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On a pub crawl, every drink is one for the road

by Angela Erika Kubo

For newcomers or current residents in Tokyo, where people are known to sometimes come off as cold and distant, attempting to chat up a complete stranger on the street or in a bar can make even the biggest social butterfly feel shy.

“I’ve been in Japan for two and a half years and I couldn’t find the right peers. I came to a point where I was super-introverted,” says Joji Kurosawa, who moved to Tokyo from the Philippines in 2011. “But I know in myself that I’m a very social person.”

Kurosawa found a solution when he discovered Tokyo Pub Crawl, a mass bar-hopping event held three to five times a month in Roppongi and attended by Japanese and foreign drinkers alike. They’re recognizable on the streets of Roppongi on a Saturday night, a long stream of revelers led by a staff member holding a large sign and yelling out instructions — and followed by curious looks.

“We really care about customer satisfaction,” says Andrew Nguyen, an event planner for Tokyo Pub Crawl. “We want our pub crawlers to be relaxed and have a good time.”

With events that bring in up to 150 people and arrangements with at least 20 bars and nightclubs in the Roppongi area for discounted drinks, Tokyo Pub Crawl is, without question, the biggest bar hop — and a great way to familiarize yourself with the nightlife in Tokyo.

To break through the initial awkwardness of meeting lots of people for the first time, organizers start each event with a speech and a free shot of tequila. Organizers encourage attendees to talk to each other and make friends by dividing them into teams and giving them activities to join in with, such as a limbo contest or a scavenger hunt. Free drink prizes throughout the night serve as motivation and ensure that everyone present gets drunk as they move from bar to bar, including places such as Propaganda and Backdoor.

The event ends at a nightclub, where people have the option of catching the last train home or staying behind to spend the rest of the night dancing and drinking.

“Our goal at the end of the night is to make you feel like you’re clubbing with 50 friends,” says Andrew. “We want to create the best party possible.”

Tokyo Pub Crawl has grown from a small event to an actual business that keeps people coming back — and plans to expand, with pub crawl events in other areas of Tokyo.

“For me, Tokyo Pub Crawl is the best way to enjoy Tokyo’s nightlife. It’s about going out with friends and meeting new people from all over the world at the same time,” says Rolando Bonilla Pauly, who goes to almost every event. “It has been a great way for me to get to know a lot of excellent bars and clubs around Tokyo that I probably wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

For others, Tokyo Pub Crawl is a place where anyone can feel as if they belong and be themselves.

“I know now where to spend time, have fun, make friends and, better yet, find a group I can call family,” says Kurosawa.

Angela Erika Kubo is a freelance writer and bar lover based in Tokyo. Follow her on Twitter @aekubo.