“We’re only here for two days,” Damien said in the crowded common room of the hostel, “and we really want to try clubbing in Japan.”
We were able to recruit a young guy from the northern UK, Josh, and a travelling lawyer, Sam. Together with Damien friend, we headed to the destination where the local at the front desk had recommended to go: Roppongi.
25 minutes by subway, we arrived at the Roppongi train station. Compared to the rest of Tokyo’s business district, there was nothing particularly exciting or unique about the view other than the Eiffel-tower-like Tokyo Tower just down the road from where we were currently standing. Along the road were the usual fluorescent and neon signage of familiar names like “Tokyo Mart” and “Seven & Holdings,” where we headed to first before our foray into the Tokyo clubbing scene 
Sam grabs a beef onigiri while the rest of us grab one of those special-edition Sapporo cans. It’s never been made clear (without internet searching) if public consumption of alcohol is allowed but we did observe a salaryman drinking a Suntory Whisky Highball on the subway ride down here so we popped the tab and chugged the can down right outside the store. This was a slight mistake as Roppongi, like the rest of Tokyo, lacked any waste receptacles . As we walked down the street in the direction of Tokyo Tower, a slightly middle-aged caucasian man approached us, looked at the beer cans in our hands, and said, “if you want some good beer, head down there – it’s the greatest for ‘us’”.
Not sure what he meant by ‘us’, we thanked the man and headed down the brightly lit stairwell to an awning decorated with the union jack. Josh immediately chirped, “it’s a British pub, isn’t it.” If the oak counters at the bar with the decor of an upper-scale Wetherspoon’s in Central London weren’t a dead giveaway, we probably should have paid more attention to the name of the bar: “Hobglobin British Pub”.
Unlike a British pub, the place offered a 2500-yen for 2 hours all-you-can-drink. And unlike any Western concept of all-you-can-whatever, it’s not a ‘eat and drink whatever you want while it takes us an hour to get your order’. “Bottoms up,” Damien says to our first drink, as the server cheerfully returns with another pitcher of beer from the local craft scene.
It’s strangely familiar,” Josh says. “They didn’t skimp on anything.”
“They even have the usual crowd at the bar,” I say pointing towards the group of elderly white men sitting at the bar with their ‘dimple mugs’ at hand. Maybe I say it a little too loud because one of them hears me.
“We’re not just the usual fixtures here young man,” he yells at us as he walks over to our table. “If you guys weren’t doing the tourist special, I’d buy you guys a round on me.”
I’m assuming that all-you-can-drink is not normal local fare.
“Surprised none of you are American, or maybe not,” he says after asking where we all came from. He introduces himself as Geoff and grabs a seat from the next table. Our waitress quickly comes by to deliver his beer from the bar to our table. “And that’s why I love it here,” he says with a smile to the waitress. She gives a smile as she refills our beer.
Geoff found his current group of friends – all from the U.K. – within a half-year of moving to Tokyo. “I asked someone where to go for a good drink and they pointed me here to Roppongi,” he says. (Sam looks at the rest of us with a smirk.) He continues, “Much of all the non-Japanese ex-pats I’ve met were from somewhere around here.” He points towards his friends at the bar. “They’re all for a good drink, those guys.”
“Pity the place doesn’t seem that crowded,” Damien says.
“Nah, you just missed the crowd,” Geoff says. “They all come right after work – trains end at midnight and for some of them, it takes them a good 1 or 2 hours to get home.” I look down at my watch. 10:45PM. He continues, “I mean there are places with crowds of young’uns if you know where to look.”
“And do you know these places?” Sam asks.
Geoff laughs. “I’m British and I frequent this pub. Do you think I’ll go anywhere else?”
As we leave to find these elusive establishments, he heads back to his group of friends. “Feel free to come back,” one of them yells back, “we need some new blood down here.”
Eleven PM on a Friday night and the street seemed relatively dull. People lingered on the street but it wasn’t inherently obvious if anyone had a destination. As we walk, we pass a man handing out cards on the street. “5000 yen for all you can drink,” he says as we walk past.
Sam looks at the card. “That’s pretty expensive. We just came from a place that was much cheaper than that.”
The man continued. “Unlimited all evening. All you can drink. Great titties!”
“That’s OK then,” Sam says as we continue onward.
The man yells toward us. “It’s called Hustlers – you should go there!”
We stop a few times to ask some people on the street where to go but no one had an answer to where there was a good club. One man pointed towards an establishment across the street but adds, “it’s a bar, not a club.”
“Thanks,” Damien says as we begin walking again. “I read that the clubs in Tokyo were good. That’s weird we haven’t found one.”
At the next intersection, another foreigner approaches us. “All-you-can-drink for 5000 yen. Beautiful titties.”
“That sounds strangely familiar,” I say.
“Wait, is this place called Hustlers?” Damien asks.
“Hustlers, yes!” the man exclaims. “Unlimited drinks.”
We thank the man and we continue forward. “Do you suppose that’s all they’re allowed to say,” Sam asks us. We laugh as we continue searching for these elusive clubs that Tokyo is supposed to be littered with. Eventually, we reach the end of the fluorescent lights. “What do we do now?”
A foreigner at the corner yells at us, “hope y’all are having a good night.”
Sam shakes her head at the man. “Hey, do you know where we can go clubbing?”
The man looks mildly puzzled. “No, can’t say that I do. There are some good bars though.”
“Oh, we might as well go back to that place that guy pointed at,” Damien says.
The man continues, “well if you want a deal, there is a good place you guys could try.”
Sam chuckles. “Is the place called Hustlers?” she jokes.
“Yeah,” the man says. We all break out in laughter. The man continues, “it’s a good price for unlimited drinks and the women are all beautiful. I can take you guys there.”
Sam looks at the rest of us. “Should we just try this place? It seems like fate is telling us to go there.”
Damien sighs. “Yeah, why not. There’s five of us so if they try anything weird, we’ll just leave.”
“Can we just look at the place? No purchasing, just looking,” Sam asks the man.
“Well,” the man hesitates.
“What’s wrong with looking. We’ll just go to the entrance and see if we like it. The entrance is still public view, right?” Sam clearly has her lawyer skills at her disposal.
“Fine, follow me,” the man says. He takes us a block back towards the subway station. Among the fluorescent lights on the sign hanging from the building is a directory pointing out the various establishments. ‘1F – Dispensary’, ‘2F – Tetsuya Sushi’, and so forth. I see at the very top: ‘8F – Hustlers’.
“All the way up in the eight floor, huh,” I say. “So much for backing out easily.”
“If anything happens, we just tackle the guy blocking the elevator,” Damien says as he looks at our guide. He didn’t respond to that comment so I wasn’t sure if he heard it or if he was mentally blocking it.
We crowd into the small elevator, our guide included. As the door opened to the eighth floor, the smell of lavender permeated into the crowded lift from the darkness beyond. The place was so dimly lit that we could only see the sheer white curtains hanging from the dirty white walls and windows. Beyond a large archway was a salon of sorts, probably big enough to hold 30 or 40 people comfortably, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing the Tokyo Tower. The only people beyond the archway was the bartender behind a black marble – or what looked to be black marble – counter, and eight women, each of varying non-Japanese ethnicities and wearing grossly sheer negligees, each standing next to very large and oversized lounge chairs. To the left of the archway was another opening with a sheer curtain draped in front of it. From what I could tell beyond the curtain was a dimly-lit empty room save for a giant round black leather couch in the center of the room.
Everyone (and I mean everyone) had big smiles on them. Among the eight women in the room, the smiles seemed almost fake, seemed almost forced.
“Okay then,” Damien says.
Sam gives the place a quick look around, turns toward us, and nods. “Thank you very much,” she says as we all quickly crowd back into the elevator with the teeth of our smiles showing. No eye contact. No one trying to stop us. As the elevator door opened on the first floor, we stare straight ahead and walk to the next block without talking.
“That was … something,” I say. No one responds, save for the same huge smiles on their faces. “Well, we might as well go try that bar,” I say looking at my watch. 12:00AM.
By the time we return to the bar, the line entering the bar had shortened. The entrance to the bar was up a large set of stairs almost as wide as the building itself. At the door was an older Japanese man wearing a long peacoat with a younger guy in a green down-filled vest next to him. “ID,” the man in the peacoat says to us.
“Is this a club?” Sam asks.
The man chuckles. “Not a club.” This was slightly strange as we could hear a definitive drum and bass beat from beyond the door.
“That’s a pretty wild bar,” I say.
The man in the green vest laughs. “Clubs are for dancing. Bars are for drinking.”
“So you can’t dance here?” Damien asks.
“Clubs can’t open past midnight,” the man in the green vest says as though he had to field this question several times tonight to intrepid tourists looking for a funky night out. “Bars can be open till the early morning. As soon as someone is dancing, that place becomes a club and it causes a lot of trouble.”
Entering the establishment we were greeted by a long blue-illuminated bar, not unlike those in a standard club. At the center of the bar was a DJ, not unlike those in a standard club. In front of the DJ was a large floor with tables scattered around, not unlike those in a standard club. People of all sorts were scattered through the bar – some wasted and almost on the verge of passing out, while others were at tables getting into drunken spats with their friends – not unlike in a standard club. What was unlike a standard club was what everyone was doing: standing still.
Throngs of people in the bar were standing near tables and facing the DJ. With beers in hand, they stood there with the occasional movement as they shifted leg weight. At one point, a young guy with several empty glasses next to him starts to nod his head to the beat and move his shoulders in circles. Another man in a peacoat heads to the young guy and talks to him for a few seconds before escorting him out .
To the right, a group of Japanese youth points at us. “Here comes the fun!” one guy yells out. The rest of his friends laugh. “Join us,” he says pointing to the large booth next to theirs.
As we sit, one of the girls starts singing, “Proud to be an American.”
“We are not American,” Damien says with a laugh, “we’re Canadian!”
After grabbing several rounds of beers, one of the guys at the other table – Hiko – talks about his experience of clubbing in Los Angeles. “It’s so strange,” he says, “people get so drunk in the states that they go to the club and not enjoy the experience.”
We look at each other semi-sheepishly. I ask, “so that doesn’t happen here?”
Hiko shakes his head. “No it does, but those are a small section of the establishments.” Hiko then goes on his phone, intently searching for something on his device. “Here, tap my phone.”
In an instant, he transfers me a list of places throughout Shinjuku, Roppongi, and Shibuya. I show the list to Damien who nods approvingly. “Well, we know where we’re going tomorrow,” he says with excitement. “And the drinks there are good?”
Again, Hiko shakes his head. “Do you want good drinks or do you want good music and atmosphere?” As he says that, he looks at the thrall of young guys standing around with restrictive ambition to move synchronously to the beat. He asks for my phone and scrolls through the list before landing on one of the listings. “Here, we’ll meet here tomorrow night – it’s in Shibuya.”
Well, we already followed one stranger into a sketchy bar tonight – might as well follow another stranger into a club. If it wasn’t for our venture into Hustlers, we might have said “no thanks” to Hiko’s offer and called it a night.
Instead, the very next day we learned very much what the Tokyo nightlife really had to offer.
 Japanese convenience store food leaves much to be desired from the usual fare at “Seven-Eleven”. For the equivalent of $4.00, you could get decent quality lunch boxes, sandwiches, and hot meals with more confident levels of freshness (considering that there are lines of people with food in their hands, the turnover rate is much higher than in North America). For a dollar more, you could get an assortment of beer, highballs, coolers, and cheap sake.
 In Japan, roads and pathways are somewhat-officially defined as a means to facilitate transport between Point A and Point B. In other words, ‘you should be moving on roads and paths, not stopping’. Since paths were not defined for people to be eating or drinking, there is a lack of ‘western’ fixtures like garbage cans and benches. On one rainy day, I bought an umbrella in Marunouchi, immediately used the umbrella, but couldn’t throw away the packaging until I headed back to my hotel in Shinjuku – a 25-minute train ride later.
 As soon as someone is dancing, that place becomes a club and it could cause a lot of trouble. This rule, colloquially known as the “no dancing rule” had variable enforcement and some clubs were able to get away with it. Since the time the events in this essay happened, this ban has been lifted – likely in response to the then-upcoming 2020 summer Olympics.
Names have been altered for this story.