Mini guide to Tokyo’s nightlife
The Shinjuku district is a blaze of colour even in this neon-loving Japanese city. (Lottie Davies)
Life in and around the skyscrapers of Tokyo moves at a well-oiled clip, with an energy that borders on the manic, and never more so after the sun has set and the neon is switched on. Discover the best of Japan’s capital after dark.
A night at an izakaya (a pub that serves food, with a selection of sake on offer) is a quintessential Tokyo experience. Ippo is a mellow little place with a counter, a few small tables and a sign outside in English saying ‘fish & sake’. Daily menus change to match the best of the season’s ingredients (00 81 3 3445 8418; 2F 1-22-10 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku; from 6pm; mains from £6).
Take a seat at a low table or log bench at Hayashi above the Lotus Palace restaurant in the smart district of Akasaka. The 100-year-old feel is no accident – fittings come from an old farmhouse in the Takayama mountains. Kindly staff grill yakitori (chicken and vegetable skewers) over hearths set into your table (4F Akasaka Sanno Kaikan, 2-14-1 Akasaka, Minato-ku; closed Sun; dishes from £3, yakitori set £10).
As the pictures of Uma Thurman in a yellow jumpsuit may remind you, Gonpachi is the place that inspired the Lucy Liu sequence in Kill Bill. It isn’t your typical neighbourhood izakaya, but the décor, with plenty of wood and hanging lanterns, is undeniably traditional. Book early for a booth on the second floor overlooking the crowd below, or head up to the third floor for sushi (1-13-11 Nishi-Azabu, Minato-ku; tempura plate £10).
Bars with a view
Towering over the city from the 52nd floor of the Park Hyatt, the New York Bar serves magnificent views of the twinkling lights below, complemented by strong drinks and live jazz. Film fans will recognise it as the bar where Bob and Charlotte meet each night in Lost in Translation (3-7-1-2 Nishi-Shinjuku; cocktails from £14, evening cover charge £17).
Senso-ji in the Asakusa district, with its pagoda and shrines, is Tokyo’s best-loved temple. Spend the day here before crossing the Sumida River to the Asahi Super Dry Building on the other side to pay your respects at a different altar in the Asahi Sky Room, serving Asahi brews. The venue itself isn’t particularly noteworthy, but the view is, especially at sunset (00 81 03 5608 5277; Asahi Super Dry Building, 1-23-1 Azumabashi, Sumida-ku; beer from £4).
Manga artists Leiji Matsumoto designed the Jicoo Floating Bar, a spaceship-like cruise ship that doubles as a bar with a clubby vibe in the evening. At 8pm, the boat leaves Hinode pier for the island of Odaiba in Tokyo Bay, with its 1990s vision-of-the-future skyline filling the big viewing windows. The ship continues to shuttle back and forth until 10.30pm, docking at either end on the hour and half-hour (Thu-Sat; admission £19, cocktails from £8).
Only in Tokyo
Tokyo’s biggest pop phenomenon takes the girl group prototype and expands it far beyond the five-girl standard that proved successful for the Spice Girls. AKB48 has not 10, not 20, but over 60 members, and they perform in shifts at their own theatre in the heart of the Akihabara district (8F Don Quijote 4-3-3 Soto-Kanda, Chiyoda-ku; tickets £15 for women, £23 for men).
There are 30 over-the-top, imaginatively themed private karaoke rooms at Lovenet, ranging from the more modest Arabian Suite to the Aqua Suite, whose drawcard is the hot tub from which guests can warble their favourite tunes. Order food and drinks via intercom to keep the vocal chords well lubricated (3F, Hotel Ibis, 7-14-4 Roppongi, Minato-ku; private suite from £30 per hour).
Over 300 tiny bars are crammed into Golden Gai, a small block of alleyways east of Shinjuku station. It’s an atmospheric vision of raffish pre-boom Tokyo. Although most of the bars, perhaps seating just six people, cater to established customers, you can try Araku (G2 Street), Albatross (5th Avenue) or La Jetée (3rd Avenue) – all bars that welcome English-speaking newbies (seating fee from £2.50).
Where to stay
Sawanoya Ryokan is a great budget find in expensive Tokyo. Situated in the quiet district of Yanaka, it has friendly staff and all the typical ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) hospitality you’d expect (2-3-11 Yanaka, Taito-ku; from £80).