In some ways, Shinjuku is the heart of Tokyo. It encapsulates so many aspects of Japanese culture.
Shinjuku was once renowned for being a red-light district populated with hostess bars. Nowadays it is much more. Kabukicho, the red-light/entertainment district, is still there but the area has diversified.
I first walked around Golden Gai in Shinjuku. It’s filled with a hotchpotch of tiny bars in darkened alleyways lit by lanterns. Locals and tourists drink there. The bars are intimate and sometimes a musician plays something. Many of the bars have a minimum amount that you must spend. They have so few seats that they can’t afford to have customers who come in for the experience and linger over one drink for an hour.
After walking along the narrow and windy lanes of Golden Gai, I headed to the brighter lights of Shinjuku towards Kabukicho. I quickly came across the hostess bars, with men or young women standing outside, trying to lure customers. I saw two Japanese young men walking by one. They had just finished work. The elderly doorman nodded to them, one of the young men nodded back, and the doorman discreetly ushered them into the inner sanctum.
Earlier on my trip, I’d been to the iconic twin-towered Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It’s located in the business district of Shinjuku, with skyscrapers filled with corporate headquarters. This was a stark contrast to Kabukicho and the surrounding shopping and dining districts.
At nighttime, Shinjuku’s entertainment, dining, and shopping district are heaving with people. There’s an energy and vibrancy unique to Tokyo.
Shinjuku station is huge and, like other stations in East Asia, a mini-city in itself. It’s one of the busiest stations in the world with many entrances. Even though I’d been here a few times, I struggled to find the line I needed to return to my ryokan. Google Maps rescued me.
I got back to the ryokan and had a renewed realisation that tomorrow was my last full day in Tokyo. I felt sad.