Yokocho means “alleyways to the side of the main street” in Japanese. It can also mean the shops, food stalls, and pubs found in these narrow streets. Yokocho lanes are found all over Japan’s cities, and Tokyo is no exception. Tokyo can be very expensive, but exploring its yokocho can save you a few yen, and it’s the perfect way to get to know more about the Japanese culture.
Ameya Yokocho | Yoshikazu Takada
Some of the better-known Tokyo yokocho are Ameya Yokocho (Candy Store Alley) in Ueno, Omoide Yokocho (or Yokocho of Memories) in Shinjuku, and the Nonbei Yokocho (or Drunkard’s Yokocho) in Shibuya. These three alleyways are also historical areas, starting out as market shacks that catered to the citizens of a city mostly ravaged by WWII. Yokocho became a symbol of the beginnings of hope and a place where Japanese got together to have a good time.
Today, you can easily get lost in the web of alleyways and experience the essence of Japanese life. In a yokocho’s casual setting, you can eat street food that somehow tastes better because you’re dining out in the open with the locals. Common gastronomic delights include gigantic steaming hot pots of motsuni (stewed beef and chicken entrails) and grills laden with yakitori (skewered chicken). The aroma of these and other dishes can whet your appetite from far away. The food predominantly served in yokocho is what the Japanese normally serve in their homes. Yokocho are not very fancy but they do provide the home-cooked ambiance that customers find inviting.
Omoide yokocho | mhiguera
Although it has always been popular with older men, as of late yokocho areas are attracting a new generation of customers. Many young Japanese, women, and tourists also enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of the yochoko. Part of the enticement is the reasonable prices and variety.
Salarymen in Omoide Yokocho | chacrebleu
To attest to the popularity of the yokocho, Ebisu Yokocho was established in 2008 as a yokocho-styled bar and restaurant district. The interiors exude the nostalgic aura of a traditional yokocho. Themed yokocho districts have also become a hit. Shinagawa Gyokai Center has bars that serve only seafood, and Shibuya Niku Yokocho focuses on restaurants serving barbecued meats. The increasing number of visitors to yokocho districts is a testament to its broad and lasting appeal.