At first glance the sheer magnitude of Tokyo's sprawling railway and subway system can be a little intimidating — and by a little I mean a lot. However, have no fear, it is a lot easier than you would initially expect, even if you do not speak a word of Japanese. Huge maps and signs adorn the walls over the machines where you purchase your tickets, one bank of machines is in Japanese and another in English. By knowing where you want to go and finding it on the map, it is easy to see which color line(s) to take and then from there have an idea how much change to put into the machine.
Near the entrance to every station will be banks of ticket machines, one set in Japanese and the other in English. Over each row of ticket machines is a gigantic map laid out in the matching language that will have all the color-coded routes on there as well as the names and locations of each stop along those lines.
My first time standing there I was no clue how the process worked but rather than stand around confused or asking for assistance, both of which would have made me look like a helpless gaijin, I just started pumping ¥100 coins into the machine there with a purpose, just bing-bing-bing, one after another. Looking back, I cannot tell you if it was a conscious or unconscious thought but I certainly approached that ticket machine like I was a man on a mission. Whether that was for my own personal mental comfort or to project the image that I knew what I was doing to the other machine users nearby.
Finally I paused to look at the machine and saw numbers increasing in value on the screen but no station names. Taking another glance at the map I realized you are supposed to follow your desired route to find the end fare and that is what I was supposed to put in. Another quick scan of the map revealed that I had accidentally inserted nearly ¥600 too much. The ticket that I needed was only ¥320 but I had deposited ¥900.
End result: the machine printed me a ticket good until the last stop of that line, far past the third or fourth stations that I need to get off at. No refunds were provided though, at least not from that machine. I'm sure customer service could have helped but ehhh, it all just sounded like too work of a bother for only a few dollars. Plus in my mind that was an acceptable sacrifice to learn the system and have a clear reminder of how the process works. After all I only spent ¥580 more than necessary, or about $7 USD. Of course Tokyo is so expensive that I was already spending on average $400-500 USD a day if I factored in the rent on my flat, which was roughly $160 a day. Plus when it is a $80-90 USD cover charge just to get Mayu and I into the club and $10 a drink after that, well you tell me now what exactly am I going to need that $7 for? I learned from the experience though. Three months later and that was still the only time I had purchased the wrong ticket. Fool me once hehehe but never twice.
As I was saying, examine the map to determine your current location and then find where you would like to go, trace your stops and determine what the trip will cost. Once you know that feel free to begin pumping in the appropriate number of coins. The machine will spit out your ticket, just grab it and head for the platform.
Upon arrival at your desired destination disembark and head for the subway gates with an attached paper ticket slot, which are usually located in the middle section of the reader bank (the outer devices are for Suica cards). If you failed to pay the full fare the machine sounds an alarm and the two swinging flaps close shut a la those classic saloon doors from the old American Western.
That would be a classic gaijin thing to do, so I would advise against it. I heard it happen to someone one day, the alarm at least, but I was in a hurry and had no urge to see how that process works. Having already learned my lesson once from that ticket machine a few weeks back, I came to understand the ways of the JR lines and knew that they would never get the best of me again. So why bother learning about something when I will never ever need that piece of information?
The vast majority of local residents and commuters have Suica cards that can be preloaded funds that allow them to bypass the ticket machines and head straight to the rail platform. After disembarking head towrds the walk-thru machines on the outer edges, as these are the ones on that have scanners for the Suica cards.
Mayu let me use her Suica card for my final month in town and sure enough it is nothing more than a debit card or toll tag. With each swipe of the card after disembarking your remaining balance is flashed on a small screen, making it a breeze to keep track of your funds. You can also check the balance at any time using the ticket machines. Once your funds have are close to depleted simply swing by the ticket machines near the entrances of every station. After inserting your rail card you can add as much or as little money to it as you would like.
The Suica card is a golden pass for everything around Tokyo but still serves a purpose in several other prominent Japanese cities and regions. It is accepted on all JR trains in Sendai, Niigata, Sapporo, Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima, Nagoya and Shizuoka. However in Fukuoka the Suica card is accepted on trains, subways, and even a few selected buses.
On-board the railcars television monitors highlight the route as well as the upcoming station with visual maps in addition to speaking aloud, once in Japanese and the following time in English. Simple enough.
The JR Yamanote Line is the main one that goes in a circle around the heart of Tokyo, including many notable districts such as Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Roppongi, and numerous others. Over a dozen other lines are easily accessible via the Yamanote, making practically every destination around Tokyo quickly reachable.
First time in Tokyo or on the Yamanote? I suggest riding the full JR Yamanote circle, which you can see in the center of the subway map. It only takes an hour, give or take two minutes, but covers 34.5km and passes through a grand total of 29 districts in 9 different wards. It is not the most exciting but will give you a great initial view of the city and help illustrate the varying aspects and distinctions between districts.
For more info on the districts: In Tokyo, The District Makes The Difference
Tokyo has had trains running through the city since the 1880s so the modern JR Yamanote line may not be quite as new as you think — it actually dates back to 1956. As a matter-of-fact only earlier this year did JR get approval to build its first new station in over 40 years! Although construction is not expected to commence until 2014, it has already been decided that the new addition will be placed in the middle of what is currently the longest unbroken stretch in the loop, the 2.2km 3-min span between Shinagawa and Tamachi stations. This will increase the total number of stations on the JR Yamanote line from 29 to 30.
Currently an estimated 3.7 million passengers ride the single-lined JR Yamanote every day of the week, making it one of the busiest railways in the world. That is for one single line with a mere 29 stops, which means the Yamanote is also arguably the most transversed single line rail system in the world. By comparison, the infamous NYC subway carries 5.0 millon passengers a day but that is spread out over a whopping 26 lines and 468 stations. London Underground provides daily service for 2.7 million people on 12 lines and serves 275 stations.
Shinjuku Station is the most popular stop on the JR Yamanote line, as well as the single busiest rail station in the world as certified by Guinness World Records. As the main rail traffic hub between central Tokyo and the western suburbs the station offers nearly three dozen connections and sees nearly four million people pass through it on a daily basis — but even those stats are five years old. Shinjuku district itself is a commerical powerhouse and home of the Tokyo government, making this area one of the busiest and most important districts in all of Tokyo.
How were your experiences aboard the Japanese rails? Share your comments below!
Wow. That's all I can say. You cannot even begin to imagine what the clubs are like in Tokyo. They are absolutely incredible, like nothing we have over here in the west! It figures that as much as the residents of Tokyo love to drink, they should have some damn cool places to do it.
For starters, the biggest difference is the sheer size of the clubs there. Every single one is designed to span several floors, usually with different themes and different styles of music for each. Rather than have one DJ per floor there were usually multiple, sometimes as many as six or seven DJs will constantly rotate out while all sorts of lasers flare and animation is projected onto the walls, plenty of fog machines working at full blast, countless girls dancing up on various stages...but that really does not even begin to describe the scene or do it the least bit of justice.
Let's do this instead: Picture the best rave you have ever been to here in the States or even in Europe, you know back years ago when they were GOOD. Next take everything from it, the lights, sound, fog, lasers, music, the essence, every single last thing except for the plethora of designer drugs. Now drop that mass of madness into the middle of a skyscraper in the heart of Shibuya, let's say spanning across the third thru sixth floors, and well then my friend you have yourself a bonafide Tokyo club.
Most of these clubs are located either a couple floors below-ground or a couple floors above-ground, occupying a few of the lower-level floors of a commercial high-rise. All the floors will be linked by a bank of elevators but also a set or two of stairs. There is just so much going on and because often each floor is distinctly different in both decoration and music, the best way to experience it all is to keep moving around and mingle your way through one floor before heading on to the next. And repeat.
These amazing clubs do come with a price, however. The minimum cover charge you'll ever see is ¥2000 (roughly $25 USD; i.e. crappy show) and although most are between ¥3000-4000 ($35-48 USD), I did occasionally see some shows advertised with covers of ¥4500-5000 ($55-60 USD). Its not all bad though. Most of these clubs hand you a token after paying your cover, which you can then redeem at the bar for one free drink. That way you won't feel so bad about just spending $90 to get you and your girlfriend in LOL. ;)
The tokens themselves are fairly simple, usually nothing more than pieces of plastic or coins with the club name or logo on it. I brought back several of these with me actually...now if I could figure out what I did with them...
One important tip though, at least for all you alcoholics: Through "painstaking" personal research I found out that if you display your free drink token up front, often the bartender will pour you a weaker drink, whereas not revealing it until your drink is fully mixed ensures a perfect pour. You're welcome!
Here is a handy feature and something which I am shocked is not more common elsewhere around the world, especially in regions with temperatures that vary significantly throughout the year. Every decent club in Tokyo that I explored is equipped with an enormous bank of small rental lockers immediately past the security checkpoint. Simple and traditional gym lockers, they are only big enough for a purse, a jacket or two, and maybe a set of shoes -- perfect for when the missus wants to wait till the last minute to slap on her heels or ditch them before the long drunken walk home. The cost is only ¥100 but offers a full refund if you make it back out in less than three hours. (Plus since you left early and didn't close down the club that night, you've saved even more LOL)
Not only does that make things more convenient in the winter by not having crowds in think bulky jackets trying to squeeze into an elevator pass through a thick crowd on the dance floor, but it also will help prevent anything from being stolen, misplaced, or even drunkenly left behind -- something that we have all been guilty of at one point or another. The solution is cheap, effective, helpful in multiple ways, and given how easy it is to install and implement, I am surprised that more places do not have a similar system in place.
They actually have numerous staff members who walk around occasionally looking for those super drunk girls, who are passing out while leaning against the walls or trying to lay down on the floor. The employees proceed to take them all out to the front entrance, where the entry staff is located. Out there is one guy whose sole duty is to take care of and watch out for the ladies that have had too much to drink and are completely FUBAR. He is proudly armed with roll of small black plastic bags, package of paper towels, even rubber bands to tie their hair up for them if they should happen to start heaving.
Can you ever imagine that back in the States?!? You would never see anything close to it! No one, regardless of their salary, would want to be the "throw-up guy" stuck taking care of the sick chicks all night, every night. It would just never happen. I believe that most Americans are too grossed out to help a stranger throw up in a small black plastic bag, let alone tie a knot in it for them and then toss it into the nearby throw-up can. Yes, that's right, there is a trash can for throw-up only.
But those guys at the clubs in Tokyo are all over it and I'll be damned if they don't always do it with a smile! Even if the boyfriend showed up to check on his lady, like I did one night when I noticed Mayu had been gone for too long, that proud little throw-up man would not let me help, insisting he had everything under control and to 'go back to the dance floor until I was ready to claim Mayu and leave.' It was fantastic! I pondered it for all of about half a second before saying thanks and making my way back past the lockers and towards the elevators. After all, might as well let Mayu rest and get through the worst of it downstairs while I reclaimed the buzz that I'd lost a few minutes before while hunting for her.
Now is that amazing or what? Have you ever seen or heard of service like that before? Where I come from, and everywhere I have been, its just unheard of to be that nice to strangers. But that is just one of the hundred reasons that Japan is my favorite country!
Would you accept a job as the throw-up man? Share your thoughts below!
As I mentioned before the clubs don't open until 11pm or midnight so most do not start to get fully packed until 2am or 3am. But that last start frequently keeps the clubs open until 6 or 7am. As long as it is profitable, they won't close until the party is over. You can literally dance, drink, and party until the sun comes up. How fantastic! I would advise everyone who enjoys an active nightlife to check out the party scene in Tokyo for a week or a weekend -- but do it while still young so that you can actually hang!
While exploring Shibuya I managed to find dozens of phenomenal clubs, cool little bars, amazing restaurants, and excellent places to shop. By day I got in my shopping and saw the cultural sights, but come nightfall I entered drinking mode. Every night I would hunt for a new club or bar to test it. I was not always successful, sometimes I would be lured in by previous haunts, but either way I got a lot of drinking done! A multitude of those venues are on the map below, for anyone who might be visiting Ebisu/Shibuya in the future.
While experiencing the nightlife of Tokyo be sure to also visit some of the big clubs in Shibuya, which are utterly amazing and very much worth investigating, despite their high cost. Club Atom is one of the clubs that I definitely recommend. We went there almost every weekend while Jared was in town visiting. It is located six stories up in this skyscraper, covers three independently-themed floors each with multiple bars, and is always packed full of cute local women! Club Harlem right next door is nice as well, but harder to get into on the weekends. The list goes on and on...
And of course you cannot forget my favorite area Nonbei Yokocho, which translates as "Drunkard's Alley" or "Alley Of The Drunkards." I stumbled upon this place online and had to check it out for myself. Turns out that Nonbeiyokocho is just a few feet north of Shibuya Station. It is comprised of two parallel alleys that are home to around 50 miniature bars, usually only about 8 or 10 feet square with nothing more than four or five bar stools and a single bartender inside. Check out my photos from Non to get a better idea of just how small these bars really are.
There are a couple that are unfriendly to gaijin (durogatory term for a foreigner), but you will know those instantly as they will either not even serve you or hand you one beer but say that is all because "they are closing" or some similar excuse. If that should happen to you, no worries, just walk down to the next one and try again.
Nonbei Yokocho became like a second home to me while I was there. If I ever had a night where I was not sure what to do, I would start it at Non and before you know it the night would manifest itself. All of the best friends I made and best times I had originated from Nonbei Yokocho.
For even more clubs check out the map below. Also marked cpl good restaurants and a universal ATM.
Yep, the clubs over there are something else. Check out my article on the different locations around Tokyo for a better idea of just how much Tokyo varies from district to district. Below is a snippet from my old drunken ramblings on the original Shibuya Daze blog, provided for your amusement or, more likely, complete lack thereof:
...for any of y'all that have ever been to a rave, that is probably the closest thing I can compare it to -- but even that does not do justice to these kick-ass clubs. Let's try something: Imagine a rave, complete with a DJ, light-show, and fog machine, but now up the number of DJs to half-dozen and through in more lights and more fog machines. Take away all the people doing drugs and replace it with people getting drunk; Not too drunk though, most people here know when to stop. Now, still imagining, forget all the drama and arguments / fights that come up at raves and replace those with people all smiling, laughing, and telling stories. Now, still imagining, throw in a few huge bars offering great drinks at great prices, staffed with cute Asian ladies that refuse to take tips, and don't forget to add a couple more cute Asian women dancing up on the bar or stage. Then take this image that you have in your head, and put it on steroids, to really knock it up another few notches. That, my friends, is what all the clubs over here are like. It is unbelievable to say the least.
And, you know, while I was writing that I realized something else: in all the bars and clubs that Mayu and I have been to, we have not seen so much as one dispute or argument between people, not the slightest thing, whether it be between couples or just friends. Does not happen here. There is no drama whatsoever. Its the exact opposite of clubs back home, where there is always some drama or a fight about to break out, usually due to some drunken idiot. I am still amazed that with a city this size, and with that many people partying, that nothing happens. At least on the surface.
Have you partied in Japan? Still thinking about a job as the throw-up guy? Apply below!
The best way to learn about a country is through firsthand experience with some of the things which make that location unique, whether food, festivals, transportation options, or even lodging. Japan, being a country that is simultaneously rich in history but also at the forefront of modern technology and innovation, certainly offers up a seemingly countless supply of unique facets that make visiting the country a must.
Just because Japan is constantly looking towards the future does not mean they have forgotten about the past. Quite the opposite, in fact. One of the things I love most about the country is how they have smoothly and perfectly blended the old with the new, seemingly with such ease. In the big cities it is quite common to see ancient temples and historic structures preserved amongst the modern highrises and transportation systems.
Speaking of history, what better place to start than with one well-known type of lodging that is exclusively associated with Japan -- the ryokan.
These are probably the most iconic of all the Japanese structures. If you have ever seen a classic Samurai movie you will immediately recognize these structures, known for their paper walls and sliding doors. While the cost and demand of space has made them less common in many of the big metropolises, they are still a big hit in the countryside, especially in regions near hot springs. You can usually count on them to have spectacular views of the surrounding landscape as well.
Half the fun is in the lodging and room itself, but the other half is in the food. Do not pass up any of the meals offered at your ryokan. The food is always amazing and presented ever so elegantly!
In my opinion one of the best cities to stay in a ryokan is Takayama, long known for its skilled carpentry. Not only is the area gorgeous but also filled with traditional streets and shops that are a joy to stroll through, even if you are not planning on purchasing anything.
Another [in]famous type of lodging in Japan is the love hotels, sometimes referred to as fashion hotels, which can now also be found in other Asian countries. For those of you who have never heard of these, this will blow your mind. These hotels will be located only in areas with lots of late night clubs and offer luxurious intimate rooms available in "rest periods" of one to three hours or, for an increased price and provided it is after 10pm, the entire night.
The rooms all have widly different themes but are all done up exquisitely to make you forget where you are and give the happy couple a few hours in paradise. Think of it like a brief stay in a luxurious Vegas suite. However you tend not to spend much time absorbing your surroundings, except in the final few minutes before leaving.
They are very discreet as well. Rather than booking a room like at a normal hotel, at the love hotels there is a screen with pictures of each of the themed rooms. If the room is available then its picture is illuminated; If not it will be dark.
No worries about having to make eye contact with a judgmental hotel clerk either -- the front desk is more like a movie theater ticket box. You pay through a small slit in a heavily-fogged glass window.
Believe it or not, these places are incredibly packed, at least when I was there back in 2008 and 2009. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays, if it is past midnight good luck finding an open room at one of the nice love hotels.
Many parts of the big cities offer what is referred to as capsule sleeping, and it is exactly as it sounds. The hotels are full of double-stacked pods and offer a very unique form of no-thrills lodging. You literally rent out a six-foot rectangular cube, crawl in and pull down the drape.
These are mostly geared towards over-worked or inebriated businessmen who missed the last train home, although a 2010 news article reports that due to the ongoing recession some capsule hotels are reporting that up to 30% of their guests are unemployed or underemployed and were renting capsules by the month. I know that sounds exciting, but don't count on renting one just yet; they are very uncomfortable and I did notice that some have a tendency to discriminate against gaijin, immediately saying they are fully booked or some similar excuse. Even towards the end when I went back with my Japanese girlfriend, she tried to get me in for a night but still without any luck.
While this may not be that different from any other country, I spent the bulk of my time in Japan in a flat I rented in Tokyo. There were many upsides to having a fully furnished apartment but probably the biggest was being in amongst the locals, right in the heart of the action. It is not like staying at the Hilton, which you can count on being full of traveling businessmen and tourists -- precisely the types of people I try to avoid during my adventures.
With very distinct and diverse districts and wards in Tokyo, it took a considerable amount of research for me to determine where I wanted to call home during my leave of absence from the cubicle life. I chose Shibuya, a ward that is home to several noteable districts including Harajuku, the fashion capital of the world, Yoyogi, famous for Yoyogi Park and the Meiji Shrine, and Ebisu, proudly referred to as the area Tokyo locals love to live. And at the center of it all was the aptly named Shibuya district, a shopping hotspot during the day and party mecca come nightfall. That is why I was really there ;)
I had expected to interact with my neighbors more, but it turned out they all worked and were quite reserved, as is the Japanese way. Regardless, having the flat to bring new friends from the bar back to and otherwise slip into the same life as the local Tokyo residents, that made all the difference in the world. That and the fact the flat came pre-wired with super highspeed wifi, which was convienent even though I hardly made use of it. Oh and can't forget about the maid, which came by once a week.
To top it all off, my key was waiting inside of my mailbox, which was located on the main facade of the building next to the front door and accessible via a code I had been given prior via email. (No need to deal with any bothersome staff.) And when I checked out a couple months later? Simply returned my key to the mailbox.
Shame I don't have better pics. Browsing my remaining photos it was surprisingly hard to find pictures of it and not people...but back then I was just partying and living for the moment, not thinking about being a travel blogger.
Have you experienced these or any other different/unique forms of lodging during your travels? Tell us about it!
Tokyo (東京) is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan and ilocated on the eastern side of the biggest of Japan's 3,000 islands, Honshu. Home to 36.9 million people, it is not only the most populous city in the world but also the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, as well as the home of the Japanese Imperial Family. This great city is comprised of 23 special wards, each of which governs itself. One of those wards is Shibuya, the inspiration and namesake of my original site, Shibuya Daze, which would eventually become the HoliDaze.
The famous (and busy) Shibuya Crossing
Each of those wards are in turn divided into separate districts, many having a dozen or more. But the Shibuya ward, the one I chose to call home for a couple months, is the only one that also includes a district of the same name. I found that normally when there is talk of Shibuya, it is usually referring to this particular district and not the ward as a whole. It is one of the busiest of the districts, crammed full with people, stores, restaurants, markets, hotels, arcades, even soccer fields atop at 20- and 30-story skyscrapers.
Not only is Shibuya one of Tokyo's most colorful and busy districts, but the ward as a whole is also birthplace to many of Japan's fashion and entertainment trends. Most of the area's large department and fashion stores belong to either Tokyu or Seibu, two competing corporations. In addition there is also a very prominent nightlife in Shibuya, yet another factor in making this the most popular area of Tokyo among the younger generations.
Japan's oldest and finest beer
The other primary districts of Shibuya are Daikanyama, Ebisu, Harajuku, Hiroo, Higashi, Omotesando, Sendagaya, and Yoyogi. Ebisu (pronounced 'yebisu'), the area where I had my flat back in 2008-09, is proudly referred to as "the area Tokyo locals love to live." It is conveniently located next to Shibuya and was — believe it or not — founded and developed around the Japan Beer Brewery. Yebisu Beer, introduced in 1890, has long been a local favorite. There is even a famous beer brewery and museum and tasting bar you can visit. I did. Fun stuff.
Ebisu is also home to many quirky restaurants and bars, but without the late night intensity and noise of Shibuya; in other words, it is perfect to come home to. Top it off with trendy neighboring communities like Daikanyama and Hiroo, which offer high-class boutiques, vintage stores and hip patisseries all within easy walking distance from Ebisu station. And there is also Yoyogi, home to one of the largest parks in all of Tokyo, Yoyogi Park.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
The special wards (特別区, tokubetsu-ku) are 23 municipalities that together make up the core and the most populous part of Tokyo, Japan. They vary greatly in both area (from 10 to 60 km²) and population (from 800k) plus some are expanding as artificial islands are built. Setagaya has the most people, while neighboring Ota has the largest area. For the full list of wards and districts, see below.
Eventually, as I catch up on my writing I hope cover a good chunk of these areas.
|The Wards||Kanji||The Districts|
|Adachi||足立区||Ayase, Kitasenju, Takenotsuka|
|Arakawa||荒川区||Arakawa, Machiya, Minamisenju, Nippori|
|Bunkyō||文京区||Hakusan, Hongo, Yayoi|
|Chiyoda||千代田区||Akihabara, Iidabashi, Kasumigaseki, Marunouchi, Nagatachō, Ōtemachi, Yūrakuchō|
|Chūō||中央区||Ginza, Hatchōbori, Kachidoki, Kayabachō, Nihonbashi, Shinkawa, Tsukiji, Tsukishima, Tsukuda|
|Kita||北区||Akabane, Ōji, Tabata|
|Kōtō||江東区||Aomi, Ariake, Etchūjima, Fukagawa, Kameido, Kiba, Kiyosumi, Monzennakachō, Shirakawa, Sunamachi, Tōyōchō|
|Meguro||目黒区||Jiyugaoka, Meguro, Nakameguro|
|Minato||港区||Aoyama, Akasaka, Azabu, Hamamatsuchō, Odaiba, Roppongi, Shinbashi, Shinagawa, Tamachi, Toranomon|
|Nerima||練馬区||Hikarigaoka, Nerima, Ōizumi|
|Ōta||大田区||Den-en-chōfu, Haneda, Kamata, Ōmori|
|Setagaya||世田谷区||Karasuyama, Kinuta, Kitazawa, Setagaya, Tamagawa|
|Shibuya||渋谷区||Daikanyama, Ebisu, Harajuku, Higashi, Hiroo, Sendagaya, Shibuya, Yoyogi|
|Shinagawa||品川区||Gotanda, Osaki, Shinagawa|
|Shinjuku||新宿区||Ichigaya, Kagurazaka, Ōkubo, Shinjuku, Takadanobaba|
|Suginami||杉並区||Asagaya, Kōenji, Ogikubo|
|Sumida||墨田区||Kinshichō, Morishita, Ryōgoku|
|Toshima||豊島区||Ikebukuro, Komagome, Senkawa, Sugamo|
Despite all being part of the metropolis that is Tokyo, the districts here are more akin to a couple hundred small, separate, and unique towns squeezed right next to each other. Each one comes with its own distinct atmosphere and feel in style, shopping, and businesses. Many vary greatly from their surrounding neighbors and have evolved into areas specifically known for one or two things.
One of the most internationally well-known districts is Harajuku, the fashion capital of the world. If you are a sumo fan, Ryōgoku is the district you should visit. Electronics more your thing? Visit Akihabara, the hotspot for electronics, computer, anime, and otaku goods. For international business, Shinjuku is the place to be. And the tourist district? That is Roppongi, probably the only district in Tokyo where you need to watch your wallet/purse.
Yes, the wealth and diversity offered throughout these districts is unparalleled anywhere else in the word. I spent countless hours exploring the city and trust me the joy found in wandering these streets never ceases. The variety does however make it important to do a little research when deciding on where to stay. My choice was Ebisu, home to an abundance of sophisticated upscale bars, nightclubs, and restaurants. This area has the kind of quality nightlife preferred by the 30-something crowds. It was also only a quick five-minute walk to Shibuya, the major local party scene of the 20-something crowd and stocked full of huge clubs, love hotels, and all night eateries.
Have you ever visited Tokyo before? Which distrcit was your favorite and why?
Translated as "Drunkards Alley" or "Alley Of The Drunkards," Nonbei Yokocho is two parallel alleys in Tokyo that contain a grand total of somewhere around 50 miniature bars, although sometimes it is mistakenly cited as having 200-250. However I certainly did not count anywhere near that many.
What do I mean by mini bar? Well, each one measures at most ten feet by ten feet, hardly enough room for more than a small bar with bartender and 4 or 5 barstools. Many actually feature a narrow staircase and an upstairs as well, which will hold a couple tiny tables to fit a few additional (skinny) people.
Located just north of the bustling Shibuya station and lined against the eastern side of the train tracks to Harajuku, this neighborhood was built over 50 years ago but quickly became a prostitution hotspot. Businessmen would take the edge off with a drink or two in the lower level before making their way upstairs to the "tatami room," where their lady of the night was waiting. Nowadays the area has long since done away with the working girls but the bars not only remain, they have even developed their own one-of-a-kind charm and an almost cult-like following.
Despite the proximity to the rest of the action in Shibuya, this area has been overlooked by many a Tokyo resident. Interestingly enough, it is fairly common for a visiting foreigner to be the one taking their Japanese friends to Nonbei Yokocho for the first time, rather than vice versa. How come? Because legend of this unique and hallowed nighttime location has permeated the world wide web. Any traveler who does even cursory research on Shibuya will undoubtedly stumble across the Alley Of The Drunkards. After all, this is the type of place which you never stop telling others about once you've experienced it for yourself.
After trying a couple dozen of the bars, a few charging "seat fees" and others decided anti-gaijin, my unquestionable favorite in all of Nonbeiyokocho was the aptly named Non. Without a doubt this cozy little establishment takes the gold medal all around, not just for atmosphere but also because we consistently met the absolute best people here. And trust me, we did a lot of exploring and experimenting with every new place we saw. That is one of the best things about this city: there is just so much of everything, you can constantly keeping trying new bars and clubs and restaurants and never have to repeat anything. It's simultaneously both fantastic and even a little overwhelming for some. Only the places which truly impressed would be deemed worthy of repeat visits, such as Club Atom and ShibuyaNUTS. Yes, this little bar indeed earned a large place in my heart. We would stop by usually three to four times a week, believe it or not. Most often our visit would only last an hour or two tops before moving on, but a few nights were spent entirely up and down Drunkards Alley. It was the best starter spot, without a doubt. Ridiculously close to my flat too ;)
It was not that this one bar was fancier or offered anything that its' neighbors did not -- I mean just look at the photos below...it is so small! Much of the conversation actually happens in the alley itself and not the bar. However the one thing that this particular bar was never in short supply of was the hands-down best patrons. All of the interesting people we met and became friends with were initially introduced there. Everyone. There was Austin, the 20-year-old half-Japanese half-French local we became good friends with; Suzuki, the guy who owned his own jewelry design business and shop (which he had recently expanded to Hong Kong and New York); Isao, a local actor; the two cougars that Jared and I hooked up with, Mayu and Yuka; the Swedish fashion designers; the Canadian video game creators; several local businessmen and Yakuza guys we partied with; the list goes on and on.
Even the bartender, Yoshi, was laid-back and unbelievably talkative. He made you feel appreciated and as such it was always very difficult to leave. That is probably a good part of the reason he always Tokyo friends, including the ones mentioned above, our first encounters with each all happened on different individual nights -- wild, huh? Amazing that such a little place could pack such a big punch.
Finally, no article on Nonbei Yokocho would be complete without discussing the restrooms. Due to the fact that the bars are so small they do not have any individual bathrooms, there simply is not any space. Instead both customer and yes bartender alike must exit the bar and head to the most northern part of Nonbei Yokocho, where the two main parallel alleys are connected by a small perpendicular sidestreet, similar to an upside-down U. It is on this narrow connecting street that you will find a male restroom, three side-by-side urinals behind a pair of swinging doors a la American-Western style, as well as two locking female restrooms, of which each bar has a copy of the keys to.
And yes, the bartender does abandon his post and leave the customers alone if he must use the restroom. However as Japanese society is very polite and honest I never once saw anyone abuse this momentary lapse of freedom.
Oh and a heads-up note for the ladies: it is best to familiarize yourself with squat toilets before visiting Nonbei Yokocho, lest you have a drunken learning experience you won't soon forget ;)
And if you really want to experience all that the Tokyo nightlife offers, the local clubs are spectacular!
Have you been to Nonbei Yokocho before? Curious to visit it now? What are your thoughts?