The Unique Culture of Golden Street

By Shinjuku Golden Gai

During the sunset when lights gradually start turning on, visitors not only from all over Japan, but now from around the world, gather to enjoy this deep historical food district. Located in Kabuki-cho, Shinjuku-ku, the Golden Street stays vibrant till late at night. As you walk past the promenade which extends from Yasukuni-dori Street, you’ll come across a warm, nostalgic scenery which remains the same from back in the Showa era. Since long ago, the street was known as a gathering spot for journalists, authors, photographers, film directors, actors, and other intellectuals. As a result, various cultures were born here throughout its long history.

Exterior of the OPEN BOOKShinjuku Golden Gai

Nowadays, the place is widely recognized through multiple sources, but not so long ago, people thought it only welcomed regular customers, due to its peculiar image; it was a place even Japanese tourists would hesitate to visit. There were times when the number of bars drastically decreased due to land speculation activities, but thanks to associations that made an effort to preserve the street, more and more stores are opening lately; a new movement has started from younger generations.

the OPEN BOOK's lemon sourShinjuku Golden Gai

In March 2016, a Japanese bar named “the OPEN BOOK” opens in Gobangai of Golden Street. It specializes in lemon sours, and quickly becomes very popular. Kai Tanaka, owner of the bar, inherits his attraction towards the Golden Street from previous generations. His grandfather Komimasa Tanaka, often called as “Komi-san,” was an author, translator, and essayist, who received the Naoki Prize (a prestigious Japanese literary award). He is also known for making bars in Golden Street known as “Bundan (literary community) bars.” He too had fallen love with Shinjuku Golden Street, and is said to have been drinking there almost every day. In his grandson’s bar “the OPEN BOOK,” we can observe his books on the bookshelves which goes all the way up to the ceiling; it is a comfortable space that passes down the Showa culture with a modern taste.

Bookshelves at the OPEN BOOKShinjuku Golden Gai

the OPEN BOOKShinjuku Golden Gai

Kai Tanaka, owner of the OPEN BOOKShinjuku Golden Gai

“While there were people who found this mysteriousness street scary, I found it interesting, and was just drinking around at first” says Kai-san. We dug deeper into his views on the Golden Street, and what he finds attractive.

Entrance of Nomiya ShinoShinjuku Golden Gai

“I worked at a long-established bar called ‘Shino’ for a year before starting this bar. The bar had a history of 40 years, and was where my grandfather Komimasa Tanaka often went drinking for a long time. The bar was named exactly after the owner, Mr. Shino. There, the bar’s ‘mama’ was called ‘Shino mama.’ Although we would call her ‘mama,’ she wouldn’t be anyone’s mom in particular; to put it simply, she was ‘the mom of all the regular drinkers.’ In Japanese bars, especially in those like in the Golden Street, we often call the female owner as ‘mama.’ By the way, a male bar owner would usually be called ‘master’ instead of being called ‘papa.’ It’s a unique and interesting custom since I never heard anyone using the word ‘mama’ like this in other countries.”

Nomiya ShinoShinjuku Golden Gai

“Five years ago, there were much fewer people than now, and they happened to have stronger, and somewhat stranger character. That would have been more true several decades ago, if I were to say something like that though…. My experience working at ‘Shino’ made me realize that it is the ‘people’ that characterize a bar. The Golden Street has close to 300 bars, but there isn’t much difference in the drinks that are offered. More than anything else, it is the people at the bar that adds character and makes a difference. Therefore, I believe the ‘Golden Street’ is also characterized by their people of today.” says Kai-san. Inside the Golden Street, a place often referred to as the representative of chaos, there seems to be value in human connections and unexpected encounters with new people, somethings that are getting lost in our current digitalized society.

Nomiya ShinoShinjuku Golden Gai

Cheers at Nomiya ShinoShinjuku Golden Gai

“In our modern society, we can mostly find the information we want, but in most cases, we’re not sure of what we want to begin with. To say it in a bit exaggerated way, we live in a world where everything seems to be obtainable, when really, we aren’t obtaining anything. That’s exactly why there’s value in random encounters. Although you won’t be able to decide whether that encounter would be with a middle aged man that would lecture you until morning, or a celebrity you’re a fan of, drinking next to you at a bar. Communicating via internet is alright, but after all, a place where people actually gather has much more energy and excitement. If asked what will happen afterwards, I wouldn’t be able to answer specifically, but still, I believe there’ll always be something. While thinking things like this, the sun rises and I’ll go back hung over (laugh).”

Nomiya ShinoShinjuku Golden Gai

Bookshelves at the OPEN BOOKShinjuku Golden Gai

Credits: Story

Corporation with:
the OPEN BOOK
Shino

Special Thanks:
Kai Tanaka


Photos: Misa Nakagaki
Text & Edit: Saori Hayashida

Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Meshiagare! Flavors of Japan
Discover Japan's unique dishes, its foodie culture, its diverse landscape of ingredients, and the makers behind it all
View theme
Google apps