Is the Golden Gai Foreigner Friendly?

What is the Golden Gai?

The Golden Gai is an area in Shinjuku, Tokyo, with around 200 bars in a small area of alleyways. Most of the bars are so tiny – some with as few as 6 seats! They really are like walk-in cupboards, with just the bar and a space in front.

Many of them are themed – there are rock bars, retro bars, Halloween all-year-round and even one called “Bar Alpaca” (wish I’d got it on camera!).

Is it Safe for Foreigners?

One of the things I’d heard about the Golden Gai was how they have signs saying “No Gaijin” (no foreigners), and that tourists are unwelcome, which made me a little nervous about going there.

One evening we took a walk through the alleyways to see what it was like. I was surprised to find the atmosphere was really welcoming and laid back, and not how I expected from what I’d heard. Lots of places looked really cosy and friendly, and there were signs saying “no charge for travellers” or saying that tourists are welcome, along with lots of signs in english, clearly aimed at foreigners.

There’s really no need to be nervous about going to the Golden Gai – it’s a really welcoming place. I did spot a couple of “no foreigners” signs, but they’re in the minority. From what I’ve read online, some establishments are for regulars or members only and that’s why they discourage tourists. I’ve also read that some places will say foreigners aren’t allowed to avoid awkward language situations, not because they don’t like foreigners. Of course I don’t know if that’s true – the important point is, going out drinking here is a unique experience that you don’t need to be nervous about.

Golden Gai

How Expensive is it?

The majority of bars have a cover charge, which is like an admission fee. It’s mostly around 700-1000 yen, which makes it quite pricey if you’re just going in for one drink or bar-hopping to several bars. It’s more cost-effective to stay and have several drinks at one bar.

Prices are often displayed on signs outside so you know before you go in, and there are some places with no cover charge.

A cover charge is fairly common in bars in Tokyo, and from the places I’ve been I found drinks quite pricey too. There are cheaper “one coin” and 300 yen bars if you want a cheaper place to go out. More often I’d get drinks from the convenience store for my hotel room – they have a good chuhai selection (cans of shochu and fruit soda) for ridiculously cheap prices – around 120-160 yen, for up to 9% alcohol!

Etiquette in Japan

It’s worth noting that in Japan, especially at small bars like these, you’re expected to finish your drink, then order another one or move on. It’s not somewhere you can nurse a single pint for three hours. Because the bars are so small with only a handful of seats, they rely on a high turnover of customers (or customers who’ll spend enough to cover their time there) to make enough money and stay open.

It’s the same for small restaurants in Japan – it’s a faux pas to hang around too long.

How to Get to the Golden Gai

The Golden Gai’s in Shinjuku, near Kabukicho. You can walk there from the main Shinjuku Station, as well as Shinjuku Sanchome and Higashi Shinjuku on the metro. You’ll know you’re there when you see lots of tiny pedestrianised alleys.

See What it’s Like

Watch my video for a quick tour of the Golden Gai, to see what it’s like there:


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