Drinks about ¥400 - ¥700, food varies, *Some places may have a ¥300 or so table charge
- 2 Chome-17 (to 2 Chome-21) Asagayaminami, Tokyo
- Distance from Station:
- 1 minute from JR Asagaya Station, East Exit
- Many places have English menus, some staff may speak English
ASAGAYA ICHIBAN GAI
For Music, Dive Bars, Making New Friends and Good Times
Although Asagaya’s Ichiban Gai isn’t quite the rabbit warren that Golden Gai in Shinjuku is, its depth is unmatched. This is the authentic Showa era dive bar “shotengai” that Golden Gai once was. Eager entrepreneurs both old and young with a passion for anything you could imagine put out a shingle and risk it all. This isn’t at all a tourist trap but just Asagaya doing what it does best, serving the local community a bit of Japanese hospitality. You’ll find an eclectic mix of counter bars, cafes, live music and DJ bars, and restaurants. This is late night dive bar heaven! For those of you asking “What’s a dive bar?” it’s a place that serves drinks and food that meets the basic requirements to get out of the elements and have an amazing time, meeting old and new friends. Some places are quite intimate and small consisting of no more than 5 or 6 bar stools and to get to the bathroom everyone else may have to stand up. Some places are surprisingly spacious. You may miss some of the second floor establishments so watch out for tiny staircases and enjoy exploring.
For music lovers: It’s a great area to listen to all genres of music from modern DJ music to punk, classic rock, and Jazz—the Asagaya specialty. The list is endless. There is even a cafe dedicated to bears where there is a lot of bear stuff but also live music. Just down the road the owner at Ma Blue Dome shows western movies dubbed in Japanese and sometimes will serenade you with his original Japanese folk tunes, open sometimes until 10am! Next to the new Starbucks in Beans shopping center, there is a “live house” called Masuwell where local musicians gather for concerts and jam sessions. Join in if you like, instruments are provided! Look for the red staircase next to Starbucks. It’s on the 3rd floor. Bar 89 is more punk and post punk run by two local veterans, while 1984 and Rock Elite are more straight-up rock. Cafein is a bar with a DJ event space in the basement.
Eating: Asagaya Cafe provides significant outdoor seating and is a great place to people watch. At 8039 Izakaya you’ll be served authentic Japanese food by the kimono-clad “mama”. Most places serve up some kind of food from snacks to full-on dinner and lunch. There is a bar/cafe that serves up mostly Oden, a Japanese stewed pot dish, aptly named Oden Bar in case you had a few too many to remember the name. You can find Japanese food like sushi and sashimi, Okinawan, kobe beef, tonkatsu, and even Hiroshima-style Okonomiyaki but if you are tired of Japanese cuisine Ichiban Gai also offers Hawaiian, Chinese, Thai, Korean, and even Persian fare.
Who: The customers in this area vary. One night you will be drinking next to a salary man and the next a famous music producer, musician, local bar owner or staff from a bar down the street. There are very few foreigners but unlike Golden Gai with its “Only Japanese Speaker” signs, Ichiban Gai bar owners welcome everyone. People are quite friendly and respectful.
Prices: Table charges, when applicable, are reasonable at about 300 yen. Drinks vary from about 400 – 1000 yen and food varies depending on the establishment, but cheap options are available.
Manners: This is a local neighborhood much like a village so please be respectful of the few residents that live on the street and follow the lead of the regulars concerning noise level and manners. Some nights the area is quite active and other nights you can have a quiet night exploring.
When to go: The best time to go depends on your mood. Night time after midnight is most active and after last train (around 1am) until morning is the most interesting. It can get pretty rowdy especially in the early morning hours. If you visit by day your best bet is to enjoy the local restaurants that Ichiban Gai has to offer. Many have English menus available.
Location: Ichiban gai starts At the McDonalds just out the south exit of Asagaya Station to your right and ends just before Anime Street starts. But don’t miss the small side area on the right just between Cafein DJ bar and Asagaya Cafe where you will find more dive bars like Route 45 (careful not to ring the bell or you’ll be buying the tequila), and a few nicer cocktail and wine bars like QeQue and Gekko (serves a Kitakyushu specialty called Kashi). Many places participate in the biannual Asagaya drinking festival and the Ichiban Gai Festival (held during the day).
Nomiyasan Matsuri– A pub crawl festival occurring biannually
[updated January 2019]