century).

Nijo-Jo and Nijo-Jin'ya (8.45am-5pm), great palaces. Nijo-Jin'ya tours are by appointment (phone at least a day before: 075-841-0972) and in Japanese only. You need to bring an interpreter if you don't speak Japanese. It is definitely worth your while, this seemingly ordinary house is riddled with trap doors, false walls, disguised staircases, etc. to trap intruders.

In the district of Gion you may find the odd Geisha or Maiko girl (apprentice Geisha) in full attire walking around. In this area you will also find a lot of traditional wooden houses.

Kyoto is also known for its festivals. The most famous feature grand costume parades, esoteric ritual and elegant Geisha dances. They take place in spring and autumn. These two seasons are positively the best and busiest time to visit. The summer months can be very uncomfortable with very high temperatures and worse still humidity.


Photo by Frederike de Jonge - Kabuki-Za Kabuki theatre
in Tokyo

Photo by Frederike de Jonge - buildings in the Gion (Geisha) district Kyoto

Mama San, Zil and Lisa Vicky behind with the customers
of tranny bar in Shinjuku

We pose outside Tokyo’s surviving wooden houses a 1930's tranny brothel

Market shops in Harajuku and Asakusa

Market shops in Harajuku and Asakusa.

Vicky Lee and Zil Femele centre Lesley behind Vicky
surrounded by freinds at Vivienes exhibition

Zil Femele and freinds at Vivienes exhibition