We as a band have toured Japan every year since 2007, and because our vocalist has lived in the States for the entire time (and still does), we had to fly him over to Japan every time we did a tour. Through those tours and other times when we were asked to take foreign metal bands around town, I am pretty confident now that I am aware of 99% of the metal related spots located here in Tokyo. Since I often get asked by touring bands where they should visit in Tokyo, I thought I’d put together a page of resources that I can just send them a link to, instead of writing an entire message from scratch each time. I should’ve thought of this earlier.
Disclaimer: This blog post will only show metal-related spots. If you want to find general sight-seeing places, look elsewhere. This article is written in favor of death-metalheads rather than speed and melodic metalheads.
Bars / Izakaya
When Japanese people go drinking with someone, we usually go to a place called “izakaya”. Its close to a dining restaurant but the atmosphere is much louder and energetic because all the customers are drinking lot of alcohol and talking loudly. (there are quiet izakayas too). We sit in a table together, order lots of food to share, and drink alcohol. I’ve never seen a similar place in the States where you can eat a lot and drink a lot at the same time, but this is standard in Japan. If you ask any Japanese person to “go have a drink”, they will likely think you want to go to an izakaya. (Learn more about izakayas here)
With that said, a bar is more like the bar you know. People come there alone or in small groups, drinks costs almost twice as much as they cost in Izakayas. ( I’d say beer is 450yen average in Izakaya, 850yen average in bars). There are a couple of bars in Tokyo that are specialized in metal music, some of which I really recommend visiting. Almost all foreign touring bands visit one of them after they do a show in Tokyo, and thats why you might get to meet some famous guys. I’ve met Alexi Laiho when I was a huge fan of theirs too. That bar went out of business though. It was a place called Rock Bar Current.
This is the best metal bar ever, hands down. Behind the heavy sound proof door, they’ve got huge speakers, way oversized for the room, and they fucking blast it. Do not go here to have a good talk with your mates, you only go there to headbang and drink. You can write request on a piece of paper and hand it to the bartender and he’ll play your song. (There could be a long list of requested songs by other customers, so wait patiently). Their library consists of 80’s hard rock to the most brutal and modern technical death metal. Its about a 15min walk from JR Shinjuku Station East exit.
Rockaholic (Shibuya & Shimokitazawa)
Do not go here if you’re an elitist. But if you’re one of those metalheads who also enjoys metalcore and screamo too, this bar has an energetic and young vibe you might want. If you’re in the early 20’s, this could easily be your favorite place. Rockaholic is operated by the people who run GekiRock Entertainment, a company that hosts shows and publishes magazines for young and active people. Could be too pop for you, but personally, I’d prefer this bar over many of the old school hard rock bars that are around. These guys are much more open minded in terms of musical taste.
map: Open in Google Maps
The Lockup (Shinjuku & Shibuya)
This place isn’t exactly metal, but I’m throwing this up in this list be cause I think any metalhead would enjoy this izakaya. This izakaya is themed as a prison with monsters and ghosts. When you enter the front door, you are put on hand cuffs and pulled to your table. How entertaining is that, right? Don’t be mistaken, not all izakayas are highly entertaining like this one! If you plan to eat here, make sure you book your table well in advance because they fill up real fast.
There are many venues (we call them “live houses”) in Tokyo that host good shows with local metal bands. In general, shows cost much more than what it costs in the states. When I lived in the states, I went to see local shows for free or $10 max. Even when big bands like Lamb Of God came to town with Machinehead, Gojira, and Trivium on the same bill, the tickets were only $25 or something (Chico, California). However, if you wanna go to a show in Japan, most local shows costs about 2,000yen door charge plus a mandatory drink ticket of 500yen. Some shows are cheaper and some are more expensive, but its always within that same range. In exchange for that money, you get to see abut 5 or 6 bands that each play for about 30mins. You can expect a much higher quality live audio mixing and lighting work compared to local bar shows in the States. If you want to see a big foreign band play in Japan, its gonna costs you somewhere from 5000yen to 9000yen. Its just a baaad idea unless you’re going to LOUD PARK (the largest metal festival in Japan held every year).
Back to the topic, all of these venues that I list below not only host metal shows but they also host normal rock shows. Make sure that you are going there on a night that metal is playing. ALSO, there are tons of Japanese metal bands that sound like shit even under quality audio systems (how the fuck..). I recommend you do a little bit of research for the bands you’re going to go see in advance. I will do another big post on good metal bands from Japan for you to use alongside with this post.
Wild Side (Shinjuku Tokyo)
This venue often hosts shows with great Japanese death metal, and melodic death metal. I believe one of the staff that works here is a member of the Japanese death metal band “Tyrant Of Mary”. I may be wrong, but I think that is one of the reasons why this venue has so many good metal shows. Horrible access by train though. From JR Shinjuku Station East exit, its like a 25min walk or even longer, and 15mins of that is in a very crowded area. An easier way to get there is to take the subway and get to Tokyo Metro Shinjuku Sancho-me Station and walk from there. That’ll take you to a less crowded area, but its still gonna take you about 15mins walk time. If you have more money than time, take the cab from Shinjuku Station. Here is a video of Thousand Eyes (melodic death) playing at Wildside Tokyo.
Antiknock (Shinjuku Tokyo)
Antiknock is a legendary underground hardcore venue. Lots of good hardcore bands. Although they mainly host hardcore shows, they are open to metal, and some of the best metal shows take place at this venue. We used to host death metal shows here every year. Easy access from JR Shinjuku Station South Exit. I’d say its about a 10 min walk or less. Here a video of us playing at Antiknock.
Cyclone & Garret (Shibuya Tokyo)
Cyclone and Garret are two venues under one roof, and they are run by the same people. In my opinion, Cyclone has the best sound system out of this list. You’ll hear every note even in death metal. Lots of pop rock shows goes on here but this place is also known for metal shows. Tokyo Death Fest used to be held here every year until it was over. Many rock bands refer this venue as the “gateway to success”, as many of the successful Japanese rock bands started their early years playing at this venue. Fairly easy access from JR Shibuya Station Hachiko exit. I’d say its about 15min walk or less. Heres a video of Crossfaith playing at Cyclone when they first started out.
Earthdom (Shin-Okubo Tokyo)
Best venue to find the best of grindcore and avantgarde hardcore. It has a big bar room and a stage room separate from each other, which allows you to refuge out to the bar whenever the band thats playing doesn’t match your ear. A really nice advantage for the listeners, especially for avantgarde line ups.
The venue is about 5 min walk from JR Shinookubo Station. You really gotta watch out for the sign or you’ll miss it. I’ve been here more than 10 times but I still sometimes walk passed it and have to walk back to find it. Here’s Go-zen playing at Earthdom.
Crescendo (Kichijoji Tokyo)
Best venue to find old school heavy metal and melodic speed metal. Not really my type of metal, but I gotta say this is a great venue. Almost all of their shows are metal. Fairly easy access from JR Kichijoji Station. About 15min walk. Here is Gotsu Totsu Kotsu playing at Crescendo.
Other venues that I personally don’t go to that much but might be worth mentioning:
Meguro Live Station (legendary venue in old school heavy metal)
The music industry is changing. I am assuming that readers of this blog post only buy CDs for collection purposes. Theres just too many advantages of streaming music on Spotify / Apple Music / Youtube or just buying or stealing music online. Why do we need physical copies? To support our favorite bands? as a collection for ourselves? In both of those possible cases, a vinyl would make more sense than a CD. Its bigger, sounds better, and costs more. Thats why I know that major metal record labels are starting to earn more from selling vinyl than CD nowadays.
BUT, here in Japan, we haven’t got to that point yet exactly. People actually STILL BUY CDs!! (I’m writing this in 2017) Wow, right? Although the declining trend of sales has been moving here, I feel its a lot slower than how it it is in the States. By the way, there are like zero Japanese bands that are on bandcamp. Its funny, because we order physical copies of CDs… ONLINE.
Anyways, if you want buy or go look at physical copies of CD’s and vinyl in Japan, you need to go to disk union. disk union is a well known record store in Japan, and they are the best. They have lots of respect towards underground music. They don’t sell every genre in one store, they branch out the stores by genre, so if you go to a disk union jazz store, jazz is all you get, and you get a shit load of it. If instead you go to a big Tower Records Store, you’ll find a small section dedicated to metal, but if you’re an elitist type of metalhead (like our vocalist), you’re just gonna be wasting time. Don’t even bother going to the big stores and just head to Disk Union. You’ll thank my advice.
DISK UNION Ochanomizu Hard Rock / Heavy Metal
The best in my opinion. All the staff are very nice, and its only about a 3min walk from JR Ochanomizu Station. A must-go spot for collectors.
map: Open in Google Maps
DISK UNION Shinjuku Heavy Metal
This location also has many racks of metal, but it can’t beat Ochanomizu.
map: Open in Google Maps
DISK UNION Shibuya Punk / Heavy Metal
This place, I would recommend only in cases that you are already in Shibuya and you don’t want to move. Compared to Ochanomizu and Shinjuku locations, this store is not as satisfying. Not worth going to Shibuya just to visit here.
map: Open in Google Maps
Band t-shirts costs about twice as much or more in Japan, but I guess a metal t-shirt shop could be an interesting place to visit. In the states, I believe the only place you can buy real death metal shirts are at shows, and you can only get bullshit at Hot Topic. In Japan, we have a few metal apparel shops where you can actually find products like Decrepit Birth shirts.
This is a small shop in Shibuya thats specialized in metal T-shirts. I’ve seen a few other shops but this one is probably the best in terms of selection. They have good range from old school heavy metal to modern death metal.
I wanted to show you one more store, but I just found out that they’ve gone out of business…
I guess more people are learning to shop online!
There are more metal related spots in Tokyo, but listed above are the places that I recommend the most in Tokyo. If you know of somewhere else that you think should be on this list, please feel free to leave a comment, and I will consider adding it.