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Golden Gai — thefashionatetraveller.com

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Film-themed bar in Golden Gai, Kabukicho

Following on from my post on Sumire No Tenmado, I thought it would be worth mentioning the rest of that night – also spent in bars in the Golden Gai area of Kabukicho.

The three of us stumbled out into the laneway after hot chocolate and cake in the lolita bar – and wanted to experience a bit more of the Golden Gai before heading home. Valerie, Jim and I looked at various doors and posters outside the tiny establishments, and saw that this one had film posters plastered everywhere. Orright!

In we went, to discover that the owner had been an actor for many years, and was friends with names we know well – like director Takashi Miike! (To my dismay I can’t remember his name or that of his friend, or the bar – but I will find it again next month and let you know).

Soon we were having a lovely time and felt like old friends – see us being silly below:

You can really see how small these bars are – just enough for 5 or so. I’m standing by the front door to take this. Valerie doesn’t like being photographed really, so this is a rare one.
Next it was my turn to be in the picture and ham it up with the guys. I think you can see we were having a right laugh!
Valerie and Jim left to catch the last train home, but I stayed to chat and have a few more beers. Fun! Finally I stumbled out and WAS going to go home….but saw the light was on in my fave punk bar Hair of the Dogs as I passed – so I went in.  (See this post and this one for more on the bar).
This blurry pic accurately describes my rate of comprehension at the time:

Tohru the owner was pleased to see me – and invited me to his hanami party that Sunday.  I realised we were beginning to become friends, rather than just patron and punter. It felt good.

Kokusyoku Sumire, Sachi and Yuka. Sumire No Tenmado

Two of the most recognisable faces in the Tokyo Gothic lolita scene are the duo who make up Kokusyoku Sumire, Sachi & Yuka.  If you don’t know them, allow me to introduce you.

Those who have the Gothic & Lolita book will certainly recognise them – they’re in it. But who are they and why are they famous?

Sachi plays violin and piano, while Yuka plays accordion and piano and sings. They perform, model, and run a lovely Lolita Bar in the Golden Gai, called Sumire No Tenmado. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting there and taking tea and cake several times – although the very first time I visited, they were away in Hollywood visiting Tim Burton on the set of Alice in Wonderland!  (But I found my fave punk bar, so it all worked out).

In April this year however, the bar was open and I attended with Valerie from Tokyo Fashion & Art Factory and Jim of Horror High School. (BTW, a great article on Valerie’s blog was in the Japan Times in June). We met some illustrators while we were there – it’s quite bohemian that way!

Next time I will plan ahead and get some good photos of the cafe so you can see how charming it is, with little replicas of cakes, dolls, beautiful artwork and lolita touches everywhere. Yuka serves up delicious home-made cakes and pies with sinful cream and ice-cream, (or hot food if you prefer!)

It really is a must-see for any lolita, or any lover of japanese lolita culture. However, it is so small you may have to wait for a while before you can sit down.  Sumire No Tenmado is open for afternoon tea from around 5pm or in the evening (bar time) from around 8pm. Weekends and holidays it is tea time all day, 12 – 8pm.

Intrigued? Visit the Kokusyoku Sumire website to find out more about them.

Their latest album just released is called Alice in the Underground (see below), again with fantastical stylings, and they toured Europe with it in May this year. You can read more about them and their performances in their blogs – Yuka’s blog, and Sachi’s blog.

They have sumptuous visuals, as you can see:
I love their quirky sound! It’s sort of Rococo Gypsy Lolita. Here is a video so you can hear what they sound like:


As I mentioned, Sumire No Tenmado is in the Golden Gai, and the map is here:

You take the eastern exit from Shinjuku Station, walk down Yasukuni Dori, and look for Mister Donut on the corner of Kuyakusho Dori.

Then take the little lane next to Mister Donut that leads to the Hanazono Shrine. This leads you to the Golden Gai area.  It’s the 2nd or 3rd lane, on the upper floor.  Look for the sign – you’ll have to look up to see it!

Sumire No Tenmado
Kabukicho, Shinjuku 1-1-7-2F
Golden City Garden City Shinjuku third
03-3209-1204 03-3209-1204
Opening Hours:
Weekday / Saturday 16:30 to 23:30,
Sundays / Holidays 11:30 to 20:00
Ladies free, cover carge for gents.

Golden Gai, Kabukicho – Hair of the Dogs, Bar Albatross

Another post imported from Live Journal from November 08:

So, I HAVE to post about some of the wonderful nightlife I experienced while in Tokyo.

I was drawn to descriptions of some areas in Shibuya and Shinjuku where, amongst the high-rises and neon, exist some ramshackle, tiny, old-fashioned bars. Like, where 5 people is a crowd, and you have to walk up a steep flight of narrow stairs to enter, or venture down narrow passageways.

On my first night while waiting for the lift, I looked out the window to see what looked like a slum area, surrounded by modern buidlings on all sides – quite the anomaly. I looked at my LP and deduced it was the Golden Gai area in Kabukicho. Intriguing. After a few nights I finally ventured down into the den to see what I had been missing. What atmosphere!!

At first I went to the Albatross, where some people were sketching. So I asked for a pencil and joined them, and we had sketching competitions, of koalas and kangaroos, and sushi and sumo’s. Much fun. After maybe an hour or a bit more I announced I wanted to find the goth bar that Tim Burton had been to and went to take my leave. Not only did one of the guys refuse my offers of payment, saying he would treat me, he also walked me to the next bar! I was flabbergasted.

Unfortunately the bar in question was closed, so I walked back to a bar I’d seen earlier, with a big Ramones poster on the door – a punk bar!! Went inside and had the BEST time! There was a lovely bargirl AKI, and the owner Tohra soon turned up to say hi, with some friends in tow (from the fashion & tv industry). He had a turtle called De Niro in a tank in the bar – cool!

Anyhow, they played me Dead Kennedys and Sex Pistols, UK Subs and Stiff Little Fingers, Bad Manners and Specials, Shonen Knife…whatever I asked for. Bliss! I LOVE hearing music you love, when you’re far from home 🙂 I discovered the name of the bar is “Hair of the Dogs”. Stayed for a few hours, until a big spanish group came in.

I then went back the next night, after my night out at the Lock-up prison restaurant with Ivan (will come back to this in another post). First I met some young Japanese actors. Then a lovely couple from melbourne rocked up and we had a great time together. I got out my Fiend magazine, and lo and behold, the guy is in a music distribution company, and distributes music from some of the bands in the mag. Ka-ching!! Contact!

Will let the pics do the talking, as I’ve blathered on enough. But if you’re ever in Kabukicho – go to Hair of the Dogs and the Albatross – and many more!!

Golden Gai district Golden Gai district

This is looking down from my hotel – it looks like a slum area, doesn’t it? Cool!

Golden Gai again Golden Gai again

More of the same

In the midst of Golden Gai - see the punk bar to the right? Ramones - yeah! In the midst of Golden Gai – see the punk bar to the right? Ramones – yeah!

This is where it starts to get interesting…

Some other Golden Gai bars Some other Golden Gai bars

I guess this bar plays Pink Floyd I guess this bar plays Pink Floyd

Down in the Golden Gai alley, looking up at my hotel. Down in the Golden Gai alley, looking up at my hotel.

The name of the bar - Hair of the Dogs! The name of the bar – Hair of the Dogs!

It was on the ceiling, so you had to crane your neck and look up to see the name.

Bright red walls of punk bar Bright red walls of punk bar

Tohra, owner of hair of the Dog - punktastic! Tohra, owner of hair of the Dog – punktastic!

The Japanese John Hurt, Tohra's friend. The Japanese John Hurt, Tohra’s friend.

Another friend of Tohra's Another friend of Tohra’s

Tohra having a beer with us Tohra having a beer with us

Spanish friends Spanish friends

Me and a new friend from melbourne, in Hair of the Dogs Me and a new friend from melbourne, in Hair of the Dogs

Me with De Niro the turtle in the tank behind me Me with De Niro the turtle in the tank behind me

Rock, punk and alternative music bars in Tokyo

There are a few places I’m absolutely KICKING to get back to in Tokyo. Some I discovered myself, some were shown to me by friends, and some I even found from a guidebook (what’s the odds o’ that?)

I’m into alternative indie music, so anything that plays punk, ska, mod, grunge, britpop, madchester, industrial, goth, metal, or nu-metal gets my vote. So…

1. HOD Punk Bar
This stands for Hair of the Dogs (sic) – but you have to crane your head up to the (very red!) ceiling to see this. I found this one wandering around the Golden Gai area of Kabukicho (map here). My heart started beating wildly when I saw the Ramones poster on the door:

I’d heard that some of the bars in the Golden Gai area don’t welcome foreigners, and so it was with some slight trepidation that I opened the door. But surely punk conquers all, doesn’t it? Indeed it does, my friends!! I was immediately taken with the smiling behawked owner, Tohru, and amused by his pet turtle De Niro.

Before long, even with my extremely limited Japanese, I had sat down, been given a cold beer and a book containing multitudes of punk and ska songs to pick and choose from. UK Subs, Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, The Specials, Bad Manners – even the aussie band the Porkers! I was in my element, and spent far too many yen on far too many beers, stumbling out the door as dawn approached.

Yes, the bars in the Golden Gai often stay open til 4am or so. Bliss for pissheads! Luckily for me, my hotel was right nearby, and as I’d earlier seen the GG area from a window near my hotel lift, even when drunk I could negotiate my way home.

I have been back quite a few times since, and ALWAYS have a great time there. Other people drop in, Japanese and western, and you have to shuffle around cos it’s like 6 metres square or something, but it’s all a part of the fun really. Even if I’m on my own, I never feel lonely in the city while I can drop in here.

2. Bar Mother
This one is also in Shinjuku, Kabukicho, 2 streets before you get to the Golden Gai area (map here). Some Spanish guys I met in HOD showed me this one.

This really ties with HOD for my fave place. I like that it plays a lot of different alternative music – Faith No More, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Blur, Madness, Rob Zombie, Prodigy, Marilyn Manson, The Damned, The Cult, Nick Cave and even softer stuff like Goldfrapp. It’s slightly longer than HOD but pretty narrow, and decorated with skeletons hanging from the ceiling.

…and has skulls and spooky Day of the Dead stuff all round the joint…

When the Prodigy’s new song “Omen” came on back in March, the place WENT OFF!!!

3. GODZ metal bar
This one is around the corner from Bar Mother, and plays metal. REALLY LOUDLY! If you ask for the right ones with picture discs, you get to see the video on-screen (like I did when I requested AC/DC). A Japanese friend showed me this one – although her requests of Slayer and Swedish death metal were far more heavy metal than my taste. But hey, if metal floats yer boat, you’re gonna LOVE this place.

4. Garageland
Here’s one in Shibuya, just for something different, although it is a punk bar. Well, it also plays ska, new wave, mod and goth – the barman heard my friend and I talking and put on the Cure, Siouxsie and the Banshees, then Sisters of Mercy! Same deal, you get a book and pick what you want to hear. However, it is a bit bigger than the ones in Shinjuku; it can seat maybe a dozen people and have a few more standing. It’s up a few floors, and we only stumbled upon this one by the poster downstairs,

which upon closer inspection made me laugh:

It says “I heart big dumps”!!

That’s probably enough for one post, but there are several other places worthy of a visit that I’ll share in the near future. What are your fave places to listen to alternative music in Tokyo?

Footnote: for more on Golden Gai, go to www.goldengai.net
It’s in Japanese, but Google translate is your friend 🙂