Kabukichō – Tokyo’s Red Light District
Despite its seedy reputation, Kabukicho, Tokyo's premier red light district, is a tourist favorite. Our Kabukicho guide features everything you need to know about Tokyo's red light district - where to go and where to avoid.
Kabukichō, the red light district and center of adult entertainment in Tokyo, is one of the cities most notorious destinations. As soon as you walk under the large Kabukichō sign, you will instantly be hit by neon lights, men in suits, loud noises from the arcades and bustling crowds. Despite its reputation, Kabukicho still draws tourists in their thousands and if you know what you’re doing, just walking through and basking in this strange environment can be an interesting and worthwhile experience.
Don’t be wary, there are a variety of things to do in Kabukuchō and we’ve got a guide to the best, all right here:
1) Adult Entertainment
The streets of Kabukicho are lined with izakayas (Japanese pubs), host clubs, massage parlors, love hotels and touts who love nothing more than cheerfully hassling passersby. The options are endless, the prices vary and if you’re careful, a good time is assured.
Japan is notorious for its extremely low crime rate and Tokyo, though the capital and by far the largest city, is no exception. However, Kabukichō does buck the trend slightly. It is the one part of Tokyo where you’ll probably notice police scattered around and patrolling the streets. Credit card fraud is not unheard of and stories of scamming are common. Although the Japanese authorities are trying to crack down on these problems ahead of the 2020 Olympics, it’s still important to be careful. Interestingly enough, these criminals are not interested in physical violence and in a majority of these cases the victim comes out with only a damaged bank account. However, here are some safety tips to keep in mind when wandering through the red light district of Tokyo.
Choose your bars wisely
Don’t be fooled, Kabukichō does offer reputable bars, such as the HUB. However, there are some seedier ones that are prone to scams. If there is price haggling involved in order to get into a bar and promises of girls at incredibly low prices, alarm bells should be ringing.
Don’t trust any price offers given to you at first
For the seedy bars you have to be extremely careful with the initial pricing given to you, otherwise you might be confronted with an unexpectantly high bill at the end of the night. There will be many hidden costs that they won’t tell you initially and you will be given several reasons for the unexpected pricing, like entry charge or paying for other individuals drinks.What should have been 10,000 yen could end up being 200,000 yen.
Watch your drink
If you do decide to make the choice to enter such bars, be careful with the drinks you are being offered. Spiked drinks cases have increased over the years, to the point that the U.S embassy offered an official warning to its citizen.
2) Golden Gai
Following Japan’s economic boom, the country quickly set about redeveloping its capital with the grand high-rises and concrete that we see today. The Golden Gai is one of the few places that retains the architecture of pre-boom Tokyo. The Golden Gai is lined with tiny bars, each seating a maximum of five people and so packed together it’s sometimes difficult to see the doors. It might look intimidating but Golden Gai is really safe and a great spot to have an alternative Japanese drinking experience.
The Golden Gai’s tendency to attract celebrities, artists, film-makers and musicians, however, is reflected in its prices. The Golden Gai can be, to a certain degree, pretty exclusive and it’s not uncommon to see ‘Japanese only’ signs. Don’t take it as a sign of racism, it’s mainly to allow regulars access to their local bar, rather than anything more sinister. Foreigner friendly bars are easy to find, so best to keep to them. However, do remember, there is a no photo policy. Here are some foreign friendly bars that are worth checking out:
Hair of The Dogs
3) Robot cafe
Walk through Kabukichō, you’ll be hard pressed not to spot the advertisements for the Robot Restaurant, perhaps the area’s biggest tourist draw. As soon as you enter through its doors you will be mesmerized by the neon lights. Once the show starts, you’ll be faced with scantily clad dancing women, pandas riding a cow, a tiny woman fighting robots with a sword, an epic robot on robot battle among much much more. This is a jaw-dropping uniquely Japanese experience that is perhaps putting up with the fairly high entry price and mediocre food.
Opening hours: 5:00pm to 11:30pm
4) Hanazono Shrine
A short stroll from the Golden Gai will lead you to the Hanazono Shrine – considered one of the most important shrines in Tokyo dating back to 1603. An interesting respite from the bustling Shinjuku; as soon as you enter the temple grounds take the chance to sign an ema (絵馬) – a Shinto small wooden plaque – with a wish and then hang it along with the others. Festivals are regularly held here and are well worth checking out.
5) Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
Godzilla is one of the most recognizable figures from Japanese pop-culture, a towering beast still heavily associated with Tokyo globally. Peeking out from the top of Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, you’ll spot this monster peering out across the city. The hotel has marked itself out with its giant Godzilla and Godzilla themed interiors. A stay here is on the pricey side but perhaps worth it for Godzilla diehards.
Access to Kabukichō
To get to Kabukicho, first head to JR Shinjuku Station. From there: