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A Golden Gai alley at night.
Overhead view

Shinjuku Golden Gai (新宿ゴールデン街) is a small area of Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan,[1] famous both as an area of architectural interest and for its nightlife. It is composed of a network of six narrow alleys, connected by even narrower passageways which are just about wide enough for a single person to pass through. Over 200 tiny shanty-style bars, clubs and eateries[2] are squeezed into this area. In this area, shooting photographs and video for commercial purposes on the street is prohibited without permission of the area's business promotion association.[3][4]



Golden Gai is a few minutes walk from the East Exit of Shinjuku Station, between the Shinjuku City Office and the Hanazono Shrine.[5] Its architectural importance is that it provides a view into the relatively recent past of Tokyo, when large parts of the city resembled present-day Golden Gai, particularly in terms of the extremely narrow lanes and the tiny two-story buildings. Nowadays, most of the surrounding area has been redeveloped: The street plans have been changed to create much wider roads and larger building plots, and most of the buildings themselves are now much larger high- or medium- rise developments. This has left Golden Gai as one of a decreasing number of examples of the nature of Tokyo before Japan’s “economic miracle”, that took place in the latter half of the 20th century.

Typically, the buildings are just a few feet wide and are built so close to the ones next door that they nearly touch. Most are two-story, having a small bar at street level and either another bar or a tiny flat upstairs, reached by a steep set of stairs. None of the bars are very large; some are so small that they can only fit five or so customers at one time.[5] The buildings are generally ramshackle, and the alleys are dimly lit, giving the area a very scruffy and run-down appearance. However, Golden Gai is not a cheap place to drink, and the clientele that it attracts is generally well off.

Shinjuku Golden Street Theatre is a tiny theater in one corner of Golden Gai[6] that puts on mainly comedy shows.[5]


Bars in Golden Gai are known in particular for the artistic affinities of their patrons. Golden Gai is well known as a meeting place for musicians, artists, directors, writers, academics and actors, including many celebrities.[2] Many of the bars only welcome regular customers, who initially should be introduced by an existing patron, although many others welcome non-regulars, some even making efforts to attract overseas tourists by displaying signs and price lists in English.[5] Some bartenders are foreign.[7]

Many of the bars have a particular theme, such as jazz, R&B, karaoke, punk rock, or flamenco,[2] and their ramshackle walls are sometimes liberally plastered with movie, film and concert posters. Others cater to customers with a particular interest, such as go, exploitation films, or horse racing.[2] Most of the bars don't open until 9 or 10pm, so the area is very quiet during the day and early evening.[5]


Golden Gai was known for prostitution before 1958, when prostitution became illegal. Since then it has developed as a drinking area, and at least some of the bars can trace their origins back to the 1960s.[2] In the 1980s, many buildings in Tokyo were set on fire by Yakuza, so the land could be bought up by developers,[8] but Golden Gai survived because some of its supporters took turns to guard the area at night.[8]



  1. ^ Poitras, Gilles. "A golden day". Newtype USA. 7 (2) p. 28. February 2008. ISSN 1541-4817.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Old-world left in a Big City, Shinjuku’s Golden-gai" Archived 2010-11-23 at the Wayback Machine. Hiragana Times. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  3. ^ "撮影について――申請が必要です。", 新宿三光商店街振興組合 公式HP 新宿ゴールデン街.jp, 新宿三光商店街振興組合.
  4. ^ "撮影に関して", ゴールデン街とは|ザ・ゴールデン街 Archived 2016-02-09 at the Wayback Machine, UNI.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Golden Gai". Unmissable Tokyo .com. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  6. ^ Tokyojon. "Shinjuku Golden Gai". Tokyo.Japan Times. March 24, 2010. Retrieved June 14, 2010.
  7. ^ Celia Knox, The Tokyo bartender who can’t speak Japanese BBC 12 October 2015
  8. ^ a b Coldicott, Nicholas. "Golden Gai" Archived 2012-10-19 at the Wayback Machine. Fodor's Travel Guides. Retrieved June 14, 2010.

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