Golden Gai is one of the hidden treasures, rich in heritage and one of the few places in Tokyo where you can get a feel to how the city’s entertainment districts felt decades ago.
Golden Gai is a network of six very narrow alleys all connected and lined with small bars, clubs and tiny cafes. There are some two hundred establishments and some only can hold four or five customers at any one time. Many consist of a small bar not bigger than a bedroom in a normal house, on the ground level and very cramped living quarters on the second level accessible by a nearly vertical set of stairs.
The area was known as a major red light district before prostitution became illegal in 1958, now the area specialises in a place for a few beers or sake and bite to eat. Today due to the size of many of the establishments they are fairly private and really only cater for regulars, as there is just no room for visitors. You might be lucky enough to find a venue that can fit you in, look out for English signs; they are usually a good giveaway if the proprietor welcomes visitors.
Many of the bars operate with a theme you will see bars specialising in a variety of musical styles including classic rock, R&B, country and western plus the ever popular karaoke. Some of the smaller venues have a TV that is also the family TV, so the experience can be like being in someone’s house.
There were many areas around Tokyo similar to Golden Gai but most of them have fallen victim to development projects that have swallowed up their land. Luckily Golden Gai survived and now many people understand the importance and the heritage values of this unique area and hopefully it will see some form of protection in years to come.
The Golden Gai area is fairly quiet during the day; many of the establishments do not open until 9:00 PM or even later. It can be found to the east end of Kabukicho between the Shinjuku Ward office and Hanazono Shrine.