Japan Today



2020 Olympics might spell end for Shinjuku's 'Golden Gai'


Shinjuku's famous "Golden Gai" (Golden Street) is a rabbit's warren of tiny two-story drinking establishments crammed into one city block a short distance from Yasukuni Dori and the Shinjuku city office. They date back to 1950 when Shinjuku's disorderly black market was relocated by occupation authorities.

The tiny shops, which do business in spaces measuring from 3 to 4.5 tsubo, remain largely unchanged from their Showa-period heyday, reports Takarajima (Oct).

According to a source close to the property owners, the Golden Gai has been targeted "any number of times" for redevelopment. And should Tokyo be selected on Saturday to host the 2020 Olympics, denizens of the miniscule district fear, the chances of the nostalgic section of Shinjuku falling victim to the wrecking ball are increased many-fold.

Being within walking distance of Shinjuku -- the world's largest commuter train station -- the land on which Golden Gai sits is assessed as first class commercial property, making development hard to resist.

"During the 'bubble economy,' plans were drawn up to turn it into a major commercial complex," says a source at a trade newspaper. "Some strong-armed tactics were employed to get the owners to move out. But then the bubble imploded and the plan went with it. There were a few empty slots where some shops had closed, but the district bounced back and right now business is thriving."

"Still, whether you joke about it or not, if you consider the potential economic impact, there are more than a few people who think they can get a lot more effective use out of that property," he adds.

"In 2006, not everyone but some of the property owners formed a 'discussion group for development of the East Kabukicho 1-chome,' situated on the lots from the Golden Gai all the way to Yasukuni Dori," says writer for another trade publication. "The plan called for the building of a high-rise commercial building fronting Yasukuni Dori, where a TEPCO transformer station is situated now, that would contain offices, shops and a foreign-managed hotel. The plan also involved the adjoining block to the north, where Golden Gai is now."

Two major construction companies, Taisei and Nikken, were said to have been involved in the plans. Their plans were defeated by the prolonged recession, exacerbated by the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, and the difficulty in piecemeal negotiations with the large number of property owners, they turned out for naught.

But nostalgia aside, there are persuasive reasons for proceeding with the area's redevelopment.

"One reason is disaster prevention," explained Masao Hagiwara, head of the Hanazono Street merchants' association. "In an area measuring 500 tsubo (less than half an acre) that includes privately owned streets, you'll find 104 businesses. Over the past several years, more than 10 fires have broken out. Fortunately they didn't spread --- due in part perhaps because many places stay open all night. But the buildings are in four rows, interconnected by elongated side beams, and that makes them vulnerable."

Hagiwara, who was born and raised in the district, feels a strong sense of community, but is nevertheless of the opinion that redevelopment is the best way to ensure the area's future. On the other hand Bunmei Tobayama, director of the rival Shinjuku Golden Gai merchants' association and operator of a bar named Kurakura, says residents have a strong sense of disaster preparation and keep fire extinguishers and sensor alarms handy.

"Is 'development' only about building new things?" Tobayama asks rhetorically. "Almost any drinking area you go to these days looks the same. Here, when you open the windows, the breeze flows through, and you can see the stars in the sky. People of the same age group and occupation can enjoy conversing. In particular this is a place where young people can come and learn about society....

"Once this place is torn down, there will be no way to bring it back," Tobayama warns.

But past experience has shown that many treasured Tokyo traditions are transitory at best.

"Within six months or so, I expect to see a new redevelopment plan launched for the Golden Gai area," a local insider predicts.

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progress takes many turns, what we need are a few more lawsons, maybe a freshness burger that can afford the rent!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

Bulldoze them all. We all know that Shinjuku is suffering from a dire shortage of commercial buildings. Whenever, I go to Shinjuku, I'm always amazed at the emptiness of the place and the lack of shopping and commercial facilities.

"there are more than a few people who think they can get a lot more effective use out of that property

104 independent businesses now operating within a single city block. Yep, that sure is "ineffective," isn't it. Maybe not effective in the view of huge greedy construction and other corporations. But it's pretty effective for many of the people who have long made their home and their livelihoods there.

19 ( +28 / -9 )

Yep. I'll go along with the guys above. What we need is another plot of lookalike businesses and a few more convenience stores to save us walking 25 meters to the next one. Maybe even build a small apartment block out of grey, unfinished breeze blocks.

12 ( +15 / -3 )

Thats a shame, I have had quite a few good nights drinking there.

12 ( +13 / -1 )

It's definitely not the sort of place I'd recommend to anyone with claustrophobia!

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Jeff Lee

Exactly. Why does anyone think corporations and intangible "business" is more important than history, tradition, culture and people's lives.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

The govt should promote it, not threaten it. That kind of place gives Tokyo pockets of cool. The nitty gritty of the city...cherish it, don`t demolish it.

21 ( +21 / -0 )

Just like China bulldozed whole areas of Hudong houses to make way for the 2008 Games. Ah, but wait, no one suffers and everyone prospers from the Olympics, don't they??

13 ( +16 / -3 )

I rarely agree with smithinjapan but sometimes I do.

Razing the Golden Gai is like razing your cultural history. This is something where Japan needs some serious slices of western Coutries like Germany where it is unthinkable to destroy precious historical gems like these. According to some, Tokyo might as well look like the city in Mirror's Edge in some years.

14 ( +14 / -0 )

Tokyo needs to leave these cool places the frack alone, with each loss the city's soul is slowly killed.

I love these areas with tiny joints & yatai, my fav places to go & forget about the world & you meet some pretty amazing/interesting people from all walks of life.

I say to hell with more high rises & their bland BORING monstrosities! Tokyo if you want a new one tear one down but leave these small places alone!

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Over the past several years, more than 10 fires have broken out.

All accidental I'm sure.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

This area is as prone to fires as Harmonica-cho in kichijoji and other similar areas considered for rebuilding.

-8 ( +0 / -8 )

Preparations for the 1964 Olympics enabled many acts of goverment vandalism that somehow seemed like a good idea at the time - such as the highway constructed over historic Nihonbashi, and another that resulted in the destruction of most of the famous cherry trees along the Sumida.

No reason to think things will be much different this time. It will be a giant money grab - with cultural and resident`s interests subservient to interests of the big players/corporations.

10 ( +12 / -2 )


I agree with you to some extent, but I'd go as far as to say that Tokyo wouldn't be where it is today without the Shuto. The Shuto has to be one of the most incredible pieces of infrastructure in the world. Sure, it's an eyesore (I've even lived next to it!), but the trucks that use it keep Tokyo alive. I'm from Sydney and let me tell you that when we won the 2000 Games bid, the city underwent a massive transformation. Road & rail upgrades, housing projects - you name it.

I think if the metropolitan govt. could strike a balance somewhere between, we'd all be happy :)

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Destroy Golden Gai there in Shinjuku and you are wiping out not only the "real flavor" of what Shinjuku is all about, but the great memories thousands of us have of getting some gyoza, yakitori, too many beers, etc.trying to find our ways back home in the rain or snow etc.what great memories! Shame if Tokyo does destroy this historical landmark in Shinjuku!

8 ( +10 / -2 )

"Is 'development' only about building new things?" Tobayama asks rhetorically. "Almost any drinking area you go to these days looks the same. Here, when you open the windows, the breeze flows through, and you can see the stars in the sky".

I feel for the old guy because he must be thinking it was still the 1950's if he was talking about seeing the stars in the sky out a window at street level or even the second floor in Shinjuku. Unless there was a massive area wide power outage I'd doubt you'd be seeing real stars out the window. Maybe they were confused with lit office tower windows in the distance.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

It's a shame, but it would be great to have nice new places in the area.

-11 ( +1 / -12 )

Every time I walk through "Golden Street" (that's what my generation called the place) memories come popping back into my noggin. I spent a lot of time in those hole-in-the-wall joints ... and never had a dull moment as everyone was always talking about some interesting subject or other.

It has been said many times before that "Golden Street" is headed toward the history books ... but it's still there today. And will the 2020 Olympics destroy it, providing Tokyo wins the bid? I doubt it. It has survived up until today and probably will be there for ages to come.

By the way, if you haven't been to "Golden Street" before, why not try it out. Believe me, the place is unique ...

5 ( +6 / -1 )

My local area saw 6 fires in 2 years and many tenants are pulling out, others say they would but the rents are lower than outlying areas.

Personally I like those area but the fire standards etc are low with exposed wirings, gas-bottles, etc.

-5 ( +2 / -7 )

104 businesses in that area is fantastic. No developer corporation can match that in variety or human connection. Thus of course, they're going to bulldoze history to appease corporations. This is so crazy. I hope it keeps getting delayed and survives this selling out to developers. Maybe if Japan stopped bulldozing its history it would lead to better things

8 ( +8 / -0 )

anyway, not to worry, games are going to go to Turkie

0 ( +1 / -1 )

no, Istanbul/Turkey had protests. The only one left is Madrid

2 ( +3 / -1 )

espana gets the games and that will finish them just like 2004 finished Hellas

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Olympics are so not coming here!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Oh great. We're going to have a political fight over the future of this part of Shinjuku just like what is happening now with the urban renewal project going on at Shimokitazawa.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

there are fire traps all over japan. surprised more people have not died.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


The Olympics are so not coming here!

Let's just hope you're right...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The older you get its harder to accept change, but then you die and it happens anyway.. Accept it and grow new life with it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Leave Golden Gai alone. Clean up Kabukicho (a little bit ) instead.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I am admittedly biased and maybe overly nostalgic, as I spent about half my weekends there at Bar Champion where I also met my wife. I am not against development, but if it is plowed a unique part of Tokyo will be gone forever.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Ahh, Golden Gai. A great place to get Shanghaid. Thumbs up if you know what I mean.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Oh, right , just like Obama said years ago, (2008), we will change history!. These people only DESTROY history!

2 ( +2 / -0 )

a sad day indeed

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I would stand in front of bulldozers to protect that place. A small area in the middle of the world`s largest city containing independent businesses - all Tokyo residents should be proud of Golden Gai.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

good. bulldoze it to the ground. tokyo probably doesnt want to show off all their "japanese only" establishments when the world is watching anyway

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Exactly what do they think will bring more visitors to this area during the three weeks of the event? Most host clubs? I think Tokyo is big enough to absorb Olympic visitors without straining itself, or altering the landscape significantly.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

tokyo probably doesnt want to show off all their "japanese only" establishments when the world is watching anyway

Speaking from personal experience that's an outrageously false statement. I've been to Golden Gai many times and never felt unwelcome, let alone turned away.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

you dont think there are bars there that dont allow foreigners??

0 ( +0 / -0 )

you dont think there are bars there that dont allow foreigners??

Even if they all did, I would not want to see Golden Gai demolished, which was the subject of this story. I don't understand why you felt it necessary to introduce the topic of discrimination. It would be extremely naive, moreover, to think that playing host to the Olympics will have a major impact on this issue.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

the subject of the story is, as you said, the possible demolition of the golden gai. it's hardly off topic to give an opinion on the subject and a reason for holding that opinion. every country wants to put on its best face to show the world when they're in the spotlight. why wouldnt japan want to hide this? it's not exactly welcoming, is it?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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