Kabukicho (歌舞伎町) is a legendary district in the ward of Shinjuku, in Tokyo, Japan. The name means "Kabuki Town", but the theater it was named for is long gone -- instead, Kabukicho has become Japan's largest red-light district, which also happens to have some of Tokyo's best techno clubs and a hell of a lot of great places to get drunk (and these aren't necessarily even mutually exclusive). Formally, Kabuki-cho is the bit of Shinjuku north of Yasukuni-doori, and you can get there just by walking straight ahead, parallel to the tracks, if you take the East (Higashi) exit of Shinjuku Station.

Tokyo's most famous techno club, the Liquid Room, is on the western side of Kabukicho in the Humax Pavilion, near Tokyu Bunka Kaikan. (It's overpriced and generally pretty sucky, but that's a story for another node.) The big izakaya chains are also all out in force, just crane your neck on Yasukuni-doori and look for the "sake" kanji, or wait to be handed fliers from places opening up or closing. You'll need local assistance to find the best places though. Kaasan is pretty dependable and has an excellent range of sake, but a bit on the expensive side. At lunch or dinner time you could also do worse than prowl the streets of Kabukicho, as there are thousands of restaurants serving all types of food and the stiff competition keeps prices low.

Should you go there by day, Kabukicho may look just like any other place in Tokyo, especially if you can't read Japanese. Only after night falls does the place start to change its character. See those guys in sharkskin suits? They're Yakuza, guarding their turf. See those girlies in miniskirts handing out fliers? They're hostesses, and they want to laugh at your jokes, pour your beer, rub their naked breasts in your face and fellate your penis. Or at least some of those: exactly what activities are on offer and how much you will pay (and oh boy, will you pay) will involve some negotiations. Three whacks of the clue stick before you get too excited though, boy:

You see, prostitution is illegal in Japan, the police (who are, of course, very well aware of what goes on) just define sex the Bill Clinton way. Sure, there are out-and-out whores lurking in dim corners too, but not in respectable gentlemen's clubs, no sirree. You want to get laid, go to Roppongi.

With that little cold shower out of the way, the full surreality of the scene will only become evident in the wee hours of the morning, when you are returning from a party or some such. The crowds are gone: instead, passed-out (often thrown-out) salarymen litter the alleyways, speakers screech with high-pitched female offers of Hot, sticky, sweat-pouring-down-your-back SEX!, all those vending machines boarded up during the day are now open and selling porno mags and even those world-famous used panties... take the right alley shortcut and you may even spot bored-looking women sitting in little glass booths, just like Amsterdam. And serenely in the middle of it all are a number of 24-hour McDonaldses, Ronald McDonald smiling benevolently among the perversion. Unlike most red-light districts in the world, however, Kabukicho at night is safe: assuming you don't do anything blatantly stupid like go out of your way to piss off a Yak, about the worst that can happen is that your wallet gets stolen.

In addition to proletarian clip joints, Kabukicho has a wide range of exclusive sex clubs catering to any possible taste. Alas, yet again these are too difficult to find, too exclusive and probably too expensive for foreign mortals, but Amy Yamada has written a fascinating account of working in Kabukicho S&M club as a dominatrix (see her bio for details). Also, the gay scene is mostly not in Kabukicho but in Shinjuku nichome, a few blocks down south.

Did you sin too much the night before? Salvation is at hand, since smack dab in the middle of Kabukicho off Yasukuni-doori is the small Hanazono Shrine, which dates back to 1648. Nothing much to look at, really, but an unexpected, nice little oasis of tranquility amidst the chaos.

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