A guide to nightlife in Kyoto

Ochaya in Gion, photo by Olivier Lejade

Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan in the past, and even today it is one of the biggest cultural centers of the country. Many consider Kyoto to be the most beautiful city in Japan, and they are probably not too far off the track. Kyoto manages to embody the elegance and sensibility of old Japan, it’s wonderful traditions and taste for simplicity, with the modern, neon-colored and exciting Japan of the present. Japanophiles who want to get their fix of Japanese culture, religion and cuisine will never be at a loss of things to do in Kyoto, but neither will those travelers who prefer to spend their nights dancing, drinking and chatting with friends. When it comes to nightly entertainment, Kyoto can offer both tradition and modern glam. Here is a guide to nightlife in Kyoto, for the party people visiting the city.

Ochaya

Ochaya, or teahouses, are one of the most traditional kind of nightlife venues in Kyoto. Even centuries ago, when all nights-out basically consisted of sipping tea and sake while listening to samisen songs, the ochaya were the hubs of Kyoto’s nightlife. Today, while the geisha may be sparse in the city, ochaya are not, and they are a great choice for those who prefer sitting and chatting instead of dancing. There are many traditional ochaya in Kyoto, many of them clustered in the old entertainment district of Gion and other historic areas.

Bars

photo by Or Hiltch

Going out for a drink after work is normal for much of the working crowds of Kyoto, and there are many bars to choose from where you can have a drink. Bars range from stylish lounge-type establishments to small, pocket-size venues with nothing more than a bar and some stools. For casual drinks after work, people go to izakaya, small bars serving basic drinks and cold food.  Depending on your tastes, you can sip cocktails and champagne, or have some sake and beer, and nibble on snacks at a small bar. Central Kyoto and Kiyamachi are full of bars of all shapes and sizes.

Clubs

There are a few clubs in Kyoto, but the clubbing scene is neither as big nor as diverse as in Osaka or Tokyo. Several danceclubs can be found in the studenty ward of Kita, in Nakagyo ward, Kamigyo ward and Shimogyo, the trendy shopping district. There are several popular jazz clubs with live bands in Kyoto, as well as live music venues that attract the hip your crowd (Jittoku in Kamigyo is one of the best).

Karaoke

photo by avlxyz

If you’re traveling with friends or if you’ve made a few on the road, it’s worth visiting a karaoke den, but these places are generally only fun if you’re in a group. Karaoke places are very popular with the young crowd of high school and college kids, who enjoy blaring out Japanese oldies along with drinking and having a snack or two. You might not get to dance or watch people much, but karaoke boxes are definitely a lot of fun and couldn’t miss from a guide to nightlife in Kyoto.

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