Tokyo by night: bars and views to cherish for a lifetime

tokyo by night cityscape

There are 3 very Japanese things you can do in Tokyo at night (in addition to going to a Kabuki show): visit a local bar, sing in a karaoke and enjoy the cityscape at night.

While I was in Japan last week for work, I had mostly evenings to discover Tokyo and these are some of the best spots I encountered which I’d like to share with you.

Check out my recommendations of the best restaurants in Tokyo if you feel hungry too!

Tiny bars and karaoke clubs in Tokyo

Bars in Tokyo are pretty safe, and from experience, night life ends relatively early, although I hear there are also areas where you will be able to party until dawn – and longer.

Here are 2 bars and activity I found really really special:

Bar Thalia

I don’t even know the address of this bar because we bumped into it by chance while walking through Minamiazabu, the embassy district in Tokyo. It is close to the Minamiazabu post office, I hope this helps the most adventurous among you.

In this very small bar you will be transported back to the 1950s and 1960s. It is full of memorabilia from those periods and the bartender is a 70-year old lady in traditional kimono that serves divine spirits, including some she prepares herself, such as ananas-infused vodka. Don’t expect hype cocktails here, it’s all about spirits.

And she plays equally fantastic music, when we were there it was excellent flamenco. It is so incredibly odd to find this in Tokyo, which makes it all the more precious. East meets West in the best possible way. She closes at 1pm but let us stay longer, because we were so talkative 🙂

Gen Yamamoto

Another tiny bar, another out of this world moment, much closer to what you would expect from top notch hotel bars, but with a definitely Japanese flair: Gen Yamamoto (by the name of its owner).

I only tried one Japanese whisky (Al Koji) as I’m not a whisky fan, but it was the whole service around it and the atmosphere that made this experience quite unique.

There are only 8 seats so probably best to book or go either early or late.

Address: Anniversary Building 1F, 1-6-4 Azabu-Juban, Minato-ku,

Karaoke night

If you are in Shinjuku, Shibuya or Ginza you won’t have any trouble finding good karaoke bars. You can book rooms for you and your friends or family for as long as you like and you pay by the time you spend there. The beer is cheap and there is a lot of fun to be had.

I’m not a big karaoke fan but this is definitely a must-do when in Japan (and Asia in general). Big Echo is a chain of karaoke bars and they have decent prices and bars in all the areas I mentioned above. 

Tokyo from above

The list wouldn’t be complete without some recommendations of where to enjoy a view of Tokyo at night from above. If you think this is a tourist thing, you are right, it absolutely is! Yet it is an incredible sight that will remind you of how big Tokyo really is, and make you feel all tiny and insignificant.

You have two places to choose from basically: Tokyo SkyTree and Roppongi Hills skydeck or city view (I did the latter as the skydeck was closed)

I’m sharing all these adresses in the hope that it will inspire you to go out and explore Tokyo, but also to hear from others about their favourite things to do at night in Tokyo. I missed out on some good jazz I believe, and of course should add kabuki or any traditional show to my list for next time, so if you have good tips, please, send them my way.

What is your favourite place to hang out at night in Tokyo?

Tokyo’s vibrant restaurant scene: go out there and explore

Best restaurants in Tokyo

I spent the past week in Tokyo for work, and while most of my days were spent inside an office building, I used the evenings to discover Tokyo’s incredibly diverse night life, much aided by the great colleagues of the EU delegation in Japan who warmly welcomed us and introduced us to some of the city’s more interesting spots.

The choice of restaurants and bars in Tokyo being so humongous, there is no point in pretending that the addresses and tips I am sharing below are some of the highlights of any Tokyo trip. Rather you should see them as pointers to help you go out there and discover for yourself what Tokyo has to offer, based on your own tastes and interests.

You can also check out my recommendations for what to do in Tokyo at night.

Here are 5 addresses I can heartily recommend:

Gonpachi Nishiazabu, Minato-ku

Gonpachi is the restaurant in which Kill Bill’s sword fighting scene was shot. It is therefore totally iconic, very touristy but also had good food for a decent price. As it’s also extremely photogenic I really enjoyed my time there, although I must have been a bore for all my colleagues!

Bonus: observe the badass grilling experts while you sip on your cold draft beer at centre stage bar.

Address:  1 Chome-13-11 Nishiazabu, Minato, Tokyo 106-0031, Japon 

Tofuro

Tofuro is a traditional izakaya (Japanese inn) in the heart of Tokyo’s very popular Ginza district. It’s interior decoration will remind you of all those samurai and geisha movies you’ve seen. The food there, especially the seafood grill and the sushi, were incredibly refined, again for a very modest price compared to most Western European restaurants. If you go there as a group you can even enjoy a whole room to yourselves.

The various sake brands they have are also quite good, and the service impeccable.

Bonus: if you don’t feel like seating in seiza position all evening, they have rooms catering to tourists, who can let their legs dangle under the table while still having the impression they are eating the traditional way as their table is so close to the ground.

Address: 8 Chome-2 Ginza, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0061, Japon

Sushi Iwase

Did you know sushi is from Tokyo, or at least the nigiri sushi version? If you are lucky, you can secure one of the few tables at Sushi Iwase in Shinjuku, a favourite among both locals and tourists since after WWII.

I was alone so I didn’t stay very long but the sushi I had were divine, and really quite different from those you get in European ‘Japanese’ restaurants, which are most of the time managed by people from China or South-East Asia.

Do book in advance and avoid weekends if you want a chance to try them out!

Address: 4-1-9 Shinjuku, Shinjuku Youth Bldg. Pax 6FShinjuku 160-0022, Tokyo Prefecture

Higayashi

If you are curious about Japanese tea and sweets called ‘wagashi’, you can either go to one of the traditional and expensive tea houses for a proper tea ceremony, or you can head to Ginza’s super modern and sleek Higayashi tea bar.

I went in the early afternoon and tried a selection of green teas and wagashi as I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to try. And while the wagashi sweets were absolutely delicious with many new and interesting tastes, I was a bit less impressed by the tea. But that’s because I’m a big big tea drinker and am quite demanding 🙂

Bonus : the interior decoration itself is worth a visit!

Address:   1 Chome−7−7,  Ginza, Chuo, 104-0061 Tokyo, 

Your friendly local izakaya

Wherever you are in Tokyo, you will find a local friendly izakaya which doesn’t even have a menu in English, but serves lovely typical food. The one we tried on our first day in Tokyo, near Hiroo station, served ‘oden’, a tasty mix of vegetables and tofu.

We loved the fact that no one really understood us and that we just picked what looked good on the counter, without knowing what it was and how much it cost.

Bonus: if you are lucky a friendly local with some English will let you in on the secrets of that izakaya. Try to spot the bottles of sake that people own and leave at their favorite restaurant, for example!

While the more famous spots in town offer an incredibly entertaining environment that will certainly tick the boxes of what a proper Japanese culinary and cultural experience should look like, you might actually discover that it’s in the small, unknown restaurants in the middle of nowhere that one tastes the best Tokyo food. 

Now I’m looking forward to your suggestions for my next visit to Japan.

What is your favourite restaurant or type of food in Tokyo?

Toujours plus loin vers l’Est

Comment ferez-vous pour parler d’Orient quand vous y serez allé ?
– Matthias Enard, Boussole 

Il est des passions qui vous dévorent, d’autres qui vous définissent, d’autres enfin qui vous dépassent. Ma passion pour l’Orient fait peut-être écho à toutes celles-là ou à aucune. Difficile en effet de mettre des mots sur un courant qui coule, étrange et pénétrant, comme une rivière souterraine tout le long de votre parcours de vie, et auxquels font écho de nombreux autres courants coulant dans la même direction, avec lesquels pourtant vous ne vous sentez rien en commun. Continue reading “Toujours plus loin vers l’Est”