Believe it or not, you can do lots of latin dancing in Japan, even zouk! And not just in Tokyo but in various locations in the country. I was excited to visit some other cities beyond Tokyo in my quest to find out how is Japanese zouk and extended my time in Japan a couple days just for that :) Tokyo dance scene information follows right below, scroll down for Osaka and Kyoto!
Burning the floor in Tokyo
I didn't know anything about the Japanese zouk scene but am lucky to have friends around the world who used their contacts to find some places and parties for me! There are in fact a few monthly zouk events where the local dancers gather up. I was in town for the “first Saturday of the month” party, also know as Utage zouk, ar the G-Box dance studio in Ebisu. I arrived there on time, at 8.30pm when the party started. There wasn't a whole lot of people then but soon enough the place filled up and was packed with 30 or more dancers from about 9.30pm onwards!
The Tokyo zoukers seem to be an active group and many of them travel to international congresses. People were (not surprisingly :)) very friendly and everybody there made sure that I was dancing all night! In the middle of the night there was a five minute pause in the music for people to tell about the coming events and at the same time also I was introduced in Japanese by the organisers to everybody in front of the excited crowd. And they were all very eager to hear how I liked the party and Japan! And from my previous glowing report of Tokyo you can imagine I was happy to tell how much I'm enjoying my stay!
Considering the zouk scene is not that big in Japan there were quite a lot experienced dancers, even several ladies that knew how to lead and did so eagerly! And what I really enjoyed was that there was lots of stealing - and if you're not familiar with zouk with that I mean that you in good spirit can go steal another person's dance partner or change partners in the middle of the dance or join a couple! Great group spirit :) I was told that there are more girls than guys in the local scene so perhaps that's why so many of the ladies learn to lead. Soon (too soon) it was already the end of the night - the last song was 4 songs mixed together and you had to change partners after each part. That was a really fun way to end the night! All-in-all I had a fantastic time there and got lots of invitations to join all kinds of other parties!
There are other zouk parties in Tokyo too - but there are also salsa clubs and samba schools in Tokyo! I ran accross one salsa club in Roppongi that has parties every night (as unbelievable as it sounds – you may need to go check it out yourself whether it’s true). I went to have a quick look on my way home on a Friday night and the club was pumping with salsa and bachata music. There was lots of people but it did appear to be a small space. There are lockers outside the club on the corridor. If I would have had more time I'd definitely gone to check it out! Luckily I did have a chance to test the locals salseros and bachteros' skills at a club in Osaka (and they're not bad at all!!). And I hear there are other salsa parties in Tokyo too so I think you won't go without a dance night in Japan!
Below a full listing of the zouk and latin clubs and dance schools I came accross with or was recommended. Most parties end early (11pm) basically because that's the only way people make it home with the last subways and trains. I believe the parties (salsa/bachata) in Roppongi may run later, until 2-4am.
Dance in Tokyo: All you need to know
Zouk parties and socials
2nd Saturday of each month Utage Zouk party at Studio G-Box (2 mins from the East Exit of JR Ebisu Station). The party is 20.30-23.30 (a zouk lesson may take place 19.45-) and entry is 1000¥; BYO drinks/snacks. This is the one I visited - and highly recommend!!
3rd Wednesday of each month Zouk at Club Cactus (1 min from Exit nr 3 of Nogizaka Station). 19.30-20.30 there's a basic lesson and 20.30-21.30 intermediate lesson, party continues until 23.00. No entry fee but lessons are 2000¥ and includes 1 drink.
There are also some zouk & Brazilian parties by Zouk Beleza. If you know Japanese you can check their blog or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mixed latin parties and socials
2nd Friday of each month at Roppingi's Studio Pepe2 there's salsa, zouk, samba de gafieira, and tango 19.00-23.30; lessons before the party. Entry is 2000¥ (includes 2 drink or 1 drink & beginner lesson) and first time visitors & introducers get 300¥ off; students get a further 200¥ off.
Last Sunday of each month with Baile de Domingueira there's samba de gafieira, zouk and forro 13.30-17.00 at Nippori Salud. Entry is 2300¥ and includes 1 drink and food.
Lambateria hosts parties at Salsa Rakia close to Ryogoku Station - check their site for more info (in Japanese).
There are lots of salsa parties in Tokyo - purely salsa or (I believe most often) mixed with bachata. I stumbled accross one salsa & bachata venue in Roppongi. The location: take nr 3 exit of the Roppongi subway station, walk down towards McDonald's and there turn right; look for an Italian restaurant, the salsa club is on the second floor of the building. Fri-Sat entry was 1500¥ (includes a drink) and Sun-Thu was free entry. I was also recommended another location in Roppongi,the Pink Cow - they have salsa parties occasionally.
Learn to zouk in Tokyo
Tokyo samba scene
I met some active samba (no pé) dancers and bateria members in the zouk social - it looks like there's a thriving samba scene as well. G.R.E.S. Alegria samba school has lots of happenings, they appear in carnivals and obviously have samba and bateria lessons. Check their site for more information (in Japanese).
There is also a samba carnival in Tokyo!! The Asakusa Samba Carnival takes the streets of Tokyo fourth Saturday of August every year. Unfortunately last year the tsunamis and the earthquakes cancelled the carnival but this year it's on! That'll be Aug 26th (2012) in Asakusa!! I heard from my local friend Emi that they've been practicing hard every Sunday since July and are looking forward to performing there!
I found lots of videos on Youtube of the previous carnivals (the latest was 2010, which was apparently their 30th anniversary), here's one:
Dancing in Kansai
Una Vida Latina en Osaka
Both Osaka and Kyoto have a zouk scene as well as dancers of other latin & Brazilian dance styles! I had the chance to get to know Lenny Baeza and Mio Takagi who run the Vida Latina latin dance school and club in Osaka - one of the loveliest & funniest couple I've met and they really made sure I got the best out my trip there. I can't wait to meet them again! The zouk scene is still quite young in Osaka but they are doing great pioneer work. Vida Latina runs classes, zouk socials and a latin dance show.
If you want to practice zouk in Osaka you should check out Vida Latina for their class times or go to one of their zouk socials. The zouk party was on Sundays 8-11pm when I was there (entry is 500¥, including one drink) but I see they host a party on Fridays at the moment too. The location is close to the Juso station.
At Vida Latina they also tend to play salsa and bachata in their socials and they do have classes in those styles as well. There are other salsa clubs in Osaka too and Lenny & Mio took me to one close to Namba station & shopping street. The place was packed with salseros and bachateros (ok, more girls than guys) and was fun to try the Japanese salsa & bachata. I noticed there were also a few couples doing rueda (casino)!
Zouk in Kyoto
I only spent only one day in Kyoto (would have loved to stay longer) but I heard they also have a zouk club there, Rumbita. Unfortunately after a long long day of sightseeing and walking around Kyoto for 8 hours I couldn't think about dancing so I didn't go check the club - but I exchanged some messages with Misuzu who runs the place and it indeed is running socials on Mondays. Go check it out if you're in town!