Insider’s Guide To Japanese Nightclubs / Nightlife in Tokyo
When you think of drinking in Japan, there are kitschy theme bars, salarymen staying up until the wee hours only to end up napping at train stations till it’s time to clock in and decades-old, hole-in-the-wall establishments serving sake and light beer, as seen on Netflix’s popular series Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. But it’s only been a couple of years since the Japanese government lifted some of its 25-year-old Footloose-style, no-dancing-after-midnight laws. That’s partially thanks to one of Tokyo’s oldest hip-hop advocates, Hideyuki Yukoi aka Zeebra, who, along with his group King Giddra, played an important role in the development of the underground Japanese hip-hop scene in the early Nineties. On a visit to Delhi for the third edition of the India Nightlife Convention and Awards (INCA), Yukoi discusses his role as a nightlife ambassador, the similarities between Japan and India’s nightscape and his country’s excellent vinyl revolution.
As nightlife ambassador of Tokyo’s Shibuya district, what is it that you actually do?
I set up meetings between the government and the club owners, party organisers and nightlife representatives to come up with ideas to enhance the industry. Right now, we’re focused on amending restrictions on the size and area of clubs. I also represent the club and club culture conference in Tokyo, a platform that brings the city’s artists and DJ community together.
How did this role come about?
It happened when Mirik Milan (former Night Mayor of Amsterdam) and the (actual) mayor of Amsterdam invited us to be a part of the Night Mayor Summit in Amsterdam. The tourism board of Shibuya district then made me the official Nightlife Ambassador. We’re now working to expand the Night Mayor system to other Japanese cities.
Have you experienced India’s nightlife?
India and Japan are quite similar. Both countries have suffered from a heavily licenced nightlife, which resulted in a certain stunting of the industry. Japan’s strictest laws have been lifted now, but there are others that continue to exist.
So, what is the nightlife like in Tokyo?
It’s growing, for sure. Since the laws have relaxed, there’s been a spike in private investors and sponsors. Shibuya’s seen a massive change, and we want it to be a blueprint for other parts of the country.
What kind of music is popular?
It usually depends on the city. Roppongi sees a lot of tourists, so clubs there play a lot of EDM. House and techno music are coming back in a big way. There’s also a sort of vinyl revolution taking place, with musicians and artists from all over the world coming to Shibuya to browse and shop for prized and rare LPs.
What about drinks?
Whisky and soda is the preferred drink for most. Shochu is loved by all – it can be mixed with juice, green tea, soda, anything! Sake’s popular, but it’s only served in restaurants and bars. And, of course, tequila.
Where do you recommend partying?
In Shibuya, Vision, Bloody Angle and AgeHa – one of the largest clubs in Tokyo. Contact plays amazing house; go to Harlem or 1 OAK Tokyo for hip-hop, Womb for electronic music. The Shimokitazawa district is known for its indie bars, restaurants and performance venues.
Zeebra’s top spots to dance the night away in Osaka and Kyoto
Ghost, Giraffe, Xex WEST
Don’t forget to stroll in and around Nihonbashi but enter love hotels and video game arcades at your own risk – this is where Black Mirror episodes come to life. Also make friends with the fun barkeeps at Takotako King.
Butterfly, World, Club Metro
Kyoto’s charm lies in its many bylanes, chock-a-block with bars the size of small living rooms. Jazz bars are extremely popular, like Hello Dolly.