Roppongi (六本木) is first and foremost Tokyo’s nightlife mecca. From members only bars and private lounges to burlesque and the crowded dance floors of the nightclubs, whatever your tastes, Roppongi will see you through until the morning.
For historical reasons, Roppongi and the surrounding area has a heavy foreign presence. The preferred clubs and bars of the expat crowd are well-known and in some establishments Japanese can be in the minority. Other places, typically those away from the main street, cater for a more domestic clientele.
But Roppongi is not all about music and drinking. Development projects over the past two decades have helped the area reinvent itself as a modern, cultural district: the National Art Center, Mori Art Museum, and the Suntory Museum of Art are all within a 10-minute walk of the main intersection, and the landmark complexes Roppongi Hills Mori Tower and Tokyo Midtown offer shopping, cinemas, observation decks, and any number of high-end restaurants and bars.
If you are Western or clearly a tourist, expect to be heckled by the touts on the south-east of the intersection who will try to get you into the strip clubs and hostess bars above street level. You will be told you that it’s just ¥1,000 per drink and that there’s no cover charge; the small sign on the entrance will state otherwise (upfront fees, time charges, etc.)—and that’s all before an arbitrary 20-30% is added to the final bill (“it’s tax”). Avoid these places. Best practice is to simply ignore the touts when approached.
History of Roppongi
Roppongi owes its development as Tokyo’s night playground to the military: first the Japanese Imperial Army and then later, with the post-war occupation, the U.S. military which used the barracks in the area to base servicemen. With the end of the Korean War in 1953 there was less need for such a heavy U.S. military presence in Japan, and as American servicemen began to return home (or were relocated elsewhere), Japanese began to move back into the Roppongi area. Later, a generation of young people who had grown up in the shadow of the war were drawn to the liberating hedonism that the area offered, and Roppongi became one of the capital’s most well-known entertainment districts.
The economic boom of the 1980s help cement Roppongi’s reputation as Tokyo’s party town; although it also tarnished it with a reputation as a sleazy nightspot where Japanese girls went to meet foreigners, and vice versa. Since the 2000s, however, it has shaken off this side of its image and today it is known as one of Tokyo’s more sophisticated areas.