Whilst having a drink and having time to kill mid-afternoon in Tokyo, I spotted Golden Gai in our guidebook – ‘dating from just after World War II, these bars are popular with local office workers, writers, sumo wrestlers and cross dressers’.
We found 6 narrow, pedestrian only alleys running parallel to each other and connected by even narrower passages, where only one slim person could pass at a time.
The tiny ramshackle bars on either side were only one floor high and the doorways and buildings were narrow. The book explained that ‘through some combination of luck and stubbornness, it hasn’t been bulldozed and redeveloped’ – it was after all surrounded by tall modern buildings.
Most of the doors had white polystyrene cool boxes outside with a bottle of water on top to weight the lid down – we didn’t discover what was in them and daren’t peek inside.
The bars, over 200 of them, hold between five and thirty people and each had its own look and advertised themselves with an eclectic mix of artwork and logos – ranging from cats and acoustic guitars to painted lips and nudes.
Most now accept visitors now, but some still only welcome regular customers or you need an introduction. Those with price lists outside were meant to be more tourist friendly and most had a cover charge of ¥1,000 and had signs saying that it was ¥500 to ¥800 per drink and said whether food was available and credit cards taken.
During the day there was no one in sight apart from a few delivery men with barrows. We would have loved to have seen it by night but as the bars didn’t open until 9pm or 10pm and we were limited in time, their mysteries remain unexplored.