A one-night music festival will be held Thursday to help revitalize Shinjuku Golden Gai in the Kabukicho district, one of Tokyo’s most popular eating and drinking districts.
The event will be staged at Kinokuniya Hall in Shinjuku Ward, and bar and restaurant owners in the area are hopeful the event will provide a much-needed spur to help overcome recent business-related hardships, including the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and a fire in December.
Golden Gai, located in Shinjuku Ward, is thought to have originated as a black market that relocated from an area in front of Shinjuku Station immediately after the end of World War II. The neighborhood was frequently visited by literary giants and stage actors during the Showa era (1926-1989).
Currently, Golden Gai comprises about 290 bars and restaurants in wooden buildings, built in the traditional nagaya row-house style.
One of the area’s attractions is the one-off interactions among strangers in the small bars and restaurants. Prior to the pandemic, most establishments were crowded with young people and foreign tourists, including numerous literature and theater fans.
Once the pandemic began to take hold, however, Kabukicho was frowned upon as a hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus. According to Bunmei Tobayama, president of the Shinjuku Golden Gai Shopping District Promotion Association, many establishments were forced to close and the district lost much of its vitality.
The problem was further compounded by a related rise in telecommuting, and only about 70% of customers have returned, Tobayama explained.
Golden Gai was damaged by fire at the end of December. The blaze broke out in an establishment next to Tobayama’s and burned a roughly 20-square-meter area. Although no one was injured, three establishments were rendered inoperable and some others were forced to close.
The idea of the music festival emerged thereafter. Among those scheduled to perform are musician Ryudo Uzaki, an acquaintance of Tobayama, and singer-songwriter Hako Yamazaki, a Golden Gai regular.
Tobayama, who runs his own theater company, will take the stage to talk about what Golden Gai was like in and around the 1970s — commonly held to be district’s golden age.
“I hope the event serves as an opportunity for people who have never visited Golden Gai to get to know the district,” Tobayama, 76, said.