For many Tokyoites, Shinjuku is inextricably linked with the 1960s and '70s and with jazz. "There used to be jazz kissa (cafes) everywhere," says Dug cafe owner and jazz photographer Hozumi Nakadaira. During these decades, the district came to be known as a Mecca for young people and a jazz and avant-garde art haven.

In the immediate postwar period, Shinjuku was an area of black market dealings and multiple red-light districts. Then, in the 1960s, a new generation of young student activists took to its streets to protest against the Vietnam War, nuclear weapons, American involvement in postwar Japan and Japan's complicity in the capitalist world order.

For these activists, art was deeply intertwined with politics, and Shinjuku came to be the site of an array of new experimental art movements. Like the traveling performers of old, Juro Kara's theater troupe performed in a tent temporarily built on the grounds of Hanazono Shrine on the edge of Golden Gai — a warren of shacks that had, until recently, been both a black market and red-light district. Artists and musicians conducted events, equal parts artistic and political, at the plaza in front of Shinjuku Station's East Exit. The soon-to-be-renowned Japanese new wave film director Nagisa Oshima recorded these happenings, interspersed them with scenes shot at the new Kinokuniya building, designed by modernist architect Kunio Maekawa, and created the now-classic "Diary of a Shinjuku Thief." Meanwhile, Daido Moriyama's photographs depicted the student movement, the art world and an underworld populated by sex workers and yakuza.