As a Glaswegian with Irish heritage and a fervent drinker of Ireland’s national drink, I thought it was about time, in terms of civic duty, of course, that we hunted down the best pint of the black stuff that our fair city has to offer. Now, to be honest, there aren’t that many good pints to be found here but, thankfully, there are a few joints that serve up a great Guinness. I decided to rope in fellow TW writers and fans of Guinness to see what we could come up with as a wee team of crackpot drinkers. Matthew Hernon, although technically an Englishman, has Irish parents and David McElhinney is a bona fide Belfastian, so what could go wrong?

It’s a truly sad day when a city the sheer size of Tokyo and nearby areas such as Yokohama and Chiba can’t play host to a chain of decent Irish pubs. The late great Dubliners chain has unfortunately ceased trading, as of the end of 2022, and we are truly bereft of good drinking spots regarding Guinness. The Dubliners Shinjuku branch had a good solid pint, poured at an angle, dutifully rested for a minute or two then finished off with, more often than not, the correct size of creamy head.

Now, I should say that this article was inspired by the brilliant YouTuber The Guinness Guru, a young Irish lad who makes it his duty to traverse Ireland, UK, Europe and the States, in search of the perfect pint and marks each watering hole out of ten. So far, the best pint of Guinness to be found is at Dublin’s John Kavanagh, or The Gravediggers as it’s known, with a score in the 9’s. Several other Dublin pubs run it close, including Tom Kennedy’s and The Cobblestone.

Photo by VanderWolf Images via Shutterstock

A Brief History

Before we get into the best bars in the Japanese capital, a bit about the history of Guinness in Japan. According to BeerAdvocate, “As Jeffrey W. Alexander notes in his book Brewed in Japan: The Evolution of the Japanese Beer Industry, Japan began importing Guinness as early as 1868, the same year that the country’s last shogunate dissolved.”

From 1964 to 2008, Guinness was sold in Japan under the umbrella of Sapporo Breweries Ltd. From 2008 onwards, the pleasure of importing and distributing the world-changing stout has gone to Japanese brewing giant Kirin Brewery Co.

According to The Guinness Guru, the things to look out for in a decent pint are temperature (not too cold or too warm), it should ideally be served in a proper old-school Guinness glass and use the famous two-part pour to create the perfect domed pint. The head of the drink should be slightly risen to create this dome effect and have “schtick” which, according to the Urban Dictionary is, “The creamy foam that clings to the side of the glass as the level of a pint of Guinness Stout goes down.”

Paul’s Picks

The Hobgoblin (Shibuya)

I was genuinely surprised by the pint of Guinness here. I came in on a post-hanami sesh and ordered a pint. Decent head, not too cold, and it had a lovely deep taste and decent schtick. But the price was a hefty ¥1,200 so it should be good.

Abbot’s Choice (Various locations)

Not outstanding by any means, but a decent pint can be had at Abbot’s Choice in Roppongi, Shinjuku and a few other of its locations around the city. Usually busy but with a loyal clientele, Abbot’s Choice is a reliable boozer. Guinness is adequately priced and served at a decent temperature.

Photo by PrestonKaleMiller via Shutterstock

David’s Picks

When I first moved to Japan in January 2018, I promised myself I’d give it time before I went on the hunt for an Irish bar. Then February arrived, and I caved. Not because I’m a philistine who’d grown tired of hot sake and crisp Japanese lagers within a matter of weeks, but out of necessity. The Six Nations — Europe’s annual international rugby tournament — had kicked off and my VPN was proving useless, so I sought refuge in one of the few places I was sure would be showing the Ireland game.

Now, I won’t defame the pub in question here, but rather advise you to proceed with caution in Ueno. The Guinness tasted like toilet water and the staff gave me a glazed look when I asked why the rugby wasn’t on the TV. They were quite unsure it was a sport to begin with, in fact, and instead bid me to watch the Winter Olympics curling — that sport with which Ireland is synonymous, no?

Then I found Brennan’s Irish Bar.

Brennan’s Irish Bar (Matsudo)

My first, and I’m sad to say only, foray into Brennan’s Irish Bar came during a last-ditch attempt to salvage a Tinder date, which, if I recall correctly, had reduced itself to wheezing embers. The date took place at a cinema in Matsudo, where I was living at the time, and Brennan’s Irish Bar, surprisingly, was one of Google’s recommended nearby spots to have a drink. After the movie, we took a train into Japanese suburbia, convinced the map was misleading us, only to see a sign amid the tiled roofs and jumble of telephone wires depicting a mid-jig, ginger-mohawked leprechaun swilling Guinness and smoking a pipe. Evidently, we’d found our spot.

Long after my date had departed, I was still sitting with the eponymous Limerick-born bartender, Liam Brennan, receiving the benefit of his wisdom. He was an enigmatic character, and like all good Irish bartenders, excelled at chewing the rag and keeping his patrons – i.e., me – happy and drinking. To this day, it’s one of the finest pints of Guinness I’ve had in Japan; thick and creamy, room temperature, and plenty of schtick. Were the pub not hidden in the depths of residential Chiba, I’d have gone back by now. And as I now recall this rather fond memory, it makes me think I just might.

An Sólás (Shibuya)

An Sólás, whose name translates to “comfort or solace” in the Gaelic language, is well-known amongst Tokyo’s Irish diaspora. And it is, I believe, the only Irish bar in the capital run by an Irishman. This means you don’t encounter the oddities of American-or -Japanese-owned Irish pubs, like Guinness-based cocktails; a drink called an Irish Trash Can (for a start, we’d call it a “bin”); or North American colloquial entreaties on the walls, such as “Let’s Get Wasted!”

Now, I’m sure I have been to An Sólás plenty of times over the past five or so years, but the first time I can remember being fairly compos mentis there was last spring when I interviewed the bar’s proprietor, the congenial Will Ryan, for The Japan Times. During our conversation, we drank more pints of Guinness than is advisable at midday, but that’s partly because the stout was so tasty. I asked Ryan why that was, and he debunked one of the major Guinness myths. Legend has it that Guinness made with Irish water tastes better, and thus, the further you travel from Dublin, the more the taste of Guinness deteriorates. This, he said, and I’m paraphrasing here, is a load of bollocks. As long as the lines in the tap are clean and the Guinness is being poured frequently enough to prevent the buildup of residue and contaminants inside, the stout should taste as intended. Of course, it still needs to be poured correctly, but you’re in no danger of encountering Guinness novices behind the An Sólás bar counter.

For further information on what makes a good Guinness, I refer you to the Guinness Draught Quality Standards.

Matthew’s Picks

For a change of scenery this year, I decided to swerve the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities in Omotesando and Yoyogi and instead opted for the more serene environment of Motomachi shopping street in Yokohama. Significantly less crowded, it was immediately apparent that the place had much more of a community feel to it than its Tokyo counterpart. Surrounded by a sea of green, it was a great way to spend the afternoon. The only problem was the fact that there weren’t any stalls serving Guinness. Fortunately, though, we didn’t have to go far to find a place that was.

Laser Rush (Yokohama)

Located just around the corner from the shopping street is Laser Rush, a quaint bar with an inviting atmosphere that’s celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Known as Motomachi’s original international pub, the affable owners, Ryo and Pauline, as well as the regulars, go out of their way to make sure everyone feels welcome. There’s a terrific selection of drinks, though it’s Laser’s smooth and creamy Guinness that stands out and is most frequently ordered by locals.

Served at room temperature with a proper amount of foam head, it’s a very pleasant pint of the black stuff (that apparently isn’t actually black, but ruby red), which goes down very well with the traditional pub grub. Though the menu is constantly changing, it usually features dishes that you’d usually find back in the UK and Ireland, such as bangers and mash and a Sunday roast (plus colcannon on Saint Patrick’s Day). The portions are big too. Guinness, gravy and sport on the TV, a couple of hours at Laser sometimes feels like I’ve been transported home.

Written by Paul McInnes, David McElhinney and Matthew Hernon.