Nightlife in Japan: A Travel Guide by Darren EmersonMusic
The city, suburbs, booze and jogging. There are many ways to enjoy your stay in Japan – after dark.
Starting his career in the late 1980s, Darren Emerson is a superstar DJ who gained popularity from his time in the group Underworld. The energetic techno-revolutionary showcased his aggressive DJ style in Japan for the first time in 1993 when he was just 21 years old. “In Tokyo, I played at YELLOW and in Kyoto, I played at Club Mushroom. It's been 25 years, but I still come to Japan almost every year.” During these 25 years, Darren has played at huge raves and festivals in Japan, as well as underground nightclubs for the core clubbers. Every time he visits, Darren enjoys the nightlife.
He shared one story with us about a mistake he made one night in Tokyo. “Back when I was part of Underworld, I played a DJ set alongside Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, and Loco Dice at a big festival on a Friday night. All of us went to a Japanese sake bar and drank too much. I got so drunk that I could barely walk or talk. I got into a taxi without realizing I had lost a shoe and rode back to the hotel. I woke up half a day later and realized I had lost my phone. I was supposed to play at WOMB that night and the staff had been calling me and were worried because I didn’t pick up. I also got in a fight with my girlfriend because she couldn’t reach me. Sake is… that sake… that sake…” he repeated as he reminisced about the dark side of sake.
In recent years, Darren has gone to Hakuba to ski or vacationed in Kyoto after his gigs. He has become an expert at making the most out of his stays in Japan and he even goes jogging in Kyoto. One day, Darren ran 20 kilometers along the Kamogawa river, which he says was super refreshing.
Here are some nighttime hotspots that Darren recommends.
1. Concrete / Hakuba, Nagano
“I love to leave the city and go to the mountains. The mountains in Japan are fantastic,” says Darren, who has fallen in love with the suburbs of Japan. He’s been skiing for the past five or six years so when he visits Japan, he often goes to Hakuba in Nagano prefecture after a gig to take a break. Sometimes he will even play at one of the clubs. “This club called Concrete just opened last year. I played there in January this year and a few weeknights last year. At Concrete, I play a variety of music including house and techno. It’s a small club but I like the atmosphere.”
22203-78 Kamishiro, Hakuba-mura, Kitaazumigun, Nagano
2. Kyoto Kamogawa River
Darren loves Kyoto so much he even named a remix after it, called “Cowgirl (Irish Pub in Kyoto Mix)”. Nowadays, he doesn’t go out to Irish pubs as often as he used to. Instead, he has gotten into running and has discovered running along the Kamogawa river. “When I would wake up at night because of jetlag, I would go out while the moon is still out. Then, the sky beyond the mountains would slowly get brighter… It’s really a spectacular time of day.” Darren plans to run a full marathon in England this year.
Along the Kamogawa river in Kyoto
3. Osaka Yakiniku-Don Don America Mura
Japanese people love yakiniku (Japanese BBQ). Darren Emerson is also a fan of yakiniku and he looks forward to having some whenever he plans a visit to Japan. “There’s a place called Yakiniku Don Don in Osaka that is open until morning. I can go there before I go to the club, or after my gig,” he explains. The restaurant carries an assortment of Japanese beef for a reasonable price, so you can sample a variety of things without going broke. Getting yakiniku with friends is an authentic Japanese experience.
Yakiniku-Don Don America Mura
2-9-5, Nishi-Shinsaibashi, Chuou-Ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
Tel: 81-(0) 6-6211-5085
4. Ichiran Shibuya / Tokyo
“I go to ramen shops when my show is over or after I’ve had a few drinks. My favorite flavor is tonkotsu (pork broth). Out of all the ramen shops, I love Ichiran the most. You can sit alone in a booth and really concentrate on enjoying your ramen.” Ramen is the go-to meal after a long night out in Japan. There are usually a few places open all night, not only in Tokyo but also in many other cities that have some level of nightlife. Stop by on your way back to your hotel - everyone knows ramen tastes best after a long night of clubbing.
1-22-7 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Iwamoto Bldg. B1F
5. Club JOULE / Osaka
Most of the time Darren plays at clubs in Tokyo and Osaka. “There are a lot of unique souls in Osaka,” he says as he shares his fondness for Osaka. A range of DJs - from international superstars to local favorites - perform at Club JOULE, which is located in an area called the America Mura (village). At four stories tall, it is one of the largest clubs in Osaka. The main dance floor features an impressive three-story-high ceiling. It is very entertaining and is a great place for tourists.
2-11-7 Nishi Shinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Minamisumiyacho Bldg. 4F
6. CIRCUS TOKYO
CIRCUS TOKYO is a sister venue of CIRCUS OSAKA where you can enjoy the most cutting edge beats. It is a modestly sized club, but many world-class acts like Darren Emerson, Roni Size, DJ Krush, DJ Deeon and DJ Funk have graced the decks here as well as contemporary Japanese DJs. If you are looking for a more authentic and local club experience, this venue should be first on your list.
3-26-16, Shibuya-ku, Shibuya, Tokyo, Daigoto Bldg.
Photo: Reiji Yamazaki
Text: Kana Yoshioka