Most people think of New York as the "city that never sleeps," in which case Tokyo might be the city that never dies. However, whether you're out for dinner in Shinjuku are want to throw back a few highballs at an Izakaya, or are in Roppongi and want to dance until the trains start running at the crack of dawn, understanding Tokyo nightlife can be more complicated than learning to say "cheers" in Japanese (It's kanpai, if you're curious). Here's everything you need to know about nightlife in Tokyo, in a list so organized you can even read it while tipsy.
Tokyo's Top Nightlife Districts
Roppongi: If nightclubs are the sort of nightlife you're after, Roppongi is the place to be. Popular among the expat crowd, and attracting some of the best DJs in the world, Roppongi is arguably the least Japanese place to go out in Tokyo, but is conversely the most cosmopolitan. Roppongi is one of the most exciting neighborhoods of Tokyo during the day time, which continues at night.
Shinjuku: Shinjuku (and, in particular, the neon-bathed streets of the Kabukicho red light district) has something for everyone. Sing at dozens of karaoke bars, pair booze and bites at izakaya pubs, or find companionship at host or hostess clubs. Shinjuku is also home to Ni-Chome, which is Japan's largest gay nightlife area.
Shibuya: Shibuya is something of a midpoint between Roppongi and Shinjuku, with several traditional nightclubs you could find anywhere in the world, as well as traditional Japanese izakaya and of course karaoke. Conveniently, many nightlife establishments are near Shibuya Station and the famous "Shibuya Scramble" pedestrian crossing.
Other Tokyo Nightlife Areas: Although more famous for Michelin-star dining, art galleries, and opulent fruit emporia in the basement of department stores, Ginza has its fair share of bars and clubs. Additionally, if it's a well-mixed cocktail you're after, major Tokyo hotels like Tokyo Station Hotel, Andaz Tokyo and Park Hyatt Tokyo (of "Lost in Translation" fame) are great places to get your drink on.
The Best Bars in Tokyo
Tokyo's bars are known for making some of the best drinks in the world, whether you're craving a locally-inspired cocktail made with sake or a classic old fashioned. Here are some of the best:
- Jeremiah: Arguably the best cocktail bar in Tokyo, this old-timey spot in Shinjuku serves both classic drinks and innovative mixes using Japanese ingredients like matcha green tea power.
- Propaganda: With delicious drinks, as well as karaoke, pool and darts, this popular spot in the heart of Roppongi definitely lives up to the hype.
- Rainbow Karaoke: Although neither the largest nor the most famous karaoke bar in Shibuya, this spot earns high marks for its large rooms and expansive menu.
- Oak Bar: Like the early 20th-century facade of the Tokyo Station Hotel itself, Oak Bar mixes up a concoction of tradition and modernity that's intoxicating—literally and figuratively.
- Lupin: Established in Ginza in 1928 and a favorite, throughout the ages, of Tokyo's literati, Lupin is a great place to go if you like to drink in a place with soul and with a unique story.
If you want to go out without a particular watering hole in mind, set your GPS for the Golden Gai or "Piss Alley" (Omoide Yokocho in Japanese), both in Shinjuku.
The Best Nightclubs in Tokyo
Going to a nightclub in Tokyo can be an investment, due to high cover charges and drink prices, and because the party often doesn't start going, in earnest, until 2 or 3 a.m. Here are some Tokyo nightclubs that will definitely be worth your while:
- Mogambo: Famous for its high energy, full shot glasses and enthusiastic staff, Mogambo in Roppongi is the perfect place to get the party started—or to keep it going.
- Kujira Entertainment: A Tokyo nightlife institution that blends performance with personable service, and high-tech entertainment with low-tech mixology and pounding beats, this might be the best nightclub in Shinjuku, overall.
- WOMB, Shibuya: If you just want to dance, and are a fan of EDM, House and/or Techno, head to this popular Shibuya nightclub for some of the most danceable beats in Tokyo.
- Club Six: Its name notwithstanding, Club Six is home to three distinct sections, which feature a variety of music and people. It's also famous for its annual Halloween party.
- Dragon Men: The center of Tokyo's gay scene, this is a great place to start if you're looking for an LGBT night out in Tokyo and don't know where to begin. Conveniently, many other top Tokyo gay bars and club are right in the area (Ni-Chome), so you won't have to go far to explore more.
A great Tokyo nightlife strategy, if you're still unsure, is to chat with locals at the first nightclub you attend and try to strike up a friendship. Often, they'll invite you to hop to another club (or several) with them!
Things to Do in Tokyo at Night (Besides Drink and Dance)
Much of Tokyo's nightlife scene revolves around drinking or dancing, but even sober people and wallflowers can enjoy Tokyo after nightfall. Here are some examples of how:
- Practice Your Night Photography: Whether trying to find the best perspective on the famous Tokyo Tower, watching the skyline light up in front of Mount Fuji from a viewpoint high in the sky or capturing street life in Akihabara, Shinjuku or Shibuya, Tokyo is a night photographer's dream. Don't have a tripod, remote or a full-frame camera? Night time is also a great period to shop for photography supplies at one of Tokyo's several BIC Camera locations.
- Have a Fancy Meal: Whether or not the restaurant you find has a Michelin star, Tokyo is one of the best places in the world for haute cuisine, Japanese or otherwise. Whether or not you drink/dance afterwards, a splurge-y meal is one of the best ways to kick off a night on the town in Tokyo.
- Sightsee: This might seem strange, on the surface, but hear us out. For example, while Senso-ji temple in Asakusa can be crawling with tourists during the day, it's practically deserted at night. Although this strategy doesn't work for parks and museums, which have designated opening hours, many sacred sites and scenic spots are open 24/7.
- Visit Shinjuku's Robot Restaurant: The so-called Robot Restaurant is a polarizing experience, to put it mildly. We won't comment on the merit of this place, other than to tell you that it's one of the most popular things to do in Tokyo at night, right in the heart of Shinjuku no less.
- Explore Futuristic Odaiba: An artificial island in Tokyo Bay, Odaiba is one of the weirdest places in Tokyo, whether you pose for selfies in front of the fake Statue of Liberty (or a monument to the robot Gundam, if you prefer) or visit the teamLab Borderless digital art museum (before 9 p.m., or on some nights, 10 p.m.).
Visiting Japan during cherry blossom season? Several hanami spots in Tokyo offer nighttime "illuminations," including Chidorigafuchi moat and Koishikawa Koraku-en garden. The same sorts of displays happen in late November and early December, when autumn colors peak in the Tokyo area.
Nightlife in Tokyo and Japanese Law
Tokyoites live by a "work hard, play hard" mentality, but they also do both in a smart way. Japan's laws are some of the strictest in the world, particularly when it comes to issues such as drunk driving and drug sales or use—the country doesn't hesitate to deport foreigners who fail to abide by these laws. When in Japan, it's always a good idea to err on the side of caution, especially when alcohol and any other substance or potential vice is involved.
You can expect Japanese laws to be stricter than those in some Western countries, with a few exceptions (you can drink on the streets if you'd like, for example). Don't get too crazy when going out in Tokyo; and don't even entertain the idea of doing anything that would be illegal at home.