Kabukichō is the biggest red-light district in Tokyo, where you can “buy” girls on an iPad, see Godzilla, or spend the night in a love hotel, so embrace the seediness and head on in… Whether you’re keen to try out the dodgier side of Tokyo’s nightlife or just want to explore the streets, there are plenty of things to do in Kabukichō. Any place that has Godzilla as an ambassador has to be worth checking out!

Experience Shinjuku’s backstreet bars that are normally a little hard for tourists to navigate — try this fun and low-cost bar hopping tour with locals

Check out the brand new Kabukichō Tower

The Tokyo Matrix. | Photo by Maria Danuco

Kabukichō Tower is the new kid on the block in Kabukichō. The multi-story entertainment complex opened in 2023, and has a game center, escape room, food hall, and live music venue. The game center is flashier than most, with lots of neon lights and even a giant crane game. Plus, there is a bar in the center where you can buy drinks (even alcoholic ones), and canned food (canned mackerel in chocolate, anyone?).

The escape room — called “The Tokyo Matrix” — is inspired by the anime “Sword Art Online”, and honestly is more like an obstable course or dungeon, than a traditional escape room. And be warned, it’s really difficult — game over means you have to leave (or pay more to continue).

If you enjoy escape rooms, you can also check out Tokyo Mystery Circus, which is very close to Kabukichō Tower.

Go for a drink (or many) at Golden Gai

Golden Gai Street
An alley in Golden Gai. | Photo by Lily Crossley-Baxter

Golden Gai is one of the most popular drinking spots in Kabukichō, though it has a markedly different vibe from the red light district. The only fees you have to worry about here are the cover charges (which range from 0 to ¥1,000) so you can rest easy.

Some favorites include Kenzo’s Bar (super-friendly) and Hair of the Dogs, which is a rock bar that plays constant concert DVDs at request. The bars all have their own style and atmosphere, making a bar crawl a way more interesting prospect than your usual experience! For more suggestions of where to drink in Golden Gai check out our complete guide.

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Charges are clearly marked on doors (along with some that have signs saying Japanese only — which is more about keeping spots for regulars than rudeness) and you can peek in to see if it tickles your fancy!

Pro tip: Golden Gai has become enormously popular of late, so you might want to enlist the help of a local guide to show you the best drinking spots.

Also Golden Gai is hardly the only yokochō (eating and drinking alleyways) in Tokyo; here are our recommendations for other atmospheric alleyways in which to knock back beers.

Get running from Godzilla

Godzilla head peaking over skyscrapers in Tokyo's Shinjuku district
Run! | Photo by iStock.com/AlxeyPnferov

The official local ambassador, the giant Godzilla is now a permanent feature and on occasion will light up and roar, which never ceases to be entertaining. He can be spotted from afar and makes a great meeting place (way cooler than Hachikō) as he sits right in the middle of Kabukichō.

He is actually part of Hotel Gracery and you can book rooms with a view of his face, or take a tour up to the roof to see him close up! The Toho Cinema (same building as the hotel) is also a great place to see movies either dubbed or subtitled as they have a great selection — perfect for a rainy day.

Hit a homerun at a batting center

Oslo Batting Center in Kabukicho
Shinjuku Batting Center | Photo by Aaron Baggett

Kabukichō has not one but two batting centers — Shinjuku Batting Center and Oslo Batting Center — proving that innocent fun is among the neighborhood’s many (many) offerings. Shinjuku Batting Center definitely looks its age — it’s been around since the 1970s. It’s also one of the cheapest spots in Kabukichō, costing just ¥300 for 26 pitches. You’ll see serious hitters here, taking advantage of the 80mph (130kph) fast balls, as well as young couples goofing off. Oslo Batting Center is a little more modern, and prices start at ¥1,300 for three games.

Soak your worries away at Thermae-Yu

If you’ve missed your last train and don’t want to fork out for a hotel, Thermae-Yu is a great option. This hot spring facility is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and has several baths and saunas so you won’t get bored. There’s even a massage service and restaurant, although these aren’t open 24 hours.

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Entry starts at ¥2,700 depending on the day, and there is a late night/early morning surcharge of ¥2,000 to ¥2,300. But you can buy discounted tickets online for ¥2,200.

Try your luck at a pachinko parlor

Pachinko machines
Pachinko. Bonus points for matching the bright lights of Kabukichō? | Photo by iStock.com/Conchi Martínez

As close as Japan gets to gambling (legally), pachinko is a very popular pastime with more parlors than you can shake a stick at in this dodgy district. Now, if you hope to understand this game, good luck. The screaming racket that emanates from these glowing halls every time a door opens is genuinely quite horrifying — but you can give it a go.

Insert your money into the machine and wait for the happy crashing of tiny silver balls, then begin — you might win more, you might not. Who knows. It’s fun to try though, and obviously pretty addictive. Each tiny ball costs between ¥1 to ¥4 yen, so you can keep it cheap if you just want to try, but it can add up. Your aim is to make the balls land between the pegs, and the strength with which you turn the handle determines how strong they shoot out.

Due to people spending insane amounts of money over long hours, security are quick to chuck you out over privacy fears, so head in with confidence and sit down straight away to show you aren’t just gawking. Avoid very empty parlors, as they probably have a reputation for low payouts. And if you’re serious, check the stats on the top of each machine to work out which has the best chance of paying out.

Go shopping at Don Quijote

Full body stockings
Full body stockings, an example of the kind of thing you can find at Donki. | Photo by Gregory Lane

Don Quijote — better known as “Donki” — is Japan’s original all-night shopping emporium. Fitting, for a neighborhood where most of the working population necessarily keeps odd hours. Donki stocks assorted sundries, like food, alcohol, toiletries, home goods, sex toys, and role play costumes — wait, what? Yes, Donki sells all kinds of stuff in its narrow, crammed aisles. Excellent for souvenir hunting, or when you have time to kill before the trains start running again in the morning.

Spend the night in a love hotel

Love hotel hill in Shibuya
Love hotels in all their kitschy glory | Photo by iStock.com/aluxum

For a night you won’t forget, try visiting a love hotel. Whether you opt for the full night stay or a “rest,” you can experience all kinds of weirdness and maybe get some shuteye (or not). Depending on your budget, you can enjoy your own private hot tub, costumes, in-room light shows, and much more. While some are definitely pretty grim, the more up-market ones are respectable, for example Bali Hotel An Resort, or Hotel Moana.

Alternatively, you could visit the movie-famous Hotel Atlas (from Kabukichō Love Hotel) which offers discounts for girl groups. Although many can be booked online through regular booking sites (no matter how fancy it looks), if you have the two prices listed outside, it’s a love hotel.

We have some more tips about booking them here.

Take a breather at Hanazono Shrine

Hanazono-jinja, a Shinto Shrine in Tokyo's Shinjuku neighborhood
Hanazono Shrine grounds are open 24/7. Just don’t sit and drink on the steps (the shrine doesn’t like that). | Photo by iStock.com/ablokhin

Shintō shrine Hanazono-jinja has been standing guard over Shinjuku since the beginning of the Edo period (1603–1868), and likely earlier. It’s an “inari” shrine, which means its good for business and trade — a good fit for the neighborhood. There’s also a small sub-shrine, Geino Asama-jinja, that is popular with entertainers who come to pay their respects before big gigs.

The shrine hosts festivals throughout the year. Most noteworthy is the Tori-no-ichi (“Rooster Market”) in November, which is also all about prosperity. There is also has a regular Sunday flea market.

The shrine itself isn’t much to look at — the buildings, though traditional-looking, are all modern constructions. What’s most impressive is that this oasis of calm exists in the middle of Kabukicho. There are two entrances to Hanazono-jinja: via the big stone torii gate on Meiji-dōri or via the lantern lit path from Golden Gai.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Last updated in June 2023 by Maria Danuco.

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