“They say New York is the city that never sleeps, although Tokyo would give it a darn good run for its money” ~ Alyse.
Shibuya at night never fails to take my breath away. The consistent hum of crowded chatter, lights flashing from towering buildings above, loud music from nearby shops sweeping across an enormous patchwork zebra crossing in the middle of it all. It’s strangely intoxicating that everything is vying for your attention amongst this organised chaos!
Welcome to Shibuya, my all-time favourite Tokyo neighbourhood to stay when visiting Japan. There is a relentless, exciting buzz filling the night air any day of the week, from local salarymen enjoying after work drinks to visitors laughing whilst taking photos on the streets.
One way to experience a different side of Shibuya nightlife is by becoming an invisible tourist on a pub crawl in hidden bars away from the tireless crowds. Only a block or so away from the world’s busiest street crossing, the Shibuya “Scramble”, lies a maze of hidden pedestrian-only backstreets crammed with shops and underground izakaya (Japanese pubs).
But without knowing Japanese, how can you find them and avoid looking like a tourist?
In my opinion, bar hopping is one of the most fun things to do in Shibuya at night to immerse yourself in Japanese drinking and izakaya culture. Of course, it’s even better with a local to show you the ropes. If you’re interested in taking a Shibuya night tour to experience hidden bars and pubs hiding in plain sight, read on for more!
This guide to experiencing Shibuya at night will cover:
This post contains affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.
TIP: This article forms part of my comprehensive guide to unreal and exciting things to do in Shibuya during the day and night, so take a look for more inspiration in the area once you’re done here!
What is MagicalTrip?
MagicalTrip is a platform that allows travellers to connect with locals through small, guided group tours throughout Japan. Their local guides are specifically chosen for their friendly and outgoing personalities, which is what sets them apart!
The local guides are eager to share their knowledge about Japanese etiquette, culture and enjoy meeting travellers in their country. This win-win concept for tourists and locals is one I’m very passionate about, especially for first-timers to Japan who are a little unsure of what to expect.
TIP: Exploring a city with a local is the perfect way to “be invisible.”
Types of experiences available through Magical Trip
There are many types of experiences available in major cities throughout Japan if you’re travelling solo, as a couple or with kids. From ramen tasting to cycling, foodie tours to cultural walks, there’s something for every type of traveller (even special access to watch the sumo early morning practice).
Sampling local specialties is one of the best things to do in Tokyo. As an Australian, enjoying a good night bar hopping is in my blood, so naturally I couldn’t pass on this opportunity. Which would you choose?:
For my bar hopping tour of Shibuya at night, my local guide was Lam-san. He’s lived in Tokyo for several years and loves Shibuya so much he has a graphic of its meaning on his phone case (hint: Shibuya 渋谷 = Bitter Valley).
I experienced this Shibuya bar hopping tour as a press invite from MagicalTrip, but as always this did not influence my opinion in any way and all thoughts in this article are my own. Now, let’s dive into the cultural things to do in Shibuya!
Things to do in Shibuya at night according to a local
With a plethora of things to do in Shibuya at night, there are cultural experiences you should enjoy according to locals. The good news is bar hopping will cover some of these! Literally beneath the surface of Shibuya (and looming storeys high above it) are countless izakaya and it should be considered a crime to leave Tokyo without experiencing them at some point.
It can be difficult to find these hidden izakaya, though. Some are just a doorway leading underground from street level while others are several storeys up in buildings you wouldn’t guess would have bars in them, so it helps to have a local guide with you to navigate this concrete jungle.
Why not enjoy some mouth-watering Japanese specialties and learn more about local drinking culture along the way?
What is bar hopping?
In case you aren’t familiar, bar hopping or a pub crawl means visiting one pub after another to enjoy different atmospheres. Enjoy a drink or two at one bar with some local food, then move on to experience the next pub.
Perhaps the reason why “crawl” is in the name is because that might be the way you get from one pub to another if you’ve had too much to drink!
TIP: Although the tour is structured, your individual experience will be a little different to mine below. This Tokyo bar hopping tour is customised to what you like! My review is here to give you an idea of what to expect.
The meeting point for this Shibuya bar hopping tour is at the one and only Shibuya Crossing, out front of the unmissable TSUYATA (same building as Starbucks) to make things easy.
If making your way there from JR Shibuya Station, head to the Hachiko North Exit and you’ll pop up outside the station at the crossing side. As well as our guide Lam-san, there was a lovely American couple accompanying me on our bar hopping tour.
Where to go in Shibuya at night: A hidden izakaya with plenty of traditional options
The location of our first izakaya for the night was a 5 minute walk from Shibuya crossing. As the entrance on street level is quite narrow and decorated exclusively in Japanese scripts, if I were on my own I would have walked right past it.
We headed underground into the cosy bar where a few local salarymen were having after work drinks. On being shown our table we were presented with a menu of delicious Japanese tapas-style selections. My favourite part!
From the menu we could select two small dishes and one of six unique Japanese beverages:
- Sapporo Black Label (draft beer)
- Japanese sake (nihonshu rice-based alcohol, pronounced sah-ke)
- Highball (Japanese whiskey & soda)
- Shochu (Japanese distilled spirit like vodka, made from sweet potato)
- Black Hoppy (sochu & dark beer-flavoured drink)
- Yuzu (sour peach wine)
- Soft drink is also available for non-drinkers.
Naturally, as a huge sake lover I selected nihonshu. In Japan, there is a difference between ordering sake and nihonshu – find out what each means in my guide to bar hopping in Kyoto so you don’t get caught out.
For my two dishes, as Japanese beef is some of the world’s finest I opted for the succulent steak served with lemon, salt and dash of wasabi. I also chose the yaki onigiri – a huge rice ball grilled with soy sauce and served with a generous dollop of butter that melted through the crispy granules. Ah, my mouth is watering just thinking about it again… Grilled buttery onigiri, anyone?
With a cheering of “kanpai” and clink of our glasses, we dug into our meals. These selections were absolutely delicious and were a great start to line my stomach for what was about to happen next!
Interested in taking this fun Shibuya pub crawl for yourself?
What to eat in Shibuya at night: The latest exciting trend for foodies
Passing through the bustling backstreets of Shibuya and a glowing Don Quijote store, Lam-san led us to our second bar for the night. One set of glass doors and an elevator ride later, we arrived at our next stop.
As a trendy bar with cool wall decor and glowing lanterns hanging from the ceiling, this bar was packed with young locals. Even some who appeared to be on a bachelor party judging from the ridiculous Santa hat and tinsel one guy was wearing on his head (despite it not being Christmas) while his mates laughed.
Lam-san explained the difference between Shibuya at night and Shinjuku – the former is for young people usually interested in pop culture and hanging our near Shibuya 109, while the latter is for people in their 30’s wanting to make the most of Tokyo’s red light district, Kabukichō.
At this bar I didn’t realise two drinks were included, so I was “double parked” with two glasses of sake. This was a good time for Lam-san to explain a few practical Japanese phrases you can use in a restaurant:
- Osumsume wa nan des ka? おすすめは何ですか ? = What is the recommendation?
- Kore kudasai これをください = This one, please
- Are to onaji no kudasai あれおなじのください = Please give me the same dish as that
- Gochi sou sama ごちそうさま = Thank you for the meal (afterwards)
For even more useful expressions, check out my detailed guide to 20+ Japanese phrases for tourists with free PDF cheat sheet for offline use!
So, if you’re curious about what to eat in Shibuya at night, you really shouldn’t miss a hot new trend in the neighbourhood – niku sushi! These delicious morsels look just like regular sushi on a pillow of rice, however they’re made with a thin slice of marbled beef instead of fish.
Lam-san explained to us that no one really knows where this trend originated but it’s becoming very popular.
Niku sushi can be enjoyed raw or flame grilled. Obviously we opted for the grilled sharing plate for a bit of a show – and boy, the spectacle was as good as the melt-in-your-mouth flavours!
Where to drink in Shibuya at night: A specialty bar to learn more about Japan’s national beverage
Our final stop for the night was an industrial-themed bar called Yata, with exposed concrete walls and vintage light bulbs. By this point in the night everything was becoming hilarious as the sake was kicking in!
If you’re a newcomer into the world of Japanese sake, different kinds may all taste similar to you at first. Just like fine wines, sake has a spectrum of flavours and aromas that influence the end result. Without knowing the various kinds of sake you can’t fully appreciate it, right?
As we were discussing this over some nibbles, Lam-san shared a simplified graphic explaining the contrasting aromas and flavours of Japanese sake. They range from light and aromatic to strong with low aroma. I personally prefer the sweeter end of the spectrum, while dry sake is also popular.
I’d previously learnt about the sake-making process during one of my visits to Kyoto, so I was pleased to learn something new about how aroma can be a clue to what type of sake is in your glass if you’re not sure. It’s also handy to remember so you know what you like for next time!
Final thoughts on my Shibuya night tour with MagicalTrip
I thoroughly enjoyed my Shibuya, Tokyo pub crawl! Here are my overall thoughts on things I loved and the benefits of using a local guide with MagicalTrip:
- There was So. Much. Food. And I mean that in a good way, of course! I really wasn’t expecting as much as there was on this food tour so it was a pleasant surprise. Even though the dishes appear small, they are seriously filling so make sure you wear your stretchy pants!
- Being able to take advantage of local knowledge from someone who lives in and loves their hometown is fantastic. They are able to show you exactly where to go in Shibuya at night for an unforgettable time (even after the alcohol kicks in).
- The absence of awkwardness in meeting new people! It can be hard to break the ice sometimes, but if your guide is anything like Lam-san they’ll be keen to share knowledge about their favourite areas within their hometown and show you around.
- Supporting a small local business where money goes directly back to the local community is a huge plus and important part of being an invisible tourist!
TIP: I’ve rounded up the many and best food tours in Tokyo I’ve enjoyed and highly recommend you add to your itinerary!
How to book your own Shibuya bar hopping tour
Is a bar hopping tour in Shibuya at night on your list of experiences to have in Japan? Booking is really simple and only takes a few steps:
You’ll then receive an email confirmation and more details about your experience. That’s it!
As a solo traveller to Japan this time and having experienced a similar tour in Kyoto, I knew the Shibuya night tour would be a perfect opportunity for me to meet friendly locals and other travellers. The somewhat intimidating barrier of not knowing where to find hidden local spots on your own is non-existent as your guide will know exactly where to take you to ensure everyone has a great time.
The tours being limited to a small number of people is a sustainable way to enjoy your time in Japan. Small, local tours offer a more authentic, personalised and immersive experience that isn’t possible as part of a large tour group.
A huge thanks to MagicalTrip for kindly inviting me as press on this tour. I’m very appreciative that I had a fun local to share their knowledge and love of Shibuya with me.
Hopefully now you know exactly what to do in Shibuya at night! Have I provided you with some insight as to what you can expect bar hopping tour in Shibuya? Would this be something you’d like to try someday? Let me know in the comments below!
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Until next time,
Do you love Japanese sweets, snacks and candies?
Read my Tokyo Treat Review and get popular Japanese snacks delivered here, or read my Sakuraco review and get traditional Japanese sweets delivered here!
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This guide to bar hopping in Tokyo Shibuya at night contains some affiliate links, at no extra cost to you. I may earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase and if you do, thanks for your support! This helps with the costs of running my blog so I can keep my content free for you. As always, I only recommend a product or service that I genuinely love and use myself!