Why not take a stroll down “Memory Lane”? That is the literal translation of Omoide Yokocho, as you can get a nostalgic feel of the 1950s olden Shinjuku. Chow down on some tasty meat on a stick called yakitori while sitting in a slightly cramped bar space surrounded by Japanese salary men who come to drink beer after a hard day’s work.
There are about 60 restaurants, most selling yakitori and oden, a one-pot winter dish, tightly crammed into a four-lane space. If you’d like to get a real feel of the Japanese after-work life nostalgic of the flourishing post-war era, don’t miss a visit to Omoide Yokocho.
Omoide Yokocho, a maze of narrow alleys close to the West Exit of Shinjuku Station, stands in stark contrast to all the bright and clean modern environs of the station. Tiny restaurants and open barbecue food stalls spill their smoke, noise and greasy steam over alleys hardly wide enough to stretch out your arms.
The buildings are old and mostly run down, the food stalls very traditional, the visiting crowd multilingual. At dinner time, when it gets most crowded here, tired Tokyo office workers relax with a beer and a few sticks of yakitori chicken at the food stalls, sitting next to excited tourists chattering loudly in Chinese, Cantonese, English or Korean.
Does Omoide Yokocho feel like a lively remnant of old, Showa-era Japan? Or rather like science fiction – Tokyo as a last resort, a colourful yet rundown refuge for people from all over the world – a future Tokyo as portrayed in, say, the dark and violent 2016 TV drama Dias Police?
History of Omoide Yokocho
Omoide Yokocho roughly translates as Memory Lane – or, in other words, a place that you know from way back and feel somewhat nostalgic about. The area started out as a huge black market close to Shinjuku Station in the days right after World War II. In those days, it was certainly dangerous to visit the area – but hardly anyone had a choice. Here was the food, here were the supplies.¥
The old black market, already legalized as restaurant area, was partly razed when the current Shinjuku Station was built in the late 1960’s, a great fire in 1999 took another toll on the area. But a sizable chunk survived all odds up to today. Current Omoide Yokocho food stalls still trace their tradition back to the wild spirit of the old black market era of yore – though they are all properly licensed restaurants now.
Omoide Yokocho Food & Rules
Though there is a certain variety of food on offer, the general rule in Omoide Yokocho is quickly prepared izakaya food. Mostly of the freshly grilled variety. Grilled seafood, grilled chicken (yakitori in all its variations), grilled meat and grilled intestines. Some of the latter dishes might sound strange to Western visitors (“grilled pig rectum,” anyone?) but they are actually very tasty if you have a somewhat adventurous palate. Service is generally very quick and the beer flows easily – but don’t try to go on the beer alone. You need to order food with the beer here – or you will be sent on your way.
The alleys of Omoide Yokocho are littered with overhead non-smoking signs. They mean that you are not supposed to walk the crowded alleys with a burning cigarette in hand. When sitting down in any of the restaurants / food stalls, ashtrays are available and smoking is absolutely fine.
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho,
- Access from Shinjuku station East exit (1 minute walk)
Step out of JR Shinjuku station’s east exit and walk along the left side. Before you reach the road, you will see a pedestrian underpass on your left. Follow this underpass, and within seconds walking straight, you will find the green neon signs above the alleys.
- Access from Shinjuku station West exit (1 minute walk)
With Keio department on your left hand side and Odakyu department on your back, walk along the right side. In a minute, you will see a UNIQLO building on the corner. Go around the corner, and you will find the green neon signs as the entrance of the alley.