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Restaurant/Bar difficulties. 2010/3/7 21:55
I'm an American visiting Japan on business and I have a few days to spend exploring the city (Tokyo). I have a few questions relating to finding, ordering and paying for food and drinks.

First of all, I have had a particularly hard time finding a place to "grab a drink" while walking around in Kabukicho. I chose Kabukicho because it was described as a gritty and wild part of town (I'm not looking for sex or srip clubs particularly, just a fun place to get a beer.) The only place I was able to get a drink was in restaurants. I think that being Sunday most places were closed (?) -- it took me a while to figure out that many clubs are located either above or below the ground level. SO...Is it true that there aren't many street level bars/pubs/clubs, or am I doing something wrong?

Second, of the two bars that I did find that were open, I wasn't able to get served. I was given a menu at both places, but no one ever came to take my drink order. I did the "normal" (American) things to give cues that I wanted to order (closed the menu, looked around, tried to make eye contact with the waiters), but I couldn't get anyone to give me attention. I could see the waiters getting drinks for other patrons, but not for me. They didn't seem very busy, so I don't think it was that. Am I just being too impatient (I waited 3-4 times as long as would be typical in an American bar)...I ended up leaving because I couldn't figure it out. What am I doing wrong?

Finally, how do you alert the waiter that you are ready for the check. Each of the 3 times I ate today I found it very difficult to get the check and/or pay. Not wanting to seem rude, I waited patiently, tried to get the attention of the waiter, and eventually just got up and walked over to the cash register. In each case they figured it out, but it felt awkward to me. How am I supposed to handle this situation?

And one more question. What is an "interface club" or whatever it is called? I quickly figured out it was probably something I should steer clear of, but I'm not sure what it is.


by American_in_Japan (guest)  

... 2010/3/8 09:12
Finally, how do you alert the waiter that you are ready for the check. Each of the 3 times I ate today I found it very difficult to get the check and/or pay. Not wanting to seem rude, I waited patiently, tried to get the attention of the waiter, and eventually just got up and walked over to the cash register. In each case they figured it out, but it felt awkward to me. How am I supposed to handle this situation?

In Japan, you are supposed to walk over to the cash register and pay! Different countries, different customs.

As for the other problems, I find them hard to relate to. It is difficult to say without knowing what type of establishment you entered, but I definitely recommend to be knowledgable of what kind of establishments you enter in Kabukicho.
by Uji rate this post as useful

... 2010/3/8 13:13
As Uji says, it's difficult to say what happened without knowing exactly what kind of bars you walked into, but what was likely was noone there spoke English and either: (1) could not even tell you that, (2) it was a bar where hostesses attended to you (sitting by you and chatting/entertaining you, I mean) and they thought you'd give up after observing what was going on around you, or (3) it was one of the order-at-the-counter type of bar (there are some like that) and again noone could tell you that.

If you just wanted to "grab a beer," Kabukicho as an area is not the right place, actually. Those tend to be bars where you sit down good to get entertained or meet people.

I don't know in which area you are staying, but I would ask at the hotel whether they know any "English style pub" or "Irish pub" in the neighborhood, or a chain of casual bars called "Hub" or "Kirin City."
by AK rate this post as useful

Kabuki-cho not the best area 2010/3/8 14:11
You are in the wrong area of town to just have a casual drink really. Head to Shibuya, Akasaka or the slightly less "gritty" areas of Shinjuku and you should find more foreigner-friendly places.

As for attracting a waiter's attention, try calling "Sumimasen" as politely as possible- if they ignore you it's a sign that you are either not welcome there or they have some kind of complicated (and potentially very expensive) system. Either way, it's better to go somewhere else.

As above, it's very common to pay at the counter after eating/drinking in Japan. While they may bring your bill to the table, you almost always have to get up to pay it.
by Sira (guest) rate this post as useful

. 2010/3/8 17:12

To "grab a drink" in "a gritty and wild part" of Kabukicho, ask for Golden-Gai

There aren't many "street level bars/pubs/clubs" in the other main part of Kabukicho. You don't want children going in and out so easily there. And the main areas of Kabukicho, as well as some places in Center-Gai Shibuya in fact, are one of the few places in Japan where foreign tourists are very likely to get ripped off in bars.

As mentioned, to get served, you need to either raise your hand or call out "sumimasen!" That's the manners here in Japan, wherever you go. They don't want to bother you unless you call them. In some izakayas or "family restaurant"s like Denny's there is a button to press in order to call the waiters back in the kitchen. But in the "gritty" places, I just go up to the bar counter and tell them my order. And you shouldn't leave once you've started looking at the menu.

As mentioned, very few places do "table check."

An "interface club" is not exactly anything nasty in itself, but it's basically a drinking place where hostesses accompany you at the table to chat and pour drinks, and you will be paying extra for this entertainment.

Frankly, I'm surprized you were willing to adventure the "gritty" places and yet didn't even think to go up and speak to the people working there. If you have a question, you gotta ask.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

Thanks, guys 2010/3/9 09:06
Thanks for the help. I am getting the hang of it a bit more now, and I will go check out the places you mentioned. Tokyo is an awesome city! I am very impressed with the cleanliness and the subway system.

One thing I'm still trying to figure out is where to find trash cans -- they seem to be nowhere in public. ?

Thanks again

by American_in_Japan (guest) rate this post as useful

. 2010/3/9 09:41
I couldnft help but laugh at this.

As everyone has been saying, you are in the WRONG part of town for a casual drink on your own. Kabukicho is awesome, but it is a completely different scene to what you are looking for and no doubt use to. Do as the others suggested and try Shibuya or Akasaka. You could also try Roppongi – it has a lot of gaijin, so you wonft stand out as much, and I believe that it could be described as a little egrittyf if that is what you are looking for.

However, you are also not going to get served in the Golden Gai, so I would suggest not trying that. They are notoriously picky about their customers, normally only serving regulars and when they do take in strangers, I can pretty much guarantee that it wonft be an American. It is a beautiful place to visit, but useless you speak perfect Japanese and know all their customs and mannerisms, then I donft like your chances of getting in anywhere. And if you do, they will charge you two arms and three legs for a drink, so consider yourself warned.

Someone else mentioned The Hub Pub. That is a good travellers place. There is (I think) two in Kabukicho. There is one on the main strip, just up from the gate and another further back somewhere. However, keep in mind that it is a bar, so even if you choose to sit at a table, you do not get table service. You order at the bar. And, just as a heads up (I am an Australian in the hospitality industry so I see this stuff all the time, especially from Americans) the Japanese are very organized. There is none of this just wandering up to the bar, pushing your way to the front and trying to flag down a bartender. Every time we were at The Hub, you line in up in orderly line that followed the edge of the bar (so that you are out of the walkway) and order and pay with the first person, then move up the cue and pick your drink up at the dispensary area. Everyone does it and those that donft get shunned.

AHH! The illusive bins! Sadly I have no real answer for this as we spent ages trying to find them. For such a clean city, they seem to have no bins. The best bet is to spot other vending machines as there are usually bins around them, or built into the side or a little flap at the bottom. If not, the entrance to department stores and most train stations have bins.

Good luck.
by Minkagreen rate this post as useful

trash cans 2010/3/9 10:28
Except for in train stations, public trash cans are not common and people are expected to take their garbage home with them.

The best bet is to spot other vending machines as there are usually bins around them, or built into the side or a little flap at the bottom.

The bins next to or built into vending machines are almost always for empty cans and bottles for recycling, not for trash. Please do not throw your trash in them.
by yllwsmrf rate this post as useful

Don't make trash 2010/3/9 12:26
Public trash bins have been moved away since the Sarin and 911 terrorism. I can't really recall seeing them in train stations anymore, either.

That said, a pubic servant in charge of building parks told us that research have proved that where there are trash bins, there tend to be more litter. The servant suggested that it may have something to do with people's awareness on trying to collect your own trash and bringing it home, but I think it also has something to do with the wind blowing trash out of the bins.

If you take your trash back to the place you bought it, they will usually collect it for you. For example, say you bought coffee in a paper cup at a store and drank it elsewhere. You can take the cup back to that store to have it thrown away. There are also trash bins at supermarkets and convenience stores, but they strongly encougage you to limit your trash to things you bought there.

I just carry my trash around, but the best thing you can do for our planet is to not make trash in the first place. Trash is a really serious international problem.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

trash cans 2010/3/9 13:08
I forgot about convenience stores. Those are pretty much the only places these days that you can reliably find trash cans.
by yllwsmrf rate this post as useful

Ahh, more troubles 2010/3/11 20:58
Again, I want to thank everyone for their input -- it has been helpful.

Just to follow up, I spent some time in Shibuya and it was interesting, but not very fun. Lots of people, a few western type bars, the most insane insane insane noises in the pachinko arcade (or whatever you call it), and some pretty disappointing shunning at a restaurant.

We found an interesting looking traditional restaurant which advertised the fact that they had an English menu (I took this to mean that it was OK for us to eat there). We went in, were greeted promptly, and tried to be as respectful as we could (took our shoes off, talked quietly among ourselves, etc). The couple seated next to us got up and left, and the next 3 couples that the restaurant tried to seat next to us asked to be seated somewhere different. I'm pretty aware of how I am behaving, and I was being particularly careful to be respectful -- I'm really not sure that I did anything "wrong" other than being white. Maybe it's my beard?

In all I have been rather disappointed with how strangers have treated us while we were here. It's probably mostly cultural differences that an American finds difficult to understand. At best I feel like a ghost walking around in a sea of people...but at times I feel like it is more overt racism.

I'm not trying to complain, I just wanted to share my experiences.

On a good note, I spent some time in shimokitazawa and felt much more welcome there. The shops were interesting, the crowd was good and I felt more at home (if only a little bit). It made for a good, the weather was terrific.

Again, thanks for everyone's help. It has been fun to read your responses.

by American_in_Japan (guest) rate this post as useful

probably 2010/3/11 21:23
I think there must be another reason, I don't think it is racism. It could even be that you are being overly self conscious in an evironment where you are not the "norm."

Regarding trash bins, you can usually find some in train stations in the area just inside the ticket gate. Some parks have them, but this is not a given.
by Tilt (guest) rate this post as useful

yes 2010/3/11 23:43
Japan, of all places, is somewhere you need to do a lot of research before going. Like, it's been said, there's lots of places where you can't just go 'grab a drink'. It's hard to know where without doing a little homework beforehand. I didn't find Tokyo to be a place where you could just 'go do stuff'. Like, you can go walk around San Francisco for the afternoon, find yourself wherever you are, and ask maybe someone waiting for a bus or a convenience store guy, where a cool place to eat would be. I didn't find this the case in Japan.

I went to the Hub a whole bunch of times though when my friend visited, and it was a lot of fun. We went to the bigger one in Roppongi for NYE 2008/9 and actually had a good time.

For restaurants, I'd say it's best to stick to the department store type restaurants where foreign traffic is common. It's ok to call for the server and point out what you want to eat/drink. I actually didn't have too many problems eating out with visiting friends. I actually had ramen at a counter in a gritty area even. But, you've got to look like you know what's going on. Japanese people sit down at a restaurant, call the server, and basically order immediately. So, by sitting and waiting, the staff probably figured out you didn't know what you were doing, and most likely didn't feel like helping you. I know it's a jerk thing to say, but it's also not the job of the restaurant staff to indoctrinate foreigners either.

I never had a problem finding a place to eat, but at the same time, I limited myself to places like department stores in Ginza, Shinjuku. I had some sweet Korean bbq in Okachimachi, but this was a place with a set menu and you didn't have to do anything. They were cool though.

I've felt like a ghost plenty of times when I lived there. Sometimes people would come up to me, and neighbors near the university would talk to me because they saw me every day. But with all the millions of people in the city, most of the time, they don't care who you are. Japanese people are always rushing around!

I wouldn't say Japanese are racist as much as sometimes they just don't feel like dealing with foreigners. It's more of the Japanese way to just avoid confrontation, and this can be construed as racism. I encountered one actual incident of racism when I lived there. I lived in an old area (Yanakaginza), but once people realized I lived there, the neighbors were more willing to talk to me.
by Dr Bob rate this post as useful

. 2010/3/11 23:51

I'm glad you had fun at Shikokitazawa. You might want to try Kichijoji then. There are some nice places along the path from the station to Inokashira Park.

And as mentioned, I can't really think of a reason you should be avoided by anyone. The only times I had my seats changed were when the person behind us was smoking at a restaurant and when a girl next to me had this strong smell of cheap perfume at an English tea house. They were both my race, Japanese, btw.


Just so that I'd know where to go next time, could you tell us which train station you find the trash bins? I'm curious about everyone mentioning that there are trash bins in stations. The only ones I've seen in stations in the recent years are the ones on Shinkansen platforms. When I was in college, I used to get drunk and throw up into trash bins placed on the slower train platforms, but I can't do that any more :)
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

difficulties 2010/3/12 05:27
I am surprised you have so many problems in Japan. I am Caucasian, don't speak Japanese yet never had a problem in all my trips. I usually eat in a shopping mall or department store but have eaten in a regular place in the street without problem. Could it be that I was born in Europe? (I live in Canada).
There are many similarities between Japan and European countries, France for example, so I guess that my body language match theirs and I unconsciously know what to do?
In Japan I have even been talked to in the streets, the subway etc. but as in Europe, especially in big towns, people don't go out of their way to talk to total strangers.
I would never dare to talk to a total stranger in France in the very informal way I use in Canada and the USA.
In Europe I will always be very formal, apologize for daring to talk to that person, ask if they don't mind me talking to them etc. and if they walk away will not feel I might walk away myself if approached, depending on the vibes I get from the other person..
Are you by any chance a tall guy? Americans tend to need more place around them than people from other countries and have bigger gestures and this seem to bother quite a few people in other countries.
by Red frog (guest) rate this post as useful

trash bins in stations 2010/3/12 20:10
Hi Uco, you don't have small children anymore so you probably aren't too motivated to be on trash can alert. When traveling in Tokyo, I have usually found trash cans located near the ticket gate. I hesitate to say always, because my radius of travel and length of stay are much more limited than yours. You will not see trash cans on the platform, but very near the ticket gate. Let me know if you spot them, or not. I will try to take note of the station's name in the future, because I am curious now.
by Tilt (guest) rate this post as useful

Thanks Tilt 2010/3/13 01:46
Thanks Tilt, but I really can't recall them. I often grab a candy bar on my way to somewhere, looking all the way hoping to throw it away, and end up bringing it home. Let me know when you take note. Thanks anyway.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

another place 2010/3/14 22:51
Larger public parks and those that have playgrounds (not just a swing set or something smallish) will have trash cans.

As for the ones in stations, I'll start a seperate thread for that, Uco, it will be easier than trying to find this one again, so keep an eye out for it.
by Tilt (guest) rate this post as useful

Back to the topic 2010/3/15 00:48
Thanks, Tilt. And American_in_Japan, it just dawned to me. Maybe those other customers weren't trying to avoid you but only trying to be seated at a better place. People, at least here, do that quite often. They would be guided to a seat or decide a seat for themselves until they realize there are more preferable seats, such as a seat by the window, a seat without a window, a bigger table, smaller table, you never know. Especially couples might perfer more privacy, so if there is a table with no one sitting next to it, they might prefer that one. I wonder if people were moving around at other seats, too, and not only the seats next to you.
by Uco (guest) rate this post as useful

. 2010/3/15 11:55
As an American in Japan I've never had much problems. A lot of it was just trial and error for me, but I also speak Japanese so I an inquire and understand a bit more.

As mentioned by many, each place is different, some will sit you but you have to go up an order a drink, even a the hubpub there seems to be a mixed system, one place you order another place the waiter comes to you. Same for payment, sometimes they come to you, many other times you go up to them and pay.

I wouldn't say it is just a Japanese thing, I come from a big city in the US, people would probably walk over me dead because they are always in a rush.

The question is, what kind of expectations did you/do you have? People walking up to you all the time and randomly talking about things? I'm not saying it's you, but I've met other foreigners who think "they are KING"in Japan, I've never had that mentality, but I sure can tell you I've met many that do. I don't think my treatment as an American in Japan has been different from treatment afforded to other Japanese here.

I can tell you if you are lost and asked for help, people would stop and take their time to assist you even if they don't know the way. I got lost once, and this schoolkid walked with me and showed me the way, this was at night , I was surprised as this would never happen at home in the US, another case was I asked someone for this store I was looking for, he stopped for 10minutes looking through his phone and calling other people.
by ExpressTrain (guest) rate this post as useful

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