Drinking in Tokyo: the Golden Gai District

Tokyo Golden Gai

We could hear him from 2 blocks away. He was singing at the top of his lungs, a high-pitched, off-tone drunk voice that had seen better days (or nights). It was 10 in the morning and we were wandering in Golden Gai, Tokyo, a one-of-a-kind neighborhood comprising about 200 miniature bars. Most of them were closed, I guess except for the one from which we could hear hints of the previous night’s karaoke. I couldn’t help but wonder how it was possible to still be singing with such energy, after no doubt sung the night away. We were definitely in Tokyo! A hardcore-partying Tokyo, that is.

Tokyo Golden Gai

We had wandered the tiny alleys of the Golden Gai district the night before, wanting to test bar-hopping the Tokyoite way. It had been a really cool experience, but I had chosen not to take photos and just enjoy the night, so I wanted to come back to photograph the area and see how it looked in daylight.

Golden Gai Tokyo

Tokyo Golden Gai

Golden Gai Tokyo

Tokyo Golden Gai

At night, the Golden Gai is dimly lit, and has a certain sinister look to it. It’s, actually, not at all impressive: a glimpse of Old Tokyo where everything looks run-down and shabby. By day, it is completely dead, except for that karaoke singer and a tiny lady watering her plants. I only took a few snaps, but I think you can quite well sense the gloomy atmosphere in my photos.

Tokyo Golden Gai

The Golden Gai is a fascinating area: difficult to reach, it is tucked away in a residential part of Shinjuku, the glitz neighborhood of Tokyo. For pedestrians only, the six narrow alleys make for a unique space, where the teeny tiny bars (most can seat 6-8 people only) are cramped one on top of the other. Most of them are private, catering only to locals, and some of them ask for a cover charge (between 500 to 1000 yen, 5-10$). The most fascinating aspect of it all is that you never know what is hidden behind the doors. Will it be a Ramones-themed bar, or a cat-themed one?!

La Jetée Golden Gai Tokyo

Good luck if you’re trying to find a bar in particular. Most of them are identified by enigmatic logos or a simple drawing. There is a sort of plan at the area’s entrance, but it seemed to be old and cryptic. The one we absolutely wanted to find was La Jetée, a bar-homage to Chris Marker’s film. The owner, Tomoyo Kawai, a cinephile francophile, opened this now famous bar some 20-odd years ago. It’s now considered a favorite amongst film directors and actors when they visit Tokyo. You might just happen to sit next to Tarantino when you visit, which wasn’t our case, sadly or not.

La jetée
To get there: From the East exit of Shinjuku Station it is a short walk to the Golden Gai’s entrance. It is located between the Shinjuku City Office and the Hanazono Shrine.
For the Chris Marker fans / films buffs, La Jetée has appeared in Wim Wenders Tokyo-Ga, in the following scene:
Chris Marker in Tokyo-Ga

Happy boozing!

 

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