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A Manual for Intimate Publics

A Manual for Intimate Publics was the final project created by myself, Brady Collins, and Stephanie Odenheimer for the Urban Humanities Initiative at UCLA in 2014. The project documents our collected experiences of the Golden Gai area of Tokyo, captured during a trip to Japan with the UHI team that Spring.


Golden Gai, a neighborhood whose area comprises less than one city- block, hides behind the hypermodern glass towers of Shinjuku, Tokyo’s business district. The small buildings in Golden Gai are two to three stories tall, its unique array of narrow passageways and wooden structures housing over 250 tiny bars and restaurants. Passing through the narrow alleys between buildings, customers can casually bar hop among the different establishments. Having served in the past as a haven for criminals and illicit activity, yokocho areas such as Golden Gai were traditionally considered old fashioned and unsafe. While there are less people living in the Golden Gai than before, a handful of “Mama-sans” – a word that refers to elderly women who run the bars – still live in the tight quarters of the second floor. Today, the area is both a specter of another time and a growing tourist attraction. Though Golden Gai is now a recognized cultural hub and low-key drinking spot, the neighborhood is often under threat for redevelopment, with the city citing its structural instability and vulnerability to fire as the key concerns.


[Homage to Ed Ruscha. Photography by Stephanie Odenheimer]

The Manual

Our collected representations of Golden Gai are based off of photo documentation and personal narratives gathered from people we spoke to there. These artifacts became the foundation for a set of instructions called “A Manual for Intimate Publics.” The manual draws from highly specific contextual details about our observations and experiences of Golden Gai in order to provide a set of instructions for constructing an Intimate Public in other urban settings. This preposterousness of this idea is purposeful, in that it also allows us to confront the challenge of scholarly representation, or rather, the dubious relationship between any place and its representation, and between an object and its designed, planned reproduction.

However, by unpacking the origins of an Intimate Public, how it resists and adapts to the change, the social and spatial ties that maintain it, and the intimacy that is produced from it, one can identify such spaces in other urban contexts. As the world grows increasingly urban, the presence of Intimate Publics will become even more important as a rare space for diverse and intimate exchange. The Intimate Public is not just a space but a lens or forum for imagining other possible futures.


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[Images from A Manual for Intimate Publics]


Content by Brady Collins, Morgan Currie, and Stephanie Odenheimer. With faculty support from Jonathan Crisman, Dana Cuff, Timothy Unverzagt Goddard, Yoh Kawano, William Marotti, and Todd Presner.