Tokyo’s tourist sights can leave you with a pretty packed daytime itinerary, but it’s important to keep going into the evening to sample everything Japan’s capital has to offer after hours, from izakayas to gyozas, karaoke to 5am sushi, and everything else in between.
Shimokita is a young, hip area with lots of vintage shops, independent craft shops, and tiny bars called izakayas, often hidden behind thick curtains, sometimes with only a handful of seats.
We stumbled across a small izakaya called Share, where we ordered Asahi’s and were chatting amongst ourselves until we got talking to a couple who could speak English. An hour or two, and some more beers later, we had made friends with the bar, helped the barman with some key English phrases, and were off to do late night karaoke with everyone.
Tsukiji Fish Market
This worked well as we were staying up for the Tsukiji Fish Market and tuna auction, which takes place at 5am, as all the tourist information will tell you.
We arrived just before 5am, as tickets are limited to 120 tourists per day, but the auction had already taken place – at 3am!
It’s better to turn up much earlier than the guidebooks recommend. A bit disappointed, we queued for some fresh sushi at Daiwa-Zushi instead (look for the red curtains and the long queue outside – we waited nearly an hour). Fresh sushi is the Tokyo equivalent of a late night kebab; everyone seemed to have come straight from their night out.
Fatty tuna is Daiwa-Zushi’s speciality and it was great with an eye-watering dose of wasabi and some pickled ginger.
We were less keen on the raw tuna and raw sea urchin. Especially at 6am.
The best sushi restaurants can be found near the wholesale fruit and veg market, just inside the main gate, off Shin-ohashi Street. The whole market is relocating next year.
After our all-night adventure at the fish market, we kept things more low key the next evening and had dinner and drinks in Shimokita.
We found a great local restaurant, where we were introduced to the customs of Japanese dining: bag baskets, hot cloths, and soy sauce control (more on these in a future post).
We ordered some Suntory draughts which came with a side of edamame beans – tastier and healthier than your usual bowl of peanuts.
We decided to go for the juicy dumplings (spicy pork gyozas), “fly snack skins dumpling,” which, despite the name, were fried crackers and were delicious, with some crispy chicken and boiled rice.
Later, we stumbled across Flower Bar Gardena – florist by day, bar by night.
This tiny flower shop lets you sip a cocktail or ice-cold sake high-ball nestled in between lilies and peonies, in probably the best smelling bar in Tokyo. Drinks are a little pricey, but it’s worth visiting for one to sample this unusual gem, hidden in plain sight.
The only downside to a night out in Tokyo is the cover charge applied whenever you sit down to eat or drink, which makes bar hopping less of an option compared to the UK.
When you’re a time-poor traveller, it can be tempting to try and flit between a few different recommended places to eat and drink over the course of one evening, but I’d suggest doing what the locals do. Pick an izakaya, select your perch by the bar, and order drinks and small plates such as yakitori chicken skewers and gyozas at a leisurely pace. Sitting in such close proximity to the bar means you are bound to be saying kon’nichiwa to your drinking neighbours before long.
And the best way to round off a night out in Tokyo? A visit to one of the many games arcades for a competitive, computerised Taiko drumming session, of course.