There is a romance about all those who are abroad in the black hours.
Robert Louis Stevenson
As the sun sets on the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo it undergoes a transformation. The concrete and glass facades of city streets become faded under a kaleidoscope of neon lights. The Early Birds morph into Night Owls as night falls.
Cliched as it sounds, Tokyo is a completely different place in the dark.
The soundtrack to all of this is a mixture of Synthwave and Daft Punk’s Soundtrack to Tron Legacy.
We took the short walk around the corner from our hotel to the Tokyo Tochō (Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building) and its 200 metre tall observation deck from the North Tower. We got some pretty extensive views of night time Tokyo and all for the little price of FREE.
We also got a taste of things to come in Tokyo for the Olympics in 2020.
After that we headed to Omoide Yokocho for dinner. We used the Japanese name as the English moniker it has appropriated is ‘Piss Alley’* – and that would put you off your meal 🙂
The alleyway is a collection of yakitori grills and bars, at night time and in the rain it could pass as a scene out of Blade Runner, the steam from the hotpots mixing with the twilight air. Its quite nice though – decorated with sakura and lanterns – though seating room is at a premium as it popular among the sararīman (salarymen) , meaning that you have to jump into the first one that’s available.
* During the 1940s revellers would walk to the nearby train tracks to relive themselves as there was no bathroom facilities on the alleyway. They cant do that nowadays as Shinjuku is probably the busiest train station in the world now.
In Shinjuku there is a collection of tumbledown alleyways bursting at its seams with a motley collection of bars, drinking holes really. It is an enclave of old post-war Japan surrounded by redeveloped skyrises and buildings. The Golden Gai district opens at 8pm but we gave it a little bit longer so that some of the bars would fill up and present a more enticing proposition for the evening.
There are over 200 bars in the six alleyways. Each one with its own personality and look. Half the fun was checking out what each one had to offer, and trying to find one with a decent cover charge.
In the end we picked a small bar – basically 8 stools huddled round a small bar. Soon 25% of the bar was Scottish as Karen worked out one of the boys was from Aberdeen. A good session turned into a lively one as a larger than life Canadian guy, resplendent in an Ultimate Warrior t-shirt decided to mark his entrance to our group by buying a round of sake!
We skipped the Death Metal themed “Death Match In Hell” , (which had Rhapsody of Fire playing) and headed to Bar Champion with its cheap drinks, English bartenders and karaoke machine.
Nearby is the massive Toho Cinema. The main attraction here is the life-sized replica of Godzilla’s head and paw sticking out of the building. Appropriate as Godzilla is in fact the cultural ambassador for the Shinjuku ward since 2015.
“...my brain I.B.M.”
8 years ago, in a unassuming building down a side street in the Shinjuku District and under the shadow of the massive Toho Cinema a very Japanese take on the traditional Cabaret Show was created.
It is called a restaurant but apart from an optional Bento Box, it is simply a crazy show.
Robots, J pop music, warrior princesses, dinosaur mounts, did I mention Robots, are all vying for your attention in a crazy technicolour extravaganza. We are of course talking about the famous Robot Restaurant.
We really enjoyed as much as we did not understand what was going on – which was a lot! This was one of those crazy Tokyo experiences.
Hell, even the bar we were kept waiting in before the show looked like something from Gwen Stefani’s house. The walls, all of them lined with lightbulbs.
It also all felt a little familiar, a real sense of deja vu. Of course this is where English rock band Muse shot the video for Panic Station back in 2013.
How did the two tourists cross the road?
About two stops on the metro, south of where were staying is probably one of the most famous road crossings in the world. If the train tracks and roads and highways of the city are the veins and arteries then Shibuya Crossing is its beating heart.
Every time the Green Man appears nearly 3,000 people cross from all directions.
But it’s more than just a place to cross the road. It is jam packed with shops, cafes, big TVs and more LEDs than on the Starship Enterprise.
At night its alive with a crazy buzz. During the day (more on that in a later post) it is a different place.
While waiting to cross the road we found the Hachiko Statue – the dog whose grave we visited on our bike tour of Tokyo. This statue is actually the 2nd to be situated here. Erected in 1948, the original from 1934 had been recycled during World War II.
Speaking of Tokyo nightlife is not complete with trying to find “that bar” from the movie Lost in Translation (2003). You know, the one where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johannssons characters spark up a friendship over insomnia and cocktails.
The good news is that it is a real hotel bar and not a set. It is the New York Bar, situated on Level 52 of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku.
So we went for a night cap one night and took the opportunity for even more photos.
We split the excitement over two nights but the above could all be done in a single night if time in Tokyo is short. This is what it would look like….