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Tout in Tokyo Red Light District Kabukicho

What is this guy doing on a weekday at noon?

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As far as red light districts go, Tokyo’s Kabukicho near Shinjuku station is relativity tame. Unlike Amsterdam there are no pot houses (aka “coffee shops”), prostitutes are not for sale in windows like a pimped out version of a holiday display, and at only 600 square meters it’s not even that big. What Kabukicho lacks in overtness it makes up for in subtlety and uniqueness. I spent a day walking around during the day time, but come after 6 pm and the streets are packed with partying salary men showing business associates a “good time” and getting hammered. Sounds enticing doesn’t it.

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What type of clubs exist in Kabukicho?

Kabukicho Red Light District Toky0

DVD and Peep shows seem to be a favorite the world over

The area is dominated by small drinking holes, DVD shops, peep holes, and host and hostess clubs that cater to lonely husbands and wives who need a little attention from well dressed, flirtatious professional conversationalists. If you are expecting the run of the mill strip club or sex club found in the west think again. Kabukicho caters almost exclusively to the Japanese and their unique passion for the stranger side of sexual fantasy. Clubs are often themed and filled with pretend secretaries, nurses, maids, dominatrices (well they might not be pretending), and any other fetish you can think of. There is naked karaoke, sex dolls for rent, reconstructed trains were you can group school girls (who are showing their age), and the eloquent “soap lands” where the ladies use “soap” to scrub you happy.

Be Careful

Love Hotel Japan Tokyo Kabukicho

A classy Love hotel in Kabukicho

Kabukicho is an interesting look into both a sexually liberated and restricted society. The strange tolerance of places like this, and the need for them is itself an interesting commentary on Japanese society. However, as with most sex districts in the world, criminals and crime syndicates pray on the drunken loneliness of the back ally visitors. Entrance fees can be hundreds of dollars and non-negotiable so don’t just pop in a place to check it out. Touts are on the streets selling themselves, their business or funneling the drunk and naive into holes in the wall.

A recent ordinance in Tokyo dictates that all sex clubs need to be closed by midnight (as opposed to closed in general!). Any open after midnight are sure to have protection by local gangs and should be avoided.

By the Numbers

This tiny area of Tokyo boasts over 300 sex shops, nearly 200 clubs, 80 love hotels, and hundreds of bars and restaurants. It is estimated that around 150,000 people pass through it each day. Whether you agree with it or not, it is an interesting facet of Japanese and Tokyo culture. My advice is check it ourtfor yourself, but leave early and enjoy the finer aspect of Japanese culture and society.

Have you been to Kabukicho? Curious?
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34 Responses to “Inside Tokyo’s Red Light District Kabukicho”

  1. JeremyNo Gravatar says:

    I didn’t make it to this area in Tokyo, but I did manage to wander down many side streets in the cities in Japan I visited that magically turned into pachinko clubs and strip bars. Not sure how I feel about it, but it was interesting to see either way.
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  2. Very nice information, I have not been to Japan before but I reallyh want to go there one day. Now that I get this information, It just make me want to go there more. Very nice post, thanks for sharing.

  3. Max HodgesNo Gravatar says:

    you might also enjoy this exhaustively researched and professional produced audio guided tour of Kabukicho:

  4. Max HodgesNo Gravatar says:

    White Rabbit Press produced an hour-long audio guided walking tour of Kabukicho as part of their Tokyo Realtime series. Details, and an audio sample, here:

  5. My good friend spent a bizarre night in a Kabukicho and lived to tell the tale but was hassled by some Nigerian thugs and ended up spending entirely too much money for what he thought would be a brief, curious foray into the seedy sights of Japan.
    Nevertheless, if I hit Tokyo, I am going to stop in, if only for some blog content!
    Joshywashington´s recent [type] ..Free Gear Friday Where is Your Favorite Camping Spot

    • Max HodgesNo Gravatar says:

      I was just there tonight with Jake Adelstein, giving a group of Temple University students a tour for their organised crime class. I made an audio tour for the area called TOKYO REALTIME: Kabukicho which might interest some people here.

      • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

        Nice Max, i’ll check it out. I love that Temple goes on field trips for organized crime :)

      • DaveNo Gravatar says:

        Hi, I’m a big fan of ‘Tokyo Vice’ and would love to have Jake be my tour guide in Kabukicho! Mind telling me how to contact him for such tours?

        Thanks in advance!

        • max hodgesNo Gravatar says:

          HI Dave, Actually I’m the one who gave the Kabukicho tour. We started in Roppongi with Jake then I took over in Kabukicho. Normally I do this kind of stuff for journalists in exchange for coverage of my audio tour, but have done a couple paid tours. I could probably do it if you have half-a-dozen friends who could each chip in 3000. But the cheaper, audio version of the tour is good too!

  6. AliceNo Gravatar says:

    Never thought of a red light district with a lunchtime happy hour=)

  7. There’s a sprawling red light district here in Yokohama that I have walked through on numerous occasions. You definitely captured the energy on this post.
    thesoulofjapan´s recent [type] ..Southwestern Hokkaido

  8. Kyle MorganNo Gravatar says:

    Great insight into the Tokyo Red Light District. Maybe you should do a series on the different red light districts around the world, highlighting the cultural differences! It sure would make for an interesting read.
    Kyle Morgan´s recent [type] ..I Miss The Music…

  9. monetteNo Gravatar says:

    it’s wierd, it’s crazy, it’s fascinating. i can’t wait to visit japan!

  10. ReaseNo Gravatar says:

    Red light districts freak me out, but one in Japan would be especially weird. They are so strict with their daytime lifestyle, I can only imagine the madness that ensues when people are allowed to let loose!
    Rease´s recent [type] ..101 Reasons to Get Off Your Ass and Travel

  11. Fascinating red light district… I have heard of those ‘groping’ trains. What a weird sub-culture.
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World´s recent [type] ..7 Reasons to Travel With Your Significant Other

  12. Kenan LucasNo Gravatar says:

    Intriguing… When I was in Tokyo last year I can’t say I stumbled through Kabukico but it sounds like it would be fascinating place and a chance to look through a window into Japanese culture.
    Kenan Lucas´s recent [type] ..Meeting Strangers Off The Internet- Intoxicated Bike Rides- Underground Dance Parties- No Sleep- Venice

  13. inkaNo Gravatar says:

    Can a glamour granny go on her own?
    inka´s recent [type] ..Lifiting the veil in Sharjah’s Ladies’ Club

  14. DavidNo Gravatar says:

    I went last May, I didn’t even mean to, we just took a wrong turn. It is indeed a very interesting place. Very different from any red light district I know (well, thinking about it, I don’t know that many, but I lived for 3 years a block away from one of the Paris ones, that counts for something). I was really surprised by how clean it was and how safe it felt.
    David´s recent [type] ..The Setouchi International Art Festival

    • Todd WasselNo Gravatar says:

      Hi David, well I guess that is Japan for your. On the other hand, I imagine it is not that safe if you end up in a bar with a heavy bill and are “forced” to pay it. What surprised me most was the number of places catering to women.

      • DavidNo Gravatar says:

        Yeah, but I won’t try that… :-)
        I didn’t pay attention to the places aiming at women (maybe it’s because I can’t read Japanese ;-) ) but I noticed that in Kyoto (near Ponto-chō and Gion), there were way more hosts than hostesses in the streets, and that surprised me a lot indeed (especially because I had no idea how any woman could find them the least attractive), while most hostesses I saw, I gotta admit…
        David´s recent [type] ..The Setouchi International Art Festival

  15. Haha good post! Never been, not my kinda place :)

  16. Sarah WuNo Gravatar says:

    Wow, I guess every place in the world has an area like the red light distrct. I think even Taiwan has one too. Interesting read.

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