Join The Club

Join The Club

Get a taste of the good life at Tokyo’s exclusive membership clubs


Originally published on on September 2008

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Groucho Marx famously refused to belong to any club that would accept him as a member, but Tokyo’s private clubs are rapidly gaining in both numbers and popularity. While the streets of Jingumae may be littered with cupboard-sized “private” venues, where loyal followers keep a bottle of Scotch with their name on it, the following clubs are swank outposts that diligently safeguard their members’ privacy—not to mention business interests. Even in a credit-crunch economy, these institutions offer unrivalled social and networking opportunities. The only question remains: which one to join first?

City Club of Tokyo


Stepping into City Club of Tokyo, located next to the Canadian Embassy complex on Aoyama Dori, I am immediately greeted by no less than 10 staff members bowing and bidding me welcome. Although it turns out that there’s an embassy function underway, the greeting is indicative of what this club stands for: seamless service and attention to the member’s every need. Were it not for the high proportion of Japanese guests (about 80 percent), one would immediately feel transported to an English country manor: opulent oak panels line many of the rooms, green tapestries and dark brown leather create a cozy yet classic atmosphere, and ornate cream ceilings provide a soft glow from above (far left). Although I’m a nonsmoker, I feel an insurmountable urge to sink into one of the tan leather armchairs by the log fire with a hand-rolled Cuban and one of the many fine Cognacs on offer. Indeed, you could easily while away the hours here, but business is high on the agenda—a key selling point is the club’s 250-odd reciprocal partners worldwide, where business functions can be organized on your behalf. With so many countries represented here, the club showcases cultural treasures from the world over: in October, the focus turns to New Zealand with award-winning chef Martin Bosley creating the luncheon buffet and a number of food and wine events. The club offers a host of Japanese and international dining options and can cater to any type of function, from formal business meeting to wedding party. If you do visit, my advice is to dress to the nines—men’s suits are strictly tailor-made, and I’ve never seen more beautiful women in such awe-inspiring kimonos before or since.

Amenities: Western and Japanese dining; conference facilities; boardroom; club lounge; library

Fees: Various packages are available, but an introduction from another member and invitation by the board is required

Members: High-ranking diplomats; Japanese tycoons; non-Japanese corporate and individual members
7-3-38 Akasaka, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-3401-1121 Nearest stn: Aoyama-Itchome.

Tokyo American Club

Tokyo American Club

Tokyo American Club has enjoyed a loyal following since its founding in 1928; many prospective Tokyo expats insist on corporate membership as part of their package. Despite the name, membership is split equally between US citizens, other expatriates and Japanese. The club has a relaxed, family feel, with weekends by the pool a big draw in warm weather. With its full recreational, business and educational facilities (anything from ikebana to reiki), not to mention an active women’s group and kids’ activities, this is a home away from home, a safe haven in foreign territories. Club members want for nothing: they have their own magazine and an Easter egg hunt, and Christmas dinners with stage shows sell out annually. Need some takeout? Forget Domino’s—TAC has a food delivery service for its members. There are even onsite cobblers, a shipping counter and a concierge service . But if the club is good now, the launch of the new Azabudai complex in 2010 will catapult it into a new league, with seven deluxe guestrooms for weary members or guests from one of the many reciprocal clubs worldwide. Where do I sign?

Amenities: Restaurants for every occasion; outdoor heated pool; spa; gym; squash courts; library; conference facilities; function rooms; educational and fitness classes for children and adults

Fees: Vary, but single resident entrance fee is ¥2,200,000, with a ¥200,000 refundable deposit and ¥20,000 monthly charge. Membership is granted only after a recommendation and interview

Members: The off-duty chinos and polo shirt brigade, though formal functions call for suitable attire

4-25-46 Takanawa, Minato-ku. Tel (membership office): 03-4588-0687. Nearest stn: Shinagawa.

Dunhill’s Tokyo

Dunhill's Tokyo

Dunhill’s Ginza store is part of a pioneering brand of international clubs that the retailer has recently launched in London and Tokyo, with Shanghai soon to follow. The “Homes,” as they are termed, represent the quintessential English gentlemen’s club. When Dunhill’s Bourdon House location opened to much fanfare at the end of August in London, some of the facilities were available only to private members. The concept here in Tokyo is the same, but with customers in Asia less familiar with the notion of private clubs, the Ginza facility remains open to all for now, with private rooms eventually to be offered to Dunhill’s best customers and guests. Stretching across three floors and emulating a Cabinet de Curiosité, the club is suffused with an inviting glow at nighttime. The lower floor has a retail space featuring menswear, accessories, watches and other luxury goods, while the second offers a tailoring service, an old-fashioned barber and a chic cocktail bar dubbed The Aquarium. Up on the third floor, the main lounge and dining area has until now been one of the best kept secrets in Ginza—a calm, relaxing space above the madding crowds, where you can enjoy a glass of champagne or hearty English meal while browsing the many art, style and travel books. Even the abomination of a TV in the hearth displaying a roaring fire seemed curiously inviting on the rainy Saturday afternoon that I visited. This may be as close to England as you’ll get in Tokyo.

Amenities: Restaurant; lounge bar; study; tailor—and a barber to boot

Fees: Free access (for now)

Members: Dunhill’s customers and savvy Ginza shoppers

2-6-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku. Tel: 03-3562-1680. Nearest stn: Ginza, exit A9, or Ginza-Itchome, exit 8.

Black List Tokyo

Black List Tokyo

Frenchmen Beno and Cedric’s now legendary Black List parties are the hottest ticket in town. Each month, this moveable feast pitches up at a new, classy club, with a fun and exclusive party crowd grooving to European-influenced dance music. The 2,500 members—about 1,000 of whom attend most events—are a mix of Japanese and Westerners, and most have an international background and outlook. Although free, membership is granted only after introduction from another member, and a recent surge in popularity means there’s a waiting list. The founders’ basic notion is laudable: getting all their friends and friends of friends together. Members of the Black List club are no wallflowers—the crowd is made up of attractive, fashion-forward revelers looking for fun, friends and the odd flirtation. This is a fantastic place to meet likeminded, upwardly mobile people. Champagne and conversation flow, while professional dancers cavort on stage to tunes last heard in the top clubs of Paris and Ibiza. There may be reasons not to like Black List parties or their concept, but this reporter had so much fun, she can’t think of (or remember) any…

Amenities: Über-cool club night at hip Tokyo nightspots

Fees: Free

Members: 20- and 30-something professionals; arty types

See the for details.

Roppongi Hills Club

For those who want to move up in the world, there’s no better vantage point than the Roppongi Hills Club, on the 51st floor of the Mori Tower. Of course, the 360-degree panorama of Tokyo’s twinkling skyline is often the last thing on the minds of the jet setters who comprise the membership. With more restaurants than you could shake a (chop) stick at (seven, if you insist) and considerable banqueting and conference spaces, this club is bound to impress. The Fifty-One restaurant and bar, with views over Tokyo Bay and Tokyo Tower, is the focal point of the club and the first lounge you see upon entering. Members receive a number of incentives, including a complimentary birthday dinner and invitation to the annual members’ party, as well as a host of other events organized by the club. But in reality, this is a place to see and be seen. On the occasion of my visit, I was joined by—among others—the man behind the tower himself, a leading European prime minister who was in Japan ahead of the G8 Summit and, not least, a posse of Miss Universe Japan ladies. The RH Club is incredibly particular about maintaining the privacy of its members, and with a guest list like this, you can see why. For Akasaka residents, the Ark Hills Club, also part of the Mori group, offers similar facilities closer to hand, and will soon celebrating its 10-year anniversary with a party and reduced fees.

Amenities: Japanese and international restaurants and bars; conference facilities—and the best view in town
Fees (individual membership):
¥1,260,000 initial fee, plus ¥500,000 deposit and ¥189,000/year
Members: Think Dynasty comes to Tokyo—an equal mix of elegance and power presides
51F Mori Tower, Roppongi Hills, 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku. Tel (membership dept): 03-6406-6060. Nearest stn: Roppongi. Ark Hills Club: 03-5562-8201.



Gaining access to BeltaSalone is something of a James Bond experience: on arrival, members present their right index finger for scanning and, assuming they haven’t singed their fingers while lighting a cigarette anytime recently, the doors magically open. Once inside this basement club, you’re struck by a heady scent of fresh lilies from the centerpiece, the glitzy crystal chandeliers, and the warm tones of rich purples and red velvets. You are then escorted by one of the elegant staff to the room of your choice: there are six golf and karaoke spaces to choose from, along with an “air capsule room” for those feeling depleted in the oxygen department—which may well happen when you get the ¥35,000 per hour bill for rental of the deluxe “King” room. More reasonable are the “Golfzon” parlors at ¥5,000-¥15,000 per hour, depending on the time of day your golf/karaoke urge strikes. But this is no ordinary karaoke experience: the moodily lit rooms are more reminiscent of the lounge in a 5-star hotel’s penthouse suite. It comes as no surprise that BeltaSalone offers both tailor-made birthday and wedding packages, although the latter would surely lead to early onset golf widowship. The club provides a personal caddy and enables you to play the world’s top courses via the virtual golf screens—all the while sipping a glass of Dom Pérignon, of course.

Amenities: Opulent bar; state-of-the-art karaoke facilities; virtual golf

Fees: Free membership after registration

Members: Business crowd with a substantial expense account; high-net-worth individuals

5-16-50 Roppongi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5575-3450. Nearest stn: Roppongi. For further details, contact