Like pretty much all the other mammals cohabiting planet Earth, the Cheapo is hardwired at an animal level to find a mate and reproduce. In this article I hope to assist fellow Cheapos living in or visiting Tokyo with some tips and pointers for economically achieving evolutionary success (at least to the point of conception or the preventing thereof – successful rearing of young to be covered later).
If you came here looking for sex in Tokyo, then I’d recommend trying out Ashley Madison, perhaps the easiest entry into the world of Tokyo’s bored housewives. If you’re not interested in housewives, there’s always Craigslist, which does exist in Tokyo (though not to the extent it does in NAmerica), and covers a wider swath of people.
Otherwise, if you’d like to learn about dating and romance the more traditional way, read on …
Where to Find a Mate
With up to 36 million* people to choose from, from a purely statistical point of view Tokyo is perhaps the best location in the world for finding a mate. Never in the history of humankind has there been such an abundance and density of humans living amongst one another.
* This is the approx population of the Tokyo Metropolitan area, of course in reality the true number of potential ‘mates’ isn’t quite that large.
But let’s get a little more specific.
Whilst Tokyo is particularly vast and densely populated, the central areas provide by far the most opportunity and likelihood for meeting future loved ones. So let’s start with a quick rundown of what you’ll find in which areas.
For the younger crowd:
For the more exclusive and fashionable:
For the more mature or professional:
- Roppongi (also an expat zoo)
And for some more specific niches:
- Akihabara – male geeks
- Shinbashi/Akasaka/Yurakucho – salarymen
- Shinjuku Nichome – queer district
- Shinjuku – a potpourri of almost everything
- Shimokitazawa/Koenji/Nishi Ogikubo – indie rockers/thrift shoppers/punks/freeters
Unless you qualify for free entry on a girls’ night, the Cheapo generally looks to nightclubs as a last option. With a few exceptions, it’s not uncommon to pay 3000yen or more just to get into a club in Tokyo. Some better deals can be found during the week, but a good Cheapo knows much more cost effective (i.e. free) ways to find a potential mate.
So let’s swiftly move on to the free options.
Festivals and Matsuri
Perhaps the best opportunities come in the form of festivals or matsuri, of which there are an abundance in Tokyo, especially in the summer. Festival merriment (perhaps also alcohol) serves as a reliable ice-breaker, plus the sheer number of people means that you’d be hard pressed not to have a least a few friendly exchanges with those around you. You’ll likely find there’s a matsuri in your local neighbourhood, though some have reputations for being a huge smash, like the Azabu Juban Matsuri. Check out our events listings, or better get on our cheapo weekend newsletter and get Tokyo event listings in your inbox each week. And If you can read (some) Japanese then searching for “祭り” will provide a wealth of opportunities; for starters try http://matsuri.enjoytokyo.jp.
Aside from the matsuri, there are also seasonal occasions for partying, of which “hanami” (cherry blossom season) is perhaps the greatest. At weekends during hanami season, Yoyogi Park is a veritable zoo resembling some sort of deranged music festival in which all the performers, bands, organisers and security failed to turn up. But most parks and locations of sakura (cherry blossom) trees are usually teeming with punters and festivity. Also, the Tokyo summer brings with it a plethora of massive firework displays (hanabi taikai), with yukata-clad folk crammed together like mutant sardines each holding aloft their iPhones as they video the explosions in the sky above. The author’s personal favourite is the Tamagawa taikai.
Yoyogi Park is pretty much always a good spot though. There’s often a weekend festival in the area behind the NHK building, and even with no festival the main park area is usually pretty lively during the spring and autumn.
If the age range is right for you, then all the university campus festivals “daigakusai” (大学祭) should be in your diary. And even if students are outside your age range, the festivals are worth checking out just for some free weekend fun.
Perhaps the most “on topic” festival is the Kanamara Matsuri – fertility festival; need I say any more?
Events, Exhibitions, Parties
There are always parties going in Tokyo, and lots of international mixers where the theme seems to be, “make friends with foreigners!” Cheapo favorites would include promotional parties, free art galleries and events, such as Tokyo Design Week. If you’re a Facebook user and live in Tokyo, you might find you’ve already been invited to something along these lines.
If not, a few minutes searching on Facebook and you’ll more than likely find something that fits the bill. Tip: type an area into Facebook search box, then click on “more results” at the bottom, then filter by “events” (on the left)”.
One of my personal favourites was the H&M building in Harajuku which hosted promotional parties for various brands.
And last but not least house parties are always a great (and cheap) environment for making new friends. However you’ll likely find house parties quite rare in Tokyo. Due to the lack of space, few households throw parties, but there are some exceptions. When it starts to get cold, for example, it’s common to have a “nabe” (hot pot) party – half a dozen friends or more squeeze into someone’s apartment to huddle around the steaming bubbling pot, and it’s easy to cozy up when passing morsels from bowl to bowl in a tiny studio apartment.
And then there are always a few socialites (the author being an example) who despite only have 36m², manage to cram 30+ guests in for an all night party.
Shopping for a Mate
But really there’s no need to wait or have a plan, you can start right now. As you read this post, regardless of the time of day or date, there are thousands upon thousands of unattached and available people wandering around central Tokyo – few cities in the world have such levels of 24/7 opportunity. Late afternoon and early evening shopping provide innumerable opportunities for interacting with new people, or during the evening there are plenty of cafes where you can hang out ‘til the early hours. It really doesn’t take much to start a conversation:
- On the street – asking for directions
- Inside department stores – asking opinions on clothes choices/hair styles/products
- In cafes – (for non natives) – help with reading kanji on the phone
- Or simply rocking up, being direct and telling someone you find them attractive
I met the love of my life on an escalator in Tsutaya, Shibuya – I asked her opinion about whether I should cut my hair or not. Classy.
A Word of Warning – Hostess Bars, and the mizu shobai Industry
Tokyo is without doubt one of the safest places cities on the planet (well at least in terms of crime; earthquakes, tsunami and Godzilla notwithstanding). However, you risk shattering its Disneyland-level innocence should you stray into the sex industry. The “mizu shobai” (sex industry) comes in many (50?) shades of grey, from the almost white – “snack bars”, to light – girls bars, hostess bars, to the medium – Soapland, “massage” and the dark stuff of vice documentaries.
I’d warn anyone, especially cheapos, to steer clear of the whole lot. At the very least you’ll pay ridiculous prices for watered-down drinks, but you risk having your drinks spiked, being robbed and seeing huge charges on your credit card bill. And there are many tales of the police being uncooperative in helping tourists trying to file crime reports, etc.
- Touts in the street, even just trying to get you into a bar
- Offers of massage (well, duh). If you’re knotted up, try one of these legit places instead.
- Hostess bars, which normally have some sort of expensive pricing system published out front
- Kabukicho in Shinjuku, Dogenzaka in Shibuya, and Roppongi after dark are particular hotspots – by all means it’s interesting to walk around and see, but look don’t touch!
- One exception: host bars (targeted at women, especially office workers) often have first timers’ specials, such as an all-you-can-drink (for a couple of hours) special for as little as ¥1500. The intrepid can take advantage of these deals, but a few rules of thumb: (1)Speak some Japanese or take a friend who does to make sure the deal is clear. (2)Don’t give your digits to a host: he will pester you to come back, professing his love, and making you feel that you’re “different” from the other guests (you’re not – your money is as good as the next). (3)Don’t visit the same host bar twice. The first timers’ deals are only good once; after that, you pay a premium price.
Stay safe cheapos, don’t risk Tokyo leaving a bitter taste in your mouth and ruining its flavor.
Naturally we’ve already covered a few options for cheap dates:
- Try a picnic in secret park with a half price bento
- For a posh date: go out for lunch not dinner
- Or pretend it’s trendy (rather than just because it’s cheap) and dine at a uni cafeteria
- For a sophisticated date, try Omotesando’s outdoor architecture museum
- Browse through our food section for more quality cheapo dining options
So once you’ve found your mate and been on a date, you may find you need somewhere private to go because unless you’re part of Japan’s wacky porn industry, Tokyo sex for the most part happens indoors out of the public eye. Perhaps you’ve missed the last train and a taxi to your pokey little apartment is more than the cash in your wallet. Or maybe you live at home (as most single Japanese seem to) and it isn’t appropriate to bring anyone back. Or perhaps you just fancy a change from the aforementioned pokey apartment.
There are love hotels all over Tokyo, but a few places have a higher than usual concentration – namely, Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya, Kabukicho near Shinjuku Station, and near Uguisudani Station in the Ueno area. As a rule, the cheapest place is never the first one you come to. The hotels on the perimeter take advantage of the fact that their customers are probably as horny as hell and aren’t looking to shop around.
Another consideration with love hotels is that you often end up getting what you pay for – the absolute cheapest option is often a poor value proposition so paying slightly more than the minimum will often get you considerably better value.
For good deals, either check in early evening (“rest” options disappear later in the evening, leaving only all night options) and avoid weekends where prices shoot right up. Also if you can read Japanese, try the website Happy Hotel: pretty comprehensive listings, user reviews plus you can get coupons for some of the hotels. Some hotels offer point cards – however, you might want to keep it classy and keep your point card to yourself if you are taking multiple paramours to the same spot..
And we’ll finish today with some more creative cheap sex ‘hacks’, but first a disclaimer: The following examples could have you being arrested for indecent exposure, so these examples are strictly hypothetical only.
Karaoke and Manga Cafes
Karaoke booths or manga cafes are significantly less per hour than a love hotel for a (sort of) private room, albeit they don’t come with a proper bed or a lock on the door. Be warned though, rumour has it that some karaoke booths have cameras installed, but personally I’d be surprised if any staff that spotted you getting frisky on camera would be bold enough to burst in and ask if you want to order any more drinks. However, karaoke booths have going for them that they have actual doors and ceilings, as opposed to manga cafe booths, with tend toward open-ceilinged cubicles with half doors that are easy to peer over or under. Also, karaoke will muffle any suspect sounds, while the manga cafes are much quieter and lack actual walls.
For the naturalist Cheapo, Tokyo provides less outdoor options than most cities, but there are a few good spots if you know where to look.
- Apartment block roofs – a certain number of apartment blocks have no main access door, so you can just walk in and head straight for the roof. Use “Looking for a lost cat” as an excuse if ever questioned.
- Cemeteries – people the world over are frightened to venture into the resting places of the dead after dark, so a big cemetery makes a perfect spot for some privacy in the early hours.
- Bridges over major roads – road signs provide ample cover from the cars below, pedestrians, if any at 4am, are probably too drunk or tired to be of any concern.
Condoms are easily found in drugstores and convenience stores, but for the best prices and selection (including various sizes), don’t forget Don Quixote (“donki”). They also have a decent selection of sex toys, from dancing with yourself (vibrators, Fleshlights, etc.) to vanilla sex (including flavored items) to some props and S&M gear.
Finally, if you’re getting lucky, do the right thing and get tested! For yourself, for your partner … it’s the cool thing to do! Here are some cheap and free STD clinics:
This post was last updated September 2014.