My wife and I were walking through the normally quiet and deserted midday streets of Golden Gai in Shinjuku. Suddenly I heard voices singing loudly to a very mainstream-sounding J-pop song. I followed the raucous sounds to a little dive which, unlike the other dives around it, had its front door wide open. Inside a bartender and three customers were joyously boozing it up and singing like contestants trying out for a television talent show.
And so, after calling my wife over to have a look we unexpectedly found ourselves sitting in a teeny Golden Gai bar ordering drinks at 12:30 in the afternoon.
The place is called Yoshida Shōten (よしだ しょてん). This is Getta, the bartender and, presumably, the owner of the joint. He charged my wife and I ¥500 each for cover, and ¥700 apiece for two Japanese whiskies and a regular bottle of Asahi Super Dry. He knew some English, was very accommodating, and had a wry sense of humor. His place had various types of garishly-colored Japanese toys pinned to the walls, and small baskets of packaged sweet and savory Japanese snacks on the bar. He seemed to know what he was doing and how he wanted his place to be.
One of Getta’s customers, who didn’t give a name but whom Getta described in English as ‘a crazy boy’. I sat next to this man, who also spoke a little English. He was quite nice and outgoing, though shy of my camera, and I think he told me he had recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition, which I won’t name here. But it did make me feel like an asshole for smoking a cigarette next to him. He didn’t seem to mind, though.
Another customer with whom my wife and I drank. A handsome fellow, also outgoing and friendly, but I don’t recall if he gave a name or not. He did most of the singing when Getta had the music playing over the bar’s speaker system. And he had a pretty good voice.
My wife and I were delighted to have the chance to drink in a Golden Gai bar, but it was early in the day for us and after sharing two whiskies and a beer we knew we had to press on with our day. So we paid Getta what we owed him, and said our goodbyes with smiles and our cameras. Despite having lived in Japan in the late ‘80s and visiting Tokyo four times since 2008, I had never had drinks in Golden Gai before. So stumbling across this lively little place was a real treat for me. What made it so special, of course, was the friendly warmth of the people there.
So, thanks gents.
(Golden Gai, Shinjuku, Tokyo 2015)