Japan has some great nightlife options to offer and the big cities all offer have a wide range of options, from trendy nightclubs to private karaoke, Japan’s nightlife caters to everyone’s taste. For the best experiences head to Tokyo or Osaka, home to some of the world’s most colorful nightlife scenes. Tokyo is sometimes referred to as the city that never sleeps because of the busy streets full of neon and bright sign boards after midnight. The metropolitan city is known as one of the biggest political and business centers in the world and also offers some of the best entertainment and excitement. Tokyo’s best nightlife areas are Shinjuku, Shibuya, Roppongi and Ginza. Here you can find hundreds of banging nightclubs, cozy izakaya and quirky karaoke parlors.
On the other hand, Osaka is known as the culinary capital of Japan located in the Kansai region, with a nightlife scene just as vibrant as Tokyo. Osaka people are known to be welcoming, outgoing, and have a good time. The main places to go to party in Osaka are concentrated around the Dotonbori area, the colourful bar and restaurant district along the river.
Learning about how to enjoy the nightlife in Japan prior to your visit helps you make the most of your time in these urban cities at night, when you can discover some great hidden popular spots as well. Here are some recommendations for you to enjoy the nightlife in Japan just like locals!
- Karaoke – カラオケ
- Game Arcades – ゲームセンター
- Japanese Izakaya- 居酒屋
- Night views
- Night clubs
- Geisha district
- Bar Hopping Tours
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Karaoke – カラオケ
Karaoke always comes first to mind when Japanese people think about how to spend their time while having a great moment, with friends or without. It has gained popularity around the world as a part of Japanese culture that is enjoyable for everyone. The word karaoke derives from kara (empty) and okesutora (orchestra), meaning an empty orchestra or a musical track with no words. It is hard to walk around any area in Tokyo without finding karaoke shops which are now literally everywhere, just look up for the billboards or signs with カラオケ (karaoke) written on it – see picture below!
The basic system is quite simple: pay for a private karaoke room and just sing! They usually have a drink service that is included in the fee. You can also order light meals such as ramen, pizza, French fries that are directly brought to your room by the staff.
Most of the karaoke shops are open 24 hours, so you can sing the night away here. The fee does sometimes get a little higher during the night time, but it is still affordable. Some of the karaoke machines have scoring systems that automatically analyze your song so try to get the highscore! It’s a fun experience and you can compete with your friends. Some shops also offer a special private room which is designed for those who want to enjoy singing by themselves.
Recommended areas for karaoke: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Dotonbori
Average costs (per hour): ¥1,000 (include free drink service)
Business hours: often 24 hours
Game Arcades – ゲームセンター
Game halls of arcades in Japan are not some fun activity only for kids, but also adults enjoy these places as they continuously introduce new game machines which could be challenging for everyone! The Japanese game arcades offer a great mix of old school video games and the latest developed ones. The gaming centers are generally open until midnight and a popular place to relieve some work stress or just to have a good time. There are the well known claw machines where you can try to grab stuffed animals or character figures from popular manga or anime. Or try your luck and fetch some famous snacks and candies as a prize. There are also video games like Pac-Man and fighting games that attract boys and men, and don’t forget to try the Purikura machine, a shiny photo booth where you can take small sticker photos and edit them with cute stamps and colorful pencils before printing!
One of the highlights that you shouldn’t miss at game halls in Japan is Taiko Drums, a popular game where you have to move and play to a musical pace accurately. Taiko is a traditional Japanese instrument that consists of one big drum and two sticks. You hold the two sticks in your hands and hit the drum according to the music playing! There are a number of songs that you can choose from, ranging from the latest hits in Japan to famous anime songs or even classical music. Once you hit the drum, the accuracy (whether you hit the drum at the perfect timing) is automatically analyzed and reflected in your score! It might seem easy at the beginning, but it can get very difficult to keep up. Be warned, it is also quite addictive.
Recommended areas for gaming arcades: Akihabara, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Dotonbori
Average costs (per hour): ¥1,000 – 2,000
Business hours: 10am – midnight (some are also open 24 hours)
Japanese Izakaya- 居酒屋
An izakaya is a Japanese style bar where you can enjoy drinks and a variety of food. There are countless number of izakaya which include both smaller privately owned ones and chain locations run by big companies. The basic concept is quite similar to pubs or bars that you can find back in your country, but here are some differences that you should know before getting an izakaya experience in Japan!
1. Variety of food choices at izakaya
Izakaya generally have a wide range of food options that includes yakitori, edamame pizza, fries, pasta, sashimi, and much more! It is not a space only for drinking but also where people can enjoy the food to satisfy their appetite. The food is often shared within the group and it helps not to get drunk too much too soon, which often happens when you drink a lot without anything to eat.
2. Take off your shoes at Zashiki style room
There are several types of rooms and tables available depending on the Izakaya, but make sure that you take off your shoes in case you get a Zashiki type room with Tatami flooring. Some locations have western style tables and seats which allows you to enjoy your time without worrying about what to wear!
3. Order at the table and everything is delivered!
At an izakaya, you don’t need to get to the counter to order your drinks or food. The menu is prepared on the table and the staff comes to take your orders. To get the staff their attention scream ‘SUMIMASEN‘ out loud and the staff will come to you swiftly. This might feel strange at first, but in Japan this is the common way to let the staff know you are ready to order. You will see many other guests doing the same! Recently, some izakaya have introduced a convenient ordering machine on each table from which you can conveniently order your food and drinks by selecting the items on the screen.
4. ”All you can order” system – nomihoudai & tabehoudai
It probably sounds unfamiliar to some of you, but “all you can order” is a system adopted by most izakaya around Japan. There is the option of nomihoudai (drink) and/or tabehoudai (food) and it literally means you can order as much as you can, within the set time. The time is usually between 2 hours to 3 hours on average. The drink options range from beer to highballs, but can also include soft drinks.
Besides sumimasen, there is one other important word to know before heading to the izakaya: KANPAI! Kanpai means cheers in Japanese, a word you’ll hear a lot at the izakaya!
5. Nomikai: Japanese Drinking Culture!
Nomikai refers to the Japanese drinking culture which is considered important to build a good relationship especially with colleagues or work relations. Japanese people go drinking with their colleagues or regular clients after work and an izakaya is the place they often choose as their destination. You will see groups of people dressed in suits enjoying drinks at the izakaya with the purpose to strengthen their relationship, but the obvious (widely-accepted) end is getting drunk. You may have heard the stories about the Japanese salary man passed out on the streets on Friday nights in the popular drinking areas like Ginza and Shibuya and you will most likely come across them. Nomikai is also a popular event for university students and young adults too!
There’s often Nijikai which means the second round following the first place. If you want to fully enjoy the drinking culture, remember things get more interesting in the second round.
Recommended areas to enjoy izakaya:
- Shinjuku (Golden-gai, Kabuki-cho, Omoide Yokocho)
- Shibuya (Nonbei Yokocho)
Average costs (per hour): ¥3,000 – ¥5,000
Business hours: typically between 5pm and 1am (varies depending on the shop). In the famous areas like Tokyo’s Golden Gai in Shinjuku you’ll also find izakaya that are open until early morning.
Tokyo boasts a number of skyscrapers, but they are not only for business offices or creating the metropolitan landscape. Some of them have great observation decks from which you have an epic panoramic view of the giant city full of lights and illuminated landmarks.
Tokyo City View is a popular night view spot situated on the 52nd floor of Roppongi Hills Mori Tower. Located in the heart of Tokyo, it offers two observation decks: the indoor one standing 250 meter above sea level and the open-air one which is one floor higher. It is also known as a great stargazing spot which regularly hosts a special event to observe the beautiful stars with telescopes.
Dotonbori is a busy area full of local restaurants and a variety of shops located in Osaka. This area is also widely known for the stunning townscape created by a number of sparkling signboards and neon lights that light up the busy streets along the Dotonbori River at night. You can easily find a number of tourists taking pictures of the iconic sign boards including the Glico running man. It is also home to a wide range of entertainments and tourist attractions such as Osaka Shochikuza Theater which regularly holds Kabuki performances! Visit Misono Building in Namba, within walking distance from Dotonbori, to get a taste of the underground night scene of Osaka.
Recommended areas: Roppongi, Shibuya, Dotonbori, Namba
Tokyo is also known for its numerous bustling nightclubs, where you can party all night long. Roppongi and Shibuya in Tokyo are home to some of the biggest and best-known nightclubs, with international artists included in the line-up. If you love clubbing, make your way down to these popular places and dance the night away. Roppongi typically attracts a higher number of foreigners, which is also reflected in the higher entry and drinking prices. Shibuya is a place where the youngsters flock to for a fun night out.
You might know Geisha from the films or books, but there are some spots where you can see geisha in Japan. If you are looking for a unique nightlife experience, visit a geisha district. Kyoto is a famous place for geisha and there are five Kagai, which is the area where geisha live and perform. Gion and Pontocho are the most recognized kagai in Kyoto which attracts many tourists. In Tokyo, there are several spots to see geisha as well, and the big kagai are Asakusa, Nihonbashi, Mukojima, Kagurazaka and Shimbashi etc. It is often difficult to see the performance especially for tourists by themselves, so we recommend you to book the tour with an affordable price beforehand.
▶Geisha Encounter: Cultural Experience at Chaya in Tokyo
There are also festivals and events held occasionally where you can often see the performance for free.
Bar Hopping Tours
We offer some fun bar hopping tours in Shinjuku and Asakusa in Tokyo, and Pontocho in Kyoto to get to know the Japanese nightlife even better!
- Shinjuku Bar Hopping Tour
Explore the largest drinking town in Tokyo and visit some of the recommended bars here with us.
- Asakusa Local Food & Bar Hopping Tour
Join our evening tour that helps you discover great local bars around the Asakusa area.
- Kyoto Pontocho Backstreet Food & Bar Hopping Tour
Introducing you to some of the local’s favorite bars at the best drinking area in Kyoto.
Japan is a great country with endless options to enjoy the nightlife safely and for a good price. Immerse yourself into the buzzing nightlife, full of neon lights and catchy tunes and enjoy the night time just like locals. There are many more options than we introduced, but these experiences will certainly help the night owls make the most of their time while the major tourist attractions are closed! Kanpai!
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