Tokyo Shinjuku Golden-gai – a gem from the past

Shinjuku may be a mecca for shopping. Something like almost four million people use Shinjuku Station every day. That’s the population of a small country! Go to any of the huge electronics stores, and you’ll find it’s packed almost any time of the day. People visit Shinjuku from all corners of the globe, and you’ll hear more languages spoken than you knew existed. There’s just no end to the flow of people.

Shinjuku is really about shopping, shopping and shopping. But also eating, drinking and entertainment. My personal favorite in Shinjuku has always been a “block” called Golden-gai, located just behind Hanazono Shrine.

Golden-gai is actually very small, and you probably won’t find it, unless you know exactly where to look. Since it doesn’t border to any major street, being just off Meiji Dori and Yasukuni Dori, it’s easy to miss. Also, since all the buildings are no more than two, or maximum three stories tall, there is no landmark visible from the outside.

Something for everybody

I still remember clearly the first time I entered Golden-gai many years ago. This was long before it gained international fame, and most tourists probably didn’t even know of its existence. I was killing time before a late afternoon meeting, and I was taking a walk around Hanazono Shrine. This is the place where business people go to pray for profit and good fortune. As I walked down the stairs at the back of the shrine, I literally stumbled upon Golden-gai. It was just when the street lights were being switched on, and the shop keepers were getting ready to open. It still looked a bit sleepy I thought, with hardly any people around yet.

I had only a quick walk around, but immediately got hooked, and decided to return after my meeting to explore more. I was amazed by the place! Each building is usually only a couple of meters wide maximum, and there is a separate tenant on the second floor. There must be at least a couple of hundred different bars, restaurants, mini-clubs and karaoke joints in Golden-gai. And they are all unique…and I mean really unique! No matter what your particular taste in food, drinks, music or whatever, you’re likely to find your oasis in Golden-gai.

Always more to explore

I’ve been to Golden-gai many times since, but I’ve still only scratched a bit on the surface. It has an interesting history of resilience too, having survived decades of urban redevelopments all around the area. I love how the seemingly friendly competition makes Golden-gai reinvent itself, and it always stays interesting. It’s very artsy and full of “themes” you won’t easily find anywhere else. There is always a new place that will grab your fancy. You hardly ever see any vacant spaces either, other than for refurbishment for new tenants.

It’s also a favorite spot for photographers. You’ll see them all times of day and night as they try to find just the right angle and light to catch some particularly charming building.

For anyone who’s in Shinjuku not only for the shopping, I would definitely recommend a quick visit to Golden-gai. It’s a grid of really narrow streets, but since it’s so compact, you can easily cover it in an hour or less.

Please also check out my other posts about Shibuya, Nakameguro and Ginza.

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