TRIPPING IN TOKYO: Dionysian Districts of the Neon Nightlife

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By Benjamin Pratt | March 18, 2016

Tokyo Nightlife

The wonder of Tokyo nightlife: Gazing in awe at the neon nightlife skyline of downtown Shinjuku. Tokyo, Japan.

Tokyo is a city that never stops and rarely sleeps. The highest population of any metropolis in the world means there’s something popping around every corner at every hour of day, and Tokyo nightlife and entertainment is certainly a testament to this. It’s one of those rare cities where you can find atmosphere buried beneath train stations in underground malls or ten people drinking in a small street-side anachronistic tavern at midnight on a Monday. But the reality of this city’s notorious nightlife – the type of phantasmagoric hallucinations you’ve come to expect from movie magic – lies deep inside these hypnotizing districts, crammed and crowded with enough neon-lights, virtual reality and lubricating social mechanisms to give a robot a hard-on.

Shinjuku

Robot restaurants, roaring life-like Godzilla signs, tiny alleyways full of bars, tourists hustlin’, crowds bustlin’ and ramen guzzlin’ can all be found in Shinjuku – easily the most sprawling of the Tokyo nightlife bar areas. Packed full of mini nightlife ecosystems its home to the famous Golden Gai district (hundreds of tiny bars crammed together in a blatant disregard for space, comfort or fire-hazards, where tourists pay out the butt to sit on their butt) and Tokyo’s red-light district: Kabukicho. Here you’re gonna find a shit-tonne of host and hostess clubs, love hotels and nightclubs no matter what alley you stumble up. It’s the city’s sleepless town and whether you want food, drinks, sex or a humble game of darts, chances are you’ll uncover it in Shinjuku. A true testament to the Tokyo nightlife.

Shibuya

Tokyo nightlife. Shibuya, Japan.

Deeply entrenched in the reserved fetishes of Shibuya, Tokyo.

As soon as you exit Shibuya station you are confronted by huge flashing screens atop looming buildings, blinking neon lights and what seems like a million people crossing the road at the same time. It’s irresistible and awe-inspiring for the buzzed backpacker. Battle across the “busiest street crossing in the world” and you’ll find winding, hilly streets hosting five-stories-and-a-basement full of bars, strip joints, dart halls and izakaya.

If you’re in a group, don’t be shy in walking up a few flights of dingy stairs to a bar with a catchy name. If you’re alone or in a couple maybe stick to visible places that look busy or with people streaming in and out, the problem with bars on the fifth floor is they are often empty, and it can be really awkward to walk into an empty bar, then turnaround and walk straight out again.

There’s also plenty of izakaya, karaoke, titty bars and strange posters of male models trying to lure girls in the club, as well as plenty of opportunity to dig up all the city’s reserved fetishes in the multitude of underground sex stores. As far as Tokyo nightlife goes, you’re unlikely to get hassled a lot in Shibuya so it can be a fun place to wander ‘round for a boozy night, meet fellow backpackers or out-going Japanese folk.

Roppongi

Some of our best nights/worst hangovers on Tokyo nightlife adventures have been in Roppongi. There are literally hundreds of bars to explore and all the shady nooks and crannies in between. A big heads up: beware of tourists in this area. Not that tourists in themselves are bad, but they bring a lot of heat. Y’know what I mean? It can get pretty brutal out there with all the beefy African hustlers pimping their titty bar to every white dude who wanders past. It’s easily one of, if not the, seediest spot in Tokyo, though it is an adrenaline-fuelled playground pumping with outta this world experiences. Just keep your wits about you, man.

While these districts make a great circuit for a Tokyo nightlife booze cruise there are some obstacles you’ll have to manoeuvre. Firstly, if you are the fist-pumping, party-pinging, club-going type traveller then you are going to have a very expensive night, my friend. Almost every club in Tokyo inflicts substantial pocket pain on its punter by way of a hefty cover charge, usually ranging anywhere from $5 (understandable) to $100 (completely ridiculous), and for that you can maybe expect the goodwill of some mediocre live music, a wristband and a bowl of mixed nuts. Some places – including strip joints – will offer you one or two drinks free with your entry fee, but you have to choose between predetermined drinks and those kinds of places – especially the strip joints – are just glamourised (and secretly seedy) places to have a drink. Our advice: stick to the dive bars and dart halls and pick up some sneaky chu-hai while wandering between venues. It’s the safest, cheapest and best bet for a good time without any hidden costs or sneaky ulterior motives.

Sometimes the problem with drinking in the Tokyo nightlife atmosphere is there is so much choice you can easily fall into the trap of feeling like there’s always something bigger and better around the corner, so you just end up wondering ‘round til you lose your buzz. But remember: the grass is greener where the glass is cheaper, and generally that will be the convenience store anyway, so there’s bound to be plenty of pit-stops on your stopping-all-stations ‘round the town booze cruise.

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