Explore Japans top 10 destinations where neon lights fill the darkness of the night with endless combinations of dazzle and glitter. Find the best photo opportunities and nightlife spots with this in-depth guide.
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Japan, land of neon
Japan may be the land of the rising sun, yet it is neon that colours the night. Every visitor at one point will get lost in the dazzling neon lights filling the darkness, it was exactly this feeling that inspired countless movie scenes and gave birth to the world of cyberpunk. Join us today, as we explore Japans best neon spots and destinations.
Going back to the 1960s, the fluorescent neon advertising signalled the arrival of the jet age and endless possibilities found in Japans energetic city nightlife. So much so, that ever since, it has become synonymous with the Japanese urban landscape. The inviting lights make for a must-do experience, that is, simply walking around and getting lost in the sea of neon luminescence filling the city streets and alleys.
In more recent years, neon lights are becoming less of a thing because of the economic cost and environmental concerns. Yet there are plenty of places to see and experience the Japanese neon lights, but you need to know where to go! There’s why we have a list of the top 10 neon destinations in Japan.
#1 Shibuya, Tokyo
Shibuya is the youth culture capital of Japan, if not the world. Blending modern trends, with fine dining, high-street fashion and wide variety of nightlife entertainment options. It’s a wonderful destination to explore after dark. Try one of the many karaoke bars, sit down in a local bar for a dram of local whisky, enjoy the street food and the many other forms of entertainment, surrounded by endless high rises and ever passing crowds.
#2 Shinjuku, Tokyo
Photo (c) Kakidai, CC BY-SA 4.0
By far the most famous neon destination in the world. Including locations like the old style drinking district of Golden Gai and Kabukicho, renowned for its nightlife entertainment options. The area is somewhat notorious yet safe to visit, just avoid any street touts and offers made in person. Avoiding those, Shinjuku is a place for great good, fun and entertainment. Get lost in some of the many smoky pubs, hidden clubs and late-night snack bars, all crammed into lantern-lit alleys only accessible on foot. For a more in-depth read, see: The traveller's guide to Shinjuku.
#3 Akihabara, Tokyo
Known colloquially as Denki Town (Electric Town), Akihabara is famous for electronics and Otaku culture. From small market stands selling parts to massive department stores, the streets of Akihabara are filled to the brim with neon signs and advertisements. Advertising video games, computers, food services, tax-free purchases and tons more. The best locations include Akihabara station and Chuo-dori.
#4 Dotonbori & Shinsaibashi, Osaka
Home to the first neon advertisements in Japan and home to the most famous neon displays in Japan, including the running Glico man, who has an interesting tale of its own. Walking around Shinsaibashi and the wider Dotonbori is an experienceby itself, with plenty of boutique shops, street food and entertainment options. For many, this is the real Japan experience seen on TV, where you can see massive billboards with a giant pufferfish and a moving crab. Only really coming alive after dark, if there's anywhere in Japan where you should experience the night, it is here!
#5 Shinsekai, Osaka
The retro futuristic destination of Osaka, Shinsekai (meaning: "new world"), was built in the 1960s with the intent to be modern and represent what the world would look like decades later. Ever since, it has not been updated and now is a charming place that mixes old with new. Of course, there is plenty of original neon lit signage. Shinsekai is a fantastic destination for local food, souvenir hunting and enjoying the plenty of little sights it offers.
#6 Okonomimura, Hiroshima
The name kinda gives it away, the reason to visit is to eat and enjoy traditional Japanese pancakes, better known as Okonomiyaki. They’re super tasty and considered affordable street food. Not to forget, the area is lit in classic neon lighting that set’s the Blade Runner mood perfectly. A great destination that combines time-honoured food with plenty of photo opportunities, and is within walking distance of the next destination: Nagarekawa.
#7 Nagarekawa, Hiroshima
The nightlife and entertain district of Hiroshima, Nagarekawa goes back to the Japanese Edo period when it was the trendy local district for artists and writers. These days, it may be best considered as the Dotonbori of Hiroshima. With plenty of small streets, full of bars, clubs and nighttime activities. The area is considered by locals as somewhat uncouth, yet is safe and brings liveliness not found elsewhere in the city. Of course, there’s plenty of neon lightning around, setting the vivid mood of the area.
#8 Nakasu, Fukuoka
If you’ve made it so far down the list, then you’ve certainly noticed the one common denominator when there are plenty of neon signs around, and that’s when companies advertise for nightly entertainment, there is neon signage to be looked at. The same applies here to Nakasu, the nightlife and entertainment district of Fukuoka. Located as a small river island between the cities of Hakata and Fukuoka, traditionally Nasaku a less developed area where sailors and common folk would come for their nightly leisures.
As both cities, the area becomes more developed and is now the centre of the greater Fukuoka area. The quarter is packed with dynamic nightlife, izakaya eateries, karaoke parlours, and gaming arcades. Try some of the local street food at one of the locally famous yatai food stalls, such as steamed buns and grilled meat skewers that are found along the waterfront.
#9 Beppu, Kyushu
A remote town set between the volcanos of Kyushu and coastline, the city is well known for its Onsen baths and spa resorts. People come from all over here to relax and unwind. Once the dark set’s in, downtown starts to light up with 19th-century lanterns, together with neon signs and arrows. The full neon lit Beppu tower is a landmark not to be missed! Same for the Beppu skyline, where onsen steam can be seen evaporating 24/7 into the air.
#10 Susukino, Sapporo
Photo (c) Choi2451, CC BY-SA 4.0
Similar to Kabukicho, Susukino is the night entertainment district of Hokkaido’s capital, Sapporo. Packed with restaurants, bars, hotels, theatres, and adult-entertainment establishments. Nearly ever establishment here is set in neon lightning. Of special interest for the Ramen lovers under us is, Ramen Yokocho is a small alley filled with shops selling Hokkaido Style ramen. For beer lovers, there are plenty of local brews to be tried. The area makes for great pictures after dark.
We could likely do a top 10 of neon neighbourhoods in Tokyo alone. Area’s that did not make the top list but are certainly worth mentioning include Ikeburuko: a fabulous spot to have dinner and shopping. Shin-Okubo, the Korean town of Tokyo, and Asakusa the traditional downtown of Tokyo, where impressions from the past linger. They’re also easy to visit if you have a Japan Rail Pass, and easily accessible using the JR Yamanote line.