The Seedy Bars of Kabukicho

kenzo's bar

When you ask Japanese people what the most dangerous neighborhoods in Tokyo are, they invariably mention Kabukicho, an area in Shinjuku known for clubs, bars, and gangsters. I’ve only visited a few times and compared to dodgy neighborhoods in other countries, it’s like Disneyland. It shows you how safe Tokyo is, that the sketchiest neighborhood is still nearly crime free. In fact, it’s quite lively. I imagine a 1950’s Vegas to be like this, with young men in shiny suits and hypnotic lights flashing everywhere.

My Dutch friend, Laurens, who’s fascinated with all things seedy and edgy, first took me there. My favorite area is a hovel of alleys crammed with claptrap bars with narrow doors. Since it was daylight I took pictures of some of the more interesting doors. At night, many of them are open, with low-key drinkers looking out at you with curious eyes.


Most of the bars charge a 500 yen fee just to sit down, which is how a lot of traditional bars in Japan work. Each bar has a theme. But it’s mostly the doors that are different. Inside is the usual smoky stench of body odor and liquor. Though, I admit, I’ve never actually set foot in one. I’ll have to wait for Laurens to visit for that adventure. For more pictures of the doors, I put them all in my flickr site.