Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho (思い出 横丁), literally translated as Memory Lane but also known under its catchier and funnier nickname Piss Alley is a network of narrow alleys located at the West exit of Shinjuku Station. Activity on the lane starts in the afternoon, around 5 or 6 pm, just in time for dinner. Ramen, sushi, soba, yakitori... this can be a tough choice but when in doubt just go with yakitori (chicken skewers) ! Yakitori eateries were initially the place to be for grilled chicken or meat snacks to go with your beer or sake, but in time the menu has broadened and today you can also order a bowl of rice, choose a soft drink and basically have a proper tasty dinner.

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Why Memory Lane ? Right after World War II, this was the place for street vendors and black market traders. At the time food was scarce, hence small shops began grilling and selling beef, pork and offal meat, obtained from the occupying forces. Traces of those times are still visible today as many of the restaurants sell yakitori (焼き鳥)or other types of grilled meat.

Why Piss Alley ? The colorful name comes from the lack of toilet facilities in the 1940s when the place was a well known drinking quarter. The call of nature had to be answered and for that reason the streets were regularly used as public toilets.

Nowadays, the alleys are jammed with people and it is often hard to find a place to eat and drink.

Once I set my foot on the street, I automatically became hungry and was lured by the smell towards one of the small restaurants. They had the famous yakitori I was so excited and eager to try. Unfortunately, the eatery was full, as most of them were, so I had to keep on looking for another place. As I was probably looking confused and undecided, I was approached and invited into this small, but vivid place that still had about 4 or 5 free seats left. While many restaurants in Omoide Yokocho have English menus available as well, that was not the case in my situation. I was not concerned about this aspect though, as it just made the experience more genuine.

A huge plate with raw skewers was placed on the counter and all I had to do was pick the ones I wanted grilled. I quickly chose yakitori, pork skewers and some eggs. While waiting for my food, more tourists came in (it is impressive how many people can fit into these restaurants!) so I ended up having a quick dinner and conversation with an American couple, exchanging our first impressions about Tokyo.

And when I say quick dinner, I really mean quick ! These eateries are not designed for comfort (the designated area for eating was barely wide enough to accommodate the plate) or relaxation but for a fast meal and drink. However, it is not a crime to spend one or two hours at one spot as long as you order food and drinks constantly. Of course, once the meal is finished, it is better to get back on the road and not take up the space as there are hungry people out there who need your seat.