Especially in the big cities a night out is common after work on any day of the week and not restricted to the weekend. In this article we will introduce your main nightlife options in Japan, including the best locations for food, drink, song, and dance.
Many a night out will start with an informal invitation to join your coworkers for dinner at an izakaya. Izakaya (居酒屋 — literally “shop with alcohol”) are sometimes referred to as “Japanese pubs” in English or “taverns” (in olde worlde English) but in reality they are simply casual restaurants where a group of friends can sit around a bench, order cheap drinks and a variety of tasty (but equally inexpensive) dishes and have an enjoyable chat. Popular items you can fill up on are kara-age (deep fried chicken), eda-mame (salted green soybeans), sashimi (raw fish), yaki-tori (grilled chiken), agedashi-dofu (lightly fried tofu) and salads. Typically a group will order a range of food items that can be shared and then also share the bill at the end of the meal. Many izakaya also offer nomihōdai (飲み放題 — “all you can drink”) deals for a set period of time such as one or two hours and these can be a good way to save money too.
Bars are easy to find and come in all shapes and sizes. In the bigger cities you can find British or Irish style pubs, which cater for homesick expats, but are perhaps not the best places to meet the locals. Tachinomiya (立ち飲みや — “standing bars”) are cheap, cheerful and frequently crowded but naturally don’t have any seats. Specialist craft beer bars are spreading throughout Japan and are easy to find in the big cities. The best bars though, are the hole-in-the-wall places, often tiny, these are small independent businesses with décor and music determined by the owner’s own personal tastes. Finding one of these in your area is a great way to get to know some local people and practice your Japanese conversational skills. Golden Gai in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district is one of the most famous bar-hopping areas where you will find lots of unique little drinking dens full of colorful characters.Be aware though, that many bars in Japan will ask you to pay a cover charge in addition to paying for your drinks.
Many a drinking party is followed by a merry session at a “karaoke box”. At this type of establishment you can book a private room for a set period of time and then settle in for your own private music party. Songs can usually be reserved using a touch pad, and these usually have English language options as well as plenty of English songs on the menu.It’s a lot of fun and a great way of letting off steam. You can of course sing whatever you like, but if you learn a Japanese song or two, you may well get a standing ovation.
For those who like to party till dawn a club is the place to be. Japan has a thriving club scene catering for a wide variety of musical tastes. Usually clubs start filling up around midnight and then stay open till 5.00 or 6.00 am — just in time for your first train home. Clubs generally do not have strict dress codes so simple sneakers, jeans, and T-shirts should be ok to gain entry. However, if you have tattoos you should keep them covered up as these are frowned on in Japan. Top clubbing districts in Tokyo are Shibuya for a younger scene and Roppongi which has a more mixed and international crowd. In Osaka you can find clubs in Shinsaibashi, Amemura and Umeda. Clubs in Nagoya are mostly located in the Sakae district.
Bowling and Other Light Sports
A more genteel pastime than all-night clubbing perhaps, but bowling is a very popular nightlife activity in Japan. If you are not in the mood for dancing, singing, or drinking then this could be a good choice for a group activity. You can often find bowling facilities at general amusement centers that have other activities on offer such as billiards, table tennis, and darts. Round One is one such well-known “sports entertainment center” that has branches all over Japan where you can find all these activities, as well as arcade games, and karaoke all under one roof.