As far as red light districts go, Tokyo’s Kabukicho near Shinjuku station is relativity tame. Unlike Amsterdam there are no pot houses (aka “coffee shops”), sex workers are not selling their services live in windows like a pimped out version of a holiday display, and at only 600 square meters it’s not even that big. What Kabukicho lacks in in your face raunchy, it makes up for in subtlety and uniqueness. Walking around during the daytime is always a safe bet, but come after 6 pm and the streets are packed with partying salary men showing business associates a “good time” and getting hammered. Sounds enticing doesn’t it.
What type of clubs exist in Kabukicho?
Kabukicho is an interesting look into both a sexually liberated and restricted society. Something a go into a lot of personal detail on in my upcoming book. The strange tolerance of places like this, and the need for them is itself an interesting commentary on Japanese society. However, as with most sex districts in the world, criminals and crime syndicates pray on the drunken loneliness of the back ally visitors. Entrance fees can be hundreds of dollars and non-negotiable so don’t just pop in a place to check it out or to use the toilet. Touts are on the streets selling themselves, their business or funneling the drunk and naive into holes in the wall.
A recent ordinance in Tokyo dictates that all sex clubs need to be closed by midnight (as opposed to closed in general!). Any open after midnight are sure to have protection by local gangs and should be avoided.
By the Numbers
This tiny area of Tokyo boasts over 300 sex shops, nearly 200 clubs, 80 love hotels, and hundreds of bars and restaurants. It is estimated that around 150,000 people pass through it each day. Whether you agree with it or not, it is an interesting facet of Japanese and Tokyo culture. My advice is check it out for yourself, but don’t get sucked into this money trap. If you want to have a great, authentic time, go drinking in Golden Gai, a small block of bars just next door that have Japanese hip built into their DNA.