Fire in Golden Gai! On-Scene Reporting Reveals Problems in the Age of Reiwa
Just before 2:00 p.m. on December 17, tension flared in “Golden Gai” in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district. A fire suddenly broke out on the second floor of a store on the street. Even though it was midday and there were few pedestrians on the street, the fire spread to four stores, and 20 fire trucks were dispatched to extinguish the blaze, which lasted for three hours.
A person involved in the fire at a store adjacent to the fire scene recounted the situation on the day of the fire.
Firefighters and police officers were surrounded by onlookers, and there was a state of panic at the scene. It is said that the fire was caused by an electrical leak, but the cause is still unclear. Fortunately, no one was injured, but since there were no security cameras in the area around the store where the fire broke out, the investigation into the cause of the fire was difficult. Some of the stores in the area where the fire did not spread had their walls and ceilings torn apart by the firefighting efforts, and some have not been able to reopen for business. This is a big blow at the end of the year, when the market is at its peak.
It appears that the fire was not an accident. However, as we proceeded with our interviews, the problems that Golden Gai has been facing recently came to light. The owner of a long-established bar lamented, “The area has rapidly become a tourist attraction over the past 10 years.
The owner of a long-established bar laments, “In Golden Gai, which has rapidly become a tourist attraction over the past 10 years, there have been many incidents that leave a bad taste in the mouth. Most of them are minor crimes, such as running away from drinks and theft, but last year there was also a vicious case of coma robbery of a female waitress. There are so many things happening that these days, when something happens, I think, ‘Oh, no, not again.’ ……”
As this shopkeeper explains, Golden Gai has rapidly become a tourist attraction in recent years, and all kinds of prices have gone up. The most obvious example is the rent, which until about 10 years ago could be rented for as little as 150,000 yen per month, but now it is not uncommon for new tenants to be charged close to 300,000 yen per month. The owner continues with a sigh.
Originally, the place was less expensive than the market price in Shinjuku, but that was due to the consideration of our predecessors who wanted to preserve the culture of this town. To a certain extent, the owners set the prices low with an unspoken understanding. However, I feel that more and more of the people who have been running the stores for a long time are getting older and giving up their stores, and as a result, the number of owners with bad business sense is increasing. We are in a vicious cycle of higher tenant fees and higher liquor costs. In fact, we have been offered exorbitant rent increases of 10% each time we renew our lease, which frankly makes me angry.
The increase in the number of commercial establishments catering to foreign tourists has driven away the regular customers who knew the good old days of the area. There has been a spread of corona infection and an increase in petty crime, and more and more people are choosing to close their stores in disgust. Many store owners are concerned about the situation.
If things continue as they are now, the culture that has been passed down in Golden Gai will die. We often talk about this among the store owners. If someone doesn’t communicate the current situation, it may become just another place of commercialism. I love this place so much that I have set up store here, and I don’t want to see such a sad future.
The former social gathering place for cultural figures may be gradually changing its appearance in the age of Reiwa. People who have worked in this town and supported its culture are keenly aware of this change.
Interview and text by： Shimei Kurita Photo： Takero Yui