Perspectives: the demise of Clubbing in tokyo

TOKYO STREETS ILLUMINATED BY NEON. CREDIT: BENJAMIN HUNG / SHUTTERSTOCK

TOKYO STREETS ILLUMINATED BY NEON. CREDIT: BENJAMIN HUNG / SHUTTERSTOCK

 

JAPANESE YOUTH ARE clubbing LESS, LEAVING THE ELECTRONIC MUSIC SCENE IN THE LURCH.

So you’ve heard about club closures in London and Berlin – but what about Tokyo? The national crisis of an aging society is taking its toll on more than just the economy. Despite being a city defined by flashing neon and sci-fi cityscapes – the hallmarks of an awesome night out – club culture in the Japanese capital is succumbing to government regulation and traditionalist values.

LURE talked to Asako Tomotani, a producer of poweredby.tokyo*. Nightlife, like much of everyday life in Japan, is misconstrued by international media, says the 24-year-old Tokyo native. “I'd say, all of the things people talk about are true, but it’s just the surface. The media dehumanizes our culture by only showing what is extreme to the foreign eye. But when you actually open the box, it’s not all like Blade Runner.”

What’s ‘your’ Tokyo like?

If you want to see the local culture, you have to go into the underground and you have to know where you are going. People in my circles always go to smaller clubs. We call them ‘small boxes’. They are these types of places where you just bump into your friends without planning to. It’s really cozy. On the surface, Tokyo’s nightlife is very clean and regulated. Clubs are considered a bad thing and people should not be dancing after a certain hour.

TOKYO IS KNOWN FOR ITS SCI-FI CITYSCAPES. CREDIT: ALEX KNIGHT / SHUTTERSTOCK

TOKYO IS KNOWN FOR ITS SCI-FI CITYSCAPES. CREDIT: ALEX KNIGHT / SHUTTERSTOCK

 

So where do young people hang out after sunset?

We have places called izakaya, it’s like a tapas bar but with Japanese food where you can get small and cheap dishes and drinks until very late. Some places are even open 24 hours. So, you can basically stay in a restaurant all night. Young people just go bar- or restaurant-hopping and then end up in a karaoke bar. They prefer these spaces because the government is very strict and limits the existence of places for dancing.

Why?

The government just sees black and white. They just pick up on rare violent instances and drug dealing in some clubs, linked to the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. In order to get rid of these, they basically tell you: “When you start going to clubs, it’s leading to drugs, people getting drunk and fights. So, clubbing, music, and dancing are violent!” Even if fighting and drugs are really rare here. Drugs are really a ‘no-no’ in Japan, and the government is trying to ban everything linked to drug use. And that’s super frustrating because I love going out, dancing and enjoying my life but some of my favorite clubs have been shut down.

 
AFTER SUNSET, JAPANESE YOUTH GO TO IZAKAYAS. CREDIT: ALEX KNIGHT / SHUTTERSTOCK

AFTER SUNSET, JAPANESE YOUTH GO TO IZAKAYAS. CREDIT: ALEX KNIGHT / SHUTTERSTOCK

 

So should one stick to karaoke in Tokyo?

No, there are definitely still places for dancing! But it’s really underground, in the middle of nowhere in Tokyo, in a bar that I would normally never discover, but there are concerts happening. There’s a really big underground hip-hop scene in Japan for example, or experimental musicians, industrial sounds, as well as techno. People from these scenes aren’t naive. They never talk about it in front of others because of the current climate. Some young people actually know what’s up and where it’s happening, but the other half has no idea. In the last years, social media has definitely made it easier for people in these scenes to connect.

How would you like to see things change?

The scariest thing to me is, even some young people – people my age – have these conservative ideas. It's just because they've never seen anything different. Still, you can’t always accept everything the government is throwing in your face. Japan’s youth needs to ask itself more questions. But it’s deeply rooted in Japanese culture to just follow the rules. But you can’t always follow the rules! You have to change them sometimes. Not many young Japanese do that. But I know so many young people who are standing up against these rules and regulations. I think public figures like DJ Licaxxx add a positive aspect to Tokyo's underground nightlife scene. And I hope more young people will be influenced by that.


*poweredby.tokyo blogs about the lives and work of Tokyo residents, and is our partner in creating Young Bloods Chapter 01: Tokyo. LURE works with local partners who provide on-the-ground knowledge, and we are against parachute journalism. To read more about our partnership model, click here.

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