Golden Gai Warning: Touts from Notorious Kabukicho “Clubs” Encroach on Golden Gai

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On the Path Golden Gai

The short version:
I’ve posted about Golden Gai many times on forums and even written an introductory guide to “Tokyo’s worst-kept secret,” a cluster of dive bars near Shinjuku’s notorious nightlife district where hipster travellers and in-the-know locals mix and mingle and together enjoy a unique Tokyo experience.

In 15 years of exploring Golden Gai’s narrow streets and cluttered bars, I’ve never really felt threatened, even when out all night, alone and killing time ‘til first train…

Until last night, Thursday Tokyo time. For the first time that I’ve seen, some of the touts from the dodgy nightclubs in the surrounding Kabukicho red light district are now in Golden Gai itself. One guy, in particular, chatted up patrons at the landmark Champions bar near Golden Gai’s unofficial entrance. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t take NO as an answer from me, and actually followed me right into Champions bar and wouldn’t leave until he thought I was calling the cops. When he did leave, it was with a threat that “he’d be waiting for me” outside Golden Gai.

Lousy way to end the night.

A one-off, rogue tout, or the beginning of a new and unwelcome phase in Golden Gai’s growing popularity? We shall see…

Here’s a longer version of this story, if you wanna read more. https://medium.com/@aaronpaulson/kabukicho-touts-now-in-golden-gai-22b5bfd66672

Japan Photo Trek: Yakushima Island

Shiratani Unsuikyo: Princess mononoke's Garden; Yakushima Island

Not surprisingly, Yakushima – wet, wild, off the beaten path, and featured in poems, movies, and even video games – is on many peoples’ shortlists of “power spots” in Japan. The mountains and mossy, antediluvian cedar and cryptomeria cypress rain forest on this mist-shrouded island off the coast of Kyushu resonate with the kind of “ki” energy that draws poets, movie directors, and even computer game designers: the Beat poet Sansei Yamao and friends founded a community inland; the forests in Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke anime and the Dremuchij forest in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater were inspired by the green trees and rocks of Shiratani Unsuiko and the island’s mossy, mountainous interior.

Yakushima Highlands; Yakushima Island, Japan

Yakushima’s unique ecological diversity, the subtropical coastal areas reaching up 2,000-meter mountains to sa-sa  bamboo grasslands at the – snowy, in winter – summits, and the 1,000+-year-old yakusugi Japanese cedar trees, especially the millenia-old “Jomon sugi” tree have also been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stump, Ancient Jomonsugi Cedar Tree; Yakushima Island, Japan

R. and I visited in the spring, when it rained – apparently it’s always raining on Yakushima – on our hike to the Shiratani Unsuiko Princess Mononoke forest and kayaked on the Anbo River.

See more photos at https://500px.com/tokyoaaron/galleries/yakushima-japan-s-lost-world-island

Other Resources

Yakushima thread on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree discussion forum

… and on TripAdvisor

Yakushima Life, a blog by professional hiking guide Jenny

Extreme Weather: How Hot is Tokyo in Summer?

Recently a question was posed on Quora: “How is the Tokyo summer heat?”. Here’s the bulk of my answer:

…   June is the rainy season: not as hot, but, well rainy (though not every day). July is, apparently, the most humid Weather and Climate: Average monthly Rainfall, Sunshine, Temperatures, Humidity, Wind Speed. August is the hottest.

It’s been a long time – 35 years? – since I visited Arizona in summer, specifically Sun City West where my grandparents retired. What I remember, however, is the dry heat you mention. even coming from my hometown of Toronto, a place not known for being particularly hot at any time of the year, I was surprised that the 100-degree-plus days didn’t FEEL hotter than they did (seems to me the hottest temp during one of my visits was 116).

By contrast, a hot day in Tokyo reaches 35 degrees Celsius, sometimes topping 38 (100 degrees Fahrenheit). However, there are two additional factors to take into consideration: humidity, and the heat-island effect.

Offhand, I can’t find any useful stats on just how humid Tokyo can be in the summer, but I can recall days where the temp was around 38 and the humidity above 90%. According to the Heat Index calculator at the National Weather Centre, that works out to 178 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, that ain’t the average, as I say, and I’m not sure any days reached that high in the summer of 2016, but it gets there – and in the summer of 2015 there was a record number of straight days of temps above 35 celsius in early August – in fact I posted about it Big Sushi, Little Fishes: a japan blog

The other consideration is the heat-island effect. I don’t know of any way to calculate how much concrete can raise the ambient temperature of a city, but I do know that walking ib Shinjuku, say, on a hot summer day, with car and air conditioner exhaust, amidst crowds of sweltering people, and a hot wind blowing up the urban canyonland can be an overwhelming experience. Fortunately, there are bars and cafes and shops and department stores and the like, most with over-active aircon, in which to take refuge!

So yes, of course comfortable weather is a relative phenomenon, and coming from southern Arizona the temps may even be a little low compared to what you’re used to. But temperature is only part of the equation; people who know say that in summer Tokyo is a tropical climate, on par with Singapore and other hotspots in southern Asia.

Of course, life does go on – even in heat-island Shinjuku – and there are mountains nearby to escape to if the heat does get oppressive. So the heat and humidity is no reason not to visit in summer: it’s just a matter of adjusting your inner thermostat, so to speak!

Mount Mitakesan Photo Drift, Winter 2016

Tenguno Koshikakesugi "Tengu Tree" Mount Mitakesan; Tokyo Japan

This new years’, our 13th at Mitakesan, a cold wind and rain blew from the desiccated Kanto plain rice paddies into the Okutama mountains and cedar forests. R and I slipped and slided on silvery trails through mist-draped woods. The sun stayed behind the clouds – did it ever really shine in these cold shadows, on this frigid earth? Rain and sweat chilled us both: hypothermia country. Fortunately, we made it off the mountain and onto a heated JR train back to the city and… a hot bath. Looks like we owe another one to the guardian spirits of the mountain – and the city.

Check out all the pictures on Instagram

Kinokuniya’s Flagship Bookstore in Tokyo Downsizes

Kinokuniya Bookstore, Tokyo

It couldn’t last; Heck, I’m surprised it stuck it out as long as it did. A six-story bookstore simply wasn’t meant for this world of online ordering and ebook readers. As of December 1st, the flagship store of the Kinokuniya bookstore chain has given up four of its six floors to a designer furniture shop. For now, the foreign books section remains on the sixth floor, and still stocks books in English and French and other languages, though anyone who’s visited recently knows, other merchandise such as large-scale wall calendars and t-shirts are encroaching on the floor space once reserved for books and magazines.

On a personal note, the Kinokuniya bookstore served as a critical landmark  when I first arrived in-country almost two decades ago and spun out a jet-lagged fugue in Shinjuku’s elevated walkways and neon canyonlands. I’ve made regular visits ever since, and always allowed myself the luxury of impulse purchases to help support one of my favourite places to kill time. I have to admit I’ve visited less in the last few years, but I’m going to miss riding the escalator from the sixth floor to the cafe where I could check out my latest purchases.

Sigh. End of an era.