Long-term jaded Tokyo resident still comfortable drinking in Golden Gai

Shinjuku Golden Gai… looking pretty underwhelming during daylight hours.

“How long did you say you’ve lived here?  17 years!?”  It was a question many a tourist has asked 45 year old Rob Petraglia.  “Wow!  You must really love Japan!” gushed the 21 year old Australian backpacker sitting next to him.  Petraglia, perhaps unable to find the enthusiasm to match his temporary buddy, nodded wistfully and let out a slightly audible, “…… Yeah…”

Long-term foreign residents of Japan typically find their niche after a few years.  For some it will be hiking in the mountains or cycling the isolated country roads.  There will even be the odd outdoor enthusiast who will develop a following online, with westerners hungry for unique perspectives of a land that they yearn to visit.  For Petraglia, however, the metropolis of Tokyo still manages to keep the slightest flame of a desire to live from dying out inside.

A brightly lit, yet lonely place during Covid.

The divorced Canadian, with two anchor children living in a Saitama house with his unstable ex-wife, has found that Golden Gai is the one Japanese cultural area that he still frequents.  All the reasons he had for loving Japan a decade ago have disappeared from his life, except Golden Gai.  Now, although overrun with short-stayers, Petraglia clings to the place like an entitled beaver clings to its mother, unable to comprehend that it’s overstayed its welcome.

“I live in a 1DK studio apartment in Kita ku and the walls can close in from time to time.  I drink in Akabane, Oji, and Golden Gai.  That’s my monthly rotation,” he explained.  “Once a month I’ll stay at home to save money and I’ll just spend most of the weekend picking fights on social media.

Let the mingling begin.

“When I first came to Golden Gai, the bars didn’t have English menus, and everything felt like a Masumura movie featuring Ayako Wakao, but not the one where she has an affair with another woman.  No, it wasn’t like that.  It was more like one of the other Ayako Wakao movies where she plays another kind of highly emotional character.  Sure, the place lacks that Showa vibe now, but I still come here because I don’t have anything better to do.

“Hot springs are wonderful and the volcanoes are amazing.  I’ve been there and done that. I even once considered exploring Gunkanjima,” he mutters while staring into his beer. “I never followed through on that plan though. There are some who long to take photos of those crumbling buildings, or a wild tanuki, or even a wild tanuki moving through those old buildings. Then they want to bathe in instagram glory for a few days.  That’s not me though.

Ayako Wakao testing her man’s kindness, patience, and gullibility.

“Some people have accused me of failing to move on to things more appropriate for my age.  And, while it’s true that all I do is get blitzed like I did when I was twenty years younger, I find that I don’t mind mingling with tourists half my age who talk about bands that I’ve never heard of, and have no desire to listen to,” he states in a moment of remarkable self-reflection.

“You won’t find me trying to find yet another Tottoro-style country vista.  I can guarantee you that.  While those outdoor types are discovering delightfully refreshing mountain streams, I’ll either be at a bar or in my apartment watching hockey and calculating how many more paychecks it’ll be until my youngest kid graduates from high school.”

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