Japan has an amazing culture for many reasons. But one of my favorites is its food and drinking culture. The Japanese have integrated alcohol into so much of their culture that you can find beer everywhere from a McDonald’s to the top of Mt. Fuji.
Joining a bar-hopping tour with a local guide is one of the best cultural experiences in Tokyo. If you’re looking for a more vibrant and typical Tokyo nightlife experience, then the mainstream Shinjuku bar-hopping tour is best for you. For meat-lovers and those looking to taste real Wagyu beef, you’ll find the Shibuya bar-hopping tour best suits your needs. For a more intimate experience away from the party crowds, going where “real” locals eat and drink (and with fewer tourists), the Yokohama or Koenji bar-hopping tours are best for you
Japanese Drinking Terms
- kampai! – cheers!
- izakaya – a traditional Japanese bar.
- yokocho – a small alley or street filled with bars and izakayas.
- nomihodai – all-you-can-drink.
- tabehodai – all-you-can-eat.
- sake – Japanese rice wine.
- yakitori – barbeque chicken on a stick.
- yakiniku – Japanese Barbeque.
- chuhai – carbonated flavored alcohol that comes in many fruit flavors. Similar to seltzer water in mouthfeel, but, unlike seltzer water, it’s absolutely incredible. Get them from convenience stores!
- tachinomiya – standing bar. It’s exactly what it sounds like. This is very popular with older locals. These are great options if you’re looking for cheap drinks!
- nominication – in short, it’s speaking frankly while drinking. The idea is based on Japanese co-workers drinking together with their bosses and speaking openly.
First time to Japan? Here are ALL the things to know about Japanese culture before visiting.
Important Things To Know Before You Go
Laws in Japan regarding alcohol are both some of the most relaxed and most strict you’ll find in any country. As a visitor to the country, you should do your best to remain respectful during your time. Be aware of local laws and general do’s and don’ts regarding drinking in Japan. I’ve also included a few good bits of insider knowledge as well:
- Dress properly. Most bars don’t allow flip-flops, sandals, shorts, sweatpants, and tank tops.
- If eating and drinking with a group of locals, pour their drinks for them and allow them to pour yours. This is common courtesy in Japan and could be viewed as rude to do otherwise.
- To minimize hangovers, try the Japanese way of drinking a can of turmeric drink. You can buy this turmeric drink at any convenience store. It’s called Ukon no Chikara. For best results, add pepper to it, as the piperine in pepper enhances the absorption rate of curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) by over 2,000%.
- Beer is substantially more expensive than in the US. So be prepared for that.
- If someone invites you to a bar with the phrase, “Looking for girls?” Stay away! The women are probably trafficked. You’ll also end up being robbed or scammed. (And no, the police won’t do anything about it.)
- If you travel outside of the main nightclub areas like Roppongi and Kabukicho, you’ll usually find much cheaper drinks.
- Chain bars set their prices individually. A drink in ‘The Hub’ in Yokohama is substantially less than ‘The Hub’ in Shibuya.
- The legal drinking age in Japan is 20.
- There is no “last call.” Bars and convenience stores can (and do) stay open all night to cater to their patrons.
- There are no laws against public consumption. People regularly walk down the street or sit in parks with their family and friends while drinking.
- 0.03 BAC is a DUI in Japan. Seriously, don’t drink and drive in general, but especially not in Japan. If you cause a car accident and hurt a local you will not simply be deported. You will go to a Japanese prison for many years, and THEN you’ll get deported. Also, a 0.01 BAC is a DWDI (Driving While Drinking Indicated.)
What’s The Bar Scene Like in Tokyo
Bars are big business in Japan, and there are plenty to choose from. Perhaps you’re looking for a more traditional Japanese izakaya? A karaoke bar with friends, perhaps? How about a British-style pub? You can find dozens of each of these within a few hundred feet of Shinjuku station alone. However, when you have such a large selection, a pub crawl is usually the best option for those visiting Japan and wanting to experience as much of the nightlife as possible. For those of you looking to get the most out of your night, I highly suggest joining up with a pub crawl tour. After all, alcohol is more fun with friends. And, in lieu of friends, a large group of like-minded strangers works too!
Why You Should Use Local Guide
Let’s look into why you should join a tour or hire a local guide when doing a bar-hopping tour in Tokyo.
- It removes the language barrier. This is less of an issue in larger bars around Tokyo but can be a real hassle in Izakayas and smaller local bars. Going where the locals go is pretty good advice during your trip to Japan, but this usually introduces a large language barrier to the night.
- To avoid tourist trap bars. Many bars in the tourist-friendly areas of Tokyo are more expensive, don’t serve authentic Japanese “bar food,” and just aren’t as fun. These bars are designed to grab your attention with flashy themes and “foreigner-friendly” signs but aren’t usually worth your time.
- Learn more about the culture and the area. Any local guide worth his or her salt will know a great deal about the area they’re taking you to, and can tell you a lot about both it and the local culture. This is a huge plus for me, so I hope it is for you too.
- You don’t need to drink alone. For solo travelers out there, hiring a guide or joining a group tour has the added benefit of giving you company for the night.
Best Bar Hopping Tours in Tokyo
From my extensive research into drinking in Tokyo (I’m not an alcoholic, they go to meetings…), here are our top 5 bar hopping/pub crawl tours that hit a lot of local bars and izakayas in Tokyo:
- Shibuya Bar Hopping Tour. For the foodies among you, this tour is for you. The highlight of this tour is Shibuya’s Hidden Meat Alley, a local yokocho with incredible food and drinks. Here you will bounce between different izakayas that specialize in beef and sake. I believe this tour gives you a much more authentic experience because you’re eating and drinking where the locals do.
- Shinjuku Bar Hopping Tour. Shinjuku is the mainstream of Tokyo’s typical nightlife and bar-hopping after work. This tour takes you to Shinjuku and the famous Kabukicho, Tokyo’s notorious red-light district, where you’ll visit a couple of very popular izakayas. Afterward, you’ll travel to a more relaxed section of Shinjuku where you’ll drink, play games, and have a good time in general
- Yokohama Bar Hopping Tour. For a much more laid back experience, the Yokohama Bar Hopping Tour allows you to decide where to go; with the help of a local guide of course. This trip takes place in Noge, Yokohama, which is technically not in Tokyo, but it’s about less than an hour from Shibuya Station, so I’m including it. Here you’ll eat at a popular izakaya and have some delicious seafood and yakitori; along with a drink of course. From here you’ll choose from a list of places depending on your mood. Just tell the guide what you’re looking for, and he’ll take you to the best spots. Or just let the guide take you the authentic tachinomiyas for some cheap drinks and a great time. Be aware that only the food and drink in the first bar is included in the tour price
- Koenji Craft Beer Bar Hopping Tour. This is a craft beer tour around Tokyo’s “Retro Hub” Koenji. The tour starts you off by buying, as my friend Marc likes to put it, “One for the road” at a local beer and liquor shop, one with its own extensive collection of craft beer. From here you’ll spend the next 2.5 hours hopping around the local bars with your guide and tasting the growing Japanese craft brew scene. Feel free to stay long after the tour is over, particularly since the drinks here are far cheaper than what you’ll find in downtown Tokyo. While this is the cheapest and most intimate tour on the list, it only includes the guide and one drink. You will need to pay for the drinks and food after that. This is an Airbnb experience. If you are new to Airbnb, you can sign-up using my link to get $53 of Airbnb credit and get US$13 OFF for this experience.
- Tokyo Pub Crawl. This is without a doubt the most well-known and largest drinking group in Tokyo. This tour is not for those who dislike large crowds (the maximum group size is 120 people), loud clubs, and tons of dancing. So, skip this pub-crawling tour if you’re like this guest. So, perhaps the Tokyo Club Crawl would be more accurate. Regardless of the name, it’s a ton of fun. And of course, feel free to keep the party going after the official tour is done.
I hope that you found the tour that was right for you from this list. If you did, please comment and let us know so we can continue to put out the content that you’re looking for. I love Japan’s drinking culture, so this one was pretty easy for me to find the will to research but I will continue to look for new and fun tours to keep this list up to date!
First time to Tokyo? Here’s our in-depth Tokyo Travel Guide.