Shibuya: Tokyo's best night out
Diners enjoying small plates, sake and beer at Himonoya in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. (Lottie Davies)
Shibuya Crossing. Friday night. Dusk has fallen, pedestrian lights turn green and a wave of humanity converges in the middle of the five-way intersection before dispersing again in all directions. The junction’s streets lead to towering department stores, music venues, dance clubs and all-you-can-eat dessert cafés, all catering to the district’s young.
Teetering on stilettos, immaculately made-up twenty somethings tap on mobiles to coordinate the night's meeting place: Karaoke-kan. Location confirmed, they head off for a night of singing and drinking in a private karaoke box. Three sharp suited guys toting briefcases stride by before ducking into a dark, convivial izakaya (Japanese pub serving food), Gonpachi. Greeted with shouts of "Irrasshaimase!" they are ushered to a table, sit cross-legged and get down to business: pitcher of beer, perusal of picture menu. Summoned by the buzz of a tabletop button, a waiter appears and kneels with handheld computer, taking the order for edamame (soya beans), barbecued chicken skewers, sashimi (raw fish), braised black pork and seaweed salad. Now the banter begins as social straits are loosened.
Nearby, the old-school Nombei Yokochō (Drunkard's Alley) welcomes escapees from Shibuya overstimulation. Many of these pre-WWII shacks by the train tracks are so small that their full house of six patrons literally rub shoulders. Bar owner Genji Araki enjoys receiving foreign patrons at his place, Non. "They're mostly expats. Foreigners tend to order normal things... like beer." Shake things up by ordering a local drink, such as a shōchū (rice or potato spirit) cocktail or a black-tea liqueur.