Kabukicho Cleans Up Its Act as It Draws a New Crowd

Twenty years ago, Kabukicho reveled in its reputation as Asia’s largest—and most notorious—nightlife district. The neon-lit backstreets of Nemuranai Machi, or “Sleepless Town,” were lined with dingy bars, restaurants, pachinko parlors, and venues serving up all manner of entertainment, some of it legal.

Today, an area that was not long ago home to touts and tricksters, working girls, hosts, and yakuza has cleaned up its act.


The gentrification of Kabukicho is so dramatic that it is now the site of Tokyo’s newest entertainment complex, the stunning 225-meter Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, which houses two luxury hotels, a traditional theater, a concert hall, movie theater, gym, spa, and countless restaurants and bars.

Photo: Tokyu Kabukicho Tower

Efforts to transform the sprawl of establishments just north of Shinjuku Station dates back to the turn of the century, when police and local residents teamed up to enforce laws that had previously largely been ignored by Kabukicho’s providers of nighttime pleasures and their patrons. Yakuza and the sex industry came in for particular scrutiny, with the city government aiming to sanitize the district ahead of Japan hosting the World Cup in 2002.

Photo: Tokyu Kabukicho Tower

The previous nightlife establishments have not gone away entirely—and in the case of the warren of alleys and bars that make up Golden Gai, that’s a decidedly good thing—but the district has attracted a different clientele.

The artist collective Chim Pom, for example, took over the Kabukicho Book Center for a few months in 2018 before the building was demolished as part of the urban regeneration plan, while game company Bandai Namco opened the VR Zone Shinjuku in 2017. Even the district’s hosts got in on the act, switching from operating in gaudy bars with overpriced drinks to running a love-themed bookstore.

Landmark Property

The opening in April of the Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, however, will take the district to another level.

Attending the opening ceremony on April 14, Shinjuku Ward Mayor Kenichi Yoshimizu said he had high hopes that the new complex would help to further rejuvenate the local economy, the Asahi newspaper reported.

“I am grateful to the Tokyu Group for continuing with the construction of the facility, even amid the coronavirus crisis,” he said. “I am confident this tower will accelerate the revival of Kabukicho.”

The eye-catching property has 48 floors above ground and five subterranean levels, with the pale blue exterior designed to resemble a fountain rising into the sky.

Photo: Tokyu Kabukicho Tower

The Bellustar Tokyo Hotel occupies the 39th to the 47th floors of the tower, with 97 luxurious and spacious guest rooms providing unrivaled views across the city.

Designed around the concept of music and art, the Hotel Groove Shinjuku has 538 rooms between the 18th and 38th floors, as well as bars, restaurants, and a rooftop terrace space.

The ninth and 10th floors host the eight screens of the 109 Cinemas Premium Shinjuku, with all 752 seats listed as “premium” as they are significantly larger than seats in a typical movie theater.

The complex also includes the Zepp Shinjuku concert hall; the Theater Milano-za, with seating for 900 guests; an amusement facility; and the ZeroTokyo night music venue.


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