A Guide to Tokyo’s Piss Alley

Omoide Yokocho, or Piss Alley, is at the west gate of Shinjuku station
Omoide Yokocho, or Piss Alley, is at the west gate of Shinjuku station | © Carlos Quiapo / Culture Trip
Just outside the west gate of Shinjuku station lies Omoide Yokocho (or Memory Lane), a collection of small bars, yakitori grills and food stalls that for locals is more than the sum of its parts. Its nickname, Piss Alley, a hangover from the heady post-WWII days, still perfectly suits the down-to-earth appeal of this little corner of Tokyo.

The History of Omoide Yokocho

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.

Omoide Yokocho became an illegal drinking quarter in the 1940s © Carlos Quiapo / Culture Trip

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.

Omoide Yokocho was destroyed by fire in 1999 © Carlos Quiapo / Culture Trip

What to eat on Piss Alley

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.)

Yakitori is the speciality of Piss Alley © Carlos Quiapo / Culture Trip

What to drink

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.

Don’t expect fancy cocktails on Piss Alley © Carlos Quiapo / Culture Trip

The feeling of natsukashii

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.

Local government tries hard to preserve the nostalgia locals get when they come to Piss Alley © Carlos Quiapo / Culture Trip

The special pleasures of Asadachi

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.

Try the horse penis and pig testicles at Asadachi © Carlos Quiapo / Culture Trip