"Is it always this crowded?" I ask a happi-coat-clad clerk at the Meishu Center sake shop in Hamamatsucho, as she pours me three glasses of sake from hefty, 1.5-liter isshōbin bottles.

"Well, it depends on the day, but Friday nights are usually busy," she answers, before adding, "It gets even more packed later."

Squeezing closer to my drinking companion to make room for another customer at the standing-only bar, I glance at the clock on the wall. It's only 6:15 p.m.