Japanese people are renowned for being hard working, conscientious, and, let’s face it, pretty serious. After work, however, the masks are dropped and everyone likes to let loose. Visiting the nation’s shrines and making matcha is all very well, but you haven’t really done Japan if you haven’t done Japanese nightlife.
Hiroshima isn’t Tokyo, and if you are looking for the kind of a nightlife you might find in New York or London, you will likely be disappointed. However, while Hiroshima may not be a city that never sleeps, it is certainly bleary-eyed on many a morning. Hiroshima folk love their food and drink and they have the biggest adult entertainment district in the region to prove it. Nagarekawa, as the grid of streets, packed with countless bars, clubs, eateries and joints offering “other services”, is known, is a dizzying maze of narrow streets and multistory buildings covered with tiny neon signs, indicating often tiny spaces that are each their own little world.
But where to start? It is almost impossible to get any idea of what may lie behind the door of many of these bars without taking the plunge and actually crossing threshold. Although some of the less salubrious establishments may make you think otherwise, you are unlikely to run into any real trouble in Nagarekawa. That said, many of the myriad bars tend to be regulars only and, without an introduction, the reception can be confused at best.
Don’t worry, however. We are here to help, with our 3-step intro to Nagarekawa nightlife? It’s perfect for those looking for just a taste of Hiroshima’s vibrant nightlife scene, and a great springboard for those looking to take a deep dive and keep going until dawn.
An Irish pub? Really? OK, before you click away, let us explain why Molly Malone’s is the perfect place to kick off your Hiroshima night safari.
In the 16 years since it opened on the edge of the Nagarekawa entertainment district, Molly’s authentic pub atmosphere has not only been a hit with Hiroshima’s expat residents, but also with its loyal Japanese clientele. Manager Mark, who hails from the west of Ireland, has a wealth of local knowledge which you can tap into, and many of his Japanese regulars are very open to talking with visitors, so it’s a great place to mingle with locals for those who can’t speak Japanese.
It’s the perfect place to line the stomach with some comfort food, and imbibe some Dutch courage, before ploughing on into Nagarekawa proper.
Says Mark, “Molly’s is a traditional Irish pub with good grub, English speaking staff and lots of friendly regulars, both Japanese and expats. We are a great place to start your night with a couple of pints and get the lowdown on where to head next. “There are no strangers here only friends who haven’t met” has been our motto since we opened in 2002 and has spawned many a strong friendship and led to some mighty nights!”
4F Teigeki Building, 1-20 Shintenchi, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi
Opening Hours : Tues-Thu: 17:00-24:00, closed on Mondays
Ofuku Vintage Kimono and Premium Sake
Turn the corner from Molly Malone’s and you’ll soon realize that you are no longer in the shopping district. The narrow sidewalks are crowded with people and the streets are jammed with taxis hoping to pick up a fare. Buildings rise up on either side, each with an illuminated signboard in the entrance way, showing the names and logos of 10 to 20 bars.
Ofuku is in one of these buildings, the Kura Building to be exact. You head to the back of the foyer and up a narrow staircase to the 2nd floor. When you see the mannequin in a beautiful kimono, you know you are in the right spot.
Quintessential Nagarekawa, Ofuku is the one or those bars that, until recently, welcomed newcomers only once introduced by one of their regulars. It’s a small, but stylish lounge bar, frequented by company presidents and business executives from Tokyo. The food is simple, but beautifully presented and melts in the mouth. Owner, Tanaka-san, has been in the Nagarekawa bar trade for 40 years and was looking for a change. No-nonsense, and with little time for the latest fads, she is a woman of classic taste who despairs at the lack of interest Japan’s younger generations show in traditional culture. Tanaka-san has decided to open her doors and offer overseas visitors a chance to experience wearing some of her huge collection of antique and vintage kimono. For ¥3500, Tanaka-san will help select and fit your kimono in a private room and provide you with a glass of premium sake or another drink from the menu and a small plate of Japanese appetizers that complement Japanese sake well.
“I’d really like to offer visitors who have done us the honor of coming all the way to Hiroshima to have the opportunity to enjoy a little authentic Japanese culture and delicious sake in a Japanese atmosphere. On my regular visits to Kyoto, I’m always fascinated by the fact that people from overseas seem to appreciate kimono even more than the Japanese themselves, and I wonder if this interest could be a lifeline for the struggling kimono industry. I miss the days when Nagarekawa used to be filled with women in beautiful kimono. Perhaps the sight of our international visitors in kimono can rekindle our own pride in this important part of our culture.”
After you have had your kimono fitted, take a seat at the luxuriously red counter from behind which Tanaka-san will serve you premium sake, from some of the best breweries from around Hiroshima and Japan. Tanaka-san is gregarious, but speaks very little English, so this is the perfect place to pull out your phrase book and test out your Japanese. It’s a truly authentic Hiroshima nightlife experience that we urge you not to miss.
Ofuku Kimono & Sake Bar
2F Kura Building, 2-24 Nagarekawa-cho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi
Opening hours: 20:00-24:00 (L.O. for sashimi and tempura at 22:00)
Closed: Sunday, National Holidays
Tropical Bar Revolución
Now that you have had your taste of culture, it’s time to move into the heart of Nagarekawa; onto Nagarekawa Street itself. Approximately halfway down the street, crane your neck to spot the image of a tropical cocktail, complete with umbrella, on a sign way up on the 8th floor., Make your way past a noodle joint and down a narrow passage. As the cramped elevator ascends, you catch bursts of music, chatter and laughter - soundbites from other parallel night-worlds - before it delivers you to “Nobu’s". Nobu is the good time owner of Tropical Bar Revolución. Well-traveled and with a passion for soccer, Nobu runs a spot where many of Nagarekawa’s disparate scenes converge. At Revolución, you’ll find the after-five crowd, English teachers and tourists, bar owners on their night off and dancers after their shifts. Polyglot languages fill the air as Nobu fields cocktails and selects tracks on YouTube.
Revolución is the last stop on our foray into Hiroshima nightlife and a great place to round off your night. If this only serves to whet the appetite, Nobu’s Nagarekawa knowledge runs deep, and, whatever you may be into, he can point you in the right direction. And, should the stars you can see from Revolución's veranda align, you may find you are carried along with the crowd, deeper into Nagarekawa and on into the dawn.
“Tropical Bar Revolución” isn’t a big place, but it’s nice and cozy with big windows and a balcony, so you can enjoy the breeze and a nice view,” says Nobu. “You can expect good drinks, music, friendly people and good vibes. My customers are very international with a mix of locals and visitors. Wherever you end up, I hope you have an awesome night in Hiroshima! Kanpai!!”
Tropical Bar Revolución
8F Meisei Building 3-6, Naka-ku, Nagarekawa, Hiroshima-shi
Opening hours: Monday-Thursday 18:00-03:00, Friday-Saturday 18:00-04:00
Words and Photography by Paul Walsh. (Visited in January 2019)