A version of this article originally appeared on VICE Japan.
Between the end of World War II in 1945 until 1956, when Japan's Anti-Prostitution Act went into effect, Shinjuku Ni-chome ("Area 2") flourished as Tokyo's red light neighbourhood.
After that period, gay bars began opening up in the area and, by the 80s, it had become known as "Gay Town" to locals. Many gay bars back then admitted guests on a members-only basis—meaning, in other words, that nonke ("heterosexual men and women") weren't welcome.
But after the rise of online dating and social media, Tokyo's queer community found less need for a concentrated area like Shinjuku Ni-chome, and its nightlife scene became more spread out. Nonke were allowed into gay bars, and the area became more enjoyable for people from all walks of nightlife—and less relevant to the queer community.
But this March, Ni-chrome proved its continued queer relevance with an MC battle called "The 2nd Oneh-Style Dungeon" held in the neighbourhood. In Japan, there's a phenomenon known as Sazae-san Syndrome—a Sunday night depression caused by dread for the week to come, inspired by Sazae-san, a long-running anime program. But at the Dungeon, Sazae-san didn't seem to exist. The heartfelt screams of freestyle rappers there, punctuated by slews of dirty phrases from their blistering tongues, echoed out throughout the streets of Tokyo.
Rappers selected by the crowd gathered to valiantly challenge three drag queens onstage: Rachel D'amour, the "Queen of Passion"; Angel Jasqo, the "Fallen Angel of Shinjiku Ni-chome"; and Chikako Relax, the "Maiden of Extreme Dissing." The queens had the audience dying with laughter with widely-accessible dirty jokes. The event's vivid characters brought it to life, and I documented its entirety, from the arrival of each drag queen to their entrance onto the stage.