A guide to the Golden Gai in Tokyo

When travelling to Toyko, there’s an abundance of activities that you can get up to and plenty of sightseeing. One of those sightseeing spots is the Golden Gai. 

If it’s your first time in Tokyo or you’ve never heard of the Golden Gai before, then this guide will hopefully provide you with some insight into what it is. We’ve also got some dos’ and don’ts worth knowing if you’re visiting it soon.

What is the Golden Gai in Tokyo?

The Golden Gai was something that started back around 1950 when the black market moved from Shinjuku Sation. While there’s been a lot of modernisation in the area of Shinjuku, this is a place that has remained relatively unchanged in its appearance and way of life.

Golden Gai means ‘Golden Block’ in Japanese and is compromised of six alleys. Located in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho red-light district, there are over 200 tightly packed independent bars. The Golden Gai is a unique and exciting location to visit for an authentic Tokyo nightlife experience.

This nightspot has become legendary in its notoriety and typically comes alive from 8 pm. The alleys themselves are narrow and cramped, so it may not be the best for those who get a little claustrophobic. There are many signs all pointing to various establishments and is dim in its appearance, making it a truly unique sight to enjoy.

The dos and don’ts for the Golden Gai in Shinjuku

As with any destination you visit, it’s important that as a tourist, you’re respectful of the surroundings and ways of living. After all, this isn’t your home and it’s important to follow the rules of the culture in place. Here are some dos and don’ts for the Golden Gai in Shinjuku worth noting before going to this area of the city.

Be aware of ‘no tourist’ bars

It may seem a little rude but it’s important not to take offence if you see a sign saying ‘no foreigners’ or ‘no tourists’. This is common in places all over the world and the Golden Gai is included. 

If you live in a capital city yourself, you may be well aware and appreciative of the hassle that comes with tourists from all over the world. While you may disagree with this rule in place, it’s something that you should adhere to. 

These signs will be well displayed for you to notice and if you’re worried you will struggle to find any places for tourists to go – don’t. We’ve got plenty of recommendations that welcome tourists in:

  • Bar Plastic Model – Nostalgic 80s/90s-themed bar full of throwback trinkets.
  • Albatross – A mix of Edwardian and Gothic decor with a roof terrace.
  • Ace’s – Great for first-timers to the Golden Gai and has English-speaking staff.
  • The Open Book – Run by award-winning Japanese novelist Komimasa Tanaka and is a great spot for book lovers.

These bars are extremely small, which means you may find yourself wanting to hop from one place to another.

Consider enlisting the help of a local guide

If you’re someone who is a little nervous about approaching an area like this one, then it could be worth enlisting the help of a local guide. Local guides are great for navigating unexplored areas that may well benefit from the help of an expert in the area.

Hiring a local guide can be helpful for finding the best bars and those bars that you’re allowed into. It can also be helpful when you’re struggling to translate what’s being offered and what you fancy trying. 

Be a conscientious reveller or get chucked out

As you’re going from bar to bar, be mindful of how much you’re drinking. Sure you’re having fun and enjoying your holiday but you should be a conscientious reveller or risk getting chucked out. Those who are running the bars will have no problem with chucking people out who are causing mischief and making other customers uncomfortable.

As this is also a tight alley, you may find the next bars you go to, know about you and refuse entry as a result.

It’s cash-only and there’s a minimum spend

The Golden Gai is a cash-only area and there are minimum spends that are worth being mindful of when you’re ordering. Be sure to take plenty of cash with you as it’s always better to finish the night once you’re ready to go home – not when you’ve run out of yen!

There’s a no photographs rule

Finally, while some people do take photos, there is a no photographs rule. If you’re going to take a picture, do it discreetly and be wary of taking photos with people’s faces in them.

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