What is the Golden Gai?
The Golden Gai is an area in Shinjuku, Tokyo, with around 200 bars in a small area of alleyways. Most of the bars are so tiny – some with as few as 6 seats! They really are like walk-in cupboards with just the bar and a space in front.
Many of them are themed – I saw rock bars, retro bars, Halloween all-year-round and even one called “Bar Alpaca” (wish I’d got it on camera!).
Is it Safe for Foreigners?
One of the things I’d heard about the Golden Gai was how they have signs saying “No Gaijin” (no foreigners), and that tourists are unwelcome, which made me a little nervous about going there.
One evening we took a walk through the alleyways to see what it was like. I was surprised to find the atmosphere was really welcoming and laid back, and not how I expected from what I’d heard. Lots of places looked really cosy and friendly, and there were signs saying “no charge for travellers” or saying that tourists are welcome, along with lots of signs in english, clearly aimed at foreigners.
There’s really no need to be nervous about going to the Golden Gai – it’s a really welcoming place. I did spot a couple of “no foreigners” signs, but they’re in the minority. From what I’ve read online, some establishments are for regulars or members only and that’s why they discourage tourists. I’ve also read that some places will say foreigners aren’t allowed to avoid awkward language situations, not because they don’t like foreigners. Of course I don’t know if that’s true – the important point is, going out drinking here is a unique experience that you don’t need to be nervous about.
How Expensive is it?
The majority of bars have a cover charge, which is like an admission fee. It’s mostly around 700-1000 yen, which makes it quite pricey if you’re just going in for one drink. Prices are often displayed on signs outside so you know before you go in, and there are some places with no cover charge.
A cover charge is fairly common in bars in Tokyo, and from the places I’ve been I found drinks quite pricey too. There are cheaper “one coin” and 300 yen bars if you want a cheaper place to go out. More often I’d get drinks from the convenience store for my hotel room – they have a good chuhai selection (cans of shochu and fruit soda) for ridiculously cheap prices – around 120-160 yen, for up to 9% alcohol!
How to Get to the Golden Gai
The Golden Gai’s in Shinjuku, near Kabukicho. You can walk there from the main Shinjuku Station, as well as Shinjuku Sanchome and Higashi Shinjuku on the metro. You’ll know you’re there when you see lots of tiny pedestrianised alleys.
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