Harajuku’s Takeshita Street plays to the old adage that variety is the spice of life. The same could be said of Shinjuku, the pulsing heart of Tokyo. When you think of Tokyo, Shinjuku is probably what you imagine: Neon lights, vast crowd and tall buildings
Shinjuku really is one of the most vibrant areas of Tokyo, as is Golden Gai, a collection of mismatched, tumbledown bars that line alleyways in a darkened corner of the district.
While surrounding areas have been commercialised and developed, Golden Gai has a certain charm and remains untouched. It is dwarfed by high-rise buildings and is described as a “tiny fragment of old Tokyo”, a much-loved and revered area that didn’t burn down during war-time raids or fall down when the city experienced earthquakes. Instead, Golden Gai lures you in because it’s not what you expect from shiny Tokyo. Rather, it’s worlds apart.
Golden Gai is made up of six alleys, tightly packed with independent bars, and half the experience is wandering through. Each small entrance is completely individual, covered in stickers, pristine and painted, or aged and battered, and with many of the buildings housing more than one bar, the steep staircases can lead to the completely unexpected.
There are more than 200 bars to choose from and knowing where to start is easier said than done. You may want to take a couple of things into consideration though: Some bars do have signs saying “no foreigners”, “no tourists” or “regulars only”, which is their right, I’m told. Take notice of the signs and choose somewhere more welcoming but with all that Tokyo has to offer in terms of food, drink, culture and hospitality, there’s no need to worry; you’ll never be short of alternatives.