Retro Shinjuku

Pretty quiet, huh?
Don’t be deceived, it’s a very happening place indoors.

THOSE who say “what is essential is hidden to the naked eye” somehow manage to take home the crown, most of the time. Those who unexpectedly find such luck always manage to take home the pot of gold. Maybe, they were treading on a rainbow without even knowing it.

It was the same for me. Not only was my path lit up by the flickering neon lights, I was walking on Roy G. Biv’s arc all along in my “Shinjuku after hours” immersion. Surprises came where I least expected it (oh well, it’s just in every street corner I turn to) and these didn’t come wrapped in bright and dazzling packages.

Finding myself in a seemingly important spot in Shinjuku yet to be identified.
It was the Golden Gai.
Winner!
I knew I was a winner; the smile I wore was showing it (the crown was imaginary). Each spot I found myself in seemed important, but was yet to be named. This new area East of the JR Station was no different.

People were entering an alley devoid of crowds lit up by small overhead signs and disappearing into small shacks. One alley led to another lined with more of these shacks. I got lucky to gaze into the exterior of one through a small open window and saw a couple sipping beer. Were these shanties private residences?

Welcome to the infamous Golden Gai, the little giant in Shinjuku’s huge night entertainment sphere, a prostitution area prior to 1958 before it became illegal. It’s made up of a network of six narrow alleys connected by even narrower lanes wide enough for a single person to pass. Believe it or not, there are two hundred “old-style” Japanese bars, jazz bars, R&B bars, karaoke bars, chanson bars, ramen shops, soba shops and yakitori bars squeezed in six narrow passages making it famous both as a night spot and as an architectural interest.

photo: unmissabletokyo.com

The Golden Gai at night.

photo: unmissabletokyo.com

This is it, the entire bar! This is as big as it can get.

 If entertaining guests successfully in a 10-square-meter area isn’t interesting, I can’t imagine what is.

But this isn’t the architectural aspect the place refers to. The Golden Gai was what Tokyo was years ago. Though development is inevitable and Shinjuku transformed into what it is now, Golden Gai retained its old world character and look – two-storey buildings of little width built side by side along dimly lit alleys, a small bar at street level that can fit five or six, another bar or a tiny flat on the upper level accessible via a steep staircase.

Ramshackle may be the look but don’t be fooled, drinks don’t come cheap in this spot (or cheaper, depending on who’s spending), and the regulars are generally well off- musicians, artists, directors, writers, academics and actors, not to mention prominent cultural figures and celebrities.

This spot comes alive after 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. with some bars only entertaining their regular clients and friends of these regular, and some watering holes will cater to both locals and tourists. Whatever you may fancy- jazz, R&B, Punk Rock – there’s a themed bar you. Or try the next bar and meet a popular “mama” or two. It’s the women who run most of the bars in Golden Gai.

Another jackpot hit. I breezed through the Retro Sinjuku and didn’t exactly stay in the area long. Let’s just say I got curious and this curiosity was rewarded…with gold. Lucky me.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on June 30, 2011.


photo: toekeroekarhu.blogspot.com
Photo: Thor Asmund

Photo: toekeroekarhu.blogspot.com
Love Peace Bar.

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