Japanese Nightlife

Japanese nightlife is something most travelers want to experience, at least for a night. With nightlife in Japan, there's the good, the bad, and definitely the ugly. In more recent times, the youth of Japan have taken center stage. Though the glitz and glamor of Tokyo have long overshadowed other cities (it is the showpiece for nightlife), the social scene has been steadily growing across the country. Japanese clubs can now be found in abundance in every major city along with bars, discos, and hostess clubs, a particular favorite of many.

One of the top things to do in Japan is to get out on the town at night. It is a completely different world after the sun sets, sometimes almost shockingly so. In Tokyo, the breadth of nightlife options available is astounding. There isn't one hub of activity either—bars, clubs, and discos are spread out all around the city. The huge range of clubs and bars each have a distinct clientele, prices, and atmosphere. The best known nightlife in Tokyo is found in Roppongi, Shibuya, Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho, and Ginza. A walk around these areas before deciding on where to head for the night is a good idea. Soak in each area's atmosphere before deciding what's right for you. Beaming neon lights, and hoards of people are the common denominator.

Though Japanese clubs are extremely popular, the most preferred option for getting out on the town are regular bars. Both Japanese-style and Western-style watering holes are most common, attracting tourists, expats, office types, and students. Bars serving yakitori are called yakitori-ya, and are very popular. There are plenty of topless and erotic clubs, massage parlors, and sex shows. Tokyo's Kabuki-cho neighborhood is home to many of these places.

Nightlife in Japan is a diverse as it gets. Live music is another alternative to just sitting around and slamming a few drinks back. There are rock shows, jazz music, reggae music, and other kinds of entertainment easily found in Japan's nightlife guides. Some western visitors are surprised, even shocked, by regular Japanese practices and prices. Drinking is permitted on the streets almost anywhere. Beer is sold through vending machines. Cocktails and shots easily cost double what they do in North America and other Westernized nations, yet the droves arrive in numbers. Some Japanese clubs exhibit really off-the-wall themes, so don't be too surprised.

Exploring the options in Japanese nightlife could easily cost a small fortune, with common mandatory "table charges" at many cocktail lounges and bars. This is also called a "snack charge," or in Japanese an "otsumami," and indeed you'll get a small portion of finger food. This practice is common in cities aside from Tokyo as well, including Nagoya and Osaka. Always ask about additional charges as they are common in many establishments, especially hostess bars. In larger cities, Friday is the main night out on the town. Friday showcases nightlife in Japan like no other night does. There is no set closing time. Some bars open around 5 p.m., attracting after-work crowds, and some open at 5 a.m., for the morning-after diehards. There's a dizzying choice for the middle of the road.

When pairing dining with Japanese nightlife, sticking to one area is a good idea since taxi costs are high. From some airports, it can cost upwards of $200 just to get into the city! Tours of the best social spots reveal a culture so unique and vibrant there is simply nothing that compares. Sticking together in a group is best, and staying wary of Western types luring tourists into Japanese clubs—there is usually something shady going on. Come time to go home, the last train heads out into the suburbs at midnight in Tokyo. If you miss that, you'll have a costly taxi ride or will be waiting until 5:30 a.m. to catch the early train home.

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