A Look Into Japan’s Nightlife Culture

The famous gate of Kabukichō, Shinjuku

What are the things that come to mind when you think about Japan? Most people I’ve spoken to mention things like the cleanliness, politeness, and overall orderly feel of Japan’s society. These people are, to a certain extent, completely right. Japan’s streets are usually extremely clean, with businesses often cleaning up the area outside of their store as well. Most Japanese are normally very polite too. I remember a complete stranger walking me through every step of the process of buying a bus ticket when I asked her, to give an example. And of course, Japan feeling like a well-oiled, orderly machine isn’t a strange thing to say at all, as the efficiency of Tokyo’s subway system alone is nearly breathtaking.

There is a person, however, who shines a light on the other side of Japan. The side that only ever wakes up around midnight and goes to bed at 6 AM. The side that flies directly in the face of the conceptions people normally have about Japan. That person is the hip-hop artist who goes by the name MIYACHI.

MIYACHI, who was born in New York to Japanese parents, is a rapper and overall influencer who has risen to fame with his ability to rap bilingually seemingly effortlessly. And while his musical record is great enough to write about on its own (with club-bangers like “CHU-HI”), I’d like to highlight his video series titled “KONBINI CONFESSIONS.

Episode 1 Season 1 of KONBINI CONFESSIONS in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, known for its nightlife.

In this series, MIYACHI assumes the character of an interviewer dressed in formal clothing while roaming the night streets of cities like Tokyo and Osaka. Without a sliver of shame, he then proceeds to approach random people, mostly drunk, club-goers, and asks them a variety of questions, trying to elicit humorous responses.

While these videos, of which he has done 14 in a variety of cities, are at face value just fun to watch, one could also say that MIYACHI is holding up a mirror to Japan’s society at large, showing people that those previously stated stereotypes aren’t all that there is to Japan. Another stereotype people frequently have regarding Japanese people is that they are timid. While people in Japan are usually more apprehensive than most people I know in the west, the interviewees MIYACHI gets a hold of are the complete opposite of that stereotype. After midnight, it seems like most people let loose and are more carefree than most would expect. On paper, it does make sense that the population suffering from some of the most intense work cultures in the world leading to death by overwork, might be partying extra hard to make up for it.

In fact, I’d argue that a lot of Japanese nightlife phenomena have near-direct links to societal issues. Take the business model of the host/hostess clubs, for example. In a host/hostess club, a customer walks in and gets paired with a host or a hostess (depending on which sex the particular establishment is to geared towards), and simply has a conversation with them while buying drinks, which is where the money comes from. This desperate need for attention from the other sex which has given birth to a whole new — extremely lucrative — business model, may very well stem from the previously established harsh work culture, which makes finding a partner exceptionally hard.

To further gain an understanding of this host/hostess club culture, take a look at this image below.

A street corner in Kabukichō, the foremost entertainment district of Tokyo

All of those men pictured on the billboards are hosts at different host clubs. Why the heck is that? To explain, hosts and hostesses all work on commission. If the customer they’re assigned to pays for a drink, they get a cut. The earnings these hosts and hostesses make then get combined and ranked, as a sort of monthly leaderboard. Earn well, and your face gets plastered on every billboard in the district, causing your popularity to skyrocket and making you gain more. And don’t misunderstand, a well-performing host or hostess makes a crazy amount of money. On his birthday, top-earning host Roland had his customers pay 10 million yen on him within three hours. Using today’s conversion rates, that’s nearly 70 thousand euros!

Great video by VICE Japan breaking down the host/hostess club culture. (Turn on subtitles)

To be honest, I haven’t even scratched the surface of Japanese nightlife. I mean, you’ve got rappers fully tatted up driving around in golden cars who make songs like “薬物はやめろ” (STOP DOING DRUGS) and “安全運転” (SAFE DRIVER) on one side, and then on the other, you’ve got the phenomenon of Shibuya Meltdown, where drunk salarymen miss their last train and resort to sleeping on the streets.

Photo taken by unidentified person behind the “Shibuya Meltdown™” Instagram account.

If you’re even slightly interested in anything I wrote about here, do yourself a favour and watch KONBINI CONFESSIONS or any one of the plethora of video documentaries about Japanese nightlife on YouTube.