Amid the towering buildings and flashing lights of Eastern Shinjuku lies a small block of narrow streets and tiny shop fronts. This is Shinjuku Golden Gai (Golden Street), an assortment of miniature bars some no larger than a few square meters.
Each of the many establishments features its own theme and decor both inside and out. Themes range from styles based on music genres such as punk rock and jazz to those focused on a central element like leopard print or a soft orange glow. One of the newer establishments even has an American diner design.
Stairs leading to Diner 5 Gallons
Behind the main streets and larger establishments, Golden Gai is easy to overlook. The intimate atmosphere exists in stark contrast to the major metropolis it is tucked away in. Yasukuni Dori, a high traffic street surrounded by tall buildings and glittering lights, borders Kabukicho just outside of the village’s boundaries.
Yasukuni Dori on the edge of Kabukicho
A quiet side entrance
Many of the establishments have a cover charge which can range from as little as 300 yen to as much as 2000. In most cases that charge will get you a small dish to go with your drinks. Those familiar with izakayas (a kind of Japanese bar) will recognize this fairly common practice called otoshi in Japanese.
A cover charge scrawled on a door
While there are places that have no cover fee, there are also those that refuse service to non-Japanese speakers. If not written on a sign you may find out soon enough when a bartender claims there is no space available in his empty bar. Fortunately, there are plenty that will cater to foreigners and are happy to do so. I recommend finding a place that interests you and taking a chance. And if it doesn’t work out, there are around 200 other tiny doors you can walk through.
1 Chome Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0021
Article by: Dennis Owen Dugan
Photos by: Dennis Owen Dugan