Under the watching eyes of Godzilla, lies Kabukicho. Home to Japan’s largest red-light district, the area has become synonymous with host/ hostess bars, aggressive touts and neon-lit nightclubs. The bombs dropped on Tokyo in 1945 levelled the area of Shinjuku formerly known as Tsunohazo and from this, the now notorious ‘entertainment’ district was born. Ambitious plans to build a Kabuki Theatre in the area ultimately failed, but the name remained; Kabukicho’s rapid growth in the second half of the 20th Century turning it from a residential area into the host of Tokyo’s premier nightlife scene. However, this rise in industry and commerce has come with a dodgy reputation, often rightfully deserved.
Often accompanied by a warning in guidebooks, Kabukicho has become infamous for ‘bottakuri’ in recent years. Hapless tourists are promised a few hours worth of entertainment by club promoters for ¥3,000-4000 but upon settling the bill at the end, are presented with one considerably higher than previously agreed. They are then intimidated and bullied into paying, while simultaneously being too ashamed to complain to the police. The Guardian reported that the first four months of 2015 saw 1,000 separate complaints of ‘bottakuri’ among the area’s 4,500 bars. The setting for countless Japanese crime novels, including Ryu Murakami’s famous ‘In the Miso Soup’, only add to Kabukicho’s salacious reputation. However, there is much of note in Kabukicho that is worthy of a visit, with a number of hidden gems. Here I will describe four separate venues across a range of interests; culture, sports, entertainment and night-life.
The first of these is one that is already quite popular but worth mentioning and definitely worth a visit. Neatly tucked alongside countless bars and clubs, lies the ‘Samurai Museum’. At ¥1,500, the museum is slightly more expensive than others in the city but it is worth the cost and open until 21:00. Set over two floors, the museum is perfect for learning about the history, culture and fighting style of these ancient warriors. With traditional armour and swords on display that date back hundreds of years, it’s hard not to be impressed. If that’s not enough, for an additional ¥500, you can try on some of the armour itself and pose for memorable photographs. The friendly and accommodating staff also offer special sword performances at various times throughout the day free of charge.
If you’re looking for something a bit more active, then Kabukicho can also provide. The area has not one, but two, batting cages which are perfect for letting off some steam, trying your hand at a national pasttime and having a lot of fun while doing so. Both the ‘Oslo Batting Centre’ and the ‘Shinjuku Batting Centre’ are located in Kabukicho and both provide plenty of entertainment. The Shinjuku Batting Centre has 12 separate lanes and offers pitching machines from as slow as 70km which is recommended for first-timers. It also has a number of retro gaming machines that you can play on in-between sessions, while the Oslo Batting Centre also contains a number of dart boards. Regardless of which you choose, both are fantastic fun and a truly unique Japanese experience.
The ‘TOHO Shinjuku Cinema’ can hardly be called a ‘hidden’ attraction in Kabukicho. Even before the installation of the 12-metre high Godzilla head and claw on its’ roof, the cinema was already a focal point for the area. Yet, the cinema itself is often overlooked by toursits in the area. With a dizzying number of different screens and showings, Tokyo’s most famous cinema is the best place to watch the latest big-screen blockbuster. With the choice of IMAX, 3D and now even a 4D option, and showings that begin as late as 3am (27:00), TOHO is the perfect spot to spend a few hours in Kabukicho, whether that be in the middle of the afternoon or while waiting for the first train at 5am is up to you! While the admission price of ¥1,800 is fairly standard for Japan, TOHO Cinemas has a bevy of special offers such as ‘Ladies Day’ (every Wednesday), ‘Cinemas Day’ (the 14th each month) and ‘First Day’ (1st of each month) that reduce the price to a very affordable ¥1,100.
The final Kabukicho attraction I will mention makes the perfect end to a busy day/ night in Shinjuku, and at a bargain price. ‘Alps’ is a legendary izakaya located just behind TOHO Cinemas that has drink prices to rival anywhere else in the city. Like most izakayas, you have to pay a cover charge (¥430) and purchase at least one food dish each. Unlike other izakayas, however, draft beer costs ¥180 and Shochu cocktails ¥200. Set over three floors, ‘Alps’ has a cracking atmosphere and unbeatable prices making it the perfect place to come before, during or after a night in the legendary Kabukicho.
For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/traffic/shinjuku/