If you’re planning to be in Japan during the Rugby World Cup, you might be surprised to learn that not every pub will be showing the games. If you’re new to Tokyo, you might be even more surprised to see that many bars here would struggle to fit 10 Japanese contortionists—much less a group of burly rugby fans (sorry for the stereotype, all you dainty rugby folks).
But fear not! If you know where to look, there are plenty of Tokyo sports bars for casual viewers and hardcore fans alike to get their fix.
First though—a quick PSA on nomihodai
Nomihodai is commonly translated as “all-you-can-drink”—Japanese bars and pubs often offer this option for parties and small groups. Basically, you pay a set fee, and for a limited time (usually around two hours) you can order as many drinks as you like (one at a time). While many Japanese people see this an easy way to split the bill and drink as they usually would, plenty of visitors see it as a challenge. I speak from bitter experience, and encourage you not to fall into that trap.
Finding a bar near your hotel
There aren’t that many big chain sports bars here in Tokyo, but one in particular stands out as a safe, accessible choice. If you’re staying in reasonably central Tokyo, there’s a very good chance you’ll find a HUB nearby.
How to explain HUB if you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting? Imagine a Japanese person went to a British pub in the mid-90s. Now imagine the décor in that pub hadn’t been updated since the late 60s. Then they recreated that pub in central Tokyo. That about covers it. Indeed—if not for the sea of Japanese faces, there are times you could almost (almost) convince yourself you were in some old Soho haunt.
I’m not going to tell you HUB is a great pub, but it does have a few saving graces—especially for sports fans. Most important are big screens and projectors up the wazoo, as well as drinks of all kinds at some of Tokyo’s most competitive prices. They’re also usually packed with other sports fans—so it’s an obvious choice if you’re looking to make friends and get acquainted with the locals.
If you fancy a little pre-match paperwork, HUB’s reward program is good enough that with a few friends, you could conceivably profit from it in a single session.
Home to the infamous Shibuya crossing, this iconic metropolitan center stays up every night well into the wee hours of the morning.
Well known by locals and expats alike, Hobgoblin Shibuya is one of Tokyo’s more prominent British-style pubs. Hobgoblin deals mainly in beers and real ales, including its namesake, Hobgoblin. It’s well worth contacting the place to book a table in advance—there’s every chance it’ll be heaving with excited fans on match days.
This cheap and cheerful sports bar has screens throughout most of the rear bar showing sports events, as well as electronic dartboards for the less-interested members of your party. It’s a huge space by Central Tokyo standards, and it gets pretty rowdy—so if you’re looking to make some noise in a large group without scaring off the locals, you’ll fit right in here.
The drinks list is pretty extensive, so you won’t struggle for choice, and the pizzas and buckets of fried food are also surprisingly good!
Packed with bars that cater to expats, Roppongi is among the more international nightlife areas in Japan. Tokyo is generally a safe city, but Roppongi has a (possibly somewhat exaggerated) reputation for petty thefts, yakuza violence and scams. While it’s hardly Dickensian London, if somebody starts making you an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Legends Sports Bar
This Roppongi sports bar might just be the best known in Tokyo among expats. It’s as close as you’ll find to an American or European sports bar, with plenty of seats (including a patio), a wide selection of beers and spirits and pizzas, wings and burgers on the menu.
And with big screens on every surface not decorated with sports memorabilia, there’s little chance you’ll get a bad view—it’s almost impossible not to end up watching whatever game is on while you’re there.
Just next door to Legends is Hobgoblin Roppongi. As with the Shibuya location, this British pub has plenty of seats, real ales on tap and a strong expat crowd. If you’re looking for a lively atmosphere with other fans from abroad, these two watering holes are a great place to start.
Shinbashi and Ginza
Often referred to as a salaryman mecca, Shinbashi (often spelled “Shimbashi”) is packed with bars and restaurants. The area typically caters to gents, so there are more than a few seedy “girls’ bars” if that’s something you’re interested in. Just be sure to do your research beforehand—while there’s a good chance the touts will leave you alone as a foreigner, if you go looking for trouble you’ll likely find it.
As the name suggests, Celts is a typical Tokyo Irish-style pub. There’s not an awful lot to say about Celts—the beer is varied, reasonably priced and comes in pints (not always a given here), and there’s a good selection of other drinks and foods. There are two locations within a five-minute walk of each other, with a HUB nestled conveniently between them. That makes Shinbashi a good place to find a spot, with plenty of nightlife and transport connections for after the match.
Is it creepy? Yes. Is the company behind it bankrupt? Reassuringly, apparently so. Can you watch the match while eating the dismembered wings of a dozen chickens there? You certainly can. With so many other great bars around it’s a strange recommendation, but if you’re in a larger group and you can’t find anywhere else, Hooters might just be your saving grace.
There are certain times in the year that can make your visit to Tokyo less than idea.