Tokyo doesn’t allow for many opportunities to go slumming, but if you are desperate for a bit of dirt, grime and even some wanton graffiti, Shibuya’s two tiny streets of tiny bars is the place to go! Like Omoidedori and Golden Gai in Shinjuku, Nonbeiyokocho is crammed with bars so tiny that four people are considered quite a crowd. The bars on the “open” street are more open to newcomers and foreigners and the barflies tend to spill out on street and mingle with the patrons of other bars. On the “closed” street there are a few members-only places, karaoke places where you really don’t go without coming with someone well known and even a few bars that never seem to be open yet always full. Some of the bars have a table charge as well, so if you’re on a budget it might be best to inquire first. Nonbeiyokocho is a bit tricky to find even though it is just stone throw from the station – this is part of its charm!
Totally hidden behind a couple of tall buildings on the side of Shibuya station, near the street that leads up to Omotesando, there’s a couple of streets called Nonbei Yokocho (のんべい横丁). “Nonbei” (or nonbe) is a slang expression from the Edo period (1603-1868) meaning drunkard or person who loves drinking, so it’s a pretty fitting name for these two streets of tiny little bars and eateries. Weekend nights like this almost every bar is packed, even though this means there’s only 5-10 persons inside. Japanese really love these tiny bars! Like Shinjuku’s Golden Gai or Omoide Yokocho the average age of the patrons is relatively high. This must be a nice place to be a regular! Trying to read up a little on the subject I found this blog with a few interesting drawings of scenes from this street.