Nightlife & the Arts in Tokyo
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As Tokyo's rich cultural history entwines itself with an influx of foreign influences, Tokyoites get the best of both worlds. An evening out can be as civilized as a night of Kabuki or as rowdy as a Roppongi nightclub. In between there are dance clubs, a swingin' jazz scene, theater, cinema, live venues, and more than enough bars to keep the social lubricant flowing past millions of tonsils nightly.
The sheer diversity of nightlife is breathtaking. Rickety street stands sit yards away from luxury hotels, and wallet-crunching hostess clubs can be found next to cheap and raucous rock bars. Whatever your style, you'll find yourself in good company if you venture out after dark.
Metropolis is a free English-language weekly magazine that has up-to-date listings of what's going on in the city; it's available at hotels, book and music stores, some restaurants and cafés, and other locations. The English-language daily newspapers The Japan Times and The Daily Yomiuri have decent entertainment features and listings in their Friday editions.
An astonishing variety of dance and music, both classical and popular, can be found in Tokyo, alongside the must-see traditional Japanese arts of Kabuki, Noh, and Bunraku. The city is a proving ground for local talent and a magnet for orchestras and concert soloists from all over the world. Tokyo also has modern theater—in somewhat limited choices, to be sure, unless you can follow dialogue in Japanese, but Western repertory companies can always find receptive audiences here for plays in English. And it doesn't take long for a hit show from New York or London to open. Musicals such as Mamma Mia and Wicked have found enormous popularity here—although you'll find the protagonists speaking Japanese.
Tokyo movie theaters screen a broad range of films—everything from big Asian hits to American blockbusters and Oscar nominees. The increased diversity brought by smaller distributors, and an increased appetite for Korean, Chinese, and Hong Kong cinema have helped to develop vibrant small theaters that cater to art-house fans. New multiplexes have also brought new screens to the capital, offering a more comfortable film-going experience than some of the older Japanese theaters.
Most bars and clubs in the main entertainment districts have printed price lists, often in English. Drinks generally cost ¥700–¥1,200, although some small exclusive bars and clubs will set you back a lot more. Be wary of establishments without visible price lists. Hostess clubs and small backstreet bars known as "snacks" or "pubs" can be particularly treacherous territory for the unprepared. That drink you've just ordered could set you back a reasonable ¥1,000; you might, on the other hand, have wandered unknowingly into a place that charges you ¥30,000 up front for a whole bottle—and slaps a ¥20,000 cover charge on top. If the bar has hostesses, it's often unclear what the companionship of one will cost you, but as an unfamiliar face, you can bet it will cost you a lot. Ignore the persuasive shills on the streets of Roppongi and Kabuki-cho, who will try to hook you into their establishment. There is, of course, plenty of safe ground: hotel lounges, jazz clubs, and the rapidly expanding Irish pub scene are pretty much the way they are anywhere else. But elsewhere it's best to follow the old adage: if you have to ask how much it costs, you probably can't afford it.
Major nightlife districts in Tokyo include Aoyama, Ginza, Harajuku, Roppongi, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. Each has a unique atmosphere, clientele, and price level.
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