Archive for the ‘Golden Gai’ Category

shinjuku: kabukichō, hanazono-jinja, and golden gai — topped off by a gelato at isetan :-)   3 comments

Sunday, July 16:  After Yukie and I leave Omoide Yokocho, we head toward Kabukichō, walking through an underpass.  On the walls is a large colorful and whimsical mural painted by schoolchildren.

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

Yukie with street art on the way to Kabukicho

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

Street art on the way to Kabukicho

We walk through the boisterous Shinjuku area a little after noon.  We’re both getting hungry; Yukie has in mind a particular okonomiyaki restaurant where we plan to eat savory pancakes.

on the way to Kabukicho

on the way to Kabukichō

Kabukichō is Tokyo’s notorious entertainment district, established in 1948 as part of the World War II reconstruction effort. Originally a swamp, a duck sanctuary, and then a residential area, Kabukichō has transformed since it was destroyed during the war to a world-famous red-light district housing over three thousand bars, nightclubs, love hotels, massage parlors, hostess clubs, peep shows, cabarets and the like.  Tourists can be seen in Kabukichō even during daytime (Wikipedia: Kabukichō, Tokyo).

Kabukicho

Often called the “Sleepless Town” (眠らない街), the district’s name comes from late 1940s plans to build a kabuki theater. Kabuki (歌舞伎) is a classical Japanese dance-drama, known for the stylization of its drama and for the elaborate make-up worn by some of its performers. Although the theater was never built, the name stuck (Wikipedia: Kabukichō, Tokyo).

Kabukichō

The place is somewhat deserted on this hot summer day, but I can imagine it is quite lively at night.

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

We finally find our lunchtime spot in Kabukichō and enjoy our okonomiyaki in a dark, cool atmosphere. Okonomiyaki, found throughout most of Japan, is made of a batter of flour, grated Chinese yam, water or dashi (a Japanese cooking stock), eggs and shredded cabbage; in addition, it often contains other ingredients such as green onion, meat (generally thin pork belly, often mistaken for bacon), octopus, squid, shrimp, vegetables, konjac (yam cake), mochi (Japanese rice cake), or cheese. Okonomiyaki is sometimes compared to an omelette or pancake and may be referred to as a “Japanese pizza”(Wikipedia: Okonomiyaki).

I enjoy a shrimp pancake and Yukie gets pork. It’s too dark inside to get any decent pictures of them, but they are filling and delicious.

Lunchtime

After lunch, we continue our walk around Kabukichō.  It’s so loud here, with abrasive music blaring out of the various establishments. Plus we are dripping in sweat from the sweltering city air.

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

I can imagine it must be very lively here at night with all the sex shops, bars, neon lights and robot restaurants.

Robot bar in Kabukichō

Robot bar in Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

Kabukichō

We dip into the Hanazono-jinja Shrine, which I’ve visited before (the shinjuku skyscraper district and a vermillion shrine {walking tour 17: part 2}).   It houses the guardian deity of Shinjuku.  Every Sunday, the Aozora-Kotto-Ichi (antique open air flea market) is held on the grounds.

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

Hanazono-jinja Shrine

ema at Hanazono-jinja Shrine

At the flea market, I buy a kokeshi doll for 1,200 yen (($11.15). These dolls are handmade from wood, have a simple trunk and an enlarged head with a few thin, painted lines to define the face. The body has a floral design painted in red, black, and sometimes yellow, and covered with a layer of wax. One characteristic of kokeshi dolls is their lack of arms or legs (Wikipedia: kokeshi). I’m so excited to finally buy one of these adorable dolls. 🙂

We finally decide to take a stroll through Golden Gai, an area of six narrow alleys connected by even narrower passageways.  Typically, the buildings are just a few feet wide and are built so close to the ones next door that they nearly touch. Most are two-story, having a small bar at street level and either another bar or a tiny flat upstairs, reached by a steep set of stairs. None of the bars are very large; some are so small that they can only fit five or so customers at one time.  The buildings are generally ramshackle, and the alleys are dimly lit, giving the area a very scruffy appearance. However, Golden Gai is not a cheap place to drink, and the clientele that it attracts is generally well off (Wikipedia: Golden Gai).

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

Golden Gai

As we walk through the nearly deserted alleyways, we’re surprised by a lion bicycling quickly down the alley.  He or she is certainly a colorful character.

lion on a bicycle at Golden Gai

bicycling lion at Golden Gai

We leave Golden Gai and Yukie suggests that we should visit Isetan Department Store’s basement for a gelato.  What amazing places these department store food courts are! Everything is so painstakingly and artistically presented.  If I had endless time and money, and a bottomless stomach, I could walk around for hours on end, sampling everything in sight. 🙂

Isetan Department Store

Sweets at Isetan Department Store

Isetan Department Store

sweets at Isetan Department Store

macaroons at Isetan Department Store

We finally find our gelato place, and we squeeze in to a crowded seating area to enjoy the cool air and the frozen treat.

gelato at Isetan Department Store

What a fun way to end our time together.  After our gelato, we walk around looking at the gorgeous scarves and clothing in the store.  The store is much too expensive for my taste, but later, Yukie admits to returning for one of the scarves.  We both love scarves and have huge collections.  What fun for me to find someone like Yukie who shares my love of travel, photography, food and textiles.  🙂

Total steps today: 11,957 (5.07 miles)

 

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