If you’re bored of Netflix and want some cerebral stimulation in Tokyo, where do you go? Luckily there’s a busy scene of creatives hosting nights of comedy, poetry and talks!
While live music is easy to find, spoken word and open mic nights are a bit more of a challenge in Tokyo, with word-of-mouth ironically not always being the best method of promotion. Whether you’re into poetry, comedy, talks or art, there’s something for everyone—it’s just a matter of knowing where to go.
There are a great variety of comedy nights in Tokyo, ranging from your traditional stand-up to improv to story-telling. While there are plenty of free nights dotted throughout the month, the regular paid events are usually reasonable, include drinks and have a nicer atmosphere since people have paid to be there, rather than wandering in by chance. Here are some of the best:
Good Heaven’s Comedy Club
Wednesday nights in Shimokitazawa have become Tokyo’s go-to comedy night – and with good reason. With ever-increasing audiences, the mid-week shows have been drawing local regulars, newcomers and visiting performers from across the world to take to the stage. With around 10 acts a night, weekly spots held open for first-timers and a mixture of styles including raconteurs, one-liners and songs, there’s something for everyone. There are also monthly international headliner shows with special guests: previous acts include Hannibal Buress and Yuriko Kotani, so the bar has been set high! If you would like to take part, contact Stand Up Tokyo on Facebook/email/Twitter to book your first slot.
Good Heavens Comedy Club by Stand Up Tokyo: Wednesdays, Good Heavens Bar, Shimokitazawa, 8.30pm start
A show of two distinct halves, Improvazilla is the biggest improv night in town, held on the last Friday of every month in Shibuya. In the first half the stage is filled with a variety of games, genres and stories while the second is an on-the-spot musical based on a title suggested by the audience. With creativity overflowing and surprises around every corner, the audience participation adds a friendly and interactive atmosphere to the night. Tickets are 1,500 yen and there is a one drink minimum—you can pay on the door or reserve a table on their site for a better view.
Improvazilla by Tokyo Comedy Store: Last Friday of the month, The Crocodile Live House, Shibuya, 8pm start.
Perfect Liars Club Tokyo
In it’s own lovely category, Perfect Liars Club is the new show in town, but is already a sell out with a growing following. Started in Washington DC, with another in London, the show’s creators have recently moved to Tokyo and luckily the show came with them. A laid back and friendly night, it involves four people telling a story of their choosing to the audience, but only three are telling the truth. It is up to you to pick holes in, untangle and clarify their stories with questions after the break, with the whole crowd working as a team to catch the liar. This is a really welcoming night, great for groups or if you’re on your own, since you’ll soon be discussing flaws with your neighbor! Tickets are 1,500 and include a drink, you can reserve online and I would recommend it to avoid disappointment! If you would like to test your poker face on the stage fill in the form on the site or contact them on Facebook.
Perfect Liars Club – First Thursday of the month at Good Heavens bar in Shimokitazawa, 8pm start
Spoken word & talks
With more nights being imported from far flung countries, and plenty of new and longstanding nights originating in Tokyo, you can try out slam poetry, listen to tales from the lives of others and learn about everything under the sun at these events!
Drunk Poets See God
Slam poetry with an optional theme, DPSG is a long-running night with over 40 shows, and plenty of poetry to prove it. Readers get a maximum 20-minute slot, but anything from a minute is fine to bring to the stage, with a real mix of styles and content throughout the night. With plenty of regulars the show is always interesting and has a great mix of seasoned veterans and newcomers keeping things fresh. If you want to take part you can arrive when the door open at 7pm to sign up! Entry is 500 yen and the first readings start at 7:30pm at Bar Gari Gari in Setagaya.
Drunk Poets – Check page for upcoming dates – Bar Gari Gari in Setagaya, 7pm sign-up, 7:30pm start
A night of true stories told by their protagonists, Apocrypha aims to help the audience answer some of those 3am questions that never really go away and learn from the mistakes of others. Inspired by shows like ‘The Moth’ and ‘Risk’, speakers share personal events from their lives, developed into stories with which the audience can relate. Organized jointly with the Yokohama Theatre Group, each night has a theme (previous nights have focused on first times, fear and in retrospect). If you would like to take part, the group are always looking for new storytellers, just contact them via Facebook.
Apocrypha – Check page for upcoming dates – Bar Gari Gari in Setagaya – 7.30pm start
Another new addition to Tokyo’s nights out from Washington DC, Nerd Night is an evening for geeks and drinks, with talks covering science, curiosity and more. In different locations once a month, each night features three speakers who give a guest talk on their special subject. Previous topics have ranged from The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Importance of Failure, Artificial Intelligence and The Psychology of Magic. With November’s night being held in Good Heavens in Shimokitazawa, the topics include bad films, brainwaves and business in space. Tickets are 1,500 yen and include a drink, the show starts at 8pm!
Nerd Night – check site for monthly date and locations!
PechaKucha 20×20 Tokyo
A night with a simple concept, the name is taken from the Japanese word for the sound of chitchat, and focuses on the design community. It uses presentations with a very precise format: 20 images for 20 seconds, allowing people to share their work and experiences in a relaxed environment. Running since 2003, the style keeps things short and concise, with speakers covering every possible range of subjects, with plenty of guest speakers making appearances, from freedivers to women in industry (check out the featured video of the Tokyo marathon runner for an idea of the style). The event has snowballed and has gone from a one-off night in Toyko to over 1000 cities. It is a guaranteed good night and a great community, presentations start at 7pm, often at SuperDeluxe but locations can vary. If you would like to take part, there is a form on the website!
PechaKucha Tokyo – check site for monthly dates and locations – 7pm start
If words aren’t quite your thing and you feel more at home with a pencil in hand, there are some events for you too. Whether you prefer an evening group with its own twist on life-drawing or a casual Sunday meet-up, Tokyo has options for the artistically gifted (and those who just want to give it a go).
Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art School
With one of the best names on the circuit, this is an alternative art event where artists, newbies and scribblers alike meet up to drink and draw burlesque models in downtown Tokyo. Providing models and fun since 2006, the unusual art club is held every third Wednesday of the month in Harajuku (where else could it be?). Popular all over the world, there are always great models with a variety of styles, so you can try something new! There is no need for you to be skilled, just willing to try (and the drinks help too).
Dr Sketchy’s Anti-Art Club – Every 3rd Wednesday of the month – Studio and Space IVVA, Harajuku – 7pm start.
Held on every first Sunday of the month, Pausedraw aims to bring together drawing geeks from around the city while taking time out from life to relax and sketch. With a casual collaborative feel, the event is as much about meeting others as it is drawing, but it can be a great way to practice, and get some inspiration or advice. There are drawing tasks for the groups to try with a mix of both conceptual or literal suggestions as well as collaborative pieces, and you can also try and perfect your own works. Held in different locations each month, you can check the Facebook page for the upcoming events, where they also share tips on drawing and guides to help with your work. Events can get quite busy so turn up on time to make sure you get a seat!
PauseDraw – 1st Sunday of the month, check site for location, but often Shibuya – free entry!
So whether you’re looking to enjoy some laughs, learn something, practice your art or get up on stage yourself, there’s plenty of opportunities and no excuse not to!
Stay warm — and satiated — with these hearty winter Japanese foods.