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Starting out as an illegal drinking quarter in the late 1940s, this narrow side street quickly became a prime spot for cheap drinks, yakitori and cabaret-style hostess bars. Due to the lack of restroom facilities, patrons would wander off and relieve themselves on the nearby train tracks; it didn’t take long for Piss Alley to earn its name.
In those days, the area provided a social space for local residents who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford such luxuries as meat and alcohol in an impoverished, post-war economy.
The atmosphere remained largely unchanged until 1999 when a fire destroyed most of the restaurants and shops in the alley. Fortunately, the local government decided to rebuild the area exactly as it had been, preserving the ‘old Japan’ vibe that had come to be so cherished. To this day, a visit to Piss Alley feels like stepping back into the Shōwa era.
Visitors are hit with the smell of barbecue smoke and charcoal the moment they step into the alley. Yakitori is king here, served by almost all the restaurants, while nikomi – a thick, hearty stew made of beef tendon, intestines and vegetables – is a close second. (Vegetarians are advised to eat something before arriving, as options will be limited.)
In case the name Piss Alley hasn’t made this clear enough, this isn’t a place for fancy cocktails or imported wines; the booze here is basic, bountiful and cheap. Japanese beer, highballs, sours, shochu and sake are available at every restaurant for a reasonable price.
The commonly used Japanese word natsukashii translates roughly to: “This brings me back.” Older regulars of Piss Alley keep coming back to the area for this feeling, and this is why local government continues the effort to preserve the area’s authentic look and feel.
A favourite among thrill seekers and food critics, Asadachi (literally Morning Wood) offers some of the most intriguing dishes in Tokyo: frog sashimi, horse penis, pig testicles and grilled salamander are all on the menu at this little hole-in-the-wall. The restaurant’s name is a nod to the desired effect of these ‘stamina foods’, which are traditionally believed to boost sexual performance and prowess.