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Celebrating Leather, Rugged Men, and Fisting in Tokyo

Folsom Black isn't as big as the party that inspired it, but that intimacy proved to be a very, very good thing.

by Mike Miksche
30 March 2017, 5:41am

Attendees at Folsom Black. Photo by Mike Miksche

It only took 30 minutes before I saw a guy getting fisted in the back room, and that's how I knew I was going to have a good time at last weekend's Folsom Black leather and BDSM party in Tokyo.

Since it was established more than 30 years ago, Folsom Street Fair has grown from a humble gathering of pigs, leatherfolk, and other kinky types in San Francisco to the internationally renowned organization it is today, with two parties in its hometown and sister events in New York and Berlin. Folsom Black isn't officially affiliated with Folsom Street Events, but it was inspired by it, and since 2005, it's served the same purpose—providing a gathering ground for kinky men and their admirers. As it's one of a handful of leather parties of its kind in Asia, it attracts guys from across Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, and China.

My first Folsom experience was at the infamous San Francisco street fair a few years back. Wandering Folsom Street, I was inspired by passing leather daddies, dominatrixes, rubber boys, slaves, and their masters. Within the 13 city blocks that make up the event, you know you can be yourself, no matter how kinky or perverse your favorite fetish may be (within reason). You'll see people bleed after being publicly whipped, subs tied up in ways that defy human physiology, and guys sipping beers in their diapers, shitting themselves without a care in the world. And why not?

Folsom Black began as an event called "Leather Day" in 2005, held in a small Tokyo bar named Magnum (now defunct). It was started by Master Mikio, who attended the San Francisco fair from 1996 to 2003. When his Tokyo event began, it was just a bunch of leather dudes drinking in their gear, but attendance grew year by year. In 2011, it moved to a bar called Logos and took on the name Folsom Black, and by 2013, the event had grown enough that it was moved to a club, AiSOTOPE Lounge in Shinjuku Ni-chome, Tokyo's gay district.

The club has a fair-sized dance floor and a tiny backroom, separated only by a curtain. When I arrived, a DJ played a hard mix of house and techno as all the usual leather event suspects mixed and mingled. Subs and daddies, decked out in harnesses and gear, danced and socialized. There was a distinct old-guard leather vibe, reminiscent of the leather scene's 70s heyday.

Despite what one might see (or do) at Folsom events, openly jerking off, sucking, and fucking are (supposedly) prohibited. Obviously, breaking rules is part and parcel of the leather scene in general, but still—BDSM and full frontal nudity is allowed at most of the events worldwide. Though nudity isn't officially allowed at Black, there was plenty to be found in the back room.

In Japan, according to Article 174, an "indecent act" in public could land you in jail for up to six months and earn you a fine up to $2,700, which is a big price to pay to get off. On the other hand, stakes like that only make for better sex.

I wasn't the only one who thought so. As I cruised the back room throughout the night, I found guys fisting, sucking, groping, and kissing. At one point, two dudes could be found with their hands up against the wall, as a top fisted both simultaneously. When he pulled out of one to focus on the other, the now fistless guy slipped his own hand behind his back and began auto-fisting himself.

For that alone, the party more than lived up to the Folsom ethos: providing a place that celebrates kink in all its marvelous forms, where so long as everything's consensual, you can do what you want, how you want, with who you want.

I asked the party's organizers about the state of Tokyo's leather scene, and opinions were mixed. Junya, one of Black's DJs, said he believed the scene wasn't growing much, blaming the stagnation on the lack of leather shops in the city. But Kye Koh, the founder of RainbowEvents, a Tokyo-based LGBTQ event calendar, thought otherwise: "The Japanese bondage scene may not be so small," he wrote me, "but it doesn't come out in public since Japan is a country of shame culture," citing the work of anthropologist Ruth Benedict on the latter point.

Earlier this month, Koh launched a leather party of his own, called BUFF. He said that while he's enjoyed Folsom Black every year since he started going, he also felt it represented a serious leather party that might overwhelm prospective attendees, especially those unfamiliar with the leather scene. He described the recommended attire at his party as "fetish casual" and said the first event was a huge success, with another already scheduled for June.

Leatherfolk at BUFF. Photo by Kil Chan. Courtesy of Kye Koh

Those events and others (a regular Jockstrap Night, also at AiSOTOPE Lounge; a hardcore gay BDSM club called Tokyo Full-Contact; last year's first Tokyo Bear Week) have made the city into a more vibrant destination for leather and other gay subcultures than many more liberal cities in the West. And with a new Eagle Tokyo leather bar having opened in November, the city's leather scene has joined the globalized cohort of urban centers with an outlet of the famous Eagle brand. But rugged gay Japanese culture has its own rich and vibrant history; GMPD cultures (an acronym standing for the Japanese words for muscle, chubby, chubby women, and fat) have thrived through both visible and underground means for decades, via manga, in-person events, online communities, and more. Through gatherings like Folsom and bars like the Eagle, subcultures that have long flourished in Japan may now just be adopting familiar terminology and branding—a trend that provokes deeper questions about the globalization of Western gay cultures.

By 10 PM that night, the music had taken a much harder, industrial turn. The dance floor had filled out with guys in all manner of leather gear as others moved in and out of the back room. It began to feel like a Berlin sex club, taking on a darker, raw mood. And though there weren't thousands of kinksters to choose from, the intimacy of the room proved to be a good thing. After all, what more do you need than a few good pervy men who know how to have a good time?

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Tagged:
bdsm
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Folsom Street Fair
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Japanese leather culture
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AiSOTOPE Lounge