“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
If there’s a distinct characteristic about Japanese, they may be busy bees at work; they also know how to party harder. To relax and distress from a day’s work, most of the salarymen are usually found on a different huddle, minus the conference room atmosphere. Instead, they are seen casually dining and drinking in well-lit alleys and side streets of the metropolis –at yokochos.
A yokocho is an alleyway packed with compact bars and izakayas were you literally rub elbows with one another since it most stalls could only seat at least 4-10 people and reflect the traditional escape for tired souls who prefer to cap off their night over a cheap but sumptuous meal or either over a drink or two. For tourists, yokochos are like unraveling a pot of hidden gems: authentic Japanese tastes at an affordable price, great tasting beers, and sake, and a genuine culture-soaking experience.
Join me as I list some of the famous yokochos within Tokyo.
Shinjuku is a known district of commerce and transportation since it hosts the busiest railway in the world as well as various terminals for buses, and it is no surprise that this bustling district houses two of the famous yokocho in Tokyo—the Omoide Yokocho and Golden Gai.
Omoide Yokocho, which literally translates as “Memory Lane” but is more famed among locals and tourists as Piss Alley, has already made its mark in the yokocho scene. Omoide flourished after the WWII, when the government has strict control over items being sold that merchants have used their resourcefulness by selling unrestricted items, which are animal innards. The area gained it’s the moniker Piss Alley because prior to the fire that razed this yokocho, there were no bathroom amenities to be found in the area. Even during post-fire restoration, and with bathroom facilities already available, still, the moniker remained.
This alley is popular for serving innards of pork and beef that is skewered and grilled. Those who seek some exotic treats, Asadachi is the best place to try bizarre foods like fried sashimi, grilled salamander, and even pig testicles.
Another well-visited yokocho in Shinjuku is Golden Gai, a watering hole and the face of nightlife. Cramped in this alley are around 270 pint-size bars serving all sorts of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages with piping music ranging from mellow to hard rock. This place is a pigeon hole for artists, poets, writers, creatives or anybody who just want to enjoy a good conversation over some beer or wine while munching grilled goodies. While some bars have a friendly vibe to it, other pubs exude exclusivity specifically because some places tend to be hostile to non-native speakers.
Formerly a flea market during the early post-war era, Harmonica Alley is different from the typical yokocho scene in town. It is a labyrinth of two-story buildings resembling a Harmonica, hence the name Harmonica Alley. These buildings are hosts to various boutiques and shops a day including florists, fortune tellers, bars and little eateries. At night, the Harmonica Alley transforms to a hip and happening place, wherein locals convene for a night of bar hopping from one bar to the next.
Known to locals as “Nikomi Dori” or “Stew Street,” this yokocho is near Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. The nickname “Stew Street” was derived from the popular food sold on this yokocho—stewed tendons and giblets. Also legendary in this yokocho is Hoppy Dori, a beer with only 0.8% and is commonly served together with Sochu, which you have to mix to fully appreciate. This alley also boasts of taverns wherein you can grab a drink (even at daytime) while passing time or people watching.
Black and chic is the best way to describe Kurobei Yokocho, which is located near Tokyo Station. Kurobei’s alley is a home to restaurants offering traditional Japanese dishes and Okinawan dishes and is a favorite relaxation spot among adults.
Candyland in the midst of a flea market is how Ameya Yokocho started to become a common name among locals. Among the 400 plus shops wherein you can haggle-all-you-want lies open-air eateries to feed hungry shoppers.
Amazake Yokocho, named after the sweet sake amazake, boasts of 70 shops selling numerous food options. Amakaze also features stores selling Japanese musical instruments, and traditional crafts like kimono, ceramics, and lacquerware.
Retro is the central theme of this relatively new yokocho, the Ebisu Yokocho. These small arcade serves a happy medley of your favorite Japanese dishes. Some stores even sell exotic meats like horse and whale meat.
Tokyo Yokochos. An alley filled with superb food and drink options, merriment and hearty laughs. It is a social place that exudes the fun-loving lifestyle of the Japanese. Drop by any of these yokochos on your next Tokyo visit and enjoy a good time, the Japanese way.
Aleli is a wanderlust whose main itinerary is to culture soak in the places that she sets foot on, sinking her teeth in the gustatory offerings that the place has to offer and knowing the story behind it. Food for her is a marriage of the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the rich history of every city she explores and uses the pen as her tool to share to the world each unique experience she unravels.