Tokyo has a dense and rich nightlife that caters to all tastes. Vistas from skyscrapers such as the World Trade Center allow for panoramic views of the city’s night lights, rivers such as the Meguro are perfect for peaceful walks. Downtown shopping and bar districts also give people the chance to explore the excitement of Tokyo after dark. During the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, or at any other time, explore one of Tokyo’s many faces to find the Tokyo that is perfect for you, your friends, and your travel mates.
BY Richard Milner
There is a Tokyo for every resident and traveler. The city contains such a diverse assortment of neighborhoods, hotspots, subcultures, and faces that it is nearly impossible to explore in one visit, or perhaps even one lifetime. After dark, Tokyo takes on a completely different character, and familiar places become mysterious and new. Whether single, as a couple, or with a family, you can head out in the coolest time of the day, avoid the summer heat during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and find a variety of activities. Bars, clubs, night city-views, night-lit temples and shrines, and a host of cultural excursions await. For those wishing to escape from the city heat to exercise, rest in a quiet spot, go on a half-day trip into the night, or dive into the noise of a downtown area like Shibuya, Tokyo 2020 has your ideal solution.
The Tokyo skyline is an ocean of architectural geometry with pinpricks of light that mirror the density of the stars overhead. The cityscape appears to extend endlessly, and is best seen from a high elevation. Seeing Tokyo at night from the top of Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Skytree lets you witness the construction of the city and imagine the 38 million lives that inhabit it the Greater Tokyo Area.
The World Trade Center near Daimon train station affords a spectacular, 360 degree-perspective of the city and Tokyo Tower. The observation floor is a lounge with sofas and chairs that rings the building and also allows views of the Rainbow Bridge and the bay. The cost is 650 yen per person, and well worth the visit before heading off to a nearby restaurant or bar for food or drinks. The Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, open to the public during the day, presents camera-ready tourists with excellent shots of the city.
For those who aren’t drawn to large-scale sightseeing spots, Tokyo affords the chance to take a relaxing stroll. Enjoy peaceful river sounds at nighttime along one of Tokyo’s rivers, such as the Meguro, Tama, or Sumida, and take advantage of picturesque photo spots or tiny food shops. Green spaces such as Yoyogi Park or Komazawa Park are open to the public at all hours for a nature-oriented side of Tokyo. For the health-conscious, any of these spots can be used for jogging, running, cycling, and even yoga.
If you prefer to use your night to browse for clothing, accessories, electronics, knick-knacks, or niche goods, you might want to take a walk through the renowned name brands of Omote-sando, the second-hand paradises of Harajuku, or the independent upscale shops of Daikanyama. Tokyo has countless malls and standalone stores to satisfy the budget of any traveler, many of which offer tax-free goods to travelers (provided you have your passport on hand). If your tastes are retro, classy, eccentric, or anything in between, there is a shop and area of the city for you.
In addition to day trips, Tokyo is ideal for nighttime excursions. Locations such as Senso-ji in Asakusa or Meiji-jingumae in Harajuku take on a different character once they become lit by the soft beauty of night lights. At night, temples and shrines all across the city wait for travelers who want a restful experience. Small, unknown shrines can be found around corners and down alleyways.
The Factory Tour is a cruise that travels along the coast of Kawasaki, south of central Tokyo, and lets visitors take pictures of massive, green-lit factories that seem straight out of science fiction movie. A tour guide provides explanations of the sights over speakers, and the bartender on the boat passes out complimentary drinks. Odaiba, a district of technology-focused malls and arcades in the southeast of Tokyo, looks like a futuristic vision of the city not otherwise seen except in anime or manga.
The clubs and bars of Tokyo’s nightlife provide a limitless experience for anyone who can’t resist the call of the city’s streets at night. Clubs (Contact, Womb, Apollo) feature live DJs and separate rooms with different music. They open late and stay open until morning so club-goers don’t have to rush for the last train of the night.. Small jazz, hip-hop, or metal venues (Dug, Little Soul, Antiknock, respectively) give fans the chance to dive into the music they love. Karaoke lovers can belt out their favorite songs in a cozy spot until early light. Prominent karaoke chains such as Karaokekan, Big Echo, and Maneki Neko offer private rooms and 24-hour food and drink service.
There are also thousands of izakaya (Japanese-style bars) scattered across Tokyo that stay open late and serve Japanese bar food. Well-known areas like the Golden Gai, a set of pub-and-restaurant streets in Shinjuku-sanchome, contain over 200 establishments in and of itself. Whether you’re looking for the punk vibe of Shimokitazawa, the chic hipster elegance of Naka-meguro, or the little-known, shoulder-width warrens of Sangenjaya or Kichijoji. Tokyo’s bar scene merits trip after trip, night after night. Finding your favorite traditional, themed, simple, or ornate places across the city can be an entire journey in and of itself.
I am a writer, teacher, and speaker currently working and living in Tokyo. I have an MA in Digital Creative Media and a BA in Psychology, and I have worked as a narrative designer in the video game industry and also as a mental health care professional in New York. In my spare time I love to travel, read, and practice yoga.