Drinking and nightlife in Japan

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Harajuku & Aoyama

    Sakurai Japanese Tea Experience

    Tea master (and former bartender) Sakurai Shinya's contemporary teahouse is a must-visit for anyone hoping to deeper their understanding of o-cha (Japanese tea). The course includes several varieties – you might be surprised how different tea can taste – paired with small bites, including some beautiful traditional sweets. Come in the evening (¥500 cover charge after 7pm) for tea cocktails. Reservations recommended.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Kōrakuen & Akihabara

    Imasa

    It's not every day you get to sip your coffee or tea in a cultural property. Imasa is the real deal, an old timber merchant's shophouse dating from 1927 but with Edo-era design and detail, and a few pieces of contemporary furniture. Very few houses like this exist in Tokyo or are open to the public.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Hakone-machi & Moto-Hakone

    Amazake-chaya

    Teahouses like Amazake-chaya were once common sights along the old Edo-era (1603–1868) foot highways that criss-crossed Japan. This one, with a thatched roof, is one of only a few that remain, and run by the same family for 13 generations (and nearly four centuries). The speciality here is the namesake amazake (¥400), a sweet, nonalcoholic, fermented rice milk.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Kumamoto

    Good Time Charlie

    Charlie Nagatani is a living legend, the 'Johnny Cash of Japan', the founding figure behind the nation's entire country-music scene, and an accomplished musician and songwriter. He earned the rank of Kentucky Colonel for his contributions to the world of country music (he runs the Country Gold Festival near Aso-san), and this bar is his home base.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Shinjuku & Northwest Tokyo

    Bar BenFiddich

    Bar BenFiddich is dark and tiny, with vials of infusions on the shelves and herbs hung to dry from the ceiling. The English-speaking barman, Kayama Hiroyasu, in a white suit, moves like a magician. There's no menu, so just tell him what you like and he'll concoct something delicious for you (we like the gimlet with herbs). Expect to pay around ¥2000 per drink.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Shibuya & Shimo-Kitazawa

    SG Club

    SG stands for 'Sip' and 'Guzzle' but also for award-winning bartender Shingo Gokan. Ground-floor Guzzle is a social, counter space; the house drink is chawari, shōchū and tea (¥1400), made with gyokuro (high-grade green tea) and with a new twist every month. Downstairs, Sip is intimate booths and deliciously complex concoctions, like the Rain & Moss Gin Fizz'(¥1700), flavoured with proprietary extractions and infusions.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Marunouchi & Nihombashi

    Ao

    This swank and sophisticated little salon – think red velvet banquettes, round, low tables and shelves of books – has a unique cocktail focus: tea and traditional Chinese medicine. For example: its version of a sidecar is made with aged roasted tea, cinnamon and ginger (the latter two considered to fortifying properties). And if you just want tea, they serve that, too.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Roppongi, Akasaka & Around

    Gen Yamamoto

    Gen Yamamoto takes the seaonal tasting menu concept and applies it to cocktails. Here they're made with fruits and herbs, with the same kind of devotion to presentation seen at restaurants serving kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine). Choose from sets of four (¥4800), six (¥6900) or seven (¥7800). Fear not, they're designed to be savoured, not to get you sozzled (servings are small).

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Arashiyama & Sagano

    Hiranoya

    Located next to the Atago Torii (a large Shintō shrine gate), this thatched-roof restaurant is about as atmospheric as they get. It serves matcha (powdered green tea) and a sweet for ¥840; the perfect way to cool off after a long slog around the temples of Arashiyama and Sagano. It also does a light lunch from 11.30am.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Shibuya & Shimo-Kitazawa

    Mikkeller Tokyo

    Mikkel Borg Bjergsø is a pioneer 'gypsy brewer', one who dreams up wild concoctions, but outsources the actual brewing. His beers are served at world-famous restaurants and also at the select bars scattered across the globe that bear his name, including this recently opened one in Tokyo. Most of the 20 brews on tap are his, but there are also some Japanese craft beers, too.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Ebisu, Meguro & Around

    Gem by Moto

    Gem specialises in boutique sakes collected from all over Japan. There's a menu, which is always changing, but if you're here to broaden your appreciation of the myriad styles of nihonshū (and that's why everyone is here), it's best to leave the choosing to the savvy people behind the counter. Tell them what you like and don't like; you're in good hands.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Shinjuku & Northwest Tokyo

    Lonely

    Arai-san established Lonely 50 years ago because he wanted his friends to always have a place to go. Some of those friends, like the creator of classic manga Ashita no Joe – you'll see posters on the wall – also happened to be famous. Lonely is everything you want a Golden Gai bar to be: rough around the edges but warm and full of character(s).

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Chōkoku-no-Mori & Gōra

    Gora Brewery & Grill

    Sup on a Gora IPA or a Black Belt stout, among other ales from this stylish brewery venue, run by the folk behind Itoh Dining by Nobu. Grill treats include house-made sausages, Peruvian-style lamb and Nobu's signature black cod with miso. It's a three-minute walk from Koenshimo Station on the funicular, or a 10-minute uphill slog from Gora.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Hakodate

    Tea Shop Yūhi

    Filling the halls of a wooden building from 1885 (actually the old Hakodate Quarantine Office) is this magical teahouse overlooking the water. It's lit only by natural light so closes after the sun sets. In the meantime, you can while away the afternoon refilling your tiny pot of single-origin green tea, nibbling on the wagashi (Japanese sweets) and pickles that accompany it.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Ebisu, Meguro & Around

    Yakumo Saryō

    Shinichiro Ogata, head of design house Simplicity has put everything into creating his ideal contemporary take on the traditional Japanese teahouse. The result: Yakumo Saryō, elegantly minamalist, with artisan crockery, a lightly tamed garden and a near-impossible to find location deep in a residential district. It's open all day, but asa-cha (morning tea service; 9am-10.30am) is a truly special experience; reservations essential.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Shinjuku & Northwest Tokyo

    Zoetrope

    A must-visit for whisky fans, Zoetrope has over a hundred varieties of Japanese whisky behind its small counter, including many hard-to-find bottles and already sold-out limited editions. Cover charge ¥600; the average pour is ¥1500 to ¥2000 (reasonable, considering the going price for Japanese whisky these days) and there are some good-value tasting flights, too. Larger groups should come before 7.30pm.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Kagoshima

    Honkaku Shōchū Bar Ishizue

    This chic, amber-and-wood shōchū bar has everything going for it, and it's one of the finest places to drink Kagoshima's prefectural liquor. There are more than 1500 choices from around the prefecture, each with its own story, and English-speaking staff to explain. Reserve ahead, especially Friday and Saturday nights.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Matsumoto

    Eonta Jazz Bar

    If you like jazz, it doesn't get any better than Eonta, a tiny 15-seater upstairs, directly above Katsu Gen restaurant. The friendly owner has been running his bar since 1974 and likes his jazz, chosen from over 4000 vinyl records and 1000 CDs, at a decent volume. He serves carefully brewed coffees as well as beer, wine and cocktails.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Kōchi

    Tosa-shu Baru

    Without doubt, this nonsmoking bar with an extremely convivial atmosphere is the place to go to try Kōchi-made sake. Owner Kōji is passionate about sake and has offerings from all 18 breweries in Kōchi, three daily-changing nomi-kurabe (tasting sets) and serves superb small dishes featuring local produce. He is a fountain of sake knowledge and plays great jazz.

  • Top ChoiceNightlife in Osaka

    Brooklyn Roasting Company

    With its worn leather couches, big wooden communal table and industrial fittings, this is a little slice of Brooklyn in Osaka and the perfect pit stop while exploring Naka-no-shima. Sip well-crafted coffee (almond and soy milk available, too) on the wide riverside terrace and watch the boats go by. If hunger strikes, there's a small selection of donuts and pastries.