Must-see gourmet spots for sake lovers. 5 Recommended Yokocho for drinking in Tokyo

In Japan, local alleyways "yokocho" (横丁) are attracting attention again in response to the recent retro boom. “Yokocho” is a gourmet spot where cheap izakayas and restaurants serving local delicacies are lined up, and it is a place where you can experience Japanese culture. From the standard Ueno "Ameya Yokocho" to "Asakusa Yokocho", which has just opened in 2022 and has become a hot topic as a Neo Yokocho, here are 5 Tokyo "Yokocho" recommended for foodies!

*All prices that appear in this article include tax and are as of January 2023. The prices may have changed, so please check the details at each store.

Rooted in the post-war black market! ? What is the history of "Yokocho" in Japan?

5 Recommended Yokocho for Drinking in Tokyo

Spots with the name “yokocho” are scattered all over Japan, but do you know the meaning of “yokocho” in the first place?

A yokocho is a narrow street (an alleyway) that runs off the main street of the city, crammed with restaurants and bars, and is often a place to hang out at night.

Many of the yokocho alleyways that have become standard tourist spots today have their origins in the black markets that formed in Tokyo and other parts of Japan right after World War II. After the war, when there was a shortage of supplies and inflation, people bought food and daily necessities at black markets, and these street markets were crowded.

5 Recommended Yokocho for Drinking in Tokyo

However, most of the black markets were closed one after another due to crackdowns within a few years of their birth. While many black markets have been removed or dismantled, there are also black markets that have been reborn as modern yokocho. Top candidates are Ueno "Ameya Yokocho" (commonly known as "Ameyoko") and Shinjuku "Omoide Yokocho". These staples of Tokyo sightseeing still retain the atmosphere of the old days, and are still loved as alleyways lined with restaurants and izakayas.

Ueno "Ameya Yokocho": Tokyo's leading tourist attraction! + 3 recommended stores

Ameya Yokocho

© Tokyo Convention&Visitors Bureau

Ueno "Ameya Yokocho" is by far the most well-known yokocho in Japan. In Taito City, Tokyo, running along the train tracks from JR Ueno Station to JR Okachimachi Station is a 500m-long shopping street also known as "Ameyoko". Although it is now bustling with tourists all year round, it was originally one of the yokocho that originated as a black market. In the post-war period when there were insufficient goods, it is said that the area was called 'Ameyoko' because 'there were many candy stores' (飴屋 / ameya - candy stores) and 'many imported goods from the United States' (アメリカ / America).

Ameya Yokocho

© Tokyo Convention&Visitors Bureau

In addition to tourists buying walk-and-eat gourmet, food products, ingredients, seasonings, clothes, cosmetics, etc., the entire shopping district is filled with the tremendous enthusiasm of the store clerks who are calling in customers. With more than 400 stores crowded together, you're bound to stop and take a look. If you can't decide which shop to go to, first try the BEST 3 stores recommended by our editorial team. There are many store clerks who are friendly to tourists visiting Japan, so it's fun to try to communicate with them.

Ueno "Ameya Yokocho" best store ①: Get cheap sweets at "Niki no Kashi"!

Ueno Ameya Yokocho Niki no Kashi

"Niki no Kashi" (二木の菓子) has two stores in Ameya Yokocho, Ueno, Tokyo. A long-established confectionery wholesaler with a history of more than 70 years, there are about 5,000 types of products, including sweets from all over Japan! There are plenty of senbei (rice crackers) and chocolates that are perfect for sharing with friends and colleagues, so it is a great place for choosing souvenirs. Among these, what you should aim for is a large-capacity pack product! Take advantage of the tax exemption system and save even more!

Ueno Ameya Yokocho Niki no Kashi

Niki no Kashi

  • Address:
    • 【Niki no Kashi: Dai-ichi Eigyo-sho】1-4-8 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo
    • Niki no Kashi: Bic-kan】4-6-1 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo
  • Business hours:
    • 【Niki no Kashi: Dai-ichi Eigyo-sho】10:00 – 17:00
    • 【Niki no Kashi: Bic-kan】10:00 – 19:00

Ueno "Ameya Yokocho" best store ② "Shimura Shoten": You can buy a bag full of chocolates for just 1,000 yen!?

Ueno Ameya Yokocho Shimura Shoten
Ueno Ameya Yokocho Shimura Shoten

"Shimura Shoten" (志村商店), which has become a specialty of Ameyoko for selling chocolates, is also a spot where you can buy a lot of sweets. The generous service of filling a plastic bag with over 2,000 yen worth of chocolates and sweets for just 1,000 yen is extremely popular! Look out for the yellow sign and get your best budget-friendly "chocolate lucky bag".

Ueno Ameya Yokocho Shimura Shoten

Shimura Shoten

  • Address: 6-11-3 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo
  • Business hours: 10:00 – 18:00

Ueno "Ameya Yokocho" best store ③ "Niku no Ohyama Ueno store": Crispy and juicy Japanese beef menchi is a must-eat specialty

Ueno Ameya Yokocho Niku no Ohyama
Ueno Ameya Yokocho Niku no Ohyama

"Niku no Ohyama" (肉の大山) is a directly managed store run by a long-established meat wholesaler founded in 1932. What you definitely want to try here is the hearty “Takumi no Wagyu Menchi” (420 yen, first photo) made with wagyu beef. The crispy battered wagyu beef minced meat overflows with meat juices the moment you put it in your mouth...! In addition, there are plenty of deep-fried dishes that you want to eat with beer in one hand, such as Yamitsuki Menchi (150 yen, second picture) and Tokusei Menchi (220 yen).

Ueno Ameya Yokocho Niku no Ohyama

Niku no Ohyama Ueno store

  • Address: 6-13-2 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo
  • Business hours:
    • 【Lunch】11:00 - 15:00 (14:00 on weekends and holidays)
    • 【Dinner】15:00 (14:00 on weekends and holidays) - 22:00

Ameya Yokocho

  • Address: 4-6 Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo.
  • Access: A short walk from "Ueno Station", "Okachimachi Station", "Ueno Hirokoji Station" or "Naka-okachimachi Station" serviced by multiple lines

Shinjuku “Omoide Yokocho”: A bar district with a lot of unique izakayas

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho

©Shinjuku Convention & Visitors Bureau

"Omoide Yokocho" (思い出横丁) is a bar district located near the west exit of Shinjuku Station. Around 60 restaurants, mainly izakayas, motsuyaki (grilled offal) restaurants, and yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) restaurants, gather in the narrow alleyways filled with red lanterns. Many of them are open until 11:00 am to 12:00 am, making it convenient for tourists staying at nearby hotels. There are popular restaurants that still serve dishes using original recipes since the time they were founded, so you can expect some old-fashioned tastes and atmosphere.

Omoide Yokocho

  • Address: 1-2-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
  • Access: About 1 minute on foot from JR and other lines "Shinjuku Station" or Toei Oedo Line "Shinjuku-nishiguchi Station"

Kichijoji "Harmonica Yokocho": A drinking district near the station with over 100 stores

Kichijoji Harmonica Yokocho

© Tokyo Convention&Visitors Bureau

Don't miss "Harmonica Yokocho" (ハーモニカ横丁 - commonly known as 'ハモニカ横丁' / 'Hamonika Yokocho') in front of the north exit of Kichijoji Station. Like Ueno's Ameya Yokocho, it is one of the alleyways whose roots lie in the post-war black market. There are various theories, but it is said that the name comes from the appearance of rows of small shops that resemble the mouthpiece of a harmonica. About 100 shops line the narrow alleyways, including a wide variety of businesses such as izakaya, fishmongers, flower shops, and Japanese confectionery shops. In recent years, fashionable bars and cafes have also appeared, making it a spot where old and new shops coexist.

Harmonica Yokocho

  • Address: 1-chome and 2-chome of Kichijoji Honcho, Musashino City, Tokyo
  • Access: About 1 minute on foot from "Kichijoji Station" serviced by multiple lines

Photogenic and stylish! What is Japan's cutting edge "Neo Yokocho"?

Entering the era of Reiwa (2019 – present), “Neo Yokocho” (ネオ横丁), which is different from the conventional retro alleyways, has opened one after another mainly in Tokyo. It is a state-of-the-art alleyway with a unique theme that incorporates Instagrammable interiors and stylish elements in the nostalgic atmosphere unique to Yokocho. Below are two "Neo Yokocho" that are currently attracting attention in Japan, from a spot that has shops on one floor of commercial facilities, to popular spots that have been renovated from old houses.

Neo Yokocho ① Asakusa “Asakusa Yokocho”: Let’s wear a kimono and enjoy downtown festivals

Asakusa Yokocho

“Asakusa Yokocho” (浅草横町) is a theme park-like spot featuring foods and festivals in Asakusa full of shitamachi (下町 - downtown) atmosphere. In addition to izakayas and sushi restaurants, festivals from throughout the country such as Awa Odori (Tokushima Prefecture), Eisa (Okinawa and Kagoshima Prefectures), and Yosakoi (Kochi Prefecture) held here mainly on weekends are also worth seeing. There is also a kimono rental shop in the facility. Renting a kimono and taking pictures that look good is becoming a standard way of enjoying this Yokocho. Gourmet x festival x kimono, this is a spot where you can enjoy three aspects of Japanese culture at once.

Asakusa Yokocho

Asakusa Yokocho

  • Address: Tokyo Rakutenchi Asakusa Building 4F, 2-6-7 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
  • Business hours:
    • 【Kimono rental Wargo】10:00 - 19:00 (last return at 18:30)
    • 【Restaurant】12:00 - 23:00
  • Access: About 8 minutes on foot from "Asakusa Station" serviced by multiple lines

Neo Yokocho ② Shinjuku “Hobo Shinjuku Norengai”: A new experience of drinking around old folk houses and warehouses

Shinjuku Hobo Shinjuku Noren-gai

At "Hobo Shinjuku Norengai" (ほぼ新宿のれん街), there are 19 stores in total (further expansion planned in the future), consisting of the "main building" (本館 / Honkan), which is a completely renovated old private house, and Japan's first warehouse-type alleyway, "warehouse annex" (倉庫別館 / Soko Bekkan). It's located near Shinjuku, and it's attractive that you can enjoy meals while feeling as if you've traveled back in time to old Japan. There are sushi, grilled eel, motsuyaki and grilled seafood for Japanese food, and wine, champagne, sake and cocktails for alcohol. If you want to enjoy bar-hopping, you should definitely come here!

Shinjuku Hobo Shinjuku Noren-gai

Hobo Shinjuku Norengai

  • Address: 5-20-10 Sendagaya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
  • Business hours: Varies by store
  • Access: About 5 minutes on foot from "Shinjuku Station" serviced by multiple lines, or about 1 minute on foot from "Yoyogi Station" serviced by multiple lines

Despite calling them "Yokocho" in general, there are various ways to enjoy each of the spots. It is also recommended to plan an itinerary based on the theme of “Yokocho hopping”. For example, you can go shopping at Ameya Yokocho in the morning, then walk to Asakusa in the afternoon and watch the festival at Asakusa Yokocho. Then return to Shinjuku at night, and drink the night away at Hobo Shinjuku Norengai.

By the way, among Tokyo's "Neo Yokocho", there is also "Kamekuro Yokocho", which opened in 2022, located merely a 1-minute walk from JR Kameido Station, and "Ryu No Miyako Inshokugai Shinjuku Higashiguchi - Yokocho" in front of Shinjuku Station. With such "Yokocho trend" going around in Japan, you can expect more new Yokocho opening in the near future. Which Yokocho would you like to visit on your next trip to Japan?


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