Japanistry Tokyo

The Best Yokocho in Tokyo

If you are looking to mingle with the locals over a beer in the evening there is no better place than a yokocho. Yokocho means “side alley”, and typically they are narrow streets lined with small eateries and bars. Some establishments can barely accommodate five people with a single member of staff cooped-in behind the counter; others are more commercial affairs with restaurant seating. No matter what shape or size, they are an unmissable hive of activity. Below is a run-down of the best yokocho in the city.

Ameya Yokocho in Ueno

Old Tokyo > Taito Ward > Ueno > Ameya Yokocho

(“Candy Alley”) is Tokyo’s best known night market. Visit in the early evening (ideally Friday or Saturday) when the neon lights, trains running directly overhead, smoke from the meat grills, and cries of the vendors peddling anything from dried fish and Japanese crackers to baseball caps and U.S. Navy jackets, let you experience first-hand the grittier side of the city.

Access | Map | Google Maps

Come out of Exit 7 from JR Ueno Station and cross the main road south

Ebisu Yokocho

Central Tokyo > Shibuya Ward > Ebisu > Ebisu Yokocho

Opened in 2008, this indoor alley of twenty restaurants and bars might not have the authentic appeal of other yokocho in the capital, but it is nevertheless a fun and friendly place with a very lively atmosphere.

Access | Map | Google Maps

1-7-4 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0013 | 3 minutes from the West Exit of JR Ebisu Station. Turn right out of the ticket gates, left at the road, and then right at the main road. Ebisu Yokocho is at the beginning of the next street on the right

Hours

Depends on the restaurant, but most open at 17:00 until the early hours of the morning

Golden Gai in Shibuya

Central Tokyo > Shinjuku Ward > Shinjuku > Golden Gai

Golden Gai is an area of Shinjuku that has fought off modernization with aplomb. The bars in the five or six narrow streets that make up Golden Gai look like they would collapse with the faintest shudder, yet they are well-known for being frequented by musicians, artists, and other celebrities. It used to be the case that these establishments would only welcome regular patrons (new-comers would need to be “introduced”); however, the area is far more open these days and many bars have English signs outside to pull in tourists.

  • Golden Gai

    Golden Gai

Despite its down-and-out appearance, it is not the cheapest of places: drinks are typically about ¥1,000 and there is usually a ¥1,000 seating charge (so unfortunately bar hopping would prove expensive). But Golden Gai is a must if you want to experience all sides of Tokyo—the old and the new.

Golden Gai from above
Golden Gai from above

There seems to be perennial talk of Golden Gai being marked for demolition, but no doubt this lively little area will still be thriving many years from now, standing resolutely as the world changes around it.

The entrance to Golden Gai from Yasukuni Dori
The entrance to Golden Gai from Yasukuni Dori
Access | Map | Google Maps

1 Kabukicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0021 | 10 minutes from the East Exit of JR Shinjuku Station. If you walk east along Yasukuni Dori you will see a paved path heading off diagonally at one of the corners on the left hand side. Follow this down for 50m and Golden Gai will be on your right hand side

Harmonica Yokocho

West Tokyo > Musashino City > KichijojiHarmonica Yokocho 

Harmonica Yokocho actually started out as a black market in the post-war years but has since transformed into a small network of about 100 bars and restaurants (the name comes from the fact that the narrow entrances to the yokocho look like the holes in a harmonica from the main street). An ideal place for a drink if you are visiting in the evening.

Access | Google Maps

A 1-minute walk from Kichijoji Station (turn left from the North Exit). Turn left out of the ticket gates and Harmonic Yokocho will be a short walk down the road on the right

Shibuya's Nonbei Yokocho

Central Tokyo > Shibuya Ward > Shibuya > Nonbei Yokocho

Shibuya has changed substantially over the years but remnants of the old town can still be found hidden in the back streets. Nonbei Yokocho is just a stone’s throw away from Shibuya Station, and like Golden Gai in Shinjuku you can sit in the kiosk-sized bars and make friends with the locals over a beer or strike up a conversation with the bartender (some speak English). Many customers are regulars, and you might feel a little awkward walking into the middle of what may look like a group of friends chatting, but the street is a bit of a hidden treasure for tourists and the sight of foreign faces is not uncommon to the owners of the little establishments.

The lanterns leading to Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya.
The lanterns leading to Nonbei Yokocho in Shibuya.
Access | Map | Google Maps

3 minutes from the Hachiko Exit of JR Shibuya Station. In the plaza from the Hachiko Exit you will see a police box in the corner next to the station. Cross over to the opposite side of the road from the police box and turn right to go under the bridge. Take the first side road immediately on the left after you cross under the bridge (you’ll see the lanterns hanging above the road) and walk down about 20m. Nonbei Yokocho is a small alley to the right

Hours

Evening until the early hours of the morning. Many of the bars are closed on Sundays

Shinjuku's Omoide Yokocho

Central Tokyo > Shinjuku Ward > Shinjuku > Omoide Yokocho

Omoide Yokocho (“Memory Lane”) is a small warren of yakitori and ramen restaurants located just north of Shinjuku Station that has become another one of Tokyo’s slightly off-beat tourist attractions. Despite the extra custom tourists bring, vendors are particularly unfriendly to those wielding cameras so if you want to take pictures of the stalls you are going to have to do so surreptitiously; otherwise expect to be met with a stern “No photo!” almost immediately.

Peeking into one of the small kiosk restaurants
Access | Map | Google Maps

7-13-12 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo 160-0023 | From the West Exit of JR Shinjuku Station: walk north on the right hand side of the road with the Keio Department store on your left; turn right when you see UNIQLO on the corner and you will see the green neon sign to Omoide Yokocho. From the East Exit of JR Shinjuku Station: walk along the left hand side by the rail tracks and go through the underpass; Omoide Yokocho is immediately on your left when you come out the other side

Hours

Evening until the early hours of the morning

Yurakucho Sanchoku Inshokugai

Literally translating as “Yurakucho Fresh Produce Drinking & Eating Town”, it’s a big name for what is a small indoor alley. Like Ebisu Yokocho this is actually more of a concept than a traditional yokochoin this case the idea is to promote fresh produce from the regions. The yokocho contains seven restaurants offering food ranging from beef from Hokkaido to horse meat from Kyushu and fish from Shizuoka. Prices are a little steep but you are partly paying for the atmosphere.

Access | Google Maps

2-1-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0006 | A 10-minute walk from either Shinbashi Station (walk north from the Ginza Exit) or Yurakucho Station (walk south from the Hibiya Exit)

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