Japanese Nightclubs: A Different Kind of Night Out

Photo: Ginji Fukasawa on Flickr

Japanese Nightclubs: A Different Kind of Night Out

Liam Carrigan

Okay, before I wade into today’s inane ramblings, I feel I should put out a couple of preliminary statements:

I am not a fan of nightclubs. However, nightclubs in Japan are in some cases quite entertaining and fun. Some of the clubs here can even be quite classy.

One of the first, immediately noticeable differences is the way admissions are handled.

Back in Scotland, there was always about a 30% chance or so that you would be refused entry into your club of choice on a Friday or Saturday night, meaning you would often end up going to your second or third choice. Perhaps there were too many people in there already, perhaps the doormen didn’t like the look of your face, or perhaps they had some kind of highly selective dress code (admittedly unlikely in a place like Glasgow, I know).

Ginji Fukasawa on Flickr

However, in Japan, in the few times I have been to clubs in Tokyo, Osaka and a few other major cities, that has never happened.

I have always been welcomed politely, occasionally after being asked to present my ID card, and that’s that.

For initial hospitality at least, Japanese nightclubs seem to have an initial advantage.

Also admission prices whilst slightly higher than back in the UK, with the notable exception of London, where, let’s face it, everything is grossly overpriced, actually give pretty good value. In almost all cases, one or sometimes two free drinks are included in the admission cost. And it isn’t cheap watered down suds either, these tickets can be exchanged for almost any drink available at the bar, within reason. Asking for a pint of Moet Chandon is unlikely to get you a positive response!

Marco Verch on Flickr

The appearance and initial ambience of clubs here is, at least in the beginning, kind of similar to back in the UK. Lighting is minimal, sometimes making it hard to pick out the faces of people around you, the music is loud and booming, though somehow less offensive to my olfactory senses than it was in Glasgow nightclubs.

Soft lighting is a key feature of most of the clubs I’ve been to around here. Everything seems to be encased in a warm, reddish purple glow. It’s enough of a light that you can see where you are going, but sufficiently dark enough to maintain the familiar nightclub ambience.

There’s also a better sense of value for money once you hit the bar inside the Japanese nightclub as well. Yes, drinks are more expensive than most bars or izakayas, again this is something one would expect from bars and clubs around the world. However we are talking a difference of a couple of hundred yen, a mark-up of say 20 to 30% on the usual price in a typical bar or izakaya, not the 2 or 300% mark-up I saw in some clubs back in the UK. Yes, bars in Japan are generally overpriced, and nightclubs don’t exactly buck that trend, but they certainly don’t seek to bilk customers the way clubs in other countries do.

Of course a good club is defined by its music, and this is an area where typical Japanese nightclubs may be a hit or miss with you depending on your own personal tastes.

Whilst there are bars and clubs devoted to certain genres of music in Japan, such as heavy metal bars, jazz bars or live music venues, nightclubs here seek to offer a little of something for everyone. The musical selection could, I suppose, best be described as eclectic. It can at first be a bit distracting to hear Lady Gaga, followed by Oasis, followed by Eminem, but such a seemingly random playlist is actually one of the quirks of Japanese nightclubs that I find quite charming.

Connie on Flickr

Besides, if the song isn’t good, you’ve only got a 2 or 3 minute wait until a completely different tune comes on!

One of the few downsides to nightclubs in Japan is the government’s ongoing stubborn refusal to implement a full and comprehensive smoking ban. Yes, some clubs now only allow smoking in a designated smoking area, and smoking on the dance floor has always been a big no-no here in Japan, but the reality is, in an area as compact as a nightclub, the smoke quickly seeps out and gets its foul stench onto everything.

I recall one night out in Tokyo, where I didn’t even see anyone smoking anywhere near me throughout the whole night. And yet, sure enough, when I got home in the morning, my clothes had the familiarly sickening aroma of nicotine and tobacco.

Hopefully as the Olympics draw closer, this one area of health and safety law in Japan will finally be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century!

Ken korean on Flickr

Overall, nightclubs in Japan certainly provide a different experience from what you are probably used to in your home countries.

From a tourist’s point of view, it’s probably a bit like tasting natto. It’s uncertain whether you will enjoy the experience or not, and it’s probably a 50/50 bet as to whether you’ll want to go through the experience again. Nevertheless, from a cultural standpoint, I do recommend it as something you should try at least once.

As for me, I’ll stick to izakayas and restaurants for my entertainment. And during the summer, I look forward to the return of my beloved beer gardens!

Wherever you decide to spend your weekend nights out in Japan, here’s hoping you have a good one!