Clubbing in Japan was most definitely a new experience for me. As an American, I’m used to a certain sort of “routine” when it comes to going out, so clubbing in Japan was pretty wacky. I only went out twice during my ten week stay there, but I had my reasons for not trying to go out more. Clubbing in Japan might not seem so weird to a non-American, but for me at least, it was quite the experience.

Sneaking Out


Photo by Mith Huang

First of all, we weren’t supposed to stay out all night with any of our language partners because apparently the program directors thought that was a no-no. If we did stay out all night, we had to fill out overnight forms saying where we were going to be and what we were doing. One of the cooler language partners encouraged us to make up a story about where we were going, and then just go clubbing with her and her friends the whole night instead.

So, me and my good friend Hunter, being the responsible young gentlemen that we are, filled out an overnight form saying that we’d be overnight at a manga cafe or some nonsense like that. Then, around midnight, Hunter and I left the dorm and took a train to meet up with our Japanese friend and her group of friends before heading out to the clubs.

Staying Up All Night

keep-calm-and-stay-up-all-night-131In America at least, people would normally go out between like 10 and 12, then stay out until they got tired or until the bars and clubs close at like 2:30am. In Japan, though – people go out at like midnight, get to the club at like 1am and then stay out all night until morning when the trains start running again at like 5am or so. It was crazy. Coming out of a dark club woozy with alcohol into the bright morning sun is a surreal experience.

Staying out all night was really fun, but it certainly made for a rough next day. Getting back to the dorm at like 6 or 7 in the morning didn’t leave a lot of time for sleep before any activities, and I even ended up skipping out on one of the group activities because I just didn’t have the energy.

In the Club

Screen-shot-2012-10-03-at-6.13.07-PMThe first night we went out was definitely the most hilarious. Upon arriving at the club, the Japanese girls showed their IDs and paid their cover and got one drink ticket. These drink tickets were redeemable at the bar for drinks, but more on that later. When Hunter and I got up to the doorman and showed our passports, the guy gave us each two drink tickets just because we were Americans. The Japanese girls thought this was unfair. Hunter and I thought it was awesome.

Anyway, at this club they had a drink ticket vending machine off to the side, and there you bought drink tickets and then took those drink tickets over to the bar and exchanged them for various drinks. The cost of drinks ranged from one ticket to a few, and I’m not sure how efficient a system this way, but it was interesting nonetheless.

As far as atmosphere inside the club goes, it was pretty similar to what I’d gotten used to back home, just with a bunch of Japanese people instead of college age white kids. The only bad part was that people were smoking indoors, and smoke really bothers me, but most of the smokers stayed around the outer perimeter of the venue so it wasn’t too terrible.

Do I Recommend It?

thumbs-upIf you enjoy clubbing in your home country, chances are you’ll enjoy clubbing in Japan. My only advice is, don’t go alone, and go with someone who knows good places to go. If you go by yourself or with people who are equally as out of their element as you are, you’ll be less likely to have as awesome a time I think.

As far as language skills go, you don’t really need to know much Japanese to have a good time at the club. Most all drink orders sound the same in each language, but besides that, it’s usually too loud for you to have a conversation anyway. It’s hard enough trying to have a conversation with a new person who doesn’t know your level of language skill, let alone having that conversation in a noisy and crowded nightclub. The real fun comes from just going out and enjoying the whole experience.

It was really nice having someone let us know where to go and when to go and all that stuff. I definitely don’t regret going out while I was in Japan and I feel bad for some of my American friends who passed up the opportunity because it sure was a lot of fun. If you enjoy the club scene and you have the chance to go out in Japan, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

So tell me, have any of you gone out clubbing in Japan? How was your experience? For those who haven’t had the chance to, is it something that interests you? Let us know in the comments!

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  • Flora

    I’m not much into the club scene anywhere, I don’t think. But if/when I ever get to go to Japan, I’m definitely making it a habit to attend lives & instores of my favorite bands!

  • Krystal

    Instores and events and lives are totally my BFFs. But when you combine a music event with clubbing and combine yourself with friends who do like clubbing…and are gonna look out for you…boy, there’s something to be said for that, once in a while ;D I had a blast!

    …and then I got on a plane the next afternoon. That wasn’t as fun XD

  • FoxiBiri

    When the rest of Tofugu is in Japan John has John week lol ^^ Not that that’s a bad thing. Wish I had gone to clubs when I was living in Japan tt___tt next time…

  • 古戸ヱリカ

    I figured Japanese clubs would be just like clubs in the west, except instead of the music being all *duntz duntz duntz* it’d be all *desu desu desu*.

  • Aka

    Oh c’mon… here in Spain you go clubbing from 1 to 5, 6 or 7am… that’s “normal” ^^ I was hoping you would comment on the music they put there? That must be quite different for sure!

  • platypie

    Do you by chance remember the names/locations of the clubs you went to?

  • Kiyomori

    I did go out drinking once in tokyo, was back in 2008, cant remember where I went to be honest, but I know where I ended up waking up…. in a staircase in akihabara…. with puke on my shirt! had to take a taxi to Asakusa :P woke up by a woman cleaning the stairs… :P she was nice about it though.

    I did go back to the same place the night after… and some people reckognised me there which was really wierd xD

    But I really enjoyed it the second time around, since I didnt remember much from the first night except of a really huge japanese guy giving me a tequilla bottle :P I’m 6,2″ tall and Norwegian, that guy was bigger than me… made me feel tiny for a change ^^

  • Beatriz

    Haha this brings back memories! I went clubbing in roppongi in the summer. Went club hopping and didn’t pay a single cover charge because my friend knew how to talk her way in. The funniest thing was taking first train and see all the drunk Japanese people race for seats. No wonder the hibiya line sometimes smells funky haha. Everyone should go clubbing if theyre in Japan!

  • Kojohn

    John, is the name of your friend really ‘Hunter’? Lol Never heard anyone with such a name. Pretty cool, btw?
    P.S.Your language partner must have been awesome (was she pretty? :P )

  • Pappito Papa

    I’ve met with the same drinking ticket system in The Netherlands in ’98. There was a lady outside in a booth whom you could buy tickets from (no vending machine, tho) and the tickets were small plastic coins with the bar’s name on them. I liked it, it was a safe system, no cash in the premises, and in that horrible noise (drunk hollands!) if you gave one coin to the barmen, you got a beer, if you gave two you got a schnaps, or two beers, depending how you were able to control your fingers J Twas helluva experience, very nice memories of it J After this article now I would really go

  • John

    Yeah, I just meant it was out of the norm for an American. Unfortunately not too many places are open past 2 or 3am :( Surprisingly enough the music didn’t seem all that different. It was mostly a mix of Euro club music, American club music, and some Japanese remixes every once in a while.

  • John

    Unfortunately no :( I think they were both in Kyoto though. If I figure out what the names were, I’ll let you know.

  • John

    Yeah, his name really is Hunter. He got a lot of Hunter x Hunter jokes made at his expense from the Japanese girls, haha. And yeah, the girl was pretty awesome. She even came to visit us in the States!

  • John

    Oh, cool – yeah it’s just something I never heard of or experienced before so it was kind of a surprise. Worked out just fine though!

  • simplyshiny

    I’m loving John week! I’ve kind of always wondered what Japanese clubs were like….what kind of music did they play?

  • Aka

    Oh? No party till morning for Americans? :(
    I had heard in some clubs in Tokyo people suddenly start to dance all the same choreography, arranged in rows, to the sound of JPop tunes… maybe it’s only in some crazy clubs ^^

  • John

    Hahaha, that’s awesome.

  • Aka

    When I manage to go to Japan I’ll try to go to one and tell Tofugu of my experience! :D

  • CharonM72

    Clubbing in Tokyo is damn expensive, at least for those going on limited budgets. The free clubs are totally packed and the drinks are expensive regardless. The best places (where Japanese people tend to go) are usually in Shibuya or maybe Shinjuku and are extremely expensive. Womb was one I almost went to (and is supposedly fantastic) except the cover was like 4500 yen per person. ageHa is another fantastic (and expensive) one that is a bit outside downtown and I didn’t go to.
    Roppongi… is seedy as hell, and full of gaijin. Maybe cheaper, but not really the true Japanese clubbing experience. I don’t know about outside of Tokyo.

  • Richard Robertson

    I’m interested too, that sounds really cool! I’d love to do that when I go to Japan.

  • Richard Robertson

    I’m sure in places like Akihabara there are clubs that play loud japanese techno and J-pop. After all I don’t know an otaku who wouldn’t love to go to one of those sorts of clubs.

  • John

    A healthy mix of Euro-club, American-club, and some Japanese songs that I never heard before or were remixed. Nothing too out of the ordinary!

  • Justin

    Going home at 10 -12 in america? that just sounds lame to me since my first club experience was in Japan. Came here at 19 and am still living here. Had my share of club experiences, like what clubs let in minors (lol) thats every club btw as long as you bring along a group of girls. :P ….watch out with the dancing….

  • ionlyeatdesserts

    I was on exchange in Osaka for 6 months and clubbing was really fun. One thing you should be prepared for is that water isn’t free, it costs 500 – 600 Yen for just a glass (ridiculous, it’s free in Australia!!). My favourite was Owl in Umeda where they played mainly American dance music. Me and my friends did the opposite to the Japanese – we didn’t like to be crushed and all-nighters were painful. We pre-drinked beforehand at a nomikai or whatever we got our hands (save money and I found that drinks in the club are quite diluted and expensive), got to the place about 9 and partied until the last train, fun times :)

  • Latrice

    I went clubbing in Japan pretty often while I was there. Mostly hip-hop clubs, and also went to places like Atom, Gaspanic, and Ageha (usually when there was someone I wanted to see perform). But I mostly stuck to the Shibuya area. The first time I went clubbing by myself I got there at 11:30pm…and no one was there! It was cool though because they bartender was nice and gave me free drinks till the crowd showed up. After that I went clubbing at about 1am and stayed till about 7am. I remember once club actually offering free curry in the morning to people who were still at the club!

    I did think it was expensive to go clubbing in Japan, but seeing how at a lot of clubs in the US you have to pay a cover, for tickets and basically to sit down (due to the rise of “bottle service booths”) I don’t think clubbing in Japan is all that pricey. But it’s been about 5 years since I’ve lived in Japan so I don’t know if pricey are worst than the 3000 yen + drinks tickets.

    I think what threw me off the most is that people seemed to dance in rows and face the DJs. Most clubs I’d been to in the US few people cared little about the DJs and people (particualrly women) dance in circles. Plus the dress seemed to be very dressy or very casual, I usually went clubbing in jeans and sneakers because it was easier for me to dance (and walk to and from the train). I did hate the smoking in clubs and also I remember some clubs not wanting to let you take pictures in them.

    But people seemed friendly enough. I’m a black American female, which you didn’t commonly see in Japan let a lot a Japanese club (I knew some other black women, but they only went to places packed with foreigners). And I liked to dance. So I would get a lot of attention from men and women though I found some men at clubs to be outright aggressive and way too touchy feely for my taste. Honestly I think I’m a bit on the old side to go clubbing now, so if I went back to Japan, I probably wouldn’t hit up clubs again–though some of the clubs I went to have closed down apparently.

  • nkav

    One thing that stuck out to me at some of the clubs I went to in Tokyo is that everyone danced facing the DJ.

  • Vague

    Sounds somewhat similar to the clubbing scene where I live. The clubs are open til 4 am, and after they’ve closed up, you usually walk around for an hour or so, talking to the people you know. Everyone usually stays up till 5-7 am, depending on what they decide to do. :p

  • Hyero

    If you went out in Kyoto, I am pretty sure that one of the clubs must have been ‘Butterfly’..
    It seemed to be the main club when I was there a few months ago.

  • John

    Haha, yeah – that totally happened at the first place we went to. It didn’t click until you said it, haha.

  • トイレ!

    when I was studying abroad in Japan, the people that owned a club in the nearby city hired me to be the doorman/bouncer. Easiest job ever. They’re not like Americans when it comes to following rules.

  • クリス

    I’d usually never go clubbing in my home country (Australia), but when I was in Japan I did a two-night bender to see some DJs and performers that I was already a fan of.

    The first night, the club I went to (Air in Shibuya) was the trickiest place to find! I almost gave up, until I was walking down a really quiet street and some guy asked me if I was looking for Air. Enter through an innocent looking restaurant, turn down some stairs and suddenly everything is astoundingly louder.

    The cover charges weren’t that cheap, and they entice you to get there earlier with cheaper entry. The drink tokens at least make up for it. Like another person mentioned, coming from Australia where bars are legally obliged to provide free water, I was really shocked to pay ~500yen for a tiny bottle of water. D:

    Wasn’t a fan of smoking inside either, but the worst part of that was having my clothes reek of it afterwards.

  • Bbvoncrumb

    Did you at least go balls deep in your language partner?

  • sldkjf

    i am an experienced clubber back home in the US.. i will say that if you’re a serious clubber, even in the US, staying out until the next day is a very normal thing. i have done it many times. i went to japan for business a few months ago.. when i arrived in tokyo, one of the first things i asked people about were the clubs ^^ none of the people i met there knew much about this (or at least said they did not), so i decided not to go… after seeing the picture of yours though, i thoroughly regret not going now. xD i have another meeting in tokyo next week, so i’ll definitely be going this time around.

  • Maximuz

    Would you say the experience is the same in Osaka and Tokyo? I’ve never been to Tokyo, but have been to Osaka and Okinawa.

  • Jo Somebody

    He said going out at 10-12…

  • Anon

    From my Japanese clubbing experience my advice is if you’re an anglo girl on the smallish side make sure you go with some male friends who are willing to “protect” you from the creepier guys. I got groped everywhere and even had a guy wrap his arm around my neck and try to force his drink down my throat. O.o

    But aside from that it was tonnes of fun, and I met loads of interesting people :)

  • Churapop

    Clubbing in Okinawa is awesome. You pay a cover charge, usually about 1000-2000 yen, and most places have all you can drink Awamori, which is Okinawa’s alcohol of choice. The bar drinks aren’t that expensive either. One place I went to had a list of drinks you could get free at the bar, including screwdrivers!! so that was pretty awesome. Also most people in Okinawan clubs are really friendly and everyone will strike up a conversation with you.

  • walker

    (a bit late to the discussion, but someone might still read and benefit …)

    i tried clubbing
    in osaka’s america-mura, then in tokyo’s roppongi and shibuya, all a
    couple of years ago. it was a mixed bag. the osaka club (joule) was
    hosting a special dance performance called “dance nation,” the night i
    wandered in, so the place was packed with awesome dancers of all kinds –
    and me the only gaijin, thereby accorded celebrity status. the music
    was excellent and eclectic, funk/techno/hiphop/house/soul/etc. the
    dancing was better. beautiful girls wanted to talk to me, and tough
    guys wanted to buy me drinks. quite surreal, given my completely
    opposite experiences at home in oz. door charge was Y3000, but included
    Y1500 of drink tickets, ie. 2 drinks.

    shibuya … is a rabbit
    warren of streets, so print a map if you’re looking for somewhere
    specific. i managed to eventually find club atom, apparently one of the
    few places to play dubstep in tokyo. it was half empty, to be honest,
    and half of those people were gaijin, but not a bad sort – and it meant
    more room to dance to the (generally) good music. ended up hanging for a
    while after closing with a mixed bunch of gaijin and nihonjin,
    breakfasting at yoshinoya before eventually, reluctantly, getting a
    train out at 7.30am, or so. ahh, good times. door charge Y3000, with, i
    think, a single drink ticket. expensive drinks, too, but easy enough
    to get drunk cheaply elsewhere, beforehand, if that’s your thing.

    was a much crappier shibuya club before that, but i’m afraid i forget
    its name to warn against it. all crass commercial music and unpleasant
    people trying to pick each other up.

    speaking of which, there’s
    gas panic in roppongi. i tried the one on the main street, but i think
    there are several around. it was, indeed, crassly commercial and full
    of people trying to pick each other up … but for some reason i really
    enjoyed myself there. the combination of a couple of genki drinks and
    several chu-hi strongs before i even got there may have helped, but it
    could just be that it’s actually kind of fun. “like a peak-hour subway
    carriage with booze, lights and music,” was how i thought of it. not
    many foreigners, either, which is unusual for roppongi, apparently. no
    door charge the night i went, and quite cheap drinks, too.

    of all, by far, was a seedy dive in roppongi called greenland. again
    with the crass music, and the people were really unpleasant – think
    middle-aged businessmen with hookers mixed among packs of drunk tourists
    and packs of drunk japanese after them. but most annoying was the
    staff habit of clearing your half-full drinks away the moment your back
    was turned – i lost three this way before i confronted the
    english-speaking manager, who suddenly feigned dumbness. i’ll never
    darken their crappy little doorway again. the only reason i was there
    was because a japanese friend wanted to go.

    one of the _best_
    things about japanese clubs was the wonderful coin lockers in every club
    i described above. they’re not just in train stations. Y100-200 to
    stow all your stuff safely and easily, without having to worry about
    dishonest cloakroom staff – heaven! every nightclub around the world
    should have these.

    and remember to go easy on the energy drinks.
    twice the punch of red bull in a bottle half the size. they taste like
    medicine for a reason.

  • walker

    ugh, pardon the awful formatting of that comment. was having trouble posting the comment, so copied’n’pasted from one window to another. maybe the bots were just trying to tell me to edit some more. if you made it this far, thanks for reading.