Tokyo’s Neighborhoods Transform After Hours
Photo: Brilliantly lit signs in Kabukicho © Sean Pavone | Dreamstime.com
At dusk, Tokyo is transformed. The drab, smog-gray cityscape bursts into color. Neon signs flash and glow, and staid streets morph into a kaleidoscopic wonderland.
By daylight, you will already have come to grips with the sheer scale of this sprawling city. At night, it fragments. Every neighborhood has a distinct ambience. To get the most out of it, it pays to plan your evening in advance. A useful source is the free weekly magazine Metropolis, which provides a comprehensive roundup of what’s on where.
The most popular after-hours districts tend to be close to the major stations. Kabukicho, near Shinjuku Station (the world’s busiest transport hub), is a somewhat seedy area of restaurants, karaoke bars, hostess clubs and brothels. For outsiders, it’s like plunging into the set of Blade Runner.
A great restaurant (especially for beef lovers) is Blackhole. It’s an ideal place to refuel before immersing yourself in the full chaos of Kabukicho. Nagi, in the Golden-gai subdivision of Kabukicho, is a typically tiny establishment with just 10 seats. It’s particularly known for its ramen noodle soups. Bar Asyl is a little bar cluttered with music memorabilia and rocking to music from all corners of the world (the owner writes books about Korean K-pop).
For a more upscale night out, head to the legendary Ginza district. Star Bar is ideal for entertaining business contacts with its impressive range of whiskeys and freshly mixed cocktails. A more quirky option is the Bar Ginza Panorama, which features a working model train set and serves train-themed cocktails.
In recent years, Tokyo evolved into a very LGBT-friendly destination. The Ni-Chome neighborhood in Shinjuku district claims to have the world’s highest concentration of gay bars. Arty Farty is a popular venue for gay men and adjoins the Annex nightclub, which is open until 4 a.m. Kinswomyn is one of the premier lesbian locations, often noisy on weekends, more laid-back on weeknights.
Wherever you go, bear in mind most establishments impose a “table charge,” which can range from $2–10 per person. Some bars also add an automatic service charge of up to 20 percent.
If you’re intending a wild night out, be sure to have the name and address of your hotel written in Japanese to show the taxi driver.