Are you looking for a fun way to spend your evening in Japan? Are you someone who enjoys a night out? Japan is one of the best places in the world to have a wild night out without breaking the bank! Here is a quick list of 15 tips on enjoying a good night out at an affordable price, whether you are a student, resident or if you are just on holiday.
Nightlife in Japan is very varied
1. Preventing a Hangover for a Cheap Night Out in Japan
Before starting a night out, the first pit stop should be your local konbini (convenience store) or yakkyoku, drug store. This is where you’ll be able to pick up a bottle of Ukon-no-Chikara or Hepalyse. As mysterious as these names sound, they are key to not feeling hungover the next morning! If you’re a tourist, you’ll want to be feeling fresh for another day of exploring. If you work here and are having a nomikai with friends or colleagues, you’ll also want to be fresh enough to face the next day!
These turmeric/ginger/liver extract drinks cost less than 250 yen. Find them often either right by the checkout or at the very back of the kombini near the other energy drinks and medicines. The trick is to drink one before you start drinking alcohol, and if you remember, drink another one just before you go to sleep at the end of the night.
Ginger and turmeric are the primary ingredients in the hangover prevention drinks
2. Buying Convenience Store Beers
While you’re at the kombini, this is the best place to get some cheap drinks with no sacrifice in quality. For a relaxed night of beers, most convenience stores offer full selections of Japanese brand beers like Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin and Ebisu, but also more local or craft beers, and often foreign brands too. These are available in tall and regular sizes and can cost as little as 150 yen!
3. Know the Difference Between Beer and Happoshu
One thing to be aware of (although the taste does not differ that much for the untrained palate!), is the difference between true beers like the ones mentioned above and happoshu, which is a low-malt alternative to beer. As happoshu is taxed differently to conventional beers, they are often cheaper, so if you like the general taste of beer, this is a good option! Popular brands include Nodokoshi, Kirin Green Label, and Asahi. Look out for the small 発泡酒 (happoshu) kanji. Many of these are actually also less calorific, which can only be a good thing.
For those wanting something other than beer, look for the equally cheap and perhaps more fun chuhais or pre-mixed highballs, available in myriad flavors, with limited editions depending on the season.
4. Buy Alcohol from Supermarkets or Bulk Stores
Wine and heavier liquors like whiskey, vodka, gin, or Japanese umeshu plum wine, shochu, and rice wine sake, can also be bought at kombinis, but the cheapest option of all is to buy these from a supermarket. Bulk stores like Gyomu Super sell branded alcohol for a fraction of the price. If you are lucky enough to be situated near the megastore Don Quixote, you’ll find branded spirits here for much cheaper too, perfect for drinks at your own home or in your hotel.
5. Drink Outside!
In the warmer months (or winter too, if you dare!), a lovely idea is to buy drinks from a convenience store or supermarket and head to the nearest riverbank or park to enjoy them. You’ll have much more space than being crowded in someone’s apartment, and will likely have the freedom to make a little more noise. Unlike many countries around the world, drinking in public is completely legal in Japan, as long as you are not causing a commotion or being too loud. Be sure to not be a nuisance, especially later at night or around families. Drinking in these areas is, of course, free of charge, and with the correct company, can last you all night!
6. Strongs and Strong Zeros
If you’re looking for a heavy night out with the help of the kombini; perhaps you don’t have commitments the next day or are simply looking to get tiddly on just the one can, the most economical and quintessentially Japanese option for you is a Strong or Strong Zero. These notorious drinks come in all kinds of flavors and have almost 10% alcohol content. Don’t let this fool you, as the combination of the sweetness and fizziness of the drink with caffeine content can easily shoot you straight up – enjoy, but be careful! Strongs can be bought for a measly 120 yen, and you only really need one to feel the buzz. You can often see salarymen enjoying one of these on the way home after a long day at work, or sipping one on the shinkansen bullet train.
Some flavors available year-round include Grapefruit, Lemon, and Original. Seasonal varieties include Bitter Lemon, Yoghurt, Cola, Orange, Apple, Double Apple, and Peach.
7. Nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink)
If you’re looking for a sit-down and very cheap option for drinks with friends, or if you are in a large group, a great solution is to track down a nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink)! Many izakaya pubs and even restaurants offer this option, sometimes with all-you-can-eat too! Ask beforehand for the price, and make sure to check whether there is a “one-customer-one-food-order” system, and how long your ordering window is. Last orders are normally taken thirty minutes before the finishing time. Slots tend to last either 90 minutes or 2 hours with the option to extend if you wish, but I’ve been to plenty of nomihoudais with an “endless” option…! Unlimited drinks for an unlimited time.
For a step-up in the nomihoudai process, why not do it at karaoke? Lots of karaoke chains offer nomihoudai deals so you pay for the unlimited drinks as well as entertainment! Popular stores include Jankara and Karaokekan, but independent and smaller karaoke establishments are ubiquitous too. Unlike many other countries, karaoke in Japan happens in private rooms, so you can sing to your heart’s content without worrying about what others might think. Most places offer the usual Japanese songs but also up-to-date chart-toppers in English too!
Karaoke is a hugely popular national pastime in Japan
9. Go to Happy Hour!
Another option for cheap drinks is to look out for bars and restaurants with Happy Hour. Happy Hour is usually during the early to late afternoon, so is perhaps more suited to students or travelers rather than working people who might still be at work in this time. Despite the name, Happy Hour usually lasts for a few hours. Drinks can often be bought for half the usual price, and this is a great way to start your evening off in a relaxed and affordable way, maybe with some food.
Happy Hour is a good way to get cheap drinks, particularly at more upmarket establishments
10. Be Aware of Hidden Charges
When bar hopping in general, be sure to check for a cover charge. This may come in the form of an otoshi, which is a small, usually savory snack given to each customer. Prices usually range from 300 to 600 yen. Some small bars charge up to 1000 yen in cover, so just ask in advance if you are not sure.
Bar-hopping is a great way to get the true local nightlife experience, but be aware of hidden charges
11. Make use of Point Cards or Memberships
For residents in Japan or travelers who are staying a little longer, take advantage of bar point cards or memberships, which will give you discounts on drinks and food! A fun way to do this is to get a group of friends together to share a single card – points rack up faster so you can reap the rewards earlier! A classic location with good value for money in their point card system is the HUB British pub, a chain pub dotted in various locations across Japan.
12. Discounts When Going Clubbing
If you’re in a bigger town or city and are looking to go clubbing, check online if there’s an event page on social media or relevant events website that can get you a discount on entry. Some nights offer discounts to people who have clicked attending, followed their social media page, or have registered to their site. Many places also offer lower prices if you come earlier in the evening, or if you have non-Japanese ID, tourist visa, or a residence card. If you are in a large group, see if you can chat to the bouncer or promoter to negotiate a group discount. There’s nothing to lose – the most they can do is say no!
13. Withdraw Enough Cash During the Day
Another general tip before a night out in Japan is to make sure you have enough cash on you. Japan is still largely a cash-based society, which means that many bars and other establishments do not accept card. To add to this, most ATMs at convenience stores and even in banks also charge a surplus fee outside of work hours to withdraw (sometimes also a different fee on weekends and public holidays), so get money out during the day or during the week if you know you’re going to need it!
Japan is a largely cash-based society
14. Avoid Expensive Transport and Accommodation
Getting around in the evening can also rack up your costs if you are not careful. Take note of the last and first train times to avoid spending money on taxis. If you realize you have missed the last train and don’t want to pay for a hotel or taxi back to your accommodation, manga cafes in big cities, or onsen or sento public baths are often open late at night and into the early hours of the morning and are a good place to rest up a little before the first train. Many people in Japan also frequent the nearest McDonald’s in the wee hours of the morning.
Taxi fares can be expensive, particularly at night
At the end of the night, you may feel tempted to load up on and overbuy food at the kombini. Although convenience store snacks are generally quite cheap, buying a lot of them in one go can add up, so if you’re looking for bigger quantities of food, you’re probably better off heading to a late-night eatery whether you will find better value for money. Popular options are local or chain ramen joints, McDonald’s, and donburi meat and rice restaurants like Sukiya, Matsuya or Yoshinoya. A recent trend that has spread across Japan from Hokkaido is to have a post-night-out parfait! Whether sweet or savory, whatever you decide, there are lots to choose from.
Meat and rice joints like Yoshinoya are an economically sensible post-night-out food choice
Japanese nightlife truly is like no other. Whether you’re in a big metropolis like Tokyo or Osaka with its lively nightlife scenes like in Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Koenji or Namba and Umeda, or further afield in smaller cities or even in the countryside, where you’ll find small bars and holes in the wall full of merry locals, you’re sure to meet an eclectic group of people all wanting to have a good time and bond over the experience. Take this opportunity to speak to locals and tourists alike, and you may even find yourself some new friends!
Which of these Cheap Night Out Hacks Do You Plan to Use?
Going out in Japan can, of course, be expensive. But by being aware in advance of hidden charges, taking the appropriate precautions, taking advantage of the various covert discounts and freebies available, having a good time at night can work out much less than you might expect.
So, which of these tips will you be following tonight? Slap on your best look put on a pair of comfortable shoes, and hit the town! You’ll hopefully not have to worry too much about your wallet while you’re at it.
Maia / UK