Tokyo Metro is not open 24/7, contrary to (my/some) beliefs. And its hours dictate the night life. Unless you catch a ride back home at midnight, Cinderella, you’re going hardcore – until the break of dawn.
But not to worry – there are plenty of options for you in case you’re stranded. Because Tokyo has you covered: you can rock all night long in manga cafes, karaoke rooms, izakayas, drinking and chlling dives, jazz bars, superclubs, etc.
New York & London, take note.
Golden Gai is a very eccentric little neighbourhood near Shinjuku station (just off the famed Kabuki-cho red light district) with rows upon rows of over 250 amazing little bars, literally holes in the wall. Each with their own quirky features, design and a set of clientele, straight out of a movie scenario.
A few even have English names, like Tomorrow or Albatross, which are easier to find but your best bet is to have a wander and gauge which vibe suits you best, then try your luck (some are ‘members only’ or simply prefer not to serve foreigners).
Here’s a cool little fact to help you deal with that last bit of information: because Tokyo apartments are very small and condensed, the owners rent out these shacks in the Gai for periods of time, a year or longer, and just entertain their friends there.
Finally, the rest of the city awakes at dawn, and all of a sudden people start emerging from holes, dark corners, underground sheds, pachinko parlours – wherever they’ve been passing time till the morning – to catch the first train back.
The night crowds blend in seamlessly with the first salary men (most of them have not gone home the day before either, but they probably welcomed the morning in capsule hotels, where they had their suits pressed.
Above photo (c) David French
Unlike Ginza, bursting with couture, the fashionable crowds in Shibuya and Harajuku are doing their best to attract as many bulging eyes with their daring and exuberant attire.
’I dream. Sometimes I think that’s the only right thing to do’. Fushimi Inari
Catching a glimpse of 芸者 (Geisha) & their famed wabbly wooden platforms, in Kyoto, where luck plays a big part in spotting them and scoring a picture while they run between their appointments.
“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great that I thought I was in a dream”.
Lights, colours, sounds: everything is stealing your attention, everything is luring you in.
capsule hotel, alienation! [photo: http://9hours.jp/]
My famous wandering walks at dawn tend to bring up a whole different character of the city trying to see that other, empty, expectant face of it.. liberated.
Kyoto’s different neighbourhoods were full of little discoveries, the ones you can never be too familiar with.
Just don’t let them disappear into a vacuum of amazing places that must be seen but that you are never able to locate again.
at the shrines
I loved the early morning calm in an archaic Higashiyama area. Passing though all these little neighbourhoods, I was just some unknown, unnamed person strolling aimlessly..
But there’s always something there, definable or not, magical or seemingly ordinary.. it’s usually very random but always a welcoming experience.
Mt. Koya (Koya-san)
Rested & amused as to what’s waiting for me there, I trekked to Koya-san, 3h from Osaka by trams, trains, funiculars, buses and my own two happy feet.
I encountered really mystic temples, forests and cold mountain air.
and my brooding monks who worried about me being hungry, but I couldn’t explain to them that I wanted to fast.
Hiroshima, National Peace Memorial Hall of Remembrance for the A-bomb victims
Picture this: you’re at the airport and you’re looking up at the list of flights departing.. and always thinking wow, I wish I was going here instead (there is always that one place, that one that is just out of your reach, for whatever reason, that’s a distant dream).
Well, this time, that’s precisely where I was going.
And it was mystifying.. no, it was invigorating.
And Japan in a sentence? “One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”