From jazz clubs to DJ bars, the (live) music scene in Tokyo has been thriving for decades and only seems to be getting better and better, with top-class acts from all over the world drawn to the metropolis's unique venues and enthusiastic live music fans. But the local scene is where you'll find the heart and soul of Tokyo music, with a warm music community that's both sprawling and incredibly interconnected.
With hundreds of venues all over the city showcasing awesome talent, it can be hard to know where to even start. We've rounded up the 10 best live music venues in Tokyo for catching that sweet home-grown indie sound.
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The much-beloved nucleus of the Tokyo indie music scene, Ruby Room is a little box of a venue that punches well above its size. Though the venue only holds around 150 people, it's drawn all sorts of top-notch acts including Basement Jaxx, Hernan Cattaneo and Belle & Sebastian to play impromptu sets.
Their weekly open mic night on Tuesdays is an institution and where a good chunk of local musicians get their start (and find their future bandmates). Depending on the night of the week, the vibe can go from chill acoustic to cluby, but you can be sure to catch something special whenever you stop by.
In the same building as Tsutaya O-West on the – you guessed it – 7th floor sits this spacious live house. The well-stocked bar is the first thing you'll see on your way in, with the stage set up all the way at the back, but easily visible from all corners of the venue. It still retains the intimacy of a traditional live house, with a bunch of comfy leather couches skirting around the dance floor edges. Compared to a lot of basement bars, it's refreshingly open, with excellent acoustics and a great sound system to match. There's even a patio outside if you need to take a breather; however, since the inside is all smoke-free, that's also the defacto smoking area.
Up a metal staircase and perched atop a couple other bars and music venues in the hip neighborhood of Shimokitazawa is this under-rated little live house gem. Though the Japanese name ('rokudemonaiyoru', or 'ろくでもない夜') translates to something like 'a night without rock', we have to assume this is ironic, since this place is all about excellent music (most of it, in fact, rock). The indie music series More than Music put it on the map when it started hosting at least half of its events here.
The best part of this venue, besides the top-of-the-line bands it attracts, is the layout. Unlike most Tokyo live houses, the space is divided into a raucous stage area and a quieter bar area. A relatively sound-proof door separates the two, so you can easily step out of the high-energy din for a mellow drink and chat. The performance in the adjacent room is streamed on a TV near the bar, too, so you don't have to worry about missing anything.
Located on the top floor of the building which used to house club Milk, What The Dickens brings British pub ambience to the Ebisu area. The walls, even in the men’s room, are plastered with Dickensian manuscripts, and the food is decidedly typical British pub fare.
The two-level space is way bigger than the word 'pub' probably conjures. A spotlight-drenched main stage is easily visible from the bar, ground floor corners and overhead balcony, making for some of the best music visuals of any place on this list.
With wall-to-wall live painting, live video-projected painting, a giant opalesecent moon dropping from the ceiling and a second floor balcony overlooking it all, this might be one of the most beautiful live music venues in Tokyo. The 200-capacity two-storey space is designed to put the music front and centre, with a low-key bar along the wall at stage right and tons of little tables on both the ground floor and balcony, giving you a great view of the stage from wherever you sit.
The magnificent lighting reflected off the hanging moon also means excellent live pics, and the sound system is superb enough to keep up with all of the venue's other manifold attractions. This one's definitely a favourite among locals, and though the venue is surprisingly hush-hush about this, it was also featured on HBO's 'Girls'.
This narrow two-storey bar and live house is an old-time favourite among the expat and local music community. Taking up the second and third floors of a tiny building in the middle of one of Tokyo's jazz hubs, the second floor bar is about as cramped as they come, but upstairs from that is where you'll find the music (and a bit more space). The smallness of the venue generally means the music is a bit more chill, though they've featured everything from metal to punk to EDM over the years. The music space also doubles as an art gallery, with a rotating selection of local artists on display.
Although there's no way to watch the music and enjoy the bar at the same time, it's worth stepping downstairs for a brewsky (and then quickly heading back up), since they've got an excellent selection on tap, including tons of local craft and micro-brews.
A basement live house just a few minutes walk from Yoyogi Station, Zher the Zoo Tokyo puts on an eclecic mix of sounds, from ska to alternatvie rock to an unbelievably good Bruno Mars impersonator. But no matter what's on stage, this spacious underground den is excellent for dancing, so you can expect most of the acts to be high energy.
The bar is pretty limited, though they do have some original cocktails, with most of the drinks hovering around the ¥500 mark. Compared to some of the other joints on this list, this one is much less of a lounge vibe and more about getting up on your feet.
Smack between Kichijoji Station and the lush Inokashira Park is this classy basement live house. The dimly-lit interior is accented with exposed brick archways and brick floors, with a grand piano set up centre stage. The vibe here is pretty versatile. When the wooden tables and chairs are set up, the space fits 60 for a chiller night. But the tables can also be removed to pack in 100 guests for some wilder events.
This basement live house is outfitted for funk, with its checkerboard stage and overhanging disco ball. The genres of music on play here reflect its eclectic decor, with everything from traditional rock acts to disco to R&B. The space is small and intimate, with tiny tables and chairs that can be pushed out of the way to make a dance floor. The quality of music is consistently high and the accompaning charge consistently low.
Kagurazaka may seem like an unlikely location for an eccentric box-sized club, but after opening in May 2017, the leftfield-oriented KGR (N) has become one of the hottest live music spots in the city, with their weekend nights now booked up half a year in advance.
With space for 80 people on the main floor and 20 more in the lounge, the venue also hosts daytime gigs on weekdays, when it operates under the Kagurane moniker. The genre of focus is electronic music but they're open to a host of sounds.