Kabukicho: Tokyo’s Red-Light District

One year ago, today, I awoke in Tokyo for my first-ever vacation trip. So it seems appropriate to take some time to revisit my visit, so-to-speak.

Perhaps my most memorable experience was my visit to Kabukicho, a red-light district located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. I went there to visit Robot Restaurant, which I had learned about from Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. But ultimately, there was so much more to see.

I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get there, or how early I would need to arrive prior to my 6pm reservation. So, I left early, and arrived at Shinjuku station around 4pm. Needless to say, I had plenty of time to explore my surroundings.

I spent a bit of time walking around and looking at the various buildings along the main road, when I suddenly noticed a stone walkway in between two buildings. It consisted of twin paths, lined with shrubs and trees. And while I initially passed it, the possibilities of what might lie beyond was bugging me. Not to mention, the incessant pestering from sex peddlers trying to get my business was really annoying. So I went back and headed down the route.

And what a good decision it was! The walkway led to Shinjuku’s Golden Gai Alley, which is an older area with about 200 micro-bars. Each bar is only big enough to seat about 4-6 people. It’s a unique concept, but the best part is that each bar has its own personality in order to stand out from the rest.

Just outside of Golden Gai, was a temple. Most temples in Tokyo are an odd juxtaposition of ancient architecture within a modern setting, and this one was no exception. In fact, the entry way was off the main road, tucked in between two buildings, just like the path from earlier. It’s an almost jarring sight. After that, I walked back to Kabukicho to kill some time. I looked at some of the various shops and later stopped at a SEGA Arcade to have some fun.

Tokyo has some AWESOME arcades. SEGA Arcades and Taito Game Stations are typically 6 stories tall, with different types of games on each floor. The games available typically include crane-prize games (called UFO catchers, in Japan), fighting games, shooters, elaborate sports card games, and pachinko machines (comparable to slot machines).

Finally, it was time to head to Robot Restaurant. After checking in, I was led to the brightest waiting room that I have ever seen! The room is absolutely covered in lights and color! During my wait, I enjoyed a beer and some relaxing lounge music from a Lady-Gaga-meets-Mad-Max musical group. It was certainly unique.

Once out of the waiting room, I was taken down a couple of floors to the show room. It was essentially just a long room with a series of seats on both sides. The space in the center is where all of the performances take place. The performances were AMAZING! They ranged from neo-taiko-drummers, to a Kung-Fu Panda Parody, to a mostly pointless parade of scantily-clad women and robots! The overall show lasts about an hour, but feels much shorter. Regardless, it’s a ton of fun, and something I definitely recommend to anyone who is taking a trip to Tokyo.

After the show, it was pretty dark out, and so I promptly left Shinjuku. Kabukicho felt a bit unsafe at times, although I must say, I never saw anything bad happen and there are tons of people there. One of the things that was highlighted on the Parts Unknown episode was the presence of Yakuza in a area. And yes, there is an abundance of people that fit the bill. So for dinner, I chose to head back to Asakusa, before returning to my hotel.

But overall, Kabukicho was fun! Unfortunately I didn’t find time to go back again during my trip, but I do feel like my time there gave me a good sample of Shinjuku and Kabukicho, as a whole. I think it should be an essential stop on any Tokyo visit.