Saturday night I visited Golden Gai for the first time with some friends (Jo, Sarah and Helen (currently blogless)). This somewhat infamous district adjoins Kabuki-Cho (Shinjuku's redlight district) so I had visions of it being some sleazy fleapit zone full of the usual big-haired touts and neon signs. What a pleasant surprise it turned out to be.
But for those independent spirits who prefer a little nostalgia and idiosyncrasy with their Kirin and cashew nuts, there is only one place to go: the defiantly ramshackle warren of drinking dens known as Golden-gai.
These alleys of shoddy two-storey buildings in Shinjuku house 200 bars, one "police box", a Shinto shrine and a motley population of mama-sans, transvestites, former prostitutes and 60s radicals.
It is vintage post-war Tokyo in all its cramped, chaotic glory. The bars - most of them big enough only for a counter and a dozen or so stools - are housed in buildings of wood and corrugated iron thrown up for hookers and pimps during the allied occupation.
Several decades have passed since Golden-gai was primarily a lure to the libido, but the narrow lanes have not entirely lost the feel of a red-light district. When business is slow and the air muggy, the silhouettes of mama-sans (some of whom are actually middle-aged men) can be seen in pink-lit doorways as they fan them selves and listen to scratchy records of Edith Piaf or experimental jazz. [taken from this article in the Foreign Correspondents Club Website]
Golden Gai rocks. It's a gorgeous, quiet little area - a couple of small city blocks, packed with tiny 6 - 8 person cosy, funky little bars. We wandered through the lanes - cutting across blocks through tiny alleys, trying to locate the source of the beautiful incense that was floating in the air. We found it, traipsed into this tiny little cave and happily ordered a round of drinks. Funny that my friends, so eager to find the incense, promptly lit up their cigarettes! Made for some funny pics.
It's been quite cool lately - I've been meeting all these long term Tokyo-based westerners, they are all great people and I'm realising more and more that this great big megalopolis is actually a really small town where everyone seems to know each other - or at least, know OF each other. I've heard a few times now, "Oh, yes, I read your blog, [insert random Tokyo based blog owners name] links to it... - you do photos, don't you."
In other news, I have started my work as Sekiden's Japan Manager, and have set up my first round of meetings with their publisher Hotwire and label Syft. The guy from Hotwire, Keith Cahoon, is gonna be really interesting - he was the founder of Tower Records, Japan, and has a long history in the Music world.
Still feeling quite shell-shocked about Sundays revelations. A most unexpected turn of events. I want to thank all of you for your emails and comments, especially Kat who has offered me her place for 2 weeks while she's in the States with Darin.frangipani wrote this on May 24, 2005 10:46 AM