Much like the rest of the dance world, Japan’s clubbing history has gone from the underground to the mainstream in a short space of time. An individual free-style crowd, small low-key clubs and low paid but highly enthusiastic DJs, have been replaced by glo-stick wielding youngsters, small modern clubs and costly but still enthusiastic DJs.
Japan has a healthy club scene at the moment and a lot of DJs are making a name for themselves both here and abroad. DJs such as DJ Krush, Yoji Biomehanika, Energy Dai and Kihira Naoki to name but a few, have been working hard to put Japan on the clubbing map. While it may seem a little expensive at first gaining entry to some clubs and having a few drinks, choose the right event and you’ll be in for an experience of a lifetime. Japanese clubbers are among the most exuberant in the world and the frenzied atmosphere that they help create is unlike anything you’ll ever come across again.
Focusing mainly on the Kansai area, here’s a guide to help you make the most of your stay in Japan and to help you choose where to go when celebrating or commiserating your team’s performance.
Kansai, which consists of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and surrounding areas, boasts a thriving nightlife scene that encompasses both the underground past and the modern present. As with Tokyo, the clubs in the region cater to a wide range of musical tastes: from home grown DJ talent to international DJs coming over on a monthly basis.
Kyoto has the long running Metro and the newly opened Sekai World as its main clubbing attractions. While Metro is an old fashioned, tight and sweaty club with a wide range of nights and DJs, Sekai World is a funky, groovy club hosting mainly house and soulful disco. Down in Kobe the scene is a little different from that of the bigger cities. Clubs Oto-Ya, Corn and Seed attract a more laid back crowd but as is common in Japan, they host a good variety of music styles.
While Kyoto and Kobe have their own unique clubs, it’s Osaka that’s the party capital in this region. With approximately 20 main clubs and dozens more smaller clubs, there’s no shortage of places to visit or events to go to. Roughly speaking, Osaka can be divided into four main clubbing areas.
The first and probably most concentrated area is Amerika Mura in Shinsaibashi, Minami Osaka. Here about eight or so clubs lie within walking distance of each other. Underlounge and Joule are the top dogs here and regularly compete against each other in terms of music and DJs. Underlounge frequently gets the upper hand over its rival thanks to a larger capacity (1,200 compared to 800) and a better quality of DJs playing there. Not to be outdone however, Joule charges less on the door (1,000 yen compared to 2,500 yen) and has a relaxing upstairs lounge bar so you can drink and chat without ever feeling the need to dance. Other clubs in the surrounding area include: Club Two and I-to-I, situated in the same building they both play host to a wide variety of hip hop, drum’n’bass and reggae nights; Club Flatt & Club Gross Ozone are two typically Japanese clubs, small with a lot of younger people hanging out there, so expect a variety of events and music; Grand Café is as close as you’ll get to a lounge bar in Osaka and the kind of place you’ll want to get dressed up for.
Moving slightly east, but still in the Shinsaibashi area, are the foreign owned clubs. Sam & Dave 5 is the place to be at the moment; a spacious club that embraces "all kinds of house and trance", the venue also a delicious food menu and professionally trained bar staff. Canadian owned and managed, Rakan is the other popular venue in this area - the so-called ‘Pleasure Den’ offers a taste of the sordid side of Osaka nightlife. Don’t go near the place until after midnight as there’s usually nobody there before then. Head down towards Namba and a club that’s located under a train station. Rockets is a bizarre, grunge inspired club that hosts regular underground parties. Happy hardcore, gabba, minimalist techno and indie are very popular music styles here.
The Kita area of Osaka (i.e. Umeda and surrounding areas) offers a more underground feel to your clubbing experience whilst in Japan. Club Noon (formerly Club Dawn), which would earn the prize for Kansai’s best nightclub if ever there were a vote, is a maze of winding corridors and low ceilings. Frequented by everyone from office ladies to posers, Noon is an alternative option for those who want to keep away from the mainstream clubs of Amerika Mura. Club Karma, on the other hand, represents a small club with an underground attitude that attracts the more street wise of punters. Located near the Hilton hotel, the foreigner-friendly staff have a gem of a club on their hands with this one.
Finally, situated a short train ride from the centre of the city is Bayside Jenny. Primarily a band venue, the club often hosts regular dance events. Being located away from the city centre has its advantages and disadvantages, but it’s a popular venue with the locals and usually doesn’t finish until well into the early hours of the morning.
Be sure to check the local press for club listings. The Kansai club listings can be founds in the popular monthly English language magazine, Kansai Time Out. Maps to those clubs can be found on the magazine’s website.
Tokyo has numerous high profile clubs that have the capacity to hold up to approximately 5,000 people. Clubs like Liquid Room, Yellow, Velfarre, Club Citta and Blue entitle the capital city to call itself the main centre for dance enthusiasts. Big events carry expensive cover charges but expect nothing less than pure, uninhibited madness on the dance floors.
Blue 03 3797 1591
Club Asia 03 5458 1996
Harlem 03 3461 8806 – hip hop
Liquid Room 03 3200 6831
Loop 03 3797 9933 techno & house
Maniac Love 03 3406 1166 intense house, techno & trance
The Room 03 3461 7167 club jazz
Velfarre 03 3402 8000
Vuenos 03 5458 1996
Womb 03 5459 0039 drum ‘n’ bass, house, techno
Yellow 03 3479 0690
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