Illuminated in neon lights, exciting nightlife and rich history are only a few ways to describe the Shinjuku Golden Gai district. Dating back to the 1920s this district has left remains of that time architecture and lifestyle that today has changed only a little. Famous for its nightlife and architecture Shinjuku Golden Gai will be one of the friendliest places that you will visit in Japan. Divided into 6 narrow allies this place will make you rub your shoulders with strangers as some of the allies are barely a few meters wide.
About Golden Gai
Once a black market and prostitution hotspot in the 1960’s the Golden Gai has survived the damages of wars, earthquakes, and the economy. Today much of the Golden Gai has been left in the past and this district practices a more modern and positive lifestyle.
The six narrow alleys of Golden Gai are home to over 200 little bars that each offer different experiences and atmosphere. Before you start booking your tickets and looking for a way to get to the Golden Gai and see the district for yourself you should know that there are some rules. Not every bar in Golden Gai will open their doors to fresh faces. As there are limited spaces and the alleys are so narrow you will see blunt messages upon entering the doors of the local bars that say “no tourists” saving the seat for the locals and regulars. Do not be discouraged by the “no tourist” signs as there are many bars that will happily serve you a cold drink. One of the tips is to check the menu if you see a menu in English as well as a free seat or a place to stand head right in.
Best Golden Gai Bars
The alleys of Golden Gai can be quite intimidating for new visitors, here is a guide to the best bars so you can start exploring the Japanese ways of partying.
Albatross – the unique design of this former brothel has the friendliest staff, little terraces, and a variety of tasty drinks. Albatross will charge a $4 fee upon entering. We recommend their homemade plum tequila!
Death Match in Hell – the name already gives it away, yes, it is a death metal bar. Death Match in Hell has no entrance fee. What they do have are loud music and great drinks. If you can squeeze in we can promise that you will have a great time.
Bar Darling – four words – be ready to drink. This female-friendly bar has over 100 drinks that you can try and they will be prepared by an all-female staff.
Bitter Orange – one of the bars that are open until sunrise. Bitter Orange serves the coldest drinks in the Golden Gai district.
Aces – a perfect place for those who are traveling on a budget. Aces do not charge an entrance fee and have the perfect mix of local and foreign visitors.
An important rule to remember is that the Golden Gai is no photograph area. So leave your camera at the hotel and your phone in your pocket.
Is it a safe district for tourists?
Like most of Japan, the Golden Gai is known to be a safe place for locals as well as tourists. It is a great area for first-time travelers and regulars. A very close-knit community – the Golden Gai is like a family and soon you will see that some of the bars even save spots for regulars and keep the tourists out. If you are planning on visiting the Golden Gai district you must keep some things in mind. Most of the bars in Golden Gai will open their doors at 9 pm and there are few that will stay open until 5 am.
Remember that Japanese love order and they have no issues following rules and they expect the same from their visitors. No smoking or use of drugs, no loitering and no drinks outside of the bar premises are only a few of the rules you will need to follow. If you can remember not to use your camera, not to shout and sing and behave yourself you will have no issues.
How to get there
You will find Golden Gai only a few minutes away from the Shinjuku station. Use your Japan Rail Pass for the most convenient and fast access.
Here is a list of lines that you can hop on to get to Golden Gai:
Yamanote Line, Chuo Line, Chuo-Sobu Line, Narita Express Line, Shonan-Shinjuku Line, Saikyo Line, all of these lines will allow you to get to the Shinjuku Station, once you are there take the east exit and you will find Golden Gai only 500 meters away.
Alternatively, you can take the subway, unfortunately, this option is not covered by the Japan Rail Pass. Subway lines -Marunouchi, Fukutoshin, and Toei-Shinjuku will take you to Shinjuku-Sanchome station.
The city of Shinjuku offers many means of transportation if you don’t want to use the subway or metro hop in the taxi or take a bus, or simply walk and enjoy the city.