Tokyo harbors a vibrant street life all year round, but with the return of the warmer days the city takes an even more alluring turn after sunset. Here are some of the best neighborhoods for an evening or a night stroll. They will, each in their own way, leave you in awe at the sight of neon lights, offer great food, charming bars, authentic character and heaps of atmosphere.
Located in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace, the district of Kanda is vast, encompassing among others the neighborhoods of Akihabara, Ochanomizu, Suidobashi, and Jimbocho. Being a residential-, a university-, and a business district, Kanda naturally brings people together and bears a rich evening life, with a wealth of dining opportunities and great atmosphere around the elevated rail tracks of the station in particular.
Access: Kanda Station on the JR Yamanote Line, Chuo Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, and on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line. West Exit is a good place to start exploring.
Just a little more South of Kanda on the Yamanote Line, passing Tokyo Station, lies the district of Yurakucho, another very dynamic neighborhood which I always picture as Kanda’s buoyant, exuberant little brother. Yurakucho is a popular spot for businessmen to enjoy food and drinks after work, and once again the railway provides a perfect frame for the bars and the neon lights. Both sides of the track are a long formation of izakaya and yakitori joints known as Gado-shita (below the girder), with the grittiest ones located right underneath the tracks. Needless to say it smells wonderful wherever you go, you will love sitting down in one of the bars for simple, authentic food in a fascinating setting.
Access: Yurakucho Station on the JR Yamanote Line and Keihin-Tohoku Line, and on the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line. Central West Exit is a good place to start exploring, walk up and down the rail tracks on each side of the station.
Nakano is best known for the Nakano Broadway shopping complex, a four-level kingdom where you will find everything related to anime, manga, video games, idol merchandise, figurines, collectables of all sorts. The otaku mecca, if you will. Connecting Nakano Broadway with Nakano Station is the Nakano Sun Mall shopping arcade. Broadway and Sun Mall are both thriving and competing for popularity, which ensures that you will never run out of shopping opportunities in Nakano! Once you are done shopping (if there ever is such a thing), head for the narrow backstreets directly adjacent to Sun Mall. You will find an abundance of small restaurants, signboards, and overhead cable mish-mash wherever you turn your eyes. A perfect night scenery in a relaxed setting where locals too like to gather and enjoy the evening.
Access: Nakano Station on the JR Chuo Line and the Tozai Subway Line. Take the North Exit and head North.
Kagurazaka, a popular entertainment district in the Edo period, is another neighborhood for foodies. More sophisticated than the first districts of our list, it extends from Iidabashi Station in a sloping street with its adjacent back alleys, all populated with excellent Japanese, Chinese (ah those nikuman at Gojuban… don’t miss them!), French, Italian, Spanish restaurants, and some fine Japanese craft stores. Before or after dark you will love exploring the narrow streets with cobblestone walkways, wooden sliding doors, and exclusive geisha houses reminiscent of the Gion district in Kyoto.
Access: Iidabashi Station on the JR Chuo-Sobu Line, on the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line, Yurakucho Line, Namboku Line, and on the Toei Oedo Line. Exit B3 of the subway lines is a good place to start exploring, walking up the hill.
One station away from Shibuya on the Yamanote Line, Ebisu is home to the Yebisu brewery, the beer which gave the district its name. It is not surprising then that Ebisu became a focal point of Tokyo’s night life with a myriad of bars and restaurants. After a session of beer tasting at the Museum of Yebisu Beer within the neat Yebisu Garden Place shopping and cultural center, you are spoilt for choice as far as the evening goes. Heading back to the station, and all around it, dining opportunities are countless. Maybe you’ll want to try one of the tachinomi (stand and drink) bars!
Access: Ebisu Station on the JR Yamanote Line, Saikyo Line, Shonan-Shinjuku Line (East Exit to head for Yebisu Garden Place, West Exit for bars and restaurants), and on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line.
6. The Ameyoko Market in Ueno
Ameyoko is short for “Ameya Yokocho” or “Candy Shop Alley”, which was its main function at the time of its establishment. Ameyoko became a black market after World War II, where many of the surplus American military goods could be found, hence the alternative origin for the name Ameya (Ame – American Ya - shop). The market runs from South of Ueno Station, alongside the JR railway track to Okachimachi Station. Today you can find clothing, jewelry, cosmetics, bags, shoes, fake brand watches, groceries, spices, fresh fish and seafood, with stores all along and under the rail track. In the evening (stalls close around 8pm), light bulbs and lampions give the market a delightful exotic twist. If you are prepared for the buzz and the crowd push and pull you will love the high-energy Asian vibe of Ameyoko at dusk.
Access: Ueno Station on the JR Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tohoku Line, Joban Line, Takasaki Line, Utsunomiya Line (Central Exit), and on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Hibiya Line (Exit 5B).
Asakusabashi, not very far from Akihabara, is known for its Japanese doll stores, and the array of bead and jewelry making supply shops. Aside from being beads paradise Asakusabashi holds a very warm atmosphere in the evening around the dimly lit bars. Evenings there are tranquil and slow, far from the hush of the more popular spots, so this neighborhood is for you if you are looking for an unhurried stroll. Underneath the rail tracks, of course. You know the drill.
Access: Asakusabashi Station on the JR Chuo-Sobu line (East Exit is a good place to start exploring), and the Subway Toei Asakusa Line.
Shibuya is the most buzzing neighborhood of our list. The most vibrant and most certainly the loudest. Center of youth culture, Shibuya is very popular for its abounding array of shopping and entertainment opportunities, but there is much more to it than meets the eye if you take the time to explore. You will find attractive neon lights just about everywhere in a large area all around Shibuya station, with a wide diversity of landscapes and atmospheres as you walk from one area to the next. If you visit on a rainy evening you might catch the colorful reflection of the giant video screens of the Shibuya crossing on the wet ground, your special treat for going out in the rain.
Access: Shibuya Station on the JR Yamanote Line, Saikyo Line (Hachiko Exit is a good place to start exploring), and on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Fukutoshin Line, Hanzomon Line, among others.
Have fun this spring exploring Tokyo by night and finding your own favorite stomping ground!