1 – 11am kick off: Nishi (West) Shinjuku
Nonetheless, I am in agreement that it is the best overview of Tokyo in any one single place, and it is where you should start and finish the crawl, though not because it is the best place to start and finish up in. However, when you finish it will leave you one train away from all the better places to finish the night off, provided you have enough left in the tank.
Downtown dining, Uptown Prices
The best place to start in Shinjuku is the west exit, mainly because it is better to finish up in East Shinjuku (i.e Kabukicho). And though it won’t produce anything like its best form at this time of day, the nearest decent drinking, dining and sightseeing option in West Shinjuku is Omoide Yokocho, easier known as Memory Lane, but far better, and more affectionately known, as Piss Alley, a lane of rickety little shops just past the giant Uni Qlo Clothes Shop (turn right at the corner). Only about half the shops will be open, and far less than half of the atmosphere will be present, but if you duck into one of the yakitori dives the alley is best known for, perhaps you can start something. Be warned though, prices while not overly dear are nonetheless guided more by the legend than the architecture or the uniqely superior quality of the fare on offer (usually yakitori or tempura).
Cheap Day Time Beer
If however, you are looking for a beer at around 11 in the morning (surely at least one of those groups who like to do things like this would find it hard to be out of bed and organised much earlier?) and not bust your budget so soon into the trip, all the while feeling not too out of place AND getting some value as a tourist thrown in? Try the 24 hour ¥180 per beer (approx $2.30 USD) izakaya, Yamato, in Nishi (West) Shinjuku.
That said you might look a bit odd walking into the establishment at that time of morning. The locals are capable of drinking in daylight hours but tend, en masse, to shy away from establishments making a clear point of their low priced grog. Once you’ve slunk inside though you’ll find an unusual cast inside of rogues and agonized traveling salesman gone m.i.a or in quiet need of a little Dutch courage to get through what’s coming. Perhaps you’ll find yourself here some new and unexpected pals to illustrate this leg of the crawl.
Drinks with a View
If you are looking for grander illustrations however, and are willing to shell out some more dough, you could try the Sky Bar in the upscale Keio Plaza Hotel for a nice overview of the city. The Keio Plaza was the first skyscraper to go up in the area and I guess has a sentimental value to those around at the time, although it must be a strain to wallow in such feelings given the 80’s futuristic electric spacey blue upholstery which vaguely reminds me of Automan. You however could be forgiven for wallowing in the feeling that you’ve stumbled onto the stage of the local retirement home theatre troupe performing a scene where they have gathered in their Sunday best for a sermon soon to be delivered by a rabble-rousing yet dodgy evangelist who’ll probably end up being arrested for tax evasion near the end of the final act.
Thus, you, in your scruffy bar crawling clobber may feel a tad out of place, but despite all appearances there’s not really a dress code here and the service will remain excellent from staff, who’ll probably assume you are their at your parents expense.
Head Further West for a Better View, But No Drinks
For those willing to trade willing to trade time and comfort for holding onto a little more cash, you could grab a traveler beer at a convenience store and quickly walk over to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatory. Here you will get a better view of the city, including of the Sky Tree, the city’s tallest building, replete with a view to put all others to shame, including this one (you cant get to and up the Sky Tree on a Yamanote Line Bar Crawl Schedule, so you are stuck with this one, or one near Hamamatsucho, which you can read about in a later part). However, once you get over that, you can find get on with enjoying what you can see from up there, and it won’t be too crowded at that time of day. It’s free however, don’t waste too much time there or you will be playing catch up with your time already.
That said, if you are keen on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Observatory, are less than enthusiastic about drinking in public in full view of every Tom, Dick and Hiroshi, and are prepared to compromise on time later, you can drop into a cafe chain store which has alcoholic drinks on the menu, such as Pronto or Excelsior. You may be a little disappointed however, if you were looking to this place as somewhere entirely less conspicuous. In some senses it is the exact opposite to the Yamato option mentioned above. Unlike with Yamato, the serious option of tea or coffee means you will pass in virtually unnoticed, however, there is a chance you’ll find yourself imbibing withering glances of contempt and conversations about you in a language you don’t understand but can sense with some degree of certainty is about you, along with your beer from the honey soy latte drinkers beside you. They’ll move on however and so will you.
The lay guide to getting to these venues:
Yamato – from Shinjuku Station: go out the west exit. Get to the road level. Walk down the hill on the road running alongside the station (Otakibashi Dori). You should see the Odakyu Halc Department Store. Walk over there. Give short shrift to the scam charity money collectors who will do their supposed cause a clear disservice by ghosting past each and every suited middle aged Japanese salaryman at the intersection in the hope of pinching a few pennies from even the scruffiest college kid aged western backpacker. Go down the hill and you should see a side street, which has a karaoke joint on one side and a big pachinko parlour on the other. Turn left into that street, walk up that street past the first intersection, and it will be on your left.
The Keio Plaza Hotel and Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings are also to the west of the station and can be found easily enough, if you follow the underground walkway signs in English, upon exiting the west exit of JR Shinjuku Station. When you surface, just remember what the buildings look like and you won’t really be able to miss them. The Keio Plaza is the closer one to the station.