Shinjuku, a neighborhood where you can have fun in various places
Tokyo’s busiest commercial district of Shinjuku is divided into various areas with their own character. There is the shopping area which attracts the young, the area of soaring office skyscrapers and the pleasure area of cabarets and clubs.
Among them, on a side street a block away from the boulevard lined with showy buildings and department stores next to Hanazono Shrine at Kabukicho 1-chome lies Shinjuku Golden Gai.
When you go past the arched signboard of Golden Gai with its dimly-lit and flickering lights on the evening streets, you enter a different world.
There are a number of alleys which seem more appropriate for cats in an absolutely tiny area lined cheek by jowl with small and narrow places that can only fit 10 people at most. The majority of the places are bars, but there are also ramen shops, kushiage joints and other establishments that can be entered easily. It’s a fact that these tiny holes-in-the-wall are filled with the regulars but there are places that are obsessed about music such as jazz, flamenco and chanson bars along with manga, literature, movie bars and other specialized drinking places in addition to small theaters to make up this eclectic gathering of more than 200 establishments.
Unlike the huge entertainment quarter of Kabukicho, Golden Gai attracts writers and poets, manga artists, film directors and other people of culture, in addition to office workers on their way home who find that bar matching their tastes and enjoy that leisurely drink; the area has that strong image of that second home away from home for adults who know how to have fun. However, perhaps because of the Showa Era boom (1950s) that has been influencing young people recently, those young folks have also been going in and out of Golden Gai as a corner with that nostalgic air of Showa. Getting accustomed to the unique vibe of the area, a new generation of owners setting up shop has risen which has given them the name of Golden Gai’s New Wave.
The history of the area began in 1945 when a black market popped up right after the end of the war as a previous incarnation to Golden Gai. The sellers had been evicted from their old places by the Occupation army and moved to this area. At the same time, people who had been running the stalls in the old red-light district of Shinjuku 2-chome also came over, and the two groups built up the area through their strong efforts. Afterwards, the red-light district was abolished due to anti-prostitution laws, and the neighborhood changed into a district of bars and Japanese-style pubs all crowded together.
Throughout the different times of Japan’s high economic growth, the unprecedented Bubble Era and its crash, and even with the changes in establishments, the shops of Golden Gai have continued to stay lit in those alleys without any sign of shutting down.