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Travel Guide > Asia > Japan

Japan Nightlife & Entertainment

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The Japanese drink a lot: not only green tea in the office, at meetings and with meals, but also all types of alcoholic beverages in the evening with friends and colleagues. Many social scientists have theorized that in a strictly conformist society, drinking provides a much-needed escape valve that can be used to vent off feelings and frustrations without losing face the next morning.

In Japan, the drinking age is 20 (as is the age of majority and smoking age, for that matter). This is notably higher than most of Europe and the Americas (excepting the United States). However, ID verification is almost never requested at restaurants, bars, convenience stores or other purveyors of liquor, so long as the purchaser does not appear obviously underage. The main exception is in the large clubs in Shibuya, Tokyo, which are popular with young Tokyoites and during busy times will ID everyone entering the club. However, most clubs will accept any form of ID. They will normally ask for a passport, but if you show them a driver's license (legitimate or non-legitimate), they will accept it.

Where to drink

If you're looking for an evening of food and drink in a relaxed traditional atmosphere, go to an izakaya (Japanese-style pub), easily identified by red lanterns with the character (alcohol) hanging out front. Many of them have an all-you-can-drink (nomihodai) deals which are about ¥1,000 (US$10) for 90 minutes (on average), although you'll be limited to certain types of drinks. Very convenient. An izakaya will usually have a lively, convivial atmosphere, as it often acts as a living room of sorts for office workers, students and seniors. Food is invariably good and reasonably priced, and in all, they are an experience not to be missed.

While Western-style bars can also be found here and there, typically charging ¥500-1,000 for drinks, a more common Japanese institution is the snack (sunakku). These are slightly dodgy operations where paid hostesses pour drinks, sing karaoke, massage egos (and sometimes a bit more) and charge upwards of ¥3,000/hour for the service. Tourists will probably feel out of place and many do not even admit non-Japanese patrons.

Dedicated gay bars are comparatively rare in Japan, but the districts of Shinjuku ni-chome in Tokyo and Doyama-cho in Osaka have busy gay scenes. Most gay/lesbian bars serve a small niche (muscular men, etc) and will not permit those who do not fit the mold, including the opposite sex, to enter. While a few are Japanese only, foreigners are welcome at most bars.
Note that izakaya, bars and snacks typically have cover charges (kaba chaji), usually around ¥500 but on rare occasions more, so ask if the place looks really swish. In izakayas this often takes the form of being served some little nibble (otoshi) as you sit down, and no, you can't refuse it and not pay. Some bars also charge a cover charge and an additional fee for any peanuts you're served with your beer.

Vending machines

Vending machines (jidohanbaiki) are omnipresent in Japan and serve up drinks 24 hours a day at the price of ¥120-150 a can/bottle, although some places with captive customers, including the top of Mount Fuji, will charge more. In addition to cans of soft drinks, tea and coffee, you can find vending machines that sell beer, sake and even hard liquor. In winter, some machines will also dispense hot drinks — look for a red label with the writing atatakai instead of the usual blue tsumetai. Vending machines that sell alcoholic beverages are usually switched off at 11PM. Also, more and more of these machines, especially those near a school, require the use of a special "Sake Pass" obtainable at the city hall of the city the machine is located in. The pass is available to anyone of 20 years of age or over. Many vending machines at stations in the Tokyo metropolitan area accept payment using the JR Suica or PASMO cards.

Places to Go Out in Japan

Bar Eager Beaver
Eager Beaver is a Canadian pub.  It is a favourite among expats living in Okinawa and there is always somebody to have a chat with.  The staff are also super friendly.  There is a wide range of imported beer... more
Mid Range, Beers from 500 -850 yen, in Naha
Karaoke Big Echo Karaoke
Japan is the birthplace of Karaoke and as such is highly developed.  Huge Karaoke houses such as Big Echo cater for people from all walks of life, including children, housewives, retired people and workers relaxing af... more
Mid Range, 320 yen per hour before 8pm, 630 yen after 8pm, in Naha
Bar The Smuggler's Irish Pub
If you are dying for a Guinness your best bet is a visit to The Smuggler's Irish Pub.  It is located at the southern end of Kokusai Dori, around the corner on Kencho Mae Dori.  The Smuggler's sells Irish whiskey,... more
Mid Range, Beers from 800 yen. Guinness 900 yen., in Naha
Cinema Mihama 7 Plex
Mihama 7 Plex is the name of the cinema complex in Chatan.  There are eight screens currently, ranging in size from 146 seats to 477 seats.  You do need to book your seat and as weekends can be busy, you may have... more
Mid Range, ¥1600, in Chatan
Bar Dojo Bar
The Dojo Bar, which recently opened in Naha City, has a martial arts theme.  Okinawa is the home of Karate and the weapons art of Kobudo and as such many visitors come to the island to visit their hombu... more
Mid Range, Draft beer ¥500, in Naha

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