The screech of cats scuttling down alleyways. A peel of laughter floating from an unseen open window. An empty staircase leading to a firmly closed door. Golden Gai is no conventional drinking spot – and therein lies its charm. A ramshackle collection of row after row of tiny shanty-style bars in the Shinjuku area that dates back to the post-war period, it has long been a magnet for the city’s more hedonistic nocturnal creatives.
Famously frequented – and snapped – by some of the country’s best photographers (Daido Moriyama among others) as well as artists, writers and directors, the bars are not famous for welcoming foreigners. Nor do they court international publicity. So a few tips: don’t turn up with ten friends – stick to one or two as the bars are tiny. Secondly, be prepared to pay a cover charge. And finally? Be brave when faced with rows of advent calendar style closed doors and just open the first that takes your fancy. You never know where you might end up.