We’ve all been there. You’re in a karaoke booth having a good time with your friends, mumbling incoherently to Korean pop bands while chugging your seventh can of Fanta Melon Pop. Suddenly you double-take at the clock and have to interrupt your buddy’s drunken interpretation of Poker Face to inform everyone the last train is about to leave. You and your crew are soon running through the streets like your lives depend on it, fumbling and falling over one another like cartoon versions of yourselves. Although your mad dramatic dash to the station was a good effort, it’s no use. The last train is gone for the night and now you’re stuck. Everyone can only hang their heads in defeat and prepare for the long night in Shinjuku. Wait. Shinjuku? Did I say hang your heads in defeat? I meant victoriously start high-fiving everyone!
There is no better place to be stuck with your buddies for the night than Shinjuku! You need to kill about four hours in Shinjuku? No problem. The real issue is cash. So where in Shinjuku can you have a good time at night and not waste that precious yen? First up are the batting cages.
Next to Shinjuku’s east exit in Kabukicho is the Oslo Batting Center. You’ll know it when you see it because it’s hard to miss that large green fence pulled straight out of Jurassic Park.
It’s two floors. Up top you got the batting and pitching cages, as well as an area set up for darts. Under that is a small arcade with your average run of the mill game cabinets that will never see the light of day in America. The batting cages will run you 300 yen for 30 pitches. You can easily kill some time here wracking up a few hits with your friends, or if you’re like me and swing like you’re swatting at ghost, then at least your buddies can have something to laugh at.The dart arcades have several modes to choose from and cost 200 yen per person. The time spent here really depends on the mode and the players. I’ve spent about 20 minutes on just one game with friends before.
Now there are really two cheap batting centers near Shinjuku station that I know of. Oslo is definitely the better of the two, but the smaller “Shinjuku Batting Center” has it’s own kind of aesthetic quality. If you go at the right time you’ll find it full of salarymen, drunk and swinging away all life’s problems in a flurry of raging Japanese anger. They’re mad because like you they’re stuck in Shinjuku after being forced to go drinking with their boss. Unlike you they have to be back at work in three hours. Japan can be a cruel mistress.
If sports aren’t your thing or if you really don’t want to spend any money then simply exploring Shinjuku’s Kabukicho can be quite the experience. One thing you’ll immediately notice is that the streets are practically empty. The only ones walking around are Rod Stewart clones and women with hair larger than Marge Simpson that’ll charge you just for looking at them. These are the host and hostesses. You’ll pass wave after wave of them in Shinjuku and just seeing them work the streets for clients can be entertaining. You’ll probably also be getting flagged down a lot by people offering you “cheap” entertainment. If you value your wallet or your kidneys (I’ve heard things, man), just say no.
A famous park, a former black market and a whole heap of museums—get to know Ueno:
It can also be fun exploring the-seemingly never ending rows of love hotels Shinjuku has to offer. Once myself and a friend goaded each other enough to walk into the lobby of a Kabukicho love hotel that looked like it’s clientele included Leatherface and Jason Voorhees. When we got inside we found it lined with marble and glistening fountains. Just experiencing the sights and sounds of Shinjuku can be a blast and not cost you a yen.
If you and your buddies really don’t want to hang outside or maybe one of you is kind of a killjoy for exploration (who invited this guy?), then look for a manga kissa. They’re the cheapest hotels around and Shinjuku has a lot of them. For about 1000 to 2000 per person you can spend the entire night in a room all to yourselves. Depending on the place, you’ll either get a cubicle like space or an actual room. Shoot for the latter. At manga kissa [manga cafes] you can watch movies, get on Facebook, charge your phone, read comics, shower, or simply sleep till the trains are running. Try not to be too loud though because next door is probably a raging angry salaryman that has to be at work in three hours.
Shinjuku can be great fun and a cheap place to kill some time at night. Especially if you’re feeling adventurous.
Harajuku, the home of fashion, cuteness, crepes and more crepes, here's a guide to some fun free things to do.