Tired of idol pop and top-40 fluff? Take a trip on the musical wild side at these bars and restaurants, where you can travel halfway across the world without leaving the capital. Our picks cover everything from Brazilian beat to Mongolian melodies, and we've also included a Japanese 'folk song izakaya' for a little variety.
Looking for more options? Check out our guide to all of Tokyo's best music spots
Get your grooves here
A true pioneer among Tokyo's Brazilian restaurants, this basement joint in Yotsuya has been in business since 1974 and continues to flourish on the back of its signature combo of live bossa nova and samba plus a fierce – albeit somewhat Japanised – feijoada and other delicacies from the land of order and progress.
Looking at it from the outside, you'd never guess that this nondescript basement is actually the closest one can get to Cuba in Tokyo. Bodeguita is not only an authentic Cuban restaurant with roast pork, Cuban sandwiches and other Caribbean staples on the menu; it's also an excellent music spot where live tunes of rumba, son cubano and filín can be heard on at least three nights every week. Settle in with a glass of rum and give in to the intoxicating tropical beat.
Equally devoted to the Caribbean’s signature liquor and the region’s musical genres, including ska, calypso and reggae, King Rum is a little piece of the tropics just a stone’s throw from Ikebukuro Station. With close to 350 different bottles lining the shelves behind the bar, you’ll have a real hard time finding a better rum lineup anywhere in the city, while the sun-kissed beats blaring from the speakers make your drink taste even better. Cuban cigars are available for those who like to double down on their poison.
A cosmopolitan Kichijoji spot where you can enjoy music, food and alcohol from warmer climate zones, World Kitchen Baobab is almost considered a sacred place by Tokyo’s world music fans; it’s full of precious records and paraphernalia collected by the owner on his travels. There’s a particular focus on Latin and African beats, with performing artists serving up everything from reggae to Brazilian pop and ’60s-style surf rock. Check their website for the gig schedule and prepare for a mojito-fuelled evening that could well make you forget you’re in Tokyo.
This tiny, eight-seat bar on the outskirts of Shibuya is a true original, serving a diverse, vegetarian-friendly menu of African and Middle Eastern food, including falafel, couscous and meze. The drink selection is also substantial, including natural wines, rum, calvados and – somewhat surprisingly – a lineup of Basque digestifs. Whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the brik, a deep-fried Tunisian pastry stuffed with a soft-boiled egg, cheese and tuna – thick, crispy and irresistible. It’s all accompanied by a soundtrack of Afrobeat, ’60s and ’70s popular music from central Africa, and rare tunes from places such as Cape Verde, Martinique and Guadeloupe.
This folk music bar hosts live performances of the appealing Tsugaru shamisen, a traditional banjo-like instrument. It has the longest history of any folk music bar in Tokyo and has three performances a day by around ten professional shamisen players (or those aiming to be). On the menu is izakaya-style grub such as sashimi, grilled meat and chanko nabe stew. This is one ‘live house’ where you can enjoy performances while sipping on sake and shochu.
More than just a friendly little diner, Calabash serves as the focus for Tokyo’s small francophone West African community. Proprietor Eddie Harouna Dabo hails from Mali, but his menu spans virtually the whole continent (as does his drinks cabinet). There’s live music on three to four nights every week – think everything from kora (a 21-string lute-bridge-harp) playing and Congolese rumba to belly dancing.
As much a Mongolian cultural centre as a restaurant, this converted coffee shop serves little that isn’t made with mutton. You can have it stuffed in dumplings, skewered on kebabs, stewed with spuds, swished in shabu-shabu style or simply boiled on the bone. To help it down, there’s Genghis Khan vodka and live performances of folk music on the two-stringed ‘horse-head’ cello. Totally transporting.
If you’re in the mood for drinking the night away to Brazilian grooves, head straight for this Shibuya hideout where the samba and bossa nova are always turned up to eleven and the bar serves expertly mixed caipirinhas until 4am. Far more than a nostalgia joint, Blen Blen Blen often plays made-in-Brazil sounds trending in São Paulo or Rio right now, including local takes on hip hop and drum and bass. When you hear something you like, ask the owner for more details – this walking Wikipedia of Brazilian music is sure to prove more helpful than your Shazam app.