As I said, I missed Luke Younger in Tokyo by three nights but he sent me certain vital information such as the existence of the HMV Shibuya second hand record shop and almost as crucially the Nightingale Noise Bar in Tokyo’s Golden Gai. As soon as I heard that there was a noise bar in Tokyo I knew I had to find it. Which is where my problems began.
The Golden Gai is but six narrow streets that is home to over 200 very small, idiosyncratic bars and cafes. Its an area that has, by some miracle, managed to escape the developers wrecking ball thus giving the area a distinct David Lynch/Blade Runner feel. High rise surrounds on three sides with a Bhuddist Temple sat at the other. Its about as weird as Tokyo gets and Tokyo has lots of weird.
Some of the bars are really, really, really, really small. We’re talking four punters max. Some of them will only allow you in if they like the cut of your gib. If the bar owners mates are in town then don’t even bother sitting down. Some of the bars have cover charges, something that will be anathema to western drinkers, you mean you have to pay to sit down? There are bars dedicated to the plasticity of the 80’s, world music, there’s the place where you can get served by a nurse, get served a cocktail that's the alcoholic take on colonic irrigation. There’s Cambiare, a bar themed around the Dario Argento film Suspiria.
I studied the Nightingale website and then how to find the Golden Gai which as it happened wasn’t that far from our hotel. I had Mrs Fisher with me of course, who as ever is most accommodating in my flights of fancy, but I wondered how long she’d be able to stick it out in a noise bar.
We decided to get there as soon as it opened thus imagining we’d secure one of its few seats. So at around 7.45pm we found ourselves wandering up and down each of the Golden Gai’s narrow streets agog as to the sheer number and variety of its tiny establishments. We looked in the doorways of bars that catered to the more extreme end of the Heavy Metal scale, folk bars that had acoustic guitars on the walls, real honest to goodness American bars the likes of which Pops used to drink in. There were bars full of cats. The furry variety, not the Jazz fan variety but I bet there were Jazz bars too. We saw doorways so slim we wondered how people of a portly persuasion would ever get through them. There were signs for bars down back alleyways that you could hardly squeeze through. After two circuits though we saw no sign of the Nightingale. And then we came across a map of the place all lit up and no doubt put there just for the likes of tourist who have trouble locating tiny bars. And there was the Nightingale. Written in English, down at the bottom of the very first street we’d walked down and near to Bar Plastic Model. So we walked down there and no, we still couldn’t find it. We looked up and down. We Walked up and down. We asked people. And still no sign of it.
Eventually we did find it and when we did enter its dark space the barmaid seemed genuinely thrilled to see us and excited that we’d found the place. 'How did you find us?' Which leads me to believe that actually finding the Nightingale is all part of the fun which is why I’m not giving exact details here. I've given enough already and If you’re as keen to find it as I was then so will you.
Lightbulb's in eggshells hung from the ceiling as did what looked like seaweed. A skinned monkey or small animal with a squashed head hung on the wall [I have to say I didn’t see it myself but Mrs Fisher reported its presence and wasn’t exactly thrilled by it]. A small TV screen played a Godzilla movie and from two huge JBL’s came the sound of a thunderstorm. The lighting was of course suitably subdued and all purpley, red and dark. We ordered a couple of drinks and took in the surroundings; a riveted polished steel bar top, a huge upside down clock, a poster advertising a 1960's German art show, various noise making gadgets of the homemade variety, a sofa with a blanket thrown over it sat against a wall and up against the bar seven bar-stools, behind it were crammed hundreds of LP’s.
Conversation was somewhat hampered by the thunderstorm going on so we moved to the end of the bar where we sat and watched the TV screen which soon changed from Godzilla to a Japanese documentary about traditional folk music. I became fascinated by it and saw in it the Bongoleeros and the Filthy Turd, people dressed as horses banging bits of wood and a man with a performing monkey. The barmaid came over and apologised for the owner not being in and talked of a Rune Grammofon gig across town. We got another drink and she began mixing records layering Pan Sonic like beats with GDR political speeches then ambience and finally a growing Industrial roar. As the volume increased the Japanese folk music documentary got weirder with people wrestling bears which was around the time Mrs Fisher began to get restless. I got up to take some pictures and saw stuck to the clock a piece of paper with the word 'HELM' written on it that looked like it could be a gig running order. Maybe Helm played a gig there? I felt like I was following in his footsteps. I was following in his footsteps.
I asked for the bill and for four drinks of plum wine mixed with soda handed over an eye-watering amount of money. I couldn't have cared less. I'm going back one day. I hope its still there when I do.