I am back from several months of traveling and some off-time that I needed afterwards. Also, I have been doing lots of videography lately and essentially zero photography, which was a nice contrast. In fact, I believe that now, having spent the last three months doing almost exclusively video, I understand photography much better: as the process of grabbing one frame out of a continuous flow of frames – more on this some other time.
In this first series I am going to give you guys some impressions from Tokyo at night and in particular Kabukicho (歌舞伎町), which is the entertainment and red-light district in Shinjuku (新宿) [see wikipedia here].
Kabukichō (歌舞伎町?) is an entertainment and red-light district in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. Kabukichō is the location of many host and hostess clubs, love hotels, shops, restaurants, and nightclubs, and is often called the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街). The district’s name comes from late-1940s plans to build a kabuki theater: although the theater was never built, the name stuck.
At present, Kabukichō has transformed from a residential area to a world famous red-light district housing over three thousand bars, nightclubs, love hotels, massage parlours, hostess clubs and the like. Although referred here as a “red light district”, there are no red lights in the literal sense with prostitutes in the windows as in Amsterdam. Recently, tourism from China and Korea are on the rise, and so, many tourists can be seen in Kabukichō even during daytime.
You can see the area on the map below – the part marked in red:
Kabuchiko has a lot to offer in terms of restaurants, bars, cinemas, and more generally night life. It is located north-east of the Shinjuku station and easily accessible by foot. I spent a couple of nights there taking in the atmosphere and photographing Kabuchiko as well as the wider Shibuya (and Shinjuku) area. Later in this series there will be another post, specifically dedicated to the famous Golden Gai.
Enjoy your weekend —TSJ.
Ads for host clubs, where younger males offer companionship to women.
A host club (ja:ホストクラブ) is similar to a hostess club, except that female customers pay for male company. Some host clubs also specialize in female-to-male transsexual hosts. Host clubs are typically found in more populated areas of Japan, and are famed for being numerous in Tokyo districts such as Kabukichō, and Osaka‘s Umeda and Namba. Customers are typically wives of rich men or women working as hostesses in hostess clubs.
Male hosts pour drinks and will often flirt with their clients, more so than their female counterparts. The conversations are generally light-hearted; hosts may have a variety of entertainment skills, be it simple magic tricks or charisma with which to tell a story. Some host clubs have a dedicated stage for a performance, usually a dance, comedy sketch, etc.
Hosts are often an age between 18 and their mid-20s. They will take a ‘stage name’ (源氏名 genji-na), usually taken from a favourite manga, film, or historical figure, that will often describe their character. Men who become hosts either cannot find a white-collar job, or are enticed by the prospect of high earnings through commission.
The natural entry point into Kabukicho. Many of the establishments here offer simply Karaoke (カラオケ) as you can read on the many signs below. Others offer other types of entertainments, usually of the “water trade” (水商売) type. You can see the guys that are supposed to lure people into clubs in the bottom of the photo.
Deeper in Kabukicho. This place is so full of light at night – unbelievable.
You can recognize the Kabukicho area from far away. It is somewhat similar to times square, which you can spot blocks away with its massive lights.
More lights and entertainment.
A small Ramen shop (ラーメン屋) open in the middle of the night serving the hungry.
Famous Shibuya crossing at night. Just stand in the middle of the street and take it in.
Shibuya is famous for its scramble crossing. It is located in front of the Shibuya Station Hachikō exit and stops vehicles in all directions to allow pedestrians to inundate the entire intersection. The statue of Hachikō, a dog, between the station and the intersection, is a common meeting place and almost always crowded.
Three large TV screens mounted on nearby buildings overlook the crossing, as well as many advertising signs. The Starbucksstore overlooking the crossing is also one of the busiest in the world. Its heavy traffic and inundation of advertising has led to it being compared to the Times Square intersection in New York City. Tokyo-based architecture professor Julian Worrall has said Shibuya Crossing is “a great example of what Tokyo does best when it’s not trying.”