BearsGogo Bears

Naofumi Nambu Gives Us an Insider’s View of the Tokyo Bear Scene and Life as an Int’l Gogo Bear

Naofumi Nambu is one of the reigning stars of the Asian bear scene. Based in Tokyo, Japan he gogo’s at events around the world when he’s not busy with his job as one of the managers of EAGLE TOKYO BLUE. With experience as a model, a musician and nightlife personality Gogo Nao, as he is called onstage, has had quite the career at just 50 years old. We sit down with him to talk about his career and to get an insider’s look at the Japanese bear scene.

John: Hello Naofumi! It’s an honor to speak with you. You’ve had such a great career! When did you start gogo dancing and why?

Naofumi: Hello! And thanks for having me!

I started gogo dancing in 1998 when I was 24 years old. I used to help out at the gay bar I used to go to at the time when it was short on staff. The master there (In Japan, the male barkeeper is called “master”) sometimes appeared as a gogo dancer on gay nights. At the time, the editor of a gay magazine called G-men came to the bar and asked the master to perform at the magazine’s anniversary party and the editor said that I should also dance at the party and be the cover model for the magazine, too!  That’s how it all started.

John: Amazing! And what is your dancing style?

Naofumi: Compared to other bear-type dancers, I might be the one who moves more briskly. I didn’t study dance, so I don’t have a particular dancing style. However, my older sister took ballet and jazz dance lessons, so I had a habit of watching dancers from childhood.

When I first started to gogo, I went to events and watched the senior dancers, and did a little research based on videos of past events, that’s how I developed my style.

I like dance music in general. My generation not only listened to house and techno, but also Motown, high energy, and Eurobeat.

John: Do you have a gogo persona? What look do you go for?

Naofumi: First, I should explain that the style of GOGO varies slightly depending on the region and venue size. Perhaps in the United States, there is a style where dancers dance slowly and sexy for 30 minutes or an hour at the counter of a small club. However, in Asia, dancers usually dance on stage for 10 to 15 minutes (in some regions of China, it is just 5 minutes) as a showcase. Of course, we will make adjustments based on the audience situation, but I usually dance with a hypermasculine/ top vibe.

When I dance, I feel like I’m hunting bears in a cruising space. I’m in a situation that I can be sure that a guy is interested in me because of his gaze, and I’m like, “Oh, you wanna do it with me, right?” But since I’m on stage at that time, I obviously can’t so the closest feeling is, “We’ll hook up when the show is over, so just wait.” When I dance with this in mind, I can create just the right expression. Fortunately, I am a top, so even if I don’t try hard to act it out, it’s already a part of me. I don’t find it difficult.

John: Woof! I know lots of guys are gonna love to hear that Nao! Can you tell us about the bear scene in Tokyo? Are there many bars to choose from? Are there a lot of bears participating in nightlife? What about bear chasers? 

Naofumi: Understanding this topic requires an explanation based on history and data. First of all, the metropolitan area of Tokyo has a population of approximately 38 million people, making it the largest metropolitan area in the world. Shinjuku 2-chome gay town (the gay area in East Shinjuku) is probably the largest in the world as well. This corner of the city is filled with facilities for sexual minorities. There are over 200 gay bars, 30-40 of which are for bears. If you take other areas of Tokyo into account, there will probably be more than 50. However, most bars only have around 20 seats. The smallest bars only have 5-6 seats.

In most bars, the purpose is for customers to converse with each other or the staff. You can have fun even if you go alone because you can talk to the staff. In areas where there are only huge bars, I don’t think you will have a conversation with the staff except during their free time. In Japanese bars, the main purpose is to go and talk to the staff. Therefore, there is usually one employee for every five customers. Since labor costs are high, there is a cover charge for that. Therefore, many people who come from areas that are not accustomed to cover charges might find it expensive. Another drawback is that you won’t be able to enjoy conversation if you don’t understand Japanese. When going to a small gay bar in Japan, I recommend finding bilingual friends in advance on the apps or Facebook and going with them.

Of course, Shinjuku also has gay bars and gay clubs with a capacity of several hundred people, and most of these establishments have staff who can speak English. If there are no members in your group who can speak Japanese, you should go to a large bar. On the other hand, the large bars are not categorized by body type, and are all genres.

Also, if you are accompanied by a woman, we recommend that you try going to a large bar first. Each small bar has its own concept. They can be men-only or women-only if the concept is to find a partner, or mixed-gender bar if the goal is just to have fun, not to hook up. This is not an attempt to discriminate, but rather a way devised to find a partner efficiently. Please don’t get offended if some bars won’t let your whole party in at the same time. There’s always a bar nearby that accommodates any group.

There are several club events that feature bears. It’s probably held somewhere once every two months. When you go to a club, your ID will be checked, so please carry your passport with you. Of course, there are also many bear chasers. I think most bear bars will welcome them as long as they have good manners.

I think the peak of the bear community in Japan was around 2000-2010. Now the key to a successful event is to have tourists from areas outside of Tokyo participate.

John: That is a lot of great information. Thank you for sharing that with us. And how did you personally find your way into the bear community?

Naofumi: I think I was 22 years old when I first came into contact with the gay community. When I was a student, I dated and had sex with women, so I never really considered myself gay. But out of curiosity, I went to a porn movie theater that showed straight movies and received a shocking blow job from a man. After that, I couldn’t forget it, and I went to that movie theater many times, and I hated myself every time I went home. Eventually, I started to feel like, “I can’t say I’m a straight man, but I don’t feel romantically interested in the gay men I meet at the movie theater,” so I started to lose track of my own sexuality. After a while, I learned about the existence of gay magazines. I went to a bookstore in Shinjuku 2-chome and bought a magazine called “Sabu”, hoping that if I read it I might be able to understand my own sexuality. The illustration by Gengoro Tagame that was published there solved the problem. It turns out that my type is a manly, muscular guy. When I thought about it, there weren’t many muscular men in porn movie theaters. After that, I started cruising around places where men like that gather in search of muscle.

I started going to bars about a year later. At first, I went to a bar in Yokohama, where I was living at the time, that had all kinds of guys. After that, I started bar hopping in Shinjuku 2-chome and gradually made more friends. I ended up helping out at that understaffed bar and connected with the Bear community by modeling for a magazine as I mentioned earlier.

However, at that time, even in Tokyo, the culture of going to the gym had not yet become widespread, and there were not many bulky people. Most of the people in Shinjuku 2-chome are classified as either “slender” or “chubby.”

It was around 2005 that I felt that there were more muscle bears. Supplements had evolved, gyms increased, and there were more muscular men.

John: Ah yes we are big fans of Gengoro Tagame as are many of our readers. Tell us about the bar you manage.

Naofumi: The bar I work at is called EAGLE TOKYO BLUE . It is sometimes abbreviated as EAGLE BLUE or BLUE. I’m a weekday manager, usually Monday through Thursday. Occasionally I may have to work on weekends due to events or shift changes. Business hours are 20:00-04:00 on weekdays and 18:00-04:00 on weekends. Karaoke is available from 10pm to 3:30am on weekdays. There are DJs on Fridays, Saturdays, and the day before holidays, and there are gogo shows and drag queen shows depending on the day. I don’t appear as a gogo at my home bar.

It is primarily a place for gay men, but straight men and women are also welcome. You can enter without paying a cover on weekdays, but there is a one drink minimum. On weekends, to avoid confusion due to crowds, you must purchase a drink ticket at the entrance before entering.

When you think of EAGLE, you probably have an image of a manly man and leather. However, the leather community in Japan is small, so our bar is not specifically a leather bar. Instead, we hold events several times a year featuring fetish costumes that include leather.

John: I will definitely be paying a visit when I finally get to Japan! Tell us about your music and what inspires it?

Naofumi: I used to work as a keyboardist. When I was young, I played keyboard instruments at the concerts and recordings of Japanese professional singers. The band I formed didn’t make a major debut, but it was fun back then.

At that time, most of the money I earned from modeling and gogo appearances was used to buy musical instruments and Macs.

Recently, I have not had time to release my own compositions. Until a year ago, I was releasing cover songs on my YouTube channel. Right now, I’m so busy with my bar business, and on my days off, I’m exchanging emails about gogo appearances and upcoming events, so I’m barely able to update my channel anymore. However, I plan to continue using YouTube whenever I find free time, so please give it a listen if you’re interested.

When I compose music, I first decide on the theme and then decide on a virtual vocalist. My style is to imagine a video in my head that goes along with that theme, and then compose a song that fits that theme. I compose the music first and then add the lyrics later. I’m not good at writing lyrics, so I usually ask someone else to do it.

Melodies always come up in my head, and I don’t know what inspires them. When I have a deadline for composing, I just decide on the theme and genre, and then I just start playing the keys and wait for a good melody to come out.

When I perform, I have a theory that the best way to convey it to the listener is to visualize the content of the song in my mind and then sing/play it in a way that explains it. So when I sing an English song, I have to worry about pronunciation. It’s much more difficult for me than singing in Japanese.

John: I find that fascinating. I am just not musical at all! Are there any upcoming gogo appearances that you want to mention?

Naofumi: What I can announce now is the Bangkok Twilight Countdown on December 31st. This will be my 4th time in Bangkok and my 3rd time appearing in the BANGKOK TWILIGHT series. I think it will be an amazing party where you can countdown to the New Year and watch fireworks while being covered in foam and bears on the rooftop of a building on the Chao Phraya Riverside. If you are thinking about a year-end trip, please come and have fun together in Bangkok. (https://www.eventpop.me/e/16230)

In addition I will be appearing at Bear-Train’s Lunar New Year Party on February 11th 2024 at the AiSOTOPE_LOUNGE. I hope you will come celebrate with us! I will also be appearing at another event in February that I cannot yet talk about.

John: Sounds like fun!! Anything else you would like to mention?

Naofumi: I want the younger generation of Bears and Cubs who like dance music to aim for GOGO! I think people who can dance for 10 minutes freestyle can make their debut. There are many 6-pack gogos in various countries, but there are still very few BEAR performers. When holding a big event, we often need helper (non-bear) dancers in Japan.

You never know, you might get the chance to dance internationally! I think I will retire in a few years, so I hope that more gogo stars will emerge in Japan by then.

John: That is great advice! We love to encourage big boys to show their stuff. Thank you Naofumi for taking the time to chat. This was great.

Naofumi: Thank you so much!

Be sure to follow Naofumi on Instagram

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John Hernandez

John Hernandez is the Editor in Chief of Bear World Magazine. In addition to bear culture, he specializes in entertainment writing with a special focus on horror and genre films. He resides in New York City with his husband.