Welcome to my Omoide Yokocho area guide.
This Omoide Yokocho area guide is something I’ve wanted to write for a while. It’s an awesome area absolutely packed with selfie stick wielding toursists and visibly unconcerned but internally annoyed locals. Omoide Yokocho translates as Memory Lane but some people refer to it as Piss Alley. Take your pick. Omoide Yokocho is a fully functioning throwback to what Tokyo looked like 60 years ago before people concerned themselves with such nonsense as fire escapes, no smoking and basic creature comforts. Like chairs.
Omoide Yokocho occupies 4 very tiny blocks of real estate located between the JR Yamanote Train Lines and the Toei Oedo Subway Line and is packed to the brim with over 80 different little stalls serving all kinds of food. It is cramped, dirty, smoky, greasy, drunk and fun. So much fun. Both train lines that surround Omoide Yokocho feed into Shinjuku Station, the ultimate behemoth of train stations. Where transportation is a mind boggling ordeal. Shinjuku station is the world’s busiest train station. It claims a mind numbing 3.6 million passengers a day and is, by far, the world’s busiest transport hub. For reference, if the entire population of Berlin got up and went to a train station that would be Shinjuku Station.
Due to it’s location Omoide Yokocho was almost exclusively populated by hungry office workers who needed to get drunk before heading home. These days it still sees its fair number of office workers but young travelers and foodies have made it a point to come through and snap a few Instagram photos. And if you’re in town, so should you. Let my Omoide Yokocho Area Guide take you through an evening down Memory Lane.
Stop 1 – Torobako Seafood Izakaya
First stop is Torobako. This translates as Tuna Bag and it serves (I suspect) some of the most legit food in Omoide Yokocho. Located on the east side of Omoide Yokocho next to the Yamnote Line train tracks, this place serves up some serious seafood. It’s ALWAYS busy with locals so you are off to a good start to your authentic Omoide Yokocho experience. If the first floor looks jam packed don’t fret, just walk in. They have a 2nd and 3rd story that might have space for you.
Hi Bobby! He is here to help me craft this Omoide Yokocho area guide. Here he isenjoying the artwork in the stairwell. Take note of the naked monk riding a turtle. Before I get into the food I am going to give some cost performance info. You are paying for atmosphere in Omoide Yokocho. The food in the main tourist alley is not expensive, it is not cheap and it is NOT the best food in Tokyo. It is however super casual, fun to eat and unlike anywhere else. The noise of the trains, smoke from the yakitori grills, drunken laughter and the constant threat of a tragic fire all make it an experience you’ll never forget. So don’t throw a little bitch fit when they charge you 2 USD for seating, you’ll get some edamame for it anyway. That being said, the food at Torobako is AWESOME and they serve up some of Tokyo’s freshest seafood.
We got seat upstairs at a counter that wrapped around a giant fridge filled with cuts of sashimi. Everyone here was drinking ice cold mugs of Ebisu Beer ( my favorite Japanese beer). Torobako has an English Menu available which is handy BUT as I’ am constantly pointing out it WONT have the specials written on it. Fresh fish is the only way to go in Tokyo and no one has the time to keep updating the menu for some random English speaker. When we sat down it was quite clear that everyone was eating oysters grilled at their table. So take a look around and if the locals are doing it, copy them. I’ve recently made an entire post dedicated to Torobako if you’d like to check it out.
Sort out some beers for yourself or a Grapefruit Chuhi. They squeeze the grapefruits fresh here. Next up, order the 5 Sashimi basket. It’s listed on the English Menu as simply the 5 sashimi basket and it will be filled without whatever is on season that day. Ours came with maguro, salmon, squid, yellowtail and shrimp. They were all awesome and the basket was only about 8 USD.
Step 2- Hit the Streets
Time to head back outside. While I firmly believe you could do an entire meal at Torobako but this would not be a complete Omoide Yokocho area guide without some skewers. My goal is to give you an authentic Omoide Yokocho experience and dammit, that means more beer and skewers. Take a moment to wander around and orient yourself. You’ll realize how small the area is pretty quick. Its basically 4 blocks that share a central intersection where you can then walk in any direction. From the center if you head North you will pass a Coco Ichiban Curry shop on your left. Soon after there will be a little stall that occupies the space under the stairs of another tiny 2nd floor restaurant.
I’ll tell you right now this spot only exists to absorb money from tourists. You will not find any Japanese people sitting here. The ladies running the yakitori grill are from China, very nice and will work very hard to get you to sit down and eat some food. You should go for it though. This place is prime real estate and affords you awesome views of the never ending parade of drunk people and youtube travel channel bloggers making absolute asses of themselves. The yakitori isn’t too bad either. This place did not appear to have a name but if there is space these ladies will get you to sit down so you wont miss it. As soon as we stood up they snagged more tourists. Well done ladies.
We ordered grilled Shishito Chilis, bacon wrapped asparagus and beers. The skewers came doused in sweet BBQ sauce and the beers were ice cold. There was a table charge of 1.5 USD a person and it came with a big bowl of Edamame. For the two of us the bill was about 24 USD.
Step 3 – Get back on the beer train
We capped our drinks to a beer at each place so it was time to wander around again. This place on the left in the photo is an Okinawan restaurant that looked extremely promising but was full up. It was jam packed with locals and it is definitely on the list for next time. There are so many little places in this area that I think an Omoide Yokocho Area Guide is kind of unnecessary but I can steer you towards a more authentic Omoide Yokocho experience. So just jump in somewhere with an open seat and dont worry that you may have missed out on something better. Like I said, you’re here to soak up atmosphere, not eat Tokyo’s best food.
So for our last stop on the Omoide Yokocho area guide we did just that. We sat down at the next place that had a table. We found a little counter space on the Southwest Side off the main Nakadori Street that runs through the center of Omoide Yokocho. Cheap, cold beers, and the usual edamame that came with our seating charge. We ordered some skewered chicken skin and a plate of agedashi tofu. Skewered chicken skin is basically grilled until it becomes similar to a pork rind and is then doused in sweet BBQ sauce. I like them a lot but not for everyone. Agedashi tofu is deep fried cubes of tofu covered in green onions, ginger, bonito and a bit of soy sauce. One of my favorite Japanese bar snacks.
Omoide Yokocho Tips and Suggestions
The neighborhood will open up before the sun sets but I definitely recommend coming after dark, it’ll be much livelier and better for photos in my opinion. It’s so fun in fact you dont need a guide. However, I made this Omoide Yokocho Area Guide to help people have a more authentic Omoide Yokocho experience. The area doesn’t stay open too late though, it usually dies down before midnight and people start closing up. I’ve seen a lot of guides describe this as a nightlife area which I think is misleading. It is a “Just after work and before you go home on a weeknight” area. It’s a great place for a post sunset bar and dinner hop. If you want to keep the drinks up afterwards you have tons of options. You could head over to Shinjuku San Chome which has bars that’ll be open until 5AM. Golden Gai is also a short walk away and you can NOT leave Tokyo without visiting it. Shinjuku’s busiest gay district is also a short walk away and that whole area is filled with places to drink and things to eat and stays open til the wee hours as well. The Kabukicho neighborhood is also a short walk away and is mind boggling at night.
Omoide Yokocho Area Guide
When to Visit
Mon-Sat after sunset and before midnight
Avoid Sunday as its mostly closed down
Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building (free elevator to the top with incredible views)
Too much to list so just check this article 101 Things to do in Shinjuku
Keep the Party Going
Head to Golden Gai for late night drinks in an area with a similar retro vibe
If you go to Golden Gai you can walk through the bright lights of Kabukicho (but I don’t recommend eating or drinking there)
Shinjuku San Chome for more food and drinks into the wee hours
Shinjuku Ni Chiome for LGBT food and drinks into the wee hours
Check it out! I started hosting tours of this area and neighboring Golden Gai through Airbnb experiences. If you’re visiting Tokyo and fancy a proper Tokyo night out hit me up on Airbnb.