Night Out in Shinjuku, Tokyo
Shinjuku is home to the red light district in Tokyo. There are no two ways about it, that is where go for the ho's. Believe me when I tell you that I did not know this before I stayed there. That being said, it is kind of fun to watch the guys getting nervoud trying to approach one. While Japan loves its sex, there is still the repressive about actually doing it.
The area itself has three sections. Don't worry though, because you can still find a McDonalds on every corner!
Shinjuku East: This is where most of the shopping is done. Check out My City or one of the many other stores that line the area. Be warned though, if you have to walk by the station you will get flooded with people.
Kabuki Cho: This is where you go to see the pretty ladies that charge for their services. Not for the kittens, but interesting to see once.
West Shinjuku: The largest concentration of Skyscrapers in Tokyo. It is the business district and unfortunately where I had my office. Hard to get to, because it is a bit of a walk, and addresses are impossible to find.
Other Areas: Not to be missed is Takashimiya Times Square. This is a shopping complex which is more modern than the old My City. The top three floors are places to go to to have fun.
Shinjuku Park. If you know what Cos-play is you will enjoy the sights in the park. If you don't know what it is, bring a camera. You will see people in Costumes looking for other adults who are similarly inclined, to play with (thus Cos-play).
Dress Code: In most places, it depends where you are going. But in Kabuki Cho, the red light ladies don't care about dress code.
With the Times Square (Takashimaya) shopping mall as the focus point, and lots of street shopping, small restaurants, a few food stalls, some pachinco parlours, some clubs, this part of Shinjuku is very much alive, day and night. Take a slow walk and take in the sights and sounds of Shinjuku.
I explored the streets nearby my hotel with a couple of my colleagues. We walked passed the Keio Plaza area and through some alleyways, and there were a number of ramen, sushi, tempura and beef rice shops. There were also a few nightclubs, a large shop selling cameras, computers & electrical accessories and a pachinko parlour called Aladdin and an AM-PM shop (like a 7-11).
If you ask me, yes, I felt it was safe enough and if I had been alone, I would have still explored the area on my own. No one hassled us or bothered us.
Tip: If exploring on your own, do bring a map along, because it is easy to lose your sense of direction and there aren't many English signs.
At Kabukicho,every kind of adult entertainment awaits you. From strip clubs and hostess bars to pachinko parlours and Love Hotels. (Although prostitution is illegal in Japan, enforcement of the law is almost nonexistent, and nowhere is there talk of a Bangkok-style cleanup.)
A unique store that I came across had bright neon lighting and looked just like a large record shop,but on the inside, instead of music CDs, it was filled with photographs of women, men and addresses & contact details of clubs and types of clubs.
My tour guide explained that this was a recent development, and it offered new type of service, basically as a one-stop information centre for those looking for certain types of adult entertainment.
The one in the picture carries the interesting name of Hot Men’s Box (HMB). For men (or women) who don't have time to shop around, this would be just the place to go!
Did you notice that the HMB lettering looks rather suspiciously like HMV records's lettering? hmmm
Dress Code: Act out your fantasies: The environment at the club could be a mock office, a classroom, a doctor's office. even, sexual harassment on a subway car! (caveat: all information here is strictly from the internet and not from my personal experience!!)
The Kabukicho district is Shinjuku’s adult entertainment district. It consists of only a few streets and alleyways, but it's tightly packed together with adult clubs of all sorts & specialties.
Apparently there are kyabakura, or cabaret clubs which offer lap dancing & Esthe clubs and pink salons, which offer sex massage. There are also imekura, or image clubs which involve all manner of sexual role-playing. Don't know much about those places, but if it takes your fancy, please check them out and let me know! : )
While most of the entertainment targets men, at a certain street, there were a number of clubs catering for women. (see tip below for more exciting details!)
Apart from these clubs, there are tiny ramen outlets and sushi bars, pachinko parlour and the infamous Love Hotels. The names of each are unique, creative and sometimes appear to have no meaning in the English language. For example, I came across a love hotel with the strange name of Hotel Labio.
Dress Code: As we were there rather early (before 9pm), & it was a rainy night, the streets were rather empty, but there were men in business suits standing under their umbrellas in front of each club in a rather proprietory manner. I also noticed a couple of young women wearing school-girl like uniforms with ultra-short pleated skirts.
There was also another group of ladies, obviously out on a smoke break, wearing knee length white faux-leather jackets with large buttons down the front (remember Emma Peel of The Avengers?) with tall leather boots, and peeking out from underneath I caught a glimpse of their long, filmy undershirts in hot red. I also saw a lady in traditional kimono, waving her friend goodbye before disappearing back into the club.
In a nutshell, anything goes!
There is something for everyone at Shinjuku's Kabukicho area. Apart from the usual entertainment for men, there are streets that are exclusively for women. Some clubs have photos of the available men and next to each, there is a number, with No.1, being the Most Popular Guy of the club, No. 2 being the next most popular and so on.
On the outside of one such club, my female colleague and I jokingly picked one of the men from the photo display and coincidentally picked the same guy! (a rather cute Japanese guy in his late 20's, clean-cut, with glasses, slightly studious looking), only to be informed by our guide that the picture was that of the club owner, who was a multi-millionaire and quite famous in Japan! hahaha (I guess we were lucky that it was early yet and the club was still closed! LOL)
Dress Code: No jacket required!
Shinjuku is one of the most interesting places in the world at night. And I can say that without having even entered a bar there. The crowds of people wandering through the streets and the bright lights make Shinjuku a visual feast that cannot be passed up. If you are hungry, there are plenty of fine restaurants -- I ate at a sushi place there that was delicious. If you are thirsty, there seeem to be plenty of great bars that I can't wait to try. And, if you want to see naked women, there seems to be plenty of that, too. Just find an African tout and he'll lead you to his favorite place! I'm sure of that, since they hounded me constantly being a guy alone when I was there in 1998.
Mostly, I like wandering around the crowds and lights of Sinjuku. When you think of Japanese nightlife, this is the image that come to mind!
After we’d spent some time wandering around Shinjuku’s brightly lit streets we decided it was time for another drink. We had spotted the narrow frontage of this bar and thought it looked welcoming so decided to give it a try. It was quite an interesting experience! The aim here was to recreate a British pub in the heart of Tokyo and I imagine for Japanese visitors it could feel very exotic and foreign. Certainly there were plenty of them there – the small space was almost full and mostly with Japanese drinkers though there were a few Westerners too. In appearance it has managed to create a fair impression of a UK pub (we were chuffed to see old pictures of Northumberland on the walls) and they have also replicated the custom of ordering and paying for your drinks at the bar. But it was very odd to be greeted at the door, after descending the short flight of steps to the basement, and seated as if we were in a restaurant – “Table for two? Over here please”!
Once settled at our table (which we were lucky to get) we found that there was a decent selection of drinks including some British ales, naturally, but also local ones. Chris had a Kirin while I was persuaded by the pub’s Jack Daniels promotion to try a cocktail based on their Tennessee Honey whiskey which was rather nice. We also shared a bowl of mixed nuts. I can’t remember what we paid but it was reasonable.
We had really enjoyed our visit here so when we returned to Shinjuku after our weekend in Nikko we were keen to come back. Although the weather was terrible, the worst of the rain had passed by this time so we grabbed our umbrellas and headed out. It was a Sunday evening and the place was as busy as before but luckily not totally packed, and again we were welcomed and shown to a table.
I had developed a taste for Japanese whisky so sampled two of the four on the menu, deciding that the Yoichi was my preferred one. Chris again had local beer (Kirin) and we had a lovely last evening in Japan in this cosy spot.
We had already eaten but the pub does a range of British pub food dishes (sausages, fish and chips) though I don’t know how authentic these are, and it also has some Japanese food I think.
But there is more to Shinjuku than nightlife, as a walk in its skyscraper district reveals.
Dress Code: Smart casual or even just casual is fine!
On our return to Tokyo at the end of the tour we had dinner with most of the group and a farewell drink at the hotel. Some had to get up early the next day for flights home, but Chris and I were staying in Japan for a few more days and our train to Nikko wasn’t until mid morning. The night was young and the bright lights of Shinjuku were calling! So we went out to explore and take some photos.
This is one of the most vibrant night-life areas of the city, and was a real contrast to Asakusa where we had stayed at the start of our trip – and even more to beautiful Kamikochi where we had been for the previous two nights. We wandered through the streets near our hotel and took lots of photos of the neon lights and all the activity. In some ways we could have been in any major city; in others, it was uniquely Japan.
I was especially intrigued by the narrow alleyways north of the station, known variously as Omoide Yokocho (which means “memory lane”), Yakitori Alley or more crudely, P**s Alley. They are lined with a myriad of the tiniest restaurants I think I have ever seen, most with just a counter and a handful of stools. Big bowls of noodles (ramen, soba, udon) bubble on the stoves and yakitori skewers are lined up on the grills. Fragrant steam rises on the air to tempt diners. Unfortunately we had already eaten so we just strolled through and took in all the sights.
A less appealing area for many will be Kabukicho, Japan’s largest red light district, which lies to the north east of the station. When we passed here I spotted several men obviously out to tout for business so we gave it a miss! It’s probably safe enough with so many other people around, but there were plenty of other streets to explore and bright lights to photograph.
Dress Code: No need to dress up if you’re just walking the streets and looking for photo opps, and even if you plan to go in a bar or restaurant, those we saw were not fancy.
And talking of bars, you could do worse than visit the cosy 82 Ale House
Right in the heart of Tokyo, Shinjuku is a must see if you are visiting for the first time. The first place you are likely to see here is the station which is an experience in itself, but probably best avoided in rush hour (apparantly 3 million people pass through every day!).
Leave the station through the east exit and you will walk out into the shopping area with lots of shops, huge screens and flashing neon signs everywhere. It looks best at night. The shops stay open late and in the area called Kabukicho there are many Karaoke places, arcades, hostess bars and Pachinko parlours to choose from. If you are looking for somewhere to eat or a bar they are either in the basements or on the top floors.
If you look around you can find some places to get away from the hustle and bustle. Right near the station under a dodgy looking subway will take you to an area known as "*** ally" which is a couple of narrow allyways crammed with small yakitori places (not as bad as the name suggests). Also if you walk along the main strip on the left hand side of the road coming from the station, keep an eye out for a sign to Shinjuku Bunka Center. There is an allyway here that is lined with bamboo which is a bit unexpected. Also around this area is Golden Gai that is a street lined with old bars and the Hanazono Shrine that is a very peaceful spot at night (walk along the bamboo lined ally to get there, it is about half way down on the right).
Shinjuku is where all the train lines seem to meet. Easy to get there and wander around seeing how young and old Japanese like to spend their nights away.
Many cinemas and shops opening late at night. Kabukichyo is the red light district nearby.
With over 1.5 million people passing through it's train station every day, this central hub offers something for everyone.
The town that never sleeps is a study in contrasts: Tranquil Shinjuku-Gyoen park looks up at dazzling modern skyscrapers. Theaters stand beside Kabuki-cho's sleazy dens of sin. Densely-packed discount shops bid for business with delux department stores, while high-rise restaurants look down on yakitori shacks.
The world's busiest train station is the perfect place to start your tour. A visit during morning rush hour will trample any 'Japanese are polite' myths Trev and Tracy Tourist might treasure. Elbows out, head down, charge for that seat. At night, drunk salarymen steal the spotlight as they scramble for their last trains while dancing around platform pizzas, i.e. piles of puke!
To get out of the madness take the "East Exit" for the high street shopping area and the red-light district of Kabukicho, the "South Exit" for the Takashima Times Square Shopping Center and the "West Exit" for the skyscraper and business zone.
Dress Code: Anything goes here as the Japanese people don't really care what you wear when you're out. :)
The stretch of Yasakuni dori just to the east of Shinjuku JR station is abuzz with restaurants, cafes, karaoke bars, pubs, pachinko palours and game arcades. There is something for everyone young and old. The variety of eating establishments is simply mind-boggling. However, do note that not all eating establishments have English menus or window displays of the food. Unless you can read Japanese, you may have problems ordering. But not to worry - there are numerous restaurants in the food alley of Shinjuku Station and on the top floors of Odakyu Shopping Center. The side streets on both sides of Yasakuni dori are full of these eating establishments, bars and pubs.
Dress Code: Casual
Shinjuku Nichome is an area a couple of blocks wide, serving as the focal point for anything and everything gay (and male)
in Japan. Its almost like a little country inside the country. All over Japan, bored boys dream of running away to Nichome (and all over Nichome, bored boys hang around waiting for Mr Right to finally put in an appearance).
However, for foreigners, much of Nichome is a closed world. Japanese-style bars, usually the siae of a living room and holding a handful of regular clients only, are particualrly appealing to most travellers or expats (or many younger Japanese).
Foreign friendly spots include: Advocates, a street cafe/bar on the main drag that attracts a stylish, expat-heavy crowd drinking outside on the footpath.
GB - a dank basement bar popular with white guys and the men who love them.
Dragon-opposite GB, a cramped danceclub that also screens porno videos!
If you really want to dance, the best place is probably Ageha (see separate entry) on one of their bimonthly gay nights.
To find any of these establishments, your best bet is simply to wander into Nichome and stop the first English-speaking person you see!
Dress Code: Clubs in Japan are exceptionally casual about clothes, but some are extremely rcist. The happening and funky "Word Up" Bar for example allows white people, but only if they speak Japanese and has caused controversy with its rather xenophobic stance (a sign on the dor says "this bar is for Japanese and Asians") A shame the guys who hang out there are so cute!
Also be aware that many bars do not allow, or discourage, women. Another shame.
Kabuki Cho is the Red Light District. If you dont know this, you may not even notice. Or maybe that is just me. I walked around this area that is supposed to be soapboxes, stripclubs etc. But mostly I saw restaurants, noodle shops, some ice cream, and gambling. So I can't give you my impression of the sex scene, but if you land late and want something to eat, or to play patchinko latenight, this is the place.
Dress Code: anything