Whether you’re a student with an appetite and the time for a good party, someone living in Japan who just needs to blow off some steam or have a fun night with friends or coworkers, or a visitor to Japan looking to dip a toe into Japanese nightlife, clubbing in Tokyo will not let you down. Known to be one of the most varied and pumping in the world, Tokyo clubs come in sizes from tiny and underground to enormous, spanning numerous floors and giant warehouses, and are arguably some of the best in Asia, if not the world. So what are you waiting for? Here is a quick insider’s guide to clubbing in Tokyo.
Clubbing in Tokyo
1. Club Culture in Tokyo
Clubbing culture in Japan is unique for a number of reasons. One is the sheer scale of clubs. Because of the huge population in Tokyo and the lively youth and music culture, there is such a spectrum of venues and nights to pick from. Although Fridays and Saturdays are naturally the focal points of the party week, even large clubs will have events on weekdays that also get busy.
Another immediately obvious aspect, perhaps later in the night or towards the early hours of the morning is that a lot of people fall asleep at clubs! Partly to do with train times (more on that later), perhaps not being able to drink as much or just being tired, many clubs in Tokyo have seating areas with people fast asleep waiting to be woken up at the end of the night! Don’t let this put you off though, as the sheer crowds of people who stay up dancing and chatting long past the first train are more than enough to make up for the sleepy club-goers.
2. Roppongi Clubs
1 Oak Tokyo
This new club is shaking up the Tokyo club scene, with its swish interior design and international sounds and crowd. Although it can be expensive with frequent celebrity appearances, it has the New York nightclub flair that is hard to come by elsewhere in Tokyo.
Located a short walk from the main Roppongi area in Nishi-Azabu, A-Life is a huge club spanning three floors, each covering a different genre of music, from Hip Hop and RnB to House and Techno to the EDM that is popular among younger Japanese clubbers. Check online for times when the cover fees are less expensive.
3. Shibuya Clubs (WREP, etc)
Shibuya is an unquestionably the club hub, with a myriad of opportunities to sample any kind of music scene you imagine – the right place to be if you are looking for an unforgettable night of clubbing!
One of the quintessential destinations of Tokyo clubbing, Womb is located in a calm residential area (be careful you are not too noisy for this reason or staff will probably tell you to be quiet) a short walk from Shibuya Station. Composed of three floors, including one sprawling main dance floor with an enormous disco ball twinkling above the lively Japanese and international crowds, Womb was also immortalized in popular culture by its appearance in the 2003 film “Lost in Translation” starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannsen. The music here depends on the night but is primarily a mix of house, techno, and remixed chart-toppers. Big name DJs come to play here too, so check online beforehand. Don’t be put off by the odd name!
Previously a nightclub called Air, Contact is a relatively new (2016) club focusing mostly on minimal house and techno. Located on Dogenzaka Hill, it can be difficult to spot as the entrance is accessible through a carpark. Contact is underground, but opens up into a large space, with three large rooms: the first has a large bar and lighter, easier tracks; a smoking and seating area with sofas and tables to relax; and the main room for the heavier tracks that is often almost pitch dark and filled with people who have come out purely to indulge in music.
Sound Museum Vision
Vision, for short, this club is another staple of Shibuya partying. With its cutting-edge sound system and multiple rooms, this club draws big names in techno, house and Hip Hop. Its layout is almost maze-like, making it like a bit of an adventure getting from room to room!
This relatively small underground club boasts some of the grooviest disco, techno and electro beats in the city. With a room filled to the brim with glittering disco balls, Oath is the perfect place to just dance. Plus, it’s open until eight in the morning. Good luck!
This RnB and Hip Hop haven is ideal for those looking to get down and dirty in an international and Japanese crowd. Located very close to Shibuya Station, Harlem is reasonably priced and often attracts big names in rap, RnB and Hip Hop. Look out for the roll-out red carpet out front.
This unusual and beautiful club is adorned in its interior with floor to ceiling mirrors and chandeliers. Its three floors offer a range of tracks from Hip Hop and RnB to Deep House, depending on the night, and it has also been featured on the HBO TV show Girls. The crowds it attracts are usually down-to-earth revelers looking for a fun and chic party.
Although not located in Shibuya itself, you must head to Shibuya to catch the free shuttle bus that departs every half hour from the bottom of Roppongi Dori and will take you to this enormous warehouse on the seaside about 30 minutes’ ride away. This huge warehouse club is the largest in Japan and one of the biggest in Asia, and the backdrop for an unforgettable clubbing experience. With two large halls inside for the main acts, and an outdoor deck spanning the outside and pool-side dancefloor that looks out over the sea, there is no better way to watch the sun come up than while dancing to your favorite tracks at Ageha. Although it is not possible to swim in this pool on regular club nights, the atmosphere is incredible. Sometimes there is even a drone hovering above the crowd and projecting its footage onto a nearby screen. Because of its size and capacity, Ageha is not open every night, so be sure to check the schedule for events.
4. Shinjuku Clubs
Shinjuku is lesser known for its clubbing than for its bars and holes-in-the-wall. Golden Gai is, of course, the famous alleyway crammed with tiny bars and eateries. However, Shinjuku is also home to the sparkling and brilliant gay district of Tokyo: Kabukicho, and a few notable clubs there!
This gay club is always alive and was recently refurbished to give it a more European feel. It is welcoming to both international and Japanese visitors, and both men and women, but of course, be respectful that it is predominantly a gay environment so don’t head here with a huge hoard of your straight friends!
Only very recently opened in 2018, this futuristically themed club is designed around the phrase “Tokyo in 100 years”. Warp is perfect for those looking to live out their fantasies of Tokyo being a futuristic land. Crowds here are usually more Japanese than international, but always looking for a good time.
5. Cover Charges
(men vs women, weekend vs weekday, before/after 10 PM)
Cover charges to get into clubs in Tokyo can vary greatly, anywhere from nothing to approximately 5,000 yen. The main differences and factors to look out for is if there is a difference between the charge for men and women (women are almost always cheaper and include a drink ticket or two), prices variations during the week and on the weekend (weekdays tend to be cheaper or free!), and the time. A lot of club nights offer 1,000 yen or free entry until about 11 pm or midnight, after which the cover charge might double or even triple. Some clubs also offer discounts to students (with the relevant ID), under 23s, or to those who have clicked ‘attending’ on their online event page or followed their social media. Some clubs will also offer discounts to those who download certain apps.
The guaranteed way to make sure you know about cover charges and the potential for discounted entry is to check beforehand on the club website or poster. Be aware, too, that many Tokyo clubs do not allow re-entry – once you’re in, you have to stay there or pay again if you leave and want to come back in again. As Japan is still a largely cash-based society, make sure to bring enough and not rely on your credit or debit card.
6. Forms of ID that Work in Japan and the Legal Drinking Age
The legal age for drinking in Japan is 20. This includes all beers, wines, and heavier spirits, as well as tobacco, none of which you will be able to buy either inside or outside clubs. This also means that almost all clubs are only accessible to people above the age of 20, and you will need proof of this to enter many of the big clubs. Bear this in mind, particularly if you are an international student from a country where the drinking/clubbing age is lower than 20!
Acceptable forms of ID that are 100% guaranteed to be fine to show to the bouncer as you enter the club include your passport if you are a tourist and your residence card (zairyu card) if you live in Japan. Other acceptable forms of ID often include drivers’ licenses or student ID cards, as long as they have a recognizable photo and date of birth on them.
7. Security and Lockers
Some clubs may also search bags, and men can sometimes be given a pat-down too for security reasons. You are not allowed to bring in your own alcohol to clubs. Most clubs have lockers available in different sizes (costing anywhere between 300-700 yen). They sometimes fill up, though, so try and get to one early, especially if it is a busy night, or deposit your belongings in a nearby train station coin locker.
Clubs in Tokyo are usually very safe, with guards and staff manning entrances and patrolling the rooms and dance floors. If you experience any kind of problem, alert a staff member and they will help you.
Another aspect of clubbing and safety in Japan is that, because of its stringent laws, there is no widespread use of recreational drugs in clubs, even in central Tokyo. It is also rare to witness fights or arguments when clubbing in Tokyo, unlike in a lot of big metropolitan cities around the world.
8. Be safe!
Tokyo nightlife is arguably safer than in a lot of countries, but be as vigilant as you would anywhere, and you are sure to have an unforgettable time at one of the many club locations scattered around the city. Make sure you go with friends and keep an eye on the time if you’re looking to catch the last train home (this is usually around 12:30). Unfortunately, there are no night buses, and taxis can get very expensive. So for those looking to crack an all-nighter of dancing, or if you miss the last train: first trains usually start around 5 am. Ramen restaurants; gyudon beef and rice bowl joints like Yoshinoya, Sukiya, or Matsuya; and McDonalds across the city are often open all night for an early-morning meal.
9. Have a Wild Time Clubbing in Tokyo!
Above all, soak in the sights! You are about to embark on a night of debauchery in one of the clubbing capitals of the world. Local clubbers in Japan are friendly, open and energetic and are bound to make you feel welcome. Whatever your taste in music or atmosphere, Tokyo evenings will have something for you. So, dancing shoes on! Which club will you be checking out tonight?
Maia Hall // UK