Location: West Exit, JR Shinjuku Station
Official Website: www.shinjuku-omoide.com
Whatever you call this sacred alley, Omoide Yokocho, Memory Lane, Piss Alley or Yakitori Alley, it has got to be the best alley in Tokyo to grab a yakitori and sake in these little izakayas. It used to be called Piss Alley or Shonben Yokocho as men often piss in this spot, but of course, that has become a thing of the past as its not going to be attractive for tourist. Less often called as Gokiburi Yokocho or cockroach alley as it sounds plain disgusting.
But the real deal of Omoide Yokocho lies in its rich Tokyo history. It has been around since the 1940’s, and the theme is post-war Japan poverty. Many young ladies operate these tiny yakitori bars and their politeness creates an aura of compassion to their humble business.
Perhaps Memory Lane is more fitting as salarymen continue to drink, become nostalgic, reflect in their day’s work, and drink to their problems and triumphs. Bar owners are great secret keepers. Yes, salarymen come to Omoide Yokocho, blurt out their troubles to the bartenders, and not a word gets out of Memory Lane. It’s like heading to a shrink with a fraction of the price with delicious food.
The smoke emanating from yakitori grill should entice you enough to sit beside salary man regulars. Yes I chanced upon Omoide Yokocho twice during my shopping splurge at Shinjuku, and the same salary man sitting beside me at the izakaya was there for two nights in a row.
Looking for Omoide Yokocho is another challenge you should be willing to accept. While their website is tourist friendly, and should give you a rundown of the izakayas where you can get great yakitori, Omoide Yokocho is still a needle in the haystack, especially during the night and only neon lights pave the way for you to search for memory lane, amidst Lumine Est, Takashimaya and Isetan. These grand shopping malls will certainly hide the glamour of Omoide Yokocho.
To get to Omoide Yokocho, head to the brown building of Uniqlo near the JR Shinjuku Station. Cross the underpass, turn right, and you should be able to see the large banners of Omoide Yokocho.
There are many, many, many yakitori bars here to choose from, almost all with no air-conditioning. It seems there are standard prices of Yakitori just about anywhere in the alley, including sake that costs around 700 yen per shot.
I managed to grab a seat at a less-crowded Izakaya, and grabbed a platter of Yakitori set (1000 yen) complete with Yakitori, Mushroom, Gizzard, Blood, and Chicken Skin, drizzled with teriyaki sauce. Yum. Some hormone-yaki is definitely in order.
I liked the chicken skin best. It was so crispy and very deadly. Yakitori was great too.
Though sweat trickled down my forehead and the heat was suffocating and unbearable, I had the best of time at Omoide Yokocho.
I would recommend you to grab a drink at Bar Albatross, the flamboyant in chandelier tiny bar that’s become a famous spot since Anthony Bourdain walked in here. My review for Bar Albatross can be found here.
When in Shinjuku, don’t be swept away only with depachika at Takashimaya or Isetan. Get lost and immerse yourself in the true Tokyo atmosphere, post-war Japan at Omoide Yokocho.