Tags : forgotten Tokyo, micro bars, brothels, city of pleasures, time wrap, Flamenco
Golden Gai is a surprising anachronism in the heart of one of the most modern and active part of Tokyo : Shinjuku. When you come out of the subway/Yamanote station in the evening like the thousands upon thousands of young Japanese who go out for fun and dinner, you don't expect to find this tiny block of alleys and small rickety buildings which seem to come straight from the 1930s' or 1940s'. And actually you may come repeatedly to Shinjuku and pass this forgotten island without noticing it, hidden behind tall and modern buildings.
Golden Gai is a roughly square area stuck inside the modern city, with something like 200 low buildings that seem to be made as much with tin and planks than brick and mortar. The classic Japanese oldie below seems appropriate as you feel more like in the 1940s' or 1950s' here. This was all brothels in the past, every single building in here was for prostitution, I was explained that you could gauge the girl in the room at the street level, then walk up the stairs with her, and the madam owning the venue was sleeping in the small attic above the whole. When the thing was over, you could leave through the discreet back door so as not to stumble upon other clients... This sounds like today's love hotels where discretion goes as far as speaking wityour hands being the only thing indentifiable.
In the post-world-war-II era, somewhere during the 1950s' or 1960s', open prostitution was forbidden and the shacks were turned into bars and stayed that way to this day. the place is not very open to foreigners except a few bars and it's better to go there alone and speak a bit of Japanese if you want to experience one of these bars (which are not as cheap as they look as many ask for table fees).
Credit for the picture on left : IncontournableTokyo.com
I shot these pictures in the alleys of Golden Gai almost clandestinely, as there are signs saying that pictures are forbidden in Golden Gai (probably too many tourists went beyond the bearable limit).
Tne Nana bar, I learn, is the must-visit bar for any Spanish musician or whatever-nationality of amateurs of Flameco, and this dark spot on the map of Tokyo has a parallel life of its own, written in the etheric dimension of this world...
You can see on the videos on left and right what we probably missed for having come to early (we were on our way to a tachinomi elsewhere in Shijuku) in this bar, even Russians come here to play guitar and sing (Vladimir Vissotsky seems to come back)...
There's no table fee in this bar (unlike many other bars in Golden Gai, where this entry/table fee can cost around 700 Y, to which you must ad the drinks costs). From the drinks-menu page, you can see that Nana bar is affordable : Beer at 600 Y (4,65 € or 6 € when I wrote this story, as the Yen is going down sharly these days__good time to go to Japan...), Wine at 600 Y, Whisky (Nikka) 600 Y, Bourbon 700 Y, Scotch 800 Y, Gin 700 Y, Tequila 800 Y, Sake 700 Y... You can also get some tapas to eat along, at 500 Y to 800 Y a plate.
Our host told us about this inspired woman who settled in this bar in the 1960s' (if I remember correctly) to distill her love for the Flamenco music and culture. She died a few years ago (not long ago actually) and some one followed suit, a man named En Hikoma, according to this web page written by a Anne-Laure Pham, a French food blogger.
Nana was a mystery for the Japanese, who said she looked Spanish, and for the Spaniards who said she looked like a gipsy. Nana-san created this venue 50 years ago, say around 1963, probably when these former brothels were turned into bars. She managed this small place for 40 years, sleeping upstairs in a small room. The man who took up the bar after her was also one of the pioneers of Flamenco in Japan, helping the Japanese to discover this music, dance and life culture.