There’s an expression in Japan called the Gaijin Smash. This is when a foreigner (a gaijin - an outsider) breaks the strict rules and conventions of Japanese society, often on purpose.
Japan is a country all about public conduct and maintenance of the status-quo. The way you behave around others is often under scrutiny and there is very much a ‘right’ way to do things. However, in a simultaneously condescending and liberating way, none of these rules really apply to foreigners the same way they do to Japanese.
Obviously, it’s appreciated when we try our best to be polite. But just like Japanese people are genuinely impressed that we can fathom how to use chopsticks, it’s not expected for us to comprehend the subtleties of Japanese manners.
This is where the Gaijin Smash comes into play. It’s when you’re rudely walking while eating or drunk on a train and accidentally speaking too loudly. But it’s also when you don’t want to wait for the green light because there’s no traffic so you cross anyway.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand!” you say, bowing to hide your smile.
And that is why I feel it is entirely appropriate in this article on drinking establishments to describe the following bars as exactly what they are - good places for ‘outsiders’ such as ourselves to get exceedingly drunk, often on as few Yen as possible. Hopefully you know by now this isn’t LonelyPlanet. Pretending this listicle is anything other than a helping hand to some bad behavior would be disingenuous.
But that’s OK, remember. We don’t know any better.
In my opinion, these are the best places in Tokyo where foreigners can get absolutely hammered:
1) Golden Gai
Located in the Kabukichō district of Shinjuku, Golden Gai is a maze of small backstreets lined with tiny bars that seat about the same amount of people as the average Toyota.
It used to be a red light district and is now frequented by artists and bohemian types. Go to this place fresh off the plane and you’ll never want to leave Tokyo. Look at the cover photo to this blog post to see what I mean.
Each bar has an entry fee (up to 1000 yen) and the drinks aren't cheap but the atmosphere makes up for it. You’ll find bars with decor catering to every taste and others so exclusive that you can’t see inside or even open the door.
There’s a punk bar playing 80s hardcore, one with gothic chandeliers and another decorated with action figures. The interior of one bar is entirely in leopard print while one nearby has bottles of liquor with snakes inside. There’s also one run by a retired porn star.
In answer to what I assume are your first two questions: Yes, she definitely still is. But no, of course you can't.
2) Coins / Scramble / That standing bar…
Just head in this direction
So you’ve just arrived at Shibuya station. You’ve taken a picture of Hachiko the dog statue, you’ve gazed up at the neon billboards and you’ve taken a video of you walking through the crowds at the famous crossing. What do you do now?
Well, you could visit one of the budget bars in the area catering to debauched young expats and backpackers like yourself by serving a winning combination of cheap beer and natives who think you’re more attractive than you actually are.
The first place to hit is a dive bar called Coins where you can buy a drink for 300 Yen. As in, actual coins. Or there’s Scramble Cafe which is sort of like a small club playing Western music, except there’s no entry fee or dress code. And finally there’s that standing bar, which I cannot remember the name of, but is totally worth going to. You’ll find it.
Whatever. Just walk around this area and go in somewhere.
3) The HUB
You wouldn't want this photo in any higher resolution
I hate this place. But when I’ve had a few drinks, I’ll probably suggest we go there.
The HUB is a chain of bars that aims to recreate the atmosphere of the tradional English pub. By that I mean they serve gin and tonic and have Union Jacks on everything.
Of course, it’s a poor pastiche, but the HUB does actually truly succeed in capturing the British drinking experience in a very authentic way:
Some nights it’s a laugh, and other nights it’s proper grim.
And that’s about as close as you’ll get here. I’ve been to The HUB and had a great time chatting to random people but other times I've also wanted to bottle every drunken idiot in there. The Japanese eating their fish and chips with a pint of warm beer don’t know how close to the cultural truth they’re getting.
All it needs is a kebab van outside.
Let’s progress from a scene described in an Arctic Monkeys song to a place where the Arctic Monkeys actually hang out. Beatcafe is a pretty cool underground bar near Shibuya where you never know who you'll see.
Seriously, I wasn't joking about the Arctic Monkeys - when I went I actually met Alex Turner. My friend wanted a picture so I went up and asked him if it was OK and he was genuinely very nice about it. Even when I asked if I could have one too. And then the rest of us. He wasn’t overly chatty but neither was he disdainful.
I mean the guy was obviously off his tits on something, but he was a gentleman nonetheless. What more can you ask for when you drunkenly bump into a rockstar in a subterranean bar in a futuristic Asian megacity?
He’s not stoned, he just remembered he has to fly back to Manchester in the morning
5) International Parties (but only with liver drinks)
My brand of choice
As you know, there is no such thing as a hangover cure. Not even this far east. A full English breakfast didn’t work so there's no secret bowl of noodles or pickled fish arse you can eat here that will sort you out the morning after.
But there may be a preventative.
We call it a liver drink. It probably has a real name too but I can’t read the label. It’s basically just B-vitamins but even though it’s presumably 99% placebo, I’ve noticed a positive effect. I recommend drinking one then going to an international party.
These are organized events that bring gaijin together with natives who actually want to chat in English with the added bonus of a 1000 Yen nomihodai (all-you-can-drink deal). There’s usually a queue at the bar but if you’re diligent with your drinking, it’s a cheap night out. If you register online in advance it's 1000 Yen entry for foreign guys and free for foreign girls, so ether 2,000 or 1,000 Yen total including drinks.
Liver drinks are available from your nearest convenience store, which in Tokyo is about five meters away from wherever you are right now.
Can you spot me?
After going to one or more of these places, you now have three options:
- Catch the last train and go home;
- Go to karaoke;
- Go to Roppongi or Shibuya and spend all night in a club.
Well, you’ve got two options, because let’s be honest, number one probably isn’t happening. I’d help you out with what to do next but that’s a whole ‘nother listicle.
At this point in the night, its best just to see where you end up.