When planning to walk at night in Tokyo for the first time, you should keep a couple of things in mind. Based on my experience, here are some thoughts on having more fun when going out and some precautions to take.
First, let’s set up the conditions we are going for. Tokyo has a wide range of bars and restaurants, and depending on your preferences, the options can vary significantly. In this case, I will assume you are a single traveler or a small group looking for affordable places to have drinks at night. This means we will focus less on eating and more on drinking. Additionally, we will prioritize places that give you more opportunities to interact with locals.
Let’s start with some cautions when going out in Japan. One thing to be aware of is the practice of “Bottakuri,” which refers to being charged significantly more than the actual cost of something. For example, being asked to pay 100 dollars for a bottle of water. If you refuse to pay, you may find yourself in trouble. In general, you may encounter situations where you are asked to pay more than the normal market price, especially in bar districts. It can happen to anyone. While it is clear that paying 100 dollars for a bottle of water is unreasonable, it becomes more difficult to judge when you are asked to pay 10 dollars for the same bottle, knowing that you can buy it for 1 dollar in a shop. To avoid such situations, it is better to ask for the menu or the price before ordering.
In Japan, when you go to a bar, you may encounter a “table charge,” which is the fee charged for sitting at a table. Sometimes it includes a light snack or food, and sometimes it does not. The price for the table charge can vary, but it is usually around 1,000 yen. Depending on the type of bar you visit, you may also be asked to pay hourly fees, especially at bars where young girls attend to you. In such cases, you need to be careful because not only do you have to pay for yourself, the drinks, and the hourly fees, but you may also be expected to pay for the drinks the girls order. If you request specific attention from someone, you will have to pay extra, and it can lead to a significant bill.
To begin, I would like to address some negative aspects of the topic before delving deeper into it. With that being said, I would also like to highlight the areas I recommend. Tokyo is a mega-sized city that sets itself apart from others by encapsulating smaller cities within it, such as Shibuya or Shinjuku. Each district alone is equivalent in size to major cities, making Tokyo truly unique. The city offers a wide variety of experiences in each area, akin to enjoying a bowl of ice cream with numerous flavors and toppings. Therefore, if you don’t enjoy a particular place, simply keep exploring until you find another that suits your preferences. This abundance of options in Tokyo makes problem-solving quite easy. Just be patient and wait for the right moment, as there are millions of options available.
When searching for a bar while exploring Tokyo, I consider the following points to be the most important. First, consider the acceptance of strangers. Some districts or bars may be more closed off, catering mainly to their regular clients or frequent visitors who keep bottles, for instance. In such places, a total stranger might not be welcomed, and you may need to accompany a regular client in order to gain entry. Second, pay attention to who is behind the counter. You may have better luck if you see a younger person working there, as they tend to be friendly towards anyone and are more likely to understand English. Third, it may be advisable to avoid bars located in basements or on upper floors. If you consider yourself a beginner, opt for somewhere that is easy to enter and exit, so that if any trouble arises, it will be easier to seek assistance. To ensure this, choose a busier area rather than a remote bar in the middle of nowhere.
Unfortunately, I do not have much experience doing this in places outside of Japan. However, I believe that the above guidelines should generally apply to anywhere you visit. Moreover, it is generally safe in Japan, even when walking alone at night. You can relax and explore, keeping in mind to visit busier areas rather than desolate ones. To find busier and more popular spots, here is a directional guide that you can follow.