Most people know that karaoke was invented in Japan; the word derives from the Japanese for empty, kara, and orchestra ōkesutora, alluding to the use of a musical track with its main lyrics removed. So when in the country you should really take the opportunity to experience how the Japanese enjoy one of their modern “cultural” offerings. Unlike in Europe and the US, where karaoke is most often a public performance (or humiliation, depending on your viewpoint and the abilities of the singer!), in Japan it is more usually enjoyed in a private “karaoke box”, or small room, which a group of friends can rent for a fixed period of time.
We went to one of these establishments in Kyoto. At a reception desk in the lobby we (well, Andrew, as the only Japanese speaker in our group of eight) negotiated the price of a room for two hours. We then headed upstairs to find ourselves in a narrow, very pink room. At one end was the TV screen, round the other three walls low comfortable seating, and in the middle a table on which were two small machines – one for selecting songs and the other drinks. Our price of 2,600¥ per person (based on eight sharing) also included all we could drink, so the latter was as important as the music selection device! There was a wide choice of drinks – beer, plum wine, regular wine, sake and some spirits as well as soft drinks. We ordered via the machine and a waiter would knock respectfully at the door within minutes, carrying the tray.
But to the main point of the exercise, the singing! The machine thankfully had an English language button for selecting and lots of English language tracks as well as Japanese – certainly more than enough to keep us occupied for two hours. As the drinks poured in, the inhibitions fell, and by the end we had not only enjoyed enthusiastic performances of Japanese pop (by Andrew), Elvis (both Presley and Costello, by Chris) and Pat Benatar (by Sue), but had also joined in with some great group numbers such as Hey Jude and American Pie. The two hours were up all too soon and we reluctantly vacated the room and paid our fee back down at the lobby before hailing taxis to take us back to our ryokan.
To hear just how well Andrew and Sue entered into the spirit of karaoke (and how well they sang) check out my short video.
The next morning we were up and out quite early to make the most of our time in Kyoto, and headed to the bus station to catch a bus
Kyoto Station is huge (the second largest in the country, after Nagoya) and as I mentioned in my Transport tip can be daunting to navigate as a traveller. But come back at your leisure, preferably at night, and you will find it an altogether different experience.
The station’s architecture is ultra modern, a real contrast to the historic temples that most people come to Kyoto to see. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but I loved it (I do tend to like modern architecture, if done well which this is). It makes a really bold statement in the centre of the city, and also serves its multiple functions effectively. Transport hub, shopping centre, entertainment complex, hotel – ou will find all this and more within this massive structure.
The station was opened in 1997 to coincide with the city’s 1,200th anniversary. The style is loosely futurist, designed by Hiroshi Hara who also designed the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka. It wasn’t universally welcomed as many thought it was inappropriate for so historic a city and some have blamed it for a recent flush of modern buildings in the city centre.
The statistics give some idea of the scale of this structure. It is 70 metres high and 470 metres from east to west, with a total floor area of 238,000 square metres. The central atrium is 60 metres long and at the west end is an imposing 171 step stairway. This latter is a great place to start your night-time explorations as it is illuminated and (when we were there at least) constantly changing. I haven’t be able to confirm whether this is a year-round feature or linked to specific seasonal events (in our case, Halloween) but do check it out to see whether there’s a “show”. I did a short video of the staircase but unfortunately my camera battery chose that moment to go flat so I wasn’t able to capture as many “scene changes” as I would have liked. But the still photos (photos one and two) give you some idea.
After watching this for a while we headed upwards to visit the 45 metre long Skyway, a sort of suspended aerial corridor which you can walk along for great views of the Kyoto Tower and the city at night. To reach this head to the 10th floor and go through a door to the left of the stairs which leads through a food hall to the Skyway. Keep your eyes open, as we missed this door the first time – it’s easy to not spot the sign to the right of the door or to think you are walking into a restaurant by mistake! And give this a miss if you have a problem with heights as you feel quite exposed up there even though surrounded by glass.
After descending from the Skyway we headed outside the station to investigate something intriguing we had spotted from above, the Aqua Fantasy show.
This is a somewhat odd sight. On the roof of a small shop in front of Kyoto Station is a nightly display in which water jets are lit to look a little like fireworks and are set to music in a synchronised show. It’s a bit corny but fun, and worth stopping to watch if in the area. My flagging camera battery had gained a new lease of life with a short rest, so again I made a little video of the performance.
I read somewhere that these shows take place every evening at 7pm, 8pm, 9pm and 9.30pm. Do check it out if you’re nearby as it offers a different Kyoto experience.
This was our last evening in Kyoto and this is therefore my final tip. Please click here if you would like to go back to my intro page and leave a comment.
Dress Code: Wrap up warm if it's a chilly night as you'll be standing out of doors
Man in the Moon is an Irish Pub that has three locations in Kyoto. I visited the newest of the three pubs, located in Gion, which just opened in early 2013. The pub is tiny, perhaps able to seat 25, but it is friendly and comfortable, and I like the windows that open to the street. The clean establishment was full of young Westerners enjoying beer and conversation.
We sat at one of the small tables next to the window and enjoyed a few beers during the late evening. They have a few Japanese craft beers like Yo Ho Yona Yona Ale and Yo Ho Tokyo Porter.
My favorite of the three pubs we visited in Kyoto.
Tadg's Irish Pub is a great bar in Kyoto's Pontocho district one block west of the Kamo River (Kamo-gawa). This friendly establishment is on the 8th floor of a building overlooking the city and offering a nice variety of foreign and Japanese craft beers.
We only stayed for perhaps an hour at this magnet for Western travelers in Kyoto. I started with a Haneda Syuzan Kaido Amber Ale Beer which is brewed in Kyoto. The amber was warm, and maybe a bit too sweet. When I asked the bartender what I should try next, he wholeheartedly recommend the Baird Beer Suruga Bay Imperial IPA. This was a hoppy, yet delicious and refreshing beer.
Except for some of the decorations this bar made me think of many things but definitely not the continent its name refers to. Then again, I had never been to a pub named Africa with music from Mariah Carey to Whitney Houston and three TVs and a big screen showing soccer, Japanese soap opera, a nature document and something close to CSI all at the same time!
So Pub Africa's a small bar in Kyoto's entertainment district. I ended up there cause we were looking for a place to have a few beers in with an American girl and...well...actually I don't even know why we picked up exactly this place!! But the point is, we were happy with the choice and especially the happy hour specials (almost everything half price!!) so I do recommend. The place was filled with mostly local young people at least around 11 pm when we had to leave. Even the normal prices weren't too high (around 500 Y / $5 US for a beer). Some of the tables were in nice little "caves" - looked pretty cozy =)
Check out the website - there's some more info
Dress Code: Seemed like there's none
This nightclub was very interested with two levels. Saturday night was cosplay night and the staff members were dressed in various furry animal costumes. Mixed crowd and the music was dance, R&B and hip-hop. Sunday was much more dancehall, hip-hop and mega-weirdos.
The foreign guys are very aggressive and will dance/grab/grope you a lot. Japanese girls seem to tolerate this behaviour a lot, but I had to consistently vocalize my dis-interest. ¥1000 for women and ¥2000 for men.
Dress Code: Business Casual
There are plenty of options for nightlife in this city, but to be honest, some are not really to my taste and in other hand, after being out all day I have left little energy to go party at night either. But few good cold beers after dinner was always welcome and that was enough for me.
Bar This Way advertises as an international bar in Kyoto and if you wonder what would be so international about it, than read further. The bar is owned by a Dutchman and its no surprise that Bar This Way has several Dutch beers on their menu but besides that they also have Belgium beers and.. smoothies (Australian), handmade gyozasoup (Chinese) and besides that of course a long list of liquors etc. The staff can speak Dutch (of course!), German, English, Japanese and Chinese!
Dress Code: casual
So you think I will recommend a nightclub, ha? Sorry, buddy! I rather want you to go to the Matching Temple and see the night lanterns! It is so beautiful when they lighted all those lanterns up! It was gorgeous!
Anyway, we went there and took a long walk to the shrine. It was a beautiful walk. It was very invigorating (I needed the walk to lose some pounds!).
We were in the temple around five in the afternoon and ended up walking for about an hour int it's scenic garden. It was getting dark when we were leaving. We were pleasantly surprised when we went out to the main gate because the temple keepers lighted up all the red and white lanterns! The temple was more beautiful at night!
Dress Code: Dress warmly especially when you go to the Temple in the Fall!
From The main hall of Kyoto Station. You can take an escalator to the top. All along the escalator for about 8 stories thereare seating areas and many places for different shows. It was very busy and entertaining the night I was there. The roof also provides an excellent view of Kyoto
This place is pretty small but they serve Red Stripe and play reeeeeeaaally good reggae.. old and new school. The staff is really friendly and the crowd is hip but not tragically hip. The owners of this place throw a GREAT reggae party every Thursday at a club called Metro - definitely ask the bartender at rub-a-dub about it... its worth it
Dress Code: none
There are 2 Sent James Clubs in Kyoto. One in Honten and one in Ponto-cho.
I went to the Ponto-cho one with my friend (who is I might add crazy about jazz). But Im not and you dont have to be a jazz person to come here!
Its a nice, mellow bar. Dark wooden interior. Flickering candlelights to set that jazzy mood.. But the music is played very low - perfect background music!
AND!! They have a terrace overlooking Kamogawa river. Perfect for a hot summers eve! If it should get chilly, they hand out blankets.
The drinklist is impressive with many exciting cocktails. A bit pricy. But worth it!
Mon - Sat: 7pm to 2am
Sun: 5pm to midnight
There's a 600yen cover charge and extra if you want to sit on the terrace.
Dress Code: Smart.
A good selection of international beers, wines, spirits and reasonably priced Irish & European cuisine goes very well with the panoramic views of East Kyoto.
Relaxed atmosphere makes McLoughlin’s Irish Bar a fine choice for both a late night snack and a cold Guinness on a weekend or a glas of wine after work.
6pm - 1am (until 3am on Fri & Sat)
Of course this is only possible during the cherry blossom time. It seemed that half of Kyoto's population gathered in the park on their reserved spaces, picknicking, drinking beer, singing and laughing. At the many stands you can buy snacks, drinks or souvenirs, then find yourself a nice place and watch the beautiful cherry trees and of course the local people enjoying themselves. There is one special willow-like cherry tree in the center of the park which is lit by spotlights, most people gather around this place.
We had an especially nice experience. We sat down next to some women, and one of them asked us some questions (in japanese, of course!). When she had her answer, she turned to her friends and told them what we had said. Then they all looked at us, smiling. Though understanding very little, we had much fun, and they even offered us some really strange snack and a cup of hot shoju.
Dress Code: No dress code
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