Shinjuku Area

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Shinjuku and the adult entertainment district known as Kabukicho are filled with stylish host clubs, bars, and all kinds of entertainment that’s definitely not for kids. But it’s also where you can visit one of the most beautiful gardens in Tokyo, pet cats by the hour at a cat café, bar hop the Golden Gai, and eat at the robot restaurant.

If you’re not allergic to cats, let’s start at the Calico Cat Café! We can drink a latte and pet the fifty different kinds of cats for an hour.

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The Calico has cats of every stripe and color: Abyssynian, Maine Coon, Munchkin, tabby, calico and more.

After we finish petting the cats, let’s walk in the park. Shinjuku Gyou-en is huge, and it’s pretty spectacular year-round, but I especially like it during autumn leaf season and in early spring for the plum blossoms. It’s famous for cherry blossoms too – huge old cherry trees are everywhere – but it gets crowded, so during hanami season, it’s best to go early in the morning when the gates open at 9:00.

Huge cherry trees reflected in one of the ponds at Shinjuku Gyou-en Garden
Huge cherry trees reflected in one of the ponds
Ready for a snack? Sweets Paradise is an all-you-can-eat dessert bar
Ready for a snack? Sweets Paradise is an all-you-can-eat dessert bar!
HanazonoShrine
The Hanazono Shrine is kept bright and shiny with donations from the many lucrative businesses in Kabuki-cho.
Dinner at the haunted prison restaurant could be just what the doctor ordered
Dinner at the haunted prison restaurant could be just what the doctor ordered…
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When the sun goes down, Kabuki-cho becomes one of the most fascinating red light districts in the world.

It’s a riot of neon, thronged with hosts inviting women into their clubs. It’s easy to spot them, with their extravagant hair and elaborate outfits. If you’re a foreigner, this area is perfectly safe to wander around – even at night – but the businesses and clubs in this district cater to Japanese only. Nobody minds us walking around and looking, but we need to make special arrangements if we want to visit a host club.

But if you’re in the mood for an only-in-Japan entertainment extravaganza, we can’t go wrong by booking seats at the Robot Restaurant. For sheer sensory overload, it can’t be beat.

Robots, scantily-clad dancers, mechanical dinosaur battles, laser lights! There's something for everyone at the Robot Restaurant.
Robots, scantily-clad dancers, mechanical dinosaur battles, laser lights! There’s something for everyone at the Robot Restaurant.

But Kabuki-cho isn’t the only playground in Shinjuku – next door is a warren of small streets called Golden Gai, with alleyways lined with tiny bars that seat 8-10 people each.

A typical street in Golden Gai. Funky, yes. Fancy, no.
A typical street in Golden Gai. Funky, yes. Fancy, no.

Some of these bars welcome foreigners without an accompanying Japanese person, some don’t. If you want to go into one, pause at the entrance and get a feel for whether you’d be welcome or not. If it feels like you’d be welcome, ask the bartender, “Is it OK to come in?” Even if they don’t speak English, they’ll understand and tell you. There’s often a ¥500 – ¥1000 cover charge at these small bars, so if it’s not posted, ask.

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Bars in Golden Gai tend to have themes: Goth-Lolita, Cowboy, Elvis, etc. and most have regular patrons warming the small number of barstools.

If you prefer your food and drink with a little (or a lot) of Goth on the side, head over to the Christon Café instead. You’ll fit right in if you’re clad in Goth, Lolita or Steampunk finery, but regular people are allowed to order the Black Rage Of Satan pizza and Witch Girl cocktails too.

Goth Central for the cosplay crowd that prefers to drink amid stained glass and gargoyles.
Goth Central for the cosplay crowd that prefers to drink amid stained glass and gargoyles.

Another way to get the low-down on things you’d otherwise completely miss is by taking the Tokyo Realtime Kabukichō audio tour. You can download it and listen on any MP3 player or iPod/iPhone. It’ll guide you around the neighborhood for about an hour, taking you inside the places it’s OK for foreigners to go and telling you all about the places where it’s not. It’s narrated by my friend Max, and he really discovered a lot of wild stuff about the neighborhood that I didn’t know!

SHINJUKU AREA MAPS

Nearby destinations: Harajuku, Ikebukuro, Japan Traditional Craft Center, Meiji Shrine, Nihon Minka-en Thatch-roofed Houses, Shibuya, Yasukuni Shrine, Yoyogi Park

Read a novel set in TokyoFallen Angel takes place in Kabukicho, in the world of host clubs and hostess bars.

The #1 hostboy at Club Nova makes a handsome living, whispering sweet nothings in the ears of women who pay him a fortune for the privilege. But the party’s over when Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura is assigned to investigate the death of one of Hoshi’s customers…read more

Watch the one-minute book trailer (1:08)

 

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