The Golden Gai is a tiny little spot hidden away in the boondocks of Shinjuku, one of Tokyo’s happening suburbs. You can almost mistake night as day in Shinjuku from ridiculous quantity of lights pumping out megawatts of neon. Golden Gai however is quite the opposite. It consists of half a dozen streets too small to drive a smart car through containing around 200 tiny bars that would fit no more than 6-8 people.
The story goes that the Yakuza burned down most of the buildings in Shinjuku but the Golden Gai area survived because some of the locals took turns guarding the streets at night, so it remains as one of the only really traditional areas of Shinjuku.
Some of the bars will only let you in if you’re a regular or invited in by a regular but the couple we poked into were more than happy to have us. The first one ended up being owned by an Australian guy so the place was full of stuff that everyone is Australia secretly hates, VB for example. Midori (the bar tender) was awesome though and she hooked us up with directions to a few good places to get to while in Tokyo, Loz even taught her how to use some sort of fancy glass holder.
Lauren and I then headed to another bar, which is in the running for the craziest bar I’ve ever been to. Chandeliers, deer heads, disco balls etc – all way too big to fit in that bar but Nori was a legend and he helped us sample our first hot sake in Japan. Fun times walking through the random little streets at 1am on a week night to the sound of belly laughs emanating from every little door, doors so small that even Lauren has to duck on the way in.
Akihabara… wow. This is where all the crazy anime and manga kids hang out. It’s technology central and busy as hell. Midori (our bar tender from Golden Gai) told us to go here and have lunch at one of the cafes because they’ll draw stuff on your food with ketchup – who were we to doubt how much fun that would be?!
So we headed off and went to lunch at the @home cafe. I assure you, I felt as far from home as possible. Let me put you in our shoes, we catch the lift to level 4, get out and are stopped at the door to read the rules before they’ll let us in. No photos of the maids (that’s right, maids, dressed as anime characters), you’re only allowed to stay for one hour etc etc. At this point we were wondering if we were going for lunch or something more sinister.
Anyway, in we go and we got to choose from a set menu that included a drink, a take home souvenir and either a) a game with a maid or your choice, or B) a photo with a maid of your choice. Again highly uneasy about whether this was actually a lunch venue. The fact that food wasn’t on the set menu also failed to ease our comfort levels, food is on the other, special menu apparently.
So Danielle and I got a game with a maid which turned out to be a three minute session of Connect Four for Dani and me stealing bones from a plastic dog. Allen and Loz got a photo with one of the maids and I wish I did too, purely to mitigate the most awkward, language-barrier-ridden three minutes of my life. I’m not sure what that girl was saying but I’m sure if I tried to say “Where do I put the bone once I’ve pulled it out of the box?” to her in Japanese our lunch would have been over much more swiftly.
The food was terrible, the games were strange, the photos were rubbish and the people were uber freaky. All of which made Akihabara awesomely unique in every sense of the word.
Oh, we also saw One Direction at Narita airport on the way out. Allen Campbell is without a doubt the biggest One D fan I’ve ever seen… I’ve never been so embarrassed for somebody in my life.
Definitely on the “To Revisit” list.