Kabukicho is a small district within the Shinjuko Ward where there are several notable museums, the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens, and the important Meiji Shrine. This is the notorious Tokyo Red Light District that was originally named for the important kabuki theater that was to be built there after the destruction of World War II. The theater was never built, but the name was retained. Nonetheless, the Shinjuku Nightlife District, does boast a number of very good theaters, including some that put on kabuki performances and some that even have Broadway musicals.
Today, Kabukicho as the Tokyo Red Light District is famous around the world—although a bit less tourist friendly than the legendary De Wallen District of Amsterdam. Over the last few decades, both Kabukicho in Shinjuku and De Wallen in Amsterdam have undergone a number of campaigns to clean up their seedier sides, with the Shinjuku Nightlife District being subject to numerous efforts since turn of the 21st century. Much of this was due to the city’s bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games (which was ultimately awarded to Rio de Janeiro in 2010). Many of the seedier spots were closed (technically, prostitution is illegal in Japan), there were crackdowns on Yakuza gang inspired crime, and numerous closed circuit cameras installed. Ultimately, these steps have made the area safer, and a tourist who follows common sense precautions is generally quite safe. As in any large metropolitan city, women should not wander the streets alone after dark, be aware of purses and wallets, and generally exercise caution.
There is plenty to see and enjoy in the Shinjuku Nightlife District even during the day. There are many good dining places, and one of the local specialties is tonkatsu, a deep fried breaded pork cutlet served with shredded cabbage and miso soup. Prices are fairly reasonable due to the fierce competition caused by so many restaurants. At night, however, you will be able to find hundreds of bars and night clubs. A new feature is the techno nightclub, and there are several of these here. There are also many gay bars and clubs.
The Kabukicho area is easily accessible by subways and trains. There are shrines and temples located everywhere throughout Japan and Tokyo, and Kabukicho is no exception. Here you will find the Hanazono Jinja Shrine, which dates to 1648 and the Edo Period. It is a small, but lovely shrine and an oasis of tranquility among all the neon lights and nightlife. It’s only about a ten-minute walk from the Shinjuku Station. One of the district’s main events is the Torinoischi Harvest Festival held in November when a miniature shrine is paraded from the shrine around the streets of the district to the accompaniment of music.
The fairly blatant Tokyo Red Light District of Kabukicho is not for all Western visitors, and many who want to experience the city’s vibrant nightlife during their vacation will head to the Shinjuku or Shibuya districts, both of which attract a a more upscale and less rowdy crowd.