Ask any of my friends and they will tell you I am not much of a partier. I can have fun with the best of them, but I definitely am more of a “day on the town” as opposed to a “night on the town” gal – if I go out I prefer to be back by 1 or 2 am at the latest.
Tokyo makes it INCREDIBLY hard to stick to that schedule. But, as I have been discovering over my time here, sometimes that’s not a bad thing.
So the first, and really only solid, rule of Tokyo nightlife is this – if you are out, you are OUT. Unless you are at a local bar or izakaya where you can walk home (biking while inebriated is a punishable offense in Japan), you have to have your butt in the seat of the train by 12:30. That’s because while Japan’s trains are insanely reliable and safe and everything I want for trains in the USA, they don’t run all night. For example, the last train from Kokubunji, home of my new favorite bar Lighthouse Tokyo, to Musashisakai where ICU is is at 12:37am. If you miss that train, like I did on Wednesday of Golden Week, you are stuck.
This tends to lead to three scenarios and, naturally, I have three different stories.
First, you can do what I did on Wednesday. I knew I was going to be working with my friend from Middlebury to help run a party at a group home. Weighing whether I wanted to physically tired and sleepy, or just sleepy, I decided that I wouldn’t attempt the two hour walk back to campus. This is the most popular option – the rally. I made new friends, drank, and had a lot of fun.
Or you can do what I did the following Saturday. After an impromptu picnic in Inokashira Kouen with friends (all hail no open container laws), we decided to walk back to campus. My google fit, and my sleep schedule, thanked me.
However sometimes you aren’t near your home. You are at a club in Shibuya or Roppongi, you can’t afford a taxi, but you can’t rally. Luckily because the trains don’t run there are a host of businesses ready to take your cash so you can rest. For example, have you ever noticed that little emoji of a pink hotel with a heart on your phone? Yeah, that’s what is called a Love Hotel. There are a wide variety of options, from the rather sketchy, to the insanely classy, and the just plain quirky. They are used for exactly what you are thinking of – allowing tired club goers to rest their feet with good friends until the trains start. Wait, what were you thinking of?
(Note: What you were thinking of definitely also occurs)
There are also all night karaoke places so you can sing your heart out sitting down rather than jumping up and down in a club, a variety of restaurants ready to feed your hungry soul, and bars where you can top up to tolerate the fact that you have been up for nearly 24 hours. I can attest to the fact that the greatest of group bonding occurs in these establishments.
Now that you know what you are getting into, let’s talk about what a typical night out might look like. You have committed to going out, but want to get some food and drink in you before you dance for four hours straight. I would like to introduce you to one of the stars of today’s Japanese lesson.
Today we have four very important words – a noun, an expression, a verb, and an adjective. 居酒屋, 飲み放題, 酔っ払う, and 二日酔い. Those of you with astute eyes will notice the same character is in two of those words. This will become clear upon explanation.
The first word is 居酒屋 – Izakaya. These are Japan’s answer to pubs. They are a pretty unique experience, with literally overflowing cups of sake, energetic barkeeps, and DELICIOUS food. Yesterday my friends and I hit up Bakawarai, a pretty amazing Izakaya in my favorite place – Kichijouji. Our table was reserved with an egg with our friend’s name on it, that was later used in some absolutely delicious pork, egg, and cheese combo that I cannot for the life of me remember the name of. We also got a few rounds of drinks, yakisoba, gyoza, and flounder, for around 3000 yen a person – pretty cheap when compared with bars in the USA.
If leisurely drinking is not your style, and you just want to get turnt and quickly there is always the 飲み放題 option. Nomihoudai, or all you can drink, is a staple at many izakayas and karaoke places. The drinks may be watered down, but when you can drink as much as you’d like at 1000 yen an hour, no one really complains. After attending a 飲み放題, it is not uncommon for people to become drunk. This leads us to 酔っ払う, or its present progressive form, 酔っ払っている – to be drunk.
Now you are off to a club. As I am still not technically legal in the United States, I have never been to a club stateside. Thus, I have nothing to compare clubs in Japan to. I will say they are EXPENSIVE. If you want to go on a normal day, the tickets are near 3,500 yen – a pretty pricey night out. Luckily many clubs, including Sound Museum Vision in Shibuya have a “Ladies Night” where the fairer sex gets in for free with the purchase of a drink ticket. So for 700 yen you can dance, have guys buy you drinks, and try to avoid creepy people for until the sun comes up – literally, now that it is summer and the days are getting longer.
Let’s say you get tired. You’re hungry. Your friend is about to pass out from exhaustion. In order to stave off the last vocab word – 二日酔い (futsukayoi, or hangover) – you have to have greasy food immediately. McDonald’s won’t be open, as they don’t open until 6:00, but there are a wealth of options to choose from. If you just want something to soak up the liquor in your stomach, a conbini onigiri is always a good choice. Then there’s ramen, burgers, udon… truly no end to things to eat at uncommon hours in Tokyo. After all, New York is “The City That Never Sleeps.” Tokyo is “The City That Can’t Sleep Until the Trains Start Running Again.” – You will be in excellent company no matter where you go.