The Tokyo nightlife for foreigners can be totally different than the authentic experience, reserved for fluent Japanese speakers or residents. Even the 18+ only activities in Japan can turn sour very quickly if you stumble across the wrong bar, in the wrong neighbourhood. We really wanted to experience the Tokyo nightlife but with our incredibly limited Japanese vocabulary, we realised we would only get so far.
After some consideration, we got ourselves a guide from Beauty of Japan and decided to go on a Tokyo pub crawl. And boy, wasn’t this an epic night out? In between awesome Japanese food, epic drinks, fun talks and a double pint of Whisky soda (more on this later), we got to also ask our guide a lot of questions about the Japanese way of life.
The story of the Tokyo pub crawl
So what happened during our Tokyo pub crawl? Let me tell you the story of how Tokyo nightlife for foreigners is actually pretty brilliant and fun.
No fun night starts with salad, so we started our evening by getting lost. We were meant to meet our guide, Kota, at the Shinbashi train station. Before you laugh at us, know that Shinbashi is an incredibly busy train station in Tokyo and has more entrances and exits than our whole neighbourhood in Bristol. After running around the station and looping a few times, alas, we found our guide, Kota.
We were already pretty accustomed with Kota, as we met him earlier the same day for the Tokyo sumo wrestling practice. For those of you interested in a Tokyo pub crawl, I strongly recommend Kota, as he is really easy going and really fun to be around. Not to mention he has a great sense of humour and plenty of patience to answer our rain of questions about Japan.
Not really knowing what to expect, Kota happily announced that we will be doing three stops. He asked if we have any preferences about what to drink or what to eat, but we told him that we trust his decision and we want to go as crazy and authentic as possible. The more bizarre and hidden the place, the better. And so, our Tokyo pub crawl began.
We eagerly followed Kota who lead us through a maze of narrow streets. We settled for a small Izakaya. An Izakaya is an informal Japanese gastropub. We grabbed a standing table and waited for Kota to bring some sake, sashimi and fried snacks. The sake was a great ice breaker for sure, and we soon became really relaxed and comfortable. In fact, two glasses of sake later, we were already best buddies. What is interesting about our Tokyo pub crawl is that we would have never found these type of pubs on our own. Not only they were properly well hidden, but also the sort of pubs you would need serious Japanese skills to be able to communicate and order. We were so lucky with Kota as our guide, as we finally got to experience a proper off the beaten path side of Tokyo's nightlife.
Once we finished our sake and snacks, we moved onto the next establishment. Our Tokyo pub crawl lead us to another Izakaya, even more hidden than the first one. Kota ordered some interesting drink called Hoppy. What the hell is Hoppy, you might ask? Well, Hoppy is an authentic Japanese drink. It contains 0.8% alcohol so legally speaking, Hoppy is non-alcoholic. Hoppy started being produced in 1948 and it’s currently associated with Tokyo.
Don’t worry though, the Tokyo nightlife doesn’t involve sipping non-alcoholic drinks. That would be no fun, right? So at the time of launch, Hoppy was mixed with shōchū, a Japanese distilled beverage which was considered a substitute for beer. The mixture itself is also referred to as Hoppy.
Hoppy is now a bit of a retro drink, available in Japanese-style pubs.
Would I have ever tried or even known about Hoppy if it wasn’t for our epic guide? Of course not. But we were so puzzled by the drink when we received it. We got a large glass half filled with some transparent liquid and a bottle of Hoppy. For every part of shōchū, you need five parts of Hoppy. This will give you a nicely alcoholic beverage of 5%. (better than 0.8%, right?). The shōchū should be ready in the glass first, then the Hoppy should be added vigorously so the drink foams up.
So what did Hoppy taste like? Heaven! It tasted like heaven. In all honesty, I couldn't really tell you what it actually tasted like. It has such distinct flavour and aroma, that makes Hoppy pretty unique. Can you tell me what Iron Bru tastes like? Exactly, it's the same with Hoppy. When you go out with Kota and do your own Tokyo pub crawl, make sure to ask him to take you to an Izakaya which sells Hoppy.
We were already feeling pretty good by the time we drank up our Hoppy. The Tokyo nightlife for foreigners turned out to be pretty awesome after all. We were so eager to see our final stop for the evening. Kota asked us if we want a beer or whisky bar. We already knew that whisky in Japan is taken pretty seriously and some types are just as good or even better than the Scottish whisky. Hard to miss the opportunity to enjoy this!
How to play Japanese drinking games - Tokyo pub crawl style
We went into this awesome pub in the train station and were presented with a fun game. You got to play to drink. Here is how it works.
We got a wooden box, which looked identical to the wooden boxes located in temples from which you get your omikuji.
You pick up the wooden box which has a tiny, rounded slot at the bottom where a stick will come out from. You can shake the box a few times. Turn the box over to drop out a stick with a colour at the top - the stick will fall out of the bottom of the container.
Match the colour of the stick, with the colours of the menu. You can get two free drinks, one free drink, a pint of Whisky soda for a reduced price or a double pint of whisky soda. Yes, you read this correctly: you can get over a litre of whisky and soda.
You are guaranteed to hit a sweet spot after drinking one of these.
As lucky as I am, I got the double pint. Kota drew the same from the wooden box and G was lucky enough to only get a pint.
As you can imagine, the night very quickly turned from fun to super funny. We talked and laughed and had such an amazing time. And managed to uncover some seriously fun stories about Japan. But more on that, in an upcoming article.
The time I got lost during the Tokyo pub crawl
I guess one of the highlights was when I went to the bathroom and completely got lost around the train station on my way back. My phone didn’t work so I kinda hang around waiting for someone to hopefully talk to me. My plan was to tell them in Japanese that I need to get to the Whisky bar. I am sure there are a million Whisky bars around, but hey, at least I had a plan.
After about 20 minutes, Kota came after me. It turned out I was literally 2 metres around the corner from the bar. Hooray for my epic direction skills! In all honesty, I don’t think I would have found my way back sober, let alone after consuming sake, Hoppy and a double pint of Whisky soda.
I must tell you though, food tasted better, colours were stronger and in general, I hit a sweet spot of euphoria. This doesn’t normally happen to me when I consume alcohol so I was pretty damn happy. So much so, that apparently, on my way home I kept telling everyone how much I love Japanese people and how much I want to live in Tokyo. True story though, Tokyo really is the best place on the planet.
Once we finished the drinks, we parted ways and got ready to go home. Kota kindly offered to show us the way, but we wanted to experience the Japanese salarymen way of being drunk and getting lost in the subway. Turned out, we didn’t get lost. Maybe next time.
So did we have fun? Oh yes, we did! If you really want to experience the Tokyo nightlife for foreigners, don’t! Just get the guys from Beauty of Japan to take you out and show you the real Tokyo nightlife, the way the locals do it.
Enjoy the Tokyo nightlife
The prices are really reasonable. To get the guide only you pay 4,500 yen per person. If you want the drinks and dishes included as well, you pay 9,000 yen per person. What do you get in exchange? An authentic night out, a fun experience and you get to learn a lot of epic things about Japan. What more can you ask for?
Thank you so much Beauty of Japan for facilitating this amazing experience for us. We loved our guide, Kota, and we would strongly recommend the Tokyo pub crawl experience to anyone visiting the epic capital of Japan.
Have you ever been to a Tokyo pub crawl? Tell us all about your experience in the comments section below.