Saturday 22 September 2018

Deathmatch in Hell: Drinking in the Golden Gai, Tokyo

On this trip I was assisted by the Japan National Tourist Organisation.

My final day in Japan was... interesting. 

I returned to the city from the spa town of Kinugawa Onsen, dropped into the Japanese Sword Museum, checked into my Shinjuku hotel, walked to the Park Hyatt to find its New York bar wasn't open, enjoyed the over-the-top show at the Robot Restaurant, ate ramen at the local branch of Ichiran, then finally walked into the Golden Gai.

Ah, the Golden Gai.

This atmospheric warren of bars along narrow alleyways is a relic of the 20th century, when the area was associated with prostitution. 

Although areas like this were reportedly demolished by fires started by the gangster Yakuza chasing redevelopment profits, the Golden Gai miraculously survived; partly thanks to locals taking turns to act as lookouts overnight.

The legacy is a fantastic area that feels separate from the big, busy city enveloping it. The small grid of alleys is dotted with tiny bars, most with room for only a handful of seats. 

The result is that each bar has its own distinctive, warm personality, and patrons and bartenders end up chatting to each other.

I enjoyed wandering through the maze, but I also had a mission: to drink at Deathmatch in Hell, the metal-themed bar which a friend had put me onto.

Like all Golden Gai bars, it was tiny - but the owner had packed a lot into the decor:

Two Japanese whiskies and a bourbon later, I was feeling the Golden Gai vibe. 

I had a flight to catch... but I didn't want to leave this ethereal Tokyo enclave. Like MacArthur, I shall return.

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