This listicle + photos was created recently for Silverkris, the in-flight mag of Singapore Airlines.
One of the world’s biggest and busiest urban playgrounds, Japan’s capital is a city that really comes alive when the sun goes down. Here are eight ways to make the most of Tokyo after dark.
Real life Mariokart
Fans of Nintendo’s retro racing game can don the outfits of Mario, Luigi, Yoshi and the gang and race for real on the nighttime streets of Tokyo. The road-legal go-karts clock up a hair-raising 80km\h, and come equipped with video cameras to record the action. Racers choose from three city “courses” that take in famous landmarks like Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge. An international driving license is mandatory, but banana skins to lob at your fellow racers are optional. Prices start at 5,000 yen and include accident insurance and costume rental.
Mori Art Museum & Sky Deck
The late opening hours of the Mori Art Museum and Sky Deck make it an excellent evening activity before hitting the surrounding bars. Occupying the top two floors of the 53-storey Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, it’s customary to first take a turn around the museum’s modern art exhibits before ascending to the open-air Sky Deck (complete with helipad) for an unsurpassed after dark vista of Tokyo, the iconic backdrop to many a manga series.
Tokyo has a deserved reputation as an expensive city for drinking, with many bars asking for a 1,000 yen cover charge before you’ve even had a drink. 300 Bar in Ginza bucks the trend by eschewing a cover and pricing every drink, from mojitos to beer, at just 300 yen. A standing bar in a smoky basement, it’s one of the friendliest spots in town, and attracts a lively student-aged crowd keen to make friends.
Taito Game Station
Taito Corporation, the Japanese video games company that lays claim to arcade classics like Space Invaders and Double Dragon, owns arcades throughout Tokyo packed with machines to drain your yen until morning, from retro crane grabbers to the latest multi-player bot-blasters, cosplay photo booths, and even a retro-gaming floor with original arcade Tetris. And if you’re struggling to win that final boss battle, you can even use your credit card to purchase extra gaming tokens.
This tiny Shinjuku watering hole is run by the sort of grumpy pub landlord who will probably only smile at you on your tenth visit. But all is forgiven when you marvel at Tokyo’s best selection of Japanese whiskey, some 400 bottles, many rare and impossible to find, from big producers down to micro distilleries. A selection of tasting flights, in half-shot pours, are a good introduction for whiskey novices, and a projector showing old movies provides ample distraction for solo drinkers.
Once a red light neighborhood, this tumble-down time warp of tiny streets must surely house more bars in its half-square mile than anywhere else on Earth. Most establishments in the Golden Gai seat fewer than ten people, and each boasts its own theme or personality, from nouvelle vague French cinema (La Jetee) to cute furry toys. Have a wander through the streets and poke your head into a few doorways; some bars welcome regulars only, and most have a cover-charge, but you’ll eventually find one just right for you.
Take the subway to Shimbashi after dark on a weeknight to join the legions of salarymen getting satiated in cheap and cheerful yakitori joints and izakaya squeezed under the arches of the shinkansen (bullet train) line. As a result of the fierce competition here, the grilled chicken skewers (yakitori) are generally excellent and inexpensive, so pick a lively-looking place and you won’t go wrong. Nothing pairs quite so well with charcoal-grilled chicken as frothy beer, but most places also serve whiskey highballs and the ever popular sours – cocktails made with Japanese shochu.
When all the nighttime fun has taken its toll, and you’ve missed the last train back to your hotel, you could do worse than catching some ‘z’s in a capsule hotel. Green Plaza Shinjuku, for men only, claims to be the first in Tokyo; its coffin-sized capsules are made more bearable by extensive spa and pool facilities. Or for the claustrophobic, the new chain of ‘First Cabin’ hotels spread about town offers miniature rooms on same-sex floors modeled on first class cabins found in aircraft.