Shinjuku's Golden Gai, a living testimony of post-war Japan

25 Nov 2019

Now a very famous island of Shinjuku district, between the fancy boutiques of San-Chome and the wild district of Kabukicho, the Golden Gai is a remnant of a post-war Tokyo, before the frantic economic miracle that originated most of the buildings that we can now see in Shinjuku. Indeed, at a time when Japan is at its worst, just after the war defeat, is created what may look like a slum in which will soon develop black market and prostitution. When the latter was made illegal in 1958, the district began its evolution towards what it is today: a warm and lively area full of hidden bars.
View of the Golden Gai, at day time ©てらたにこういち underlicense CC 3.0
Even though the district has become quite touristy nowadays, it does not lose its unique identity. Indeed, most of the bars only have room for around 10 people (sometimes even less), and each of them have their mama-san (owner and barman) who will know how to make you talk until the end of the night. If some of them, because of the increasing number of tourists, offer menus in English, it is far from being the case for all, and you will certainly order your drink on the advice of the bartender.
One of the widest streets of the area ©Stephen Kelly under CC 2.0 license
If the neighborhood has experienced many crisis, the worst was certainly its fight against being eradicated during the 80s. At this time, the Japanese economy is booming, and the few old buildings that have not been destroyed by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 or by the bombings of the Second World War are being torn down by the madness of the real estate constructions typical of the 80s and 70s. But the location of the district, in the heart of Shinjuku, makes it a real gold mine for developers who obviously want to take advantage of it. The Golden Gai's owners and customers being very attached to their neighborhood and its atmosphere, they decided to create an association to preserve the neighborhood, which will generate many tensions, including several suspicious fires, threats, etc. But that will result in a victory for the owners who will not capitulate, but also a victory for us as it is thanks to their actions that we can still enjoy this exceptional neighborhood!

©Rubber Soul sous licence CC

In perpetual change, with several bars being taken over by the new generation, the district attracts the bunkajin, ie the personalities of the world of culture, for several decades now. Thus, it is not uncommon to meet actors, directors, writers, and not only Japanese ones. The various bars often have a specialty, there are jazz bars, Latin atmosphere, film fan settings, ... While searching well, no doubt that you will end up face to face with your own passion, in Japan, in a bar, in front of strangers: a beautiful moment in perspective...

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