Miya Inoue is the kimono-clad owner of the chain of bars in Tokyo’s Yushima neighborhood operating under the Kesho Danshi brand staffed primarily by transgender women. She also built the interior of the first location herself by hand, drawing on her previous work experience as a carpenter. As the “Big Mama” of Kesho Danshi, Miya spends her time managing the staff at three locations, chatting with customers, and, amazingly, remembering everyone’s name. Oh, and did we mention she’s written an inspiring book about her life?

If you’re looking for good conversation and a fun place to drink in Tokyo, you can’t find a much better place than sitting across the counter from Miya or any of the welcoming staff members. Click below to take a visit to all three of the Kesho Danshi locations and listen in on our chat with “Miya Big Mama” yourself.


Translated literally, “Kesho Danshi” means “Makeup Men” or “Cosmetics Boys” in English, but neither of these terms really makes sense to me. Even in Japanese, it has an air of ambiguity — a sense of something that should be easy to understand, but isn’t quite. Perhaps a large part of the reason for this is simply the fluidity that Miya embodies. She uses the word “transgender” to describe herself and staff of the Kesho Danshi bars, but, as she writes in her book, hers is “an alluring life of swimming freely through a river that flows between male and female.” I don’t think simple definitions are going to work here.

▼ Miya signing a copy of her book for RocketNews24


Miya opened Kesho Danshi because, she told me, there wasn’t anything like it at the time. She had experience with Japan’s transgender and gay bars, of which there is hardly a shortage, but she found many of them to be a bit too loud for her taste. What she envisioned was something like Kesho Danshi AYA, her third location — a quiet bar with a sophisticated air that encourages patrons to sit and talk. There’s nothing wrong with getting rowdy and having fun, but if you want to actually communicate with someone, a typical bar isn’t necessarily the best place to go.

▼ The menu is hand-crafted, both on the inside…


▼ …and outside.


For Miya, communication is incredibly important. She loves talking with people, particularly the “unique” people who make up the bulk of her customers, she says when I ask who the typical patron is. With three locations, Kesho Danshi has multiple faces, just like the staff who work behind the counters and just like anyone else in the world.

To see another of Kesho Danshi’s faces, step outside, head up the stairs, turn left, and take a few paces down the street to find another Kesho Danshi sign. Then, head downstairs to Kesho Danshi WAKASHU, the original location. While AYA features nothing but low bench seating that still manages to keep you eye-level with the staff, WAKASHU features a slightly rawer interior with bare wood and high stools. A bit brighter and a little louder, WAKASHU has a winter theme — AYA’s theme is autumn — and its staff is sure to make you feel right at home, quickly launching into conversation with customers new and old alike.

▼ A snack served at Kesho Danshi AYA


One block over, Kesho Danshi SAGA’s theme is spring, which manifests as karaoke and the boisterous laughter of its patrons. While the other Kesho Danshi locations specifically engender personal communication, SAGA feels like a throwback to the Bubble Era, when it seemed as if everyone in Japan were going to be rich forever. Though the national bubble popped, at SAGA, you can forget about the last couple of decades and enjoy drinking whiskey served by the kimono-clad staff while singing enka classics.

▼ A menu at WAKASHU


Back at AYA, I found myself caught in conversation with Miya, whose curiosity and grace know no bounds. With news of the LGBT community’s Supreme Court win in the US still buzzing in my mind, I asked Miya to tell me about the community in Japan. I wasn’t sure what to expect — great strides have been made in advancing LGBT rights in Japan, but it must surely be difficult to remain patient with the slow pace of change.

At least, that’s what I thought. Miya explained that over the last decade the community has received a lot of focus, from both inside and outside the country, and she said that at times it can feel like everything is finally coming together. But at the same time, she wonders if change is coming too fast. “I think it’s causing some shock for people not in the community,” she adds. Echoing a sentiment that we’re sure people around the world intuitively understand, she explains that you can change the law all you want, but it takes individual effort by all of us to change hearts and minds.

▼ Take a peek inside AYA, WAKASHU, and SAGA with us in the video below!

But while there may be a long road ahead for people seeking acceptance, Miya had a powerful and beautiful message for all of our lovely readers: “There are transgender people in Japan too, and we’re doing our best to live happy lives. So, don’t feel like you are alone.” It’s a message not just for our transgender readers but for everyone. As Koharu Mama, the boss at WAKASHU, says, “People aren’t one-dimensional.”

If you’re heading to any of the fine Kesho Danshi establishments, you might be wondering what day of the week is best for your first visit. Obviously, the character of a bar changes with the crowd, but Koharu Mama told us that Saturdays see lots of first-timers at WAKASHU, as well as people who can only enjoy wearing the clothes they feel most comfortable in on the weekend. If you’re looking for a bit of excitement, Fridays and Saturdays are sure to be fun, and if you’re looking for a quieter evening out, we’d suggest stopping by on a weekday night.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember, though, is that all of the Kesho Danshi bars are for everyone. You don’t have to do anything but share a drink the staff and customers and enjoy yourself!

Bar Information
WAKASHU BAR, Kesho Danshi
Address: 3-38-3 Yushima, Bunkyou-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 7:30 p.m.-Whenever customers stop ordering

SAGA, Kesho Danshi
Address: 3-38-15, Yushima, Bunkyou-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 8 p.m.-Whenever customers stop ordering

AYA, Kesho Danshi
Address: 3-38-3 Yushima, Bunkyou-ku, Toyo
Hours: 8 p.m.-Whenever customers stop ordering

References: Kesho DanshiAmazon Japan (Kesho Danshi: Jinsei wo Nibai Tanoshimu Houhou),
All images © RocketNews24