Walking in Tokyo at Night

Photo: Fabian Reus

Walking in Tokyo at Night

Peter Leonard

Tokyo has often been described as a city of stark contrasts, and there is truth in that: wooden temples rub against concrete skyscrapers and bustling entertainment districts split up the serene backstreets.

But it’s the difference between day and night where Tokyo is its most schizophrenic. By day Tokyo heaves with salarymen and women in crisp suits, marching in droves from train station to office. But when the sun goes down, the neon lights flare up and the straight-laced office workers turn into evening revellers packing out every izakaya. It is possible to see the same part of Tokyo at day and night and feel as though you’re in an entirely new place.

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For any tourist to Japan’s capital city, a walk around Tokyo at night is a top priority. Not guided, mind: to get the full effect one must throw themselves out into the streets and see where their feet take them. It can be quite intimidating to try this in a foreign land, and the dazzling lights can overwhelm and confuse visitors at the best of times, but as long as you are sensible you have nothing to worry about. Japan is a famously safe place and Tokyo is no exception, and even if you wander far you are always close to a train station to carry you back.

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But don’t just stick to the bright lights and wide boulevards! Stepping back into the quiet neighbourhoods tucked just behind the busy areas is always a deeply rewarding experience. In this densely packed metropolis there is always something to see, some fresh surprise waiting around the corner - in five minutes you could stumble upon a tiny local shrine, a neighbourhood park, an old-fashioned bathhouse, a quaint coffee shop, and a quirky local landmark not even seasoned Tokyoites know about. On one of my personal nighttime walks around the suburbs of Shinjuku, I found a strange cul-de-sac of sorts where a curious, important-looking obelisk stood on an island of grass in the middle, houses ringed around it. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. Every area has its own personality and secrets waiting to be discovered, and you cannot go wrong with any part of Tokyo.

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Nor will you be caught up short on a nighttime stroll, either. Tokyo takes the idea of ‘The City That Never Sleeps’ to new extremes, with convenience stores on every other street corner, all of them open 24 hours and rubbing shoulders with an all manner of earthy eateries that stay open into the small hours.

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It's also a time when Tokyo’s crowds thin out. True, a megapolis of 14 million people is never truly ‘quiet’, but when the sun goes down and the office workers filter back to the bed towns on the outskirts, the night is your best chance to experience the streets of Tokyo without the heaving masses. Only at 4am will you be able to see the famous Shibuya Crossing without the sea of faces! And if you’re in Tokyo between May and September, the oppressive heat of the day also peels back a bit to make exploring on foot just that little bit more comfortable.

A walk around Tokyo at night is a must for any curious explorer in Japan. It offers an experience and atmosphere of this vast, sprawling city that is quite different to the daytime. So when darkness falls, put on those walking shoes and get out there!

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