Hidden Tokyo

Hidden nightspots have become all the rage among a certain Tokyo set.

Infused with a knowing, postmodern nostalgia, these hard-to-find hangouts feel as intimate as living rooms and are often just as small.

Oddly enough for a society intravenously hooked up to high-speed gadgetry, the secrets are traded solely by word of mouth.

Tokyo, especially after dark, is notoriously hard to penetrate with its patchwork alleys, nondescript apartment buildings, faceless office towers, and basement stairwells.

Discreet, out-of-the-way bars have been a staple of Japanese culture for decades. The pocket- sized dives — called nomiya (counter bars) — were mostly bulldozed in favor of larger, glossier, more Westernized offerings.

The largest remaining tract is Golden Gai, a ghetto of vintage bars on a bamboo-lined backstreet in the Shinjuku district that is clogged with so-called hostess bars.

If you are intruding on a close-knit scene, the proprietor will ignore you and maybe overcharge you. You won’t be asked to leave, but you will want to leave.


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