TOKYO — By day, Tokyo is arguably one of the least attractive cities in the world, a tangled, congested mass of concrete; ugly, unimaginative buildings; too many people; too many cars and not enough room to breathe.
Come dusk, however, and Tokyo comes into its own. The drabness fades and Tokyo blossoms in a profusion of giant neon lights, paper lanterns and millions of overworked Japanese hell-bent on having a good time.
Tokyo at night is unequivocally the craziest city in the world. A few other Asian cities such as Bangkok may offer more sex in more varied forms, but I know of no Western city that can come close to matching Tokyo in its night life, the pace of it and the extent of it.
sh Never Seems to Sleep
Tokyo is a city that just never gives up, nor does it ever seem to sleep. The streets of entertainment districts such as Shinjuku or Roppongi are as crowded at 3 a.m. as they are at 3 p.m. Many establishments stay open until the first subways start running after 5 a.m. Whether it's jazz, reggae, gay bars, live sex shows, discos, mania or madness that you're searching for, Tokyo has it all.
The problem is in finding out where all these places are. Tokyo is a maze of tiny back streets with no apparent order, and some of the most interesting places look like nothing from the outside. The problem is compounded by many establishments having signs only in Japanese, giving the reader of only English no indication of what may be going on inside.
One of the first things, therefore, is to pick up a copy of Tokyo Journal. Published monthly, it contains information about concerts, jazz and fusion happenings, movies and plays and gives specific recommendations on restaurants, bars, discos, and other establishments.
sh Favorite Places in Tokyo
But with thousands upon thousands of eating and drinking locales in Tokyo, the Journal is by no means complete, so I have compiled a list of favorite places in Tokyo. Whenever I have had guests in Tokyo, these are the places I take them, and by the time they leave they generally agree that Tokyo is indeed among the craziest cities in the world.
There is no center of night activity, but many night spots spread throughout the city, each with its own atmosphere, price range and clientele. Most famous are probably the centers of Ginza, Akasaka, Shinjuku and Roppongi.
For maps of these four areas, consult the Tokyo Journal or drop by the Tourist Information Center and pick up a copy of Tour Companion, which also tells of events taking place in the city.
Before you decide on a locale, walk around the entertainment district and absorb some of its atmosphere. The streets will be crowded, the neon lights overwhelming and you never know what you might discover on your own.
Generally speaking, Ginza is where most hostess bars are and where most Japanese businessmen go. This being a subjective article, I don't have much to say about the Ginza except that if you're not careful, you're going to be scalped when it comes time to pay the bill. I hardly ever go to the Ginza at night (it's a great shopping area during the day) except for an occasional movie or dinner.
Roppongi is where most of the young people, both foreign and Japanese, like to hang out. It's where most of the jazz establishments, pubs and discos are. There's even one huge building called Square Building containing nothing but discos.
Begin your evening in Roppongi by going to the Inakaya restaurant. There are two in this district, an east one (phone 408-5040) and a west one (phone 405-9866). Both are equally wonderful, with meals costing $30 per person.
sh Drama of Having a Meal
What I like about the Inakaya is the drama of it. You sit at a counter and in front of you are mountains of fresh vegetables, beef and seafood. In the middle of all the food sit two male cooks (for some reason cooks in Japan are always male) who can sit on pillows with their legs tucked neatly underneath them for inordinate amounts of time.
To order, you simply point to what you want, and then your waiter shouts it out and all the other waiters and cooks shout it out in unison, with the result that there is always excited yelling going on. The food, from asparagus to giant prawns and king crabs to fish and steak, is grilled in front of you and is handed to you on long wooden paddles.
After dinner you have a wide selection of entertainment to choose from. For jazz, I recommend Pit Inn or Ink Stick (consult Tokyo Journal to see what bands are being featured).
Another place is the Cavern Club (phone 405-5207), a bar that features Japanese bands playing exclusively Beatles music. Named after the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles got their start, the bar is a good example of how excellent the Japanese are at imitation. If you close your eyes, you might even be inclined to think you're listening to the real thing.