When tourists visit Tokyo they will have a general idea of the specific areas or neighbourhoods that they will want to visit.
Shibuya, Akihabara, Ginza, Shinagawa…The list goes on.
However, a very famous district that hundreds of thousands of people choose to visit each and every year is Kabukicho.
Kabukicho is a district within the city ward of Shinjuku, another extremely popular area for foreigners and tourists.
There are many reasons for the fame and reputation that Kabukicho has built up. The reasons being good and also slightly bad. But let’s take a look into this guide on Kabukicho, and see if it is worth your time to visit one of Japan’s most notorious areas!
What Is Kabukicho?
Kabukicho is a district located within the city ward of Shinjuku.
Shinjuku is famous itself for the Shinjuku gyoen park, the metropolitan government building, samurai museums and many high-end hotels.
A large part of the popularity for Shinjuku, is down to Kabukicho and the curiosity and uniqueness that surrounds it.
But, what is it exactly? There are many districts and neighbourhoods within Tokyo, what makes this one so special?
Kubukicho is famously known as ‘Tokyo’s red light district’. With host and hostess clubs, love hotels, many discreet and low-profile bars, Japanese-only establishments and much more; this area is definitely interesting to say the least.
This is why there is so much hype for Kubukicho, people are curious!
Not only this, but Tokyo is unlike any other city in the world in any other terms, so the red light district must be something unworldly right?
Let’s take a look deeper into Kabukicho and what you can expect to find.
Tokyo’s Red Light District
So, what makes Kabukicho the most interesting red light district in Japan, and potentially the world?
Well, there are a few things, both good and some not so good.
Kabukicho is a red-light district so you can expect to see the same things as any other similar district in the world. From escorts, peep shows, adult clubs and loads of clubs and bars.
This may not sound so impressive or mind-blowing, but remember, Tokyo always has a unique spin on things.
The district is completely covered in neon signs, billboards, crazy-looking restaurants with themes, godzilla (yep, we will talk about this more later on) and more.
Let’s just say, when you ask someone to think of Tokyo, Kabukicho is the summary of what most people think Tokyo is like.
Futuristic, dystopian and cyberpunk-esque looking with a busy atmosphere; while also having a slightly dodgy or unnerving feel about it.
You can definitely find some extremely unique things when visiting Kabukicho, but it does have a certain reputation about it.
The district has an arguably unfair reputation attached to it for being ‘dangerous’. As a tourist visiting a city so far from home, you will want to avoid any unsafe areas, it’s as simple is that.
But, it may not be as dangerous as you think or as people make out…
Is Kabukicho Safe For Foreigners?
Before we go into this, I must mention that i have another article that goes into this subject in a lot more depth. Feel free to check it out.
Check out my article ‘Is Kabukicho Safe?’
But, to summarise very vaguely, yes, Kabukicho is safe for foreigners.
There is a big stigma around Kabukicho being dangerous, shady and being somewhere to avoid completely.
I and many other previous tourists, completely disagree with this.
I strongly believe that you are missing out massively if you do not visit Kabukicho while staying in Tokyo.
The atmosphere along with the neon lights and small bars that hold upto 5 people, is a one of a kind experience.
The ‘dangerous’ reputation comes from a few reasons.
These reasons consist of a variety such as: the district is run by Yakuza, touts will steal your money, Japanese resident-only establishments and a few others.
Now, these reasons are true and they are valid in the current day.
However, they are all very easily avoided, which takes the danger out of Kabukicho completely.
By following these simple rules, you can avoid all of these potential dangers or inconveniences:
- Don’t buy or go to an establishment from a tout. They will scam you for money.
- Don’t start fights and be well-behaved. Yakuza do still run the area allegedly, and not causing trouble is your best bet to avoid it coming back around to you.
- If an establishment is for Japanese speakers only, respect their wishes and leave.
- If an establishment owner asks you not to take pictures, follow their wishes.
- Avoid shady clubs and host or hostess clubs. A lot of these run on scamming tourists, and will sometimes add a ‘0’ on the end of your bill.
With proper respect, knowledge and etiquette, Kabukicho can be a safe and enjoyable experience.
It’s important to remember that Tokyo is the safest city in the world, so even the most dangerous area here will probably still be safer than back home for most people!
Why You Should Visit Kabukicho
This district is unique in so many different ways that I just can’t help but recommend visiting.
Take away the negatives by following the rules mentioned above, and the experience is truly insane.
Let’s take a look at the reasons why you should visit Kabukicho.
Neon Lights, Lots Of Them…
If you’re anything like me, then the sight of a neon-drenched street is something of dreams. From movies like Bladerunner to games like Cyberpunk, the thought of a dystopian setting is both unnerving but also enticing.
When witnessing the sheer amount of different coloured lights that stretch down an entire street, you can’t help but be amazed.
Each light represents a different restaurant, bar, club, arcade or pretty much anything for that matter.
It is a good way to experience hands-on, just how many businesses and business owners are in Tokyo!
Kabukicho is home to hundreds of bars, each specialising in different Sake, wines, whiskeys and more. You can expect much larger bars and smaller bars that only seat upto 5 people! This is common in Golden Gai, an area we will check out further on in the article.
The restaurant scene in Kabukicho is vast and expansive. From ramen to yakitori; there is loads of food to choose from.
However, just because there is so much on offer, doesn’t mean to say that the quality lacks.
In fact, Kabukicho is home to some of the most reputable restaurants in the country. This means that if you find yourself feeling hungry while walking the streets, the food will not let you down.
Just remember not to go inside any restaurants where touts are outside calling you in, you will more than likely be scammed!
A Great Shopping Experience
Kabukicho is also a very good shopping experience for those of you who enjoy buying and collecting things while on your travels. From Korean food shops to the famous Don Quijote, there is a range of things for you to buy in Tokyo’s red light district.
Don Quijote is one of Japan’s most famous stores. From strange gifts and souvenirs to eye-warmers and ready meals. The options are almost limitless in this one store alone, and that is why it is so popular with locals and tourists.
It is very easy to lose track of time and get lost in this huge store, so for that, it is definitely recommended to check out!
Book A Stay At A Capsule Hotel!
A popular ‘phenomenon’ for many people when thinking about Japan, is capsule hotels. These types of accommodation provide single-person capsules in which you can sleep, rest and spend the night at.
They are so popular simply because of how strange and abnormal they are to Westerners on the other side of the world. Imagine technically sharing a single room with 50 other strangers!
Many people worry about capsule hotels and wonder if they’re safe or not, don’t worry I’ve got you covered. Check out my article here on the safety of capsule hotels
If you are debating staying in one, I would only recommend doing so for a day or two. This is because of how small storage can be, it would cause issues for a longer duration.
There are not many places in the world that are like Golden Gai, and if you find yourself in Kabukicho then you are lucky enough to be just minutes away from this unique area!
Located in the South East of Kabukicho stands Golden Gai.
A series of 4 narrow street alleyways with over two hundred bars and restaurants within them.
What is so unique about this area is the fact that it has so much jammed into such a small area.
Most of the bars only have around 5-10 seats, due to the lack of space.
However, to make up for this lack of space, owners charge seating fees to ensure that they are not losing out on income.
When going to these bars in Golden Gai, you will experience an ambience like never before, especially if you visit during the evening!
Not only are the bars worth visiting, but the area as a whole is intriguing due to it’s strong contrast to the rest of Kabukicho.
Kabukicho is a very futuristic, bright and neon-filled district. However, when stepping into golden Gai it is like stepping into another world completely.
Golden Gai is a much more traditional area, and it hasn’t really been changed since the 1940s, which is a rare situation in Tokyo, as the city is ever-evolving.
Things To Look Out For & Avoid in Kabukicho
If you have researched Kabukicho in the past, then you will probably know that is has a sort of ‘negative’ reputation about it.
This is normal for any red light district, and it’s important to know that this area is definitely safe, as long as you know what to avoid and look out for.
Despite having the city’s highest crime rate, Tokyo is the safest city in the world, so even the most ‘dangerous area’ of the city, is probably safer than areas nearby where you live!
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the things to avoid in Kabukicho.
Touts in Kabukicho are one of the biggest threats. They wouldn’t harm you physically as long as you are polite, but it is important to neglect their offers.
They will try to reel you into an establishment, whether it be a bar or restaurant. They do this by offering great deals and offers, however, they are not genuine.
It has been very common for tourists to go into establishments after being persuaded by touts, to then be charged extortionate amounts, and most of the time paying even more than the base costs.
They get away with it a lot of the time due to language barrier issues and lack of knowledge by the tourists. To stay safe during your visit to Kabukicho, check out this article I put together.
So, what is the best way to avoid this happening? Simply put, don’t accept any of their offers and don’t go into the establishment they are advertising for, it won’t end well. You don’t have to be rude to them, but simply tell them you are not interested and keep walking, once you stop walking to talk to them they will see that as a sign of interest in you hearing what they have to say. This is when they will get more determined, which you do not want.
Despite them not being as prevalent as people originally think, Yakuza do still ‘run’ Kabukicho and they are best to be avoided as much as possible.
It is very easy to do this, you just need to be respectful when in the area.
The Yakuza do not like tourists that are too loud, lairy and do not respect the place they are in. So, just be on your best behaviour when in public and respect the wishes of establishment owners and you will be absolutely fine!
It’s easy to be worried before visiting about this, but as soon as you are in Kabukicho for yourselkf and you see how busy it is, you feel a lot more at ease. Not to mention, police are regularly patrolling the area in case trouble does occur.
How Far is Kabukicho from Shinjuku Station?
When travelling to Kabukicho, it can be a worry for many people on how to actually get there from Shinjuku Station.
However, fret not as once you are at Shinjuku Station, Kabukicho is only a 7-10 minute walk away.
Simply head to the East exit of the station and as soon as you get out of the station, head straight towards the road directly in front of you. When walking down this road you may even see the Hotel Gracery building right at the end, which is in Kabukicho itself.
So, simply head towards this building for about 7 minutes and voila, you will find yourself in Kabukicho.
You can get to Kabukicho from different exits within Shinjuku Station, however, I always recommend having Google Maps ready as it makes the experience a whole lot quicker, simpler and easier.
How To Get To Kabukicho
A common worry for anyone visiting Tokyo is the transport system and how they will navigate to certain areas.
Despite the large amount of Japanese signage, it is actually fairly easy to navigate.
English signs are more common than you may think, and Google Maps will be your best friend.
However, for your ease, I have included directions for some of Tokyo’s most popular areas, so that you can easily get to Kabukicho from wherever you are staying.
How To Get To Kabukicho From Ginza
When staying in Ginza, you can expect the journey to Kabukicho to take you around 45 minutes to an hour.
You will want to get to Yūrakuchō Station which is located in the North East area of Ginza.
Thankfully, once you get there, the journey is pretty straightforward.
As this station is part of the JR Yamanote Line, you will take one train ride, for about 30-minutes, over to Shin-Ōkubo Station which is located in Shinjuku.
From there, take an 11-minute walk south of the station and you will arrive in Kabukicho.
How To Get To Kabukicho From Roppongi
The journey from Roppongi to Kabukicho will take you around 35-45 minutes.
Your first step will be to go to Roppongi Station. From there you will be catching the Tocho-Mae/Hikarigaoka train via the Oedo line for 3 stops (8-minutes) until you reach Yoyogi Station.
Once you reach Yoyogi Station, you will want to catch the Shinjuku/Ikebukuro train via the Yamanote line, for 2 stops until you reach Shin-Ōkubo Station.
Once you reach Shin-Ōkubo Station, Kabukicho is just an 11-minute walk away.
How To Get To Kabukicho From Shibuya
The journey from Shibuya to Kabukicho will take you around 30-40 minutes.
You will want to get to Shibuya Station, where you will catch the Shinjuku/Ikebukuro train via the Yamanote line until you get to Shinjuku Station, which is 3 stops away(7 minutes).
Once you arrive at Shinjuku Station, Kabukicho is just a 7-minute walk away in the direction of the north.
How To Get To Kabukicho From Akihabara
The journey from Akihabara to Kabukicho will take roughly around 45-50 minutes, however, it is a very simple trip.
Simply go to Akihabara Station and ride the Ueno/Ikebukuro train via the Yamanote Line, and stay on for 13 stops(26-minutes) and then get off at Shin-Ōkubo Station.
From there, Kabukicho is an 11-minute walk.
How To Get To Kabukicho From Shinagawa
Shinagawa’s journey to Kabukicho takes on average, around 50 minutes to an hour to complete.
The starting point will be Ōsaki Station where you will catch the Shibuya/Shinjuku train via the Yamanote Line. You will want to stay on for 7 stops to get to Shinjuku Station which will take around 15 minutes.
Once arrived at Shinjuku Station, Kabukicho is just a short 7-minute walk away.
Places To Stay In Kabukicho
There are many different varieties of hotels within this district. From capsule hotels to views of Godzilla, this area has lots to offer for those wishing to stay in the area.
Hotels in this area can range from cheap to expensive, so I have listed 4 different famous hotels in the area with different price ranges.
Let’s take a look at the best places to stay in Kabukicho.
Shinjuku Kuyakusho Mae Capsule Hotel
This capsule hotel is located just a 5 minute walk away from Kabukicho, making it very close.
It provides a cost-effective solution for accommodation for the people who only want to spend a night or two in the district, with prices ranging from $30-60 USD per night, depending on the time of year that you go.
With wi-fi included as well as free amenities such as toothpaste, shampoo and deodorant, you are getting a lot more for your money compared to other capsule hotels around the city. The bathrooms come equipped with hot tubs, saunas and showers, making hygiene something not to worry about, which is something most people have doubts about when deciding whether or not to book a capsule hotel.
Click here to book a stay at this hotel.
To further secure the safety and well-being of the guests, lockers are provided to everyone for storing any suitcases or luggage.
Overall, this hotel is a great cost-effective option for people wishing to experience the nightlife of Kabukicho without having to worry about getting to the train before they end for the night.
Click here to read more about capsule hotels in Japan.
Hotel Gracery Shinjuku
Located right in the heart of Kabukicho stands the Hotel Gracery Shinjuku, one of the most iconic hotels in all of Tokyo.
The building is large with around 30 floors, making it a height of around 130m.
At night it glows with blue lines of light, with a huge Godzilla head to the left of it, which you can even see from some of the hotel rooms. No other accommodation in the world has views like this one.
This 4-star hotel has free wi-fi included with two restaurants located on the 1st and 8th floor of the building.
Not only are the views great, but so are the staff. Many members of the team speak English and other popular languages, ensuring that tourists from major countries will receive the care that they desire when staying in Japan.
The rooms are also high quality, with air conditioning, flat screen TVs, refrigerators and more included. Many people complain about the small rooms, however, this is normal in Tokyo due to the high population, and it is even more common in Kabukicho compared to other areas in the city.
The main benefits of this hotel is that it provides easy access to the main attractions of Kabukicho and it is almost impossible to miss. The building is tall and located right at the end of the Kabukicho district, making it easy to find after a night out.
APA Hotel Kabukicho Tower
Located right next to the famous Kabukicho tower, stands this APA Hotel.
This cost-effective hotel has great features considering the fairly low price per night. With a TV, comfortable bedding, decent bathrooms and amenities; you get what you pay for, and debatably more with this hotel.
However, the key benefit of this hotel is its location.
It is located right in Kabukicho, surrounded by famous restaurants, clubs and attractions, making this a superb option for those looking for somewhere to stay within the red light district of Tokyo.
A common worry regarding staying in a hotel surrounded by such a bustling nightlife is the sound. However, rest assured as you do not hear any of this from your room really, so not sleeping well shouldn’t be a concern at all.
Overall, this hotel is a great option for people wanting a cheaper option of accommodation in the area, but for those who don’t feel comfortable staying in a capsule hotel.
Hotel Groove Shinjuku
This hotel is literally just a 2 minute walk away from the previously mentioned APA hotel.
It is located on the 20th-38th floor within Kabukicho Tower and offers a more luxurious and high-end appeal compared to other hotels in the area.
The price also reflects this however as the price per night is significantly higher than the other mentioned on this list.
However, for this price you are receiving a much better aesthetic, larger rooms, a restaurant, bar, free wi-fi and amazing views.
Not only this, but with the hotel being placed strategically in the tower, means that you are dead center in one of Kabukicho’s top attractions, providing you with an easy source of entertainment without having to travel or walk too far.
An important note to make thoug, is that this hotel is very high up, so if this is an issue for you, maybe consider another option.
Places To Shop
This district has many different types of stores and shopping centres, providing anyone who loves to shop a great and unforgettable experience.
From high-end brands to random quirky finds, if you are looking to shop while in Tokyo, this district may be a great option.
However, I will note that there are better wards and neighbourhoods to shop in the city such as Shibuya, Ginza and Akihabara.
With that being said, there are still many great options in the red light district.
Let’s take a look into the best places to shop in Kabukicho.
Ginzo – A Second Hand Luxury Brand Store
For those with an expensive taste but don’t necessarily have the budget to match, this store might just be worth taking a look at…
With famous brands like Rolex, Omega, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga and much more, the list of luxury brands is almost endless.
This store specialises in selling second-hand items, meaning a much lower cost than if you were to buy brand new from the manufacturer stores instead. They do also sell brand new items aswell, so if you prefer to buy new, you have that option here also!
An advantage for the tourists is that you can pay completely tax free! This is common in a lot of stores in Tokyo, but this may just be the best value for money.
Just simply make sure you take your passport with you for proof of your visitor stamp, and boom, enjoy a tax-free luxury watch or clothing item.
Don Quijote – Everything Japanese!
You have probably heard of this store before…
It is extremely famous within Japan and sells bucket loads of goods, from facial creams to edible bugs in a bag, to adult toys, home appliances, electronics and so much more.
Don Quijote is a great shopping option if you are looking for a store that offers everything ‘Japanese’.
When I travelled to Tokyo recently I only visited the Shibuya store, however, that one is a lot larger and I have heard that the Kabukicho one is a lot easier to navigate around. So, maybe visit this store first as from my experience, the Shibuya store was fairly overwhelming with the 6 floors of various items to buy.
You can also try the social media famous ¥10 Cheese Coin, which has a sweet and savoury taste. I personally wasn’t the biggest fan but I can certainly understand the appeal. It wasn’t expensive at all either.
Don Quijote also offers tax-free shopping for tourists.
Isetan – High-Quality Fashion, Home & Food Items
For those wanting nothing but high-quality items, Isetan Shinjuku might be a worthwhile option for you.
This store provides thousands of clothing and home appliance items, all consisting of high-end brands and premium materials.
With 10 floors in total, this store is a great shopping experience for anyone looking for a shopping trip during their stay in Tokyo, especially for ladies due to the large amount of female options on offer.
This store also offers tax-free shopping for visitors to the country.
Kabukicho is an amazing district and was one of my favourite areas to go to when I was in Tokyo. It’s a great place to have drinks and a night out with friends, with amazing shopping and food options scattered all around.
Of course, there are things to look out for, but this is the case for most places in the world. As long as you keep yourself knowledgeable about the potential issues you could run into, then you will be fine. Just stay educated about the area, then unwind and enjoy the unique experience that Kabukicho has to offer!