Highlights from Tokyo: Golden Gai

In the chaos of post-World War II Tokyo, Golden Gai was born in Shinjuku, the city’s entertainment district. Several narrow streets in a block are crammed with tiny bars, stacked on top of each other, with few holding more than 8 people each. Each bar has a distinct vibe, whether it’s a preferred music choice (we mostly saw jazz, blues or rock) or style of dressing, and there’s always live music or the much loved karaoke to find in one. It’s a rare gem in Shinjuku in that not all the bars are targeting tourists, and in fact you may be turned away from some as they are for regulars only. Golden Gai is all about good conversations over a glass of sake, so expect to be asked for your best story and hear some fantastic tales yourself in the few bars where English is spoken. Otherwise, sit tight and enjoy observing the evening unfolding before you. The bars close as and when the barman gets bored, which could be all night or early on. You have to pay a cover charge for entry to most of the bars, which covers the snacks (usually yakitori and pickles) served throughout the night. As ever, alcohol in Japan is expensive, but Golden Gai is worth a wander even if you don’t partake.

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