By day, Tokyo is arguably one of the least attractive cities in the world. Come dusk, however, the drabness fades and the city blossoms into a profusion of giant neon lights and paper lanterns, and its streets fill with millions of overworked Japanese out to have a good time. If you ask me, Tokyo at night is one of the craziest cities in the world, a city that never seems to sleep. Entertainment districts are as crowded at 3am as they are at 10pm, and many places stay open until the subways start running after 5am. Whether it's jazz, reggae, gay bars, sex shows, dance clubs, mania, or madness you're searching for, Tokyo has them all.
Getting to Know the Scene -- Tokyo has no one center of nighttime activity. There are many nightspots spread throughout the city, each with its own atmosphere, price range, and clientele. Most famous are probably Ginza, Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku, and Roppongi. Before visiting any of the locales listed in this section, be sure to walk around the neighborhoods and absorb the atmosphere. The streets will be crowded, the neon lights will be overwhelming, and you never know what you might discover on your own.
Although there are many bars, discos, and clubs packed with young Japanese of both sexes, nightlife in Japan for the older generations is still pretty much a man's domain, just as it has been for centuries. At the high end of this domain are the geisha bars, where highly trained women entertain by playing traditional Japanese instruments, singing, and holding witty conversations -- and nothing more risqué than that. Such places are located mainly in Kyoto and, generally speaking, are both outrageously expensive and closed to outsiders. As a foreigner, you'll have little opportunity to visit a geisha bar unless you're invited by a business associate.
All Japanese cities, however, have so-called hostess bars; in Tokyo, these are concentrated in Ginza, Roppongi, Shinjuku, and Akasaka. Hostess bars in various forms have been a part of Japanese society for centuries. A woman will sit at your table, talk to you, pour your drinks, listen to your problems, and boost your ego. You buy her drinks as well, which is one reason the tab can be so high. Most of you will probably find the visit to one not worth the price, as the hostesses usually speak Japanese only, but such places provide Japanese males with sympathetic ears and the chance to escape the worlds of both work and family. Men usually have a favorite hostess bar, often a small place with just enough room for regular customers. The more exclusive hostess bars welcome only those with an introduction.
The most popular nightlife spots are drinking establishments, where most office workers, students, and expatriates go for an evening out. These places include Western-style bars, most commonly found in Roppongi, as well as Japanese-style watering holes, called nomi-ya. Yakitori-ya, bars that serve yakitori and other snacks, are included in this group. Dancing and live-music venues are also hugely popular with young Tokyoites. At the low end of the spectrum are topless bars, erotic dance clubs (including those that employ Western dancers), sex shows, and massage parlors, with the largest concentration of such places in Shinjuku's Kabuki-cho district.
Extra Charges & Taxes -- One more thing you should be aware of is the "table charge" imposed on customers by some bars (especially nomiya) and many cocktail lounges. Included in the table charge is usually a small appetizer -- maybe nuts, chips, or a vegetable; for this reason, some locales call it an otsumami, or snack charge. At any rate, the charge is usually between ¥300 and ¥500 per person. Some establishments levy a table charge only after a certain time in the evening; others may add it only if you don't order food from the menu. If you're not sure and it matters to you, be sure to ask before you order anything. Remember, too, that there's a 5% consumption tax, though most menus already include it in their prices. Some higher-end establishments, especially nightclubs, hostess bars, and dance clubs, will add a service charge ranging anywhere from 10% to 20%.
Finding Out What's On -- Keep an eye out for Metropolis (http://metropolis.co.jp), a free weekly that carries a nightlife section covering concerts, theaters, and events and is available at bars, restaurants, and other venues around town. The Japan Times and Daily Yomiuri also have entertainment sections.
Getting Tickets -- If you're staying in a higher-end hotel, the concierge or guest-relations manager can usually get tickets for you. Otherwise, you can head to the theater or hall itself. An easier way is to go through one of many ticket services available such as Ticket PIA, which has outlets on the first floor of the Sony Building in the Ginza, the Isetan department store annex in Shinjuku, and many other locations in Tokyo; ask your hotel concierge for the one nearest you.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.