A Night Out at Kabukicho – Tokyo’s Red Light District



First of all, we didn’t do go to any stripclubs or any places like that, so if you’re here to look for some racy stories, then sorry, you’ll be disappointed. My friend and I had a (mostly) wholesome night in Kabukicho. Although the area is known as a red light district, it does offer a lot of non-sex related activities.

Kabukicho, a district of Shinjuku, is one of my favorite places in Tokyo. This is the only place in that Japan that feels a little dangerous, and I like having a bit of danger in my life. Puts a little excitement in my boring life. But take note that I said it “feels” dangerous because in reality, it isn’t. Unless you do something stupid or go into the more suspicious looking dens of entertainment. This is, after all, yakuza and triad territory.

Kabukicho sign at the entrance of the district

There’s an interesting audio tour (in English) you can buy that takes you around Kabukicho. Through the tour, I learned that the area is called Kabukicho because one of the first mayors of that district actually wanted to turn it into a center for culture and the arts. Kabukicho, or in Japanese, 歌舞伎町, is basically made up of two words… Kabuki (歌舞伎), a form of Japanese theater, and Cho(町), which means district or city. To his chagrin, his plan never really worked out and today it is still a place known for strip clubs, love hotels, and the Japanese mafia. But as I mentioned, there are some areas that are pretty wholesome. There’s a bowling alley, a batting center, arcades, a movie theater, and other family-oriented recreational establishments.

A friend of mine visited Tokyo a couple of weeks ago, and I took him to Kabukicho to go drinking. We first dropped by Wataminchi (わたみん家), a well-known chain of izakaya (Japanese pubs). They had 90-minute all-you-can drink for only 800 yen, which is dirt cheap. That’s why that place was our first stop.

The next joint we visited was another izakaya called Kabaya (九州料理かば屋), which serves dishes and drinks from Kyushu. I wanted my friend to try raw horse, or basashi (馬刺し). There’s a prefecture in Kyushu called Kumamoto (which was hit by a major earthquake a few weeks ago), and they’re known for good basashi among other things. However, I wouldn’t come here to try it. It wasn’t that good, the slices were very thin, and it was quite expensive.

If you’re a guy walking around Kabukicho at night, there is no escape from the dozens of men standing around trying to get people to watch a peepshop or visit a whorehouse. I’ve been here several times and am quite used to it. Usually I just smile and say “No thanks” and that’d be the end of it. Occasionally though you’ll get people who just won’t give up.

That night we had some very interesting encounters with these guys.

The first was an old Japanese lady, who was maybe in her 70s. She looked like an ordinary sweet-looking elderly woman… only she was trying to pimp her girls to us. Wow.

Next was an African guy who followed us for an entire block trying to convince us to go check out his girls. I tried to make a joke and said “Sorry, but my friend is a good Christian”, and to this he stopped in his tracks, looked at me with a confused/offended look on his face and said “I’m a Christian too!” He then continued with, “There’s nothing wrong with having a little fun!”

Finally there was a Japanese dude who approached us and said just one word.


Well, that was pretty direct, I thought. It wasn’t even a question. He just looked at us, emotionless, and said “SEX”. We replied, “No thanks”, and respecting our decision, he turned around and walked away.

Before I go, here’s a random picture from Golden-gai, a section of Kabukicho with lots of tiny 5 to 6-seat bars famous for being visited by artists, especially from the movie world. They say Quentin Tarantino frequents the place when he’s in Japan.

Incidentally, there was a fire here the very next day. It wasn’t us.

“Life is a bitch, but I love bitch and bitch love me” – words to live be.

This is the door to a bar in Golden-gai. I can’t tell if the name of the bar is Love & Peace Bar or Mother Fucker.


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