Japan is not one of those destinations where the day ends when the sun goes down, which is just as well given how much there is to see and do here! Instead, once the day’s working hours are complete the country seems to let its hair down, with families heading out to eat, and people enjoying late night shopping as well as the bar and nightclub scene. Here we recommend the top things to do in Japan at night!
1. Head to a Japanese nightspot
There are a few Japanese nightspots you might want to consider, depending on personal preferences. Firstly, there are izakaya, which are as close as Japan traditionally comes to a bar set-up. Ranging vastly in standard (and pricing), in an izakaya you can find alcoholic drinks – especially Japanese beers, sake, and whiskies – as well as food choices which range from deep-fried snacks to high-end gourmet dishes. Alternatively, you could head to a karaoke bar. Karaoke was invented in Japan, and it remains a popular past time, with groups of friends renting out private rooms in which they can sing until they are hoarse. In larger cities, western-style bars and nightclubs are also easy to find and a great way of discovering the local culture by night. Needless to say, nightclubs tend to be at their busiest – and therefore most fun – over the weekend, with the dance floors starting to fill up from about midnight, and the dancing continuing until the early hours of the morning.
2. Check out the night time panoramas
The high-rise nature of many of Japan’s major cities means there is almost always an observation deck from which to admire the twinkling lights of the city skyline after dark. The tallest structure in Tokyo, the Japanese capital, is the Skytree television tower, which soars 634 metres above the city. Japan’s tallest structure, the tower has an observation deck 450 metres up, just beneath the antennae. Elsewhere, you’ll find a further television tower in Sapporo, with an observation deck that overlooks Odori Park. The city of Mito boasts a very fine Art Tower that rises 100 metres and is a modern twist on the traditional building form. For an even more unique experience, head to Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building, which comprises two twin towers connected by a floating garden observatory and open-air observation deck.
3. Take part in a traditional matsuri festival
Matsuri festivals dot both the calendar and the map of Japan, and the best bit is that matsuri only reach their peak at night! They generally involve street parades, carnival games, and food stalls dotted around an ancient temple or shrine, with decoration coming from traditional paper lanterns. Many also incorporate a fireworks (hanabi) element. Perhaps the most famous matsuri are the cherry blossom festivals that take place each spring right across Japan, from late January or early February in Okinawa, right up until April further north. If you are visiting the far north in February, consider the Sapporo snow festival on Hokkaido island instead. Running for just a single week each year, it focusses around ice sculptures in the city’s Odori Park but also includes concerts and other events.
4. Sail down river on a Yakatabune
Originating from a tradition for Japanese aristocracy to undertake moon viewing parties a thousand years ago in the eighth and ninth centuries, yakatabune are authentic Japanese riverboats which cruise the rivers and bays of many cities in Japan. Decorated in a traditional style, complete with tatami mat flooring, booking onto a yakatabune dinner cruise is a wonderful way to spend an evening whether you’re in Tokyo (where there are 50 companies providing 2-3 hour cruises) or elsewhere in the country while enjoying fabulous freshly-prepared meals at the same time. But the best way to explore Japan at night is always going to be by joining one of the dedicated night tours in Japan run by specialist tour companies.
5. Go to a sports match
Though Japan’s most quintessential sport is undoubtedly sumo wrestling, matches generally take place in the afternoon and have come to an end by the early evening. However, there are still plenty of other sporting opportunities to enjoy in the later hours of the day. Both football matches and baseball (yakyu) games often take place in the evenings, for instance. As very popular sports, crowds pack out the stadiums to see how their favourite team will get on. The baseball season starts in March and runs for 144 games, with the winner of the national league decided in October.
There’s plenty to do in Japan at night, from spending the hours of darkness in a nightspot to sailing down a river in a traditional yakatabune boat, so don’t be tempted to end the day when the sun does!