Posts Tagged ‘Drinking’

Tokyo Nightlife: The Golden Gai

Posted 14 Apr 2010 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Entertainment, Only in Japan, Tokyo, Travel

Western television reports about Tokyo tend to focus on the ultra-modern. There will, almost without exception, be shots of Shibuya’s Hachiko crossing (above), kids dressed in epileptic-fit inducing outfits and random commuter trains zipping past a neon background. A few finishing touches are applied (the occasional fancy edit and pumping electronic backing track – preferably by Orbital) and Bob’s your uncle, Toe-key-oh!

Of course, there’s more to Tokyo than techno-wallabies, Akihabara uber-nerds, passive-aggressive identikit salarymen and whale-smoking, dolphin-slapping karaoke hostess bars. Before the Americans bombed the living daylights out of it Tokyo was an intriguing mix of ramshackle streets and wooden buildings; buildings that even then struggled to hold out against the changes that modernisation brought to the country. After the war, a few Soweto-like areas that weren’t burned to cinders became hotspots for black market trading and lady-related sauciness. Shinjuku’s ‘Golden Gai’ was one of them.

Despite the whippet-like pace of change in other entertainment districts the Golden Gai has managed to retain a sense of its old-world charm. The area is home to some 150 bars stacked on and around each other in higgledy-piggledy fashion, linked together by a grid of tiny footpaths and claustrophobic alleyways. In the 1970s it became a popular hangout for artists, writers, musicians and let’s-have-a-revolution-oh-feck-it-I’ll-kill-myself intellectual Yukio Mishima. These days you’ll find it populated by an eclectic mix of old regulars, twenty- and thirty-something white-collar workers and random tourists who read about it in a Lonely Planet travel guide.

Finding a decent bar in the Golden Gai is like a game of Russian roulette, only without the spattering of brains on the wall (Tip: do it on the beach and let the crabs clean up). A lot of places are filled with regulars who like to keep things… well…regular. For this reason you’ll find that most bars charge a fee – typically around JPY1000 – just for the exalted privilege of entering. It’s the kind of twattish bag-of-wank practice that makes bar-hopping a bit of a non-starter, but if you’re feeling flush and fancy something different then forget about the price and get stuck in. After all, you only live once… apart from my mate Cecil: he’s on his fourth life. The government know about it, but it’s all kept very hush-hush.

If you really do need to reign in the expenses then it’s Imperative (yep, with a capital “I”) that you apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:

  1. Stick your head through a promising-looking door.
  2. Ask the barman/barmaid how much it’ll cost you to drink there.
  3. Scan the bar and weigh up the clientele. Do they look like the kind of people you want to drink with? (Remember: these bars are the size of a garden shed, and conversation is INEVITABLE.) Is there the possibility of something interesting happening? Kabuki theatre performed by a cete of impeccably-groomed badgers, for example?
  4. Apply the Golden Gai Coefficient:
    Cost ≤ Entertainment Value = Enter the bar (c≤ev=e)
    Cost > Entertainment Value = Leg it (c>ev=l)
  5. If you’re with your mates you’ll have to pool your calculations and put it to a vote. (Adopt first-past-the-post voting methods: don’t try to seek consensus on the issue, otherwise you’ll end up walking around for hours on end.)

Finding the Golden Gai is as easy as slipping on a wet bathroom floor and smashing your head open. Come out of Shinjuku station’s Kabukicho Exit and walk straight down (and I mean down as in the street that slopes slightly downwards) until you get to Yasukuni Dori. You’ll know you’re on Yasukuni Dori when you see this:


View Untitled in a larger map

Head up Yasukuni Dori for about five minutes. Both sides of the street are packed with shops and restaurants. After a few minutes you’ll spot a Mr Donuts (a cafe, not an actual man that looks like a doughnut) on the left-hand side. To the right of Mr Donuts is a small footpath shrouded by trees and the homeless. This, laydees and gentlemice, is the gateway to the Golden Gai. Only the penitent man will pass, so don’t forget to kneel when you hear the buzzing of circular saws coming out of the walls. Here it is on a map:


View Golden Gai, Shinjuku in a larger map

The best time to visit the Golden Gai is Friday or Saturday nights, preferably after 10pm, and after you’ve already had a few drinkypoos. If you’re thinking about getting a late-night train back to your home/hotel, forget it: accept the fact that you’ll be out until 5am (when the first trains start running) or paying for a taxi and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more.

Organic Japanese Beer

Posted 26 May 2009 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Photography, Shopping in Japan, Tokyo

The LOHAS movement is a big deal in Tokyo, especially among the young, well-heeled Nakameguro set. Although it seems that many people view it more as a fashion statement than a “lifestyle of health and sustainability”, plenty of companies have realised that serious money can be made by going organic. Thankfully, this also includes breweries:

The verdict: A little bit on the bitter side but worth a try. However, for this kind of money (about ¥300 a can) I think I’ll stick to Suntory’s Premium Malts.

Hitting the izakaya

Posted 25 Aug 2006 — by Andy in Tokyo
Category Only in Japan, Tokyo

These days drinking is painful. Admittedly, for me it’s always been painful, and my morning-after hangover became something of a legend in my uni days. But now it takes me, on average, three million years to fully recover.

Last night then, I met up with some of my students for a drinking “party”. I’m not sure if calling it a party is really justified, but my students all seemed to think so, so I’ll let it stand. We had a two hour all-you-can-drink reservation at one of my local izakayas. Can you imagine a pub back home doing the same kind of thing? Nope, didn’t think so; there’d be no booze left after the first hour. I’ve been party to an all-you-can-drink session with my fellow Brits on several occasions since I’ve been here, and I am proud to say the system was well and truly abused. Nice!

Japanese people – the salaryman hardcore excluded – are pretty light drinkers on the whole, so one beer left half of my students looking somewhat… radient, about the face. My Japanese has suffered a relapse since coming back, but a few drinks seemed to help loads, and we had no awkward silences (which happens a LOT here. If awkward silences turn you on, then this is the place for you). I always feel responsible for them, seeing as they’re my students, but thankfully no one spewed over the table or collapsed in the toilet (that’s usually my job anyway). After we got chucked out of the izakaya we went for a wander down to the park – suprisingly busy considering it was 10pm, I suspect there were a lot more “couplings” going behind the trees an’ all – they all went off to do karaoke, but as I didn’t want to incur the wrath of my wife I sauntered home through the back streets.

Today I’ve not been feeling to great, for obvious reasons, but had some stuff to do around the shops and hauled my carcass out of bed and into town. I happened to be walking behind a seemingly ordinary, middle-aged man on my way towards the station. He was carrying two large carriers from an expensive import foods supermarket. “Maybe he’s going to cook sommat special for his wife tonight?”, I thought. But then, without any word of warning, he makes a sideways glance at an innocent, unsuspecting vending machine and… kicks the living shit out of it! It was the kind of sudden, unexpected outburst of rage that leaves your brain saying to itself “err… I have no prior information on how to handle this situation, so you’ll just have to stand there and look gormless”. Which is exactly what I did.

Luckily, the lunatic didn’t spot me, or maybe he did but couldn’t give a toss. Anyway, rather than finding another, less dangerous route to the station, I thought I’d keep following and see if anything else happened. No less than two more vending machines got the kicking treatment before I lost sight of him. God knows how many electrcial appliances will die by his hands tonight.