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Carlos Quiapo / © Culture Trip
Carlos Quiapo / © Culture Trip
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A Guide to Tokyo's Piss Alley

Picture of Dave Afshar
Updated: 14 January 2019
Just outside the west gate of Shinjuku station lies Omoide Yokocho (“Memory Lane”), a collection of small bars, yakitori grills and food stalls. Yet for locals this little corner of the capital is more than the sum of its parts, with a nickname from the post-WW2 days – Piss Alley (Shonben/Shomben Yokocho) – that tells a story all its own.

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 were known to wander off and relieve themselves on the nearby train tracks, and it did not take long for Piss Alley to earn its name. 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.

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
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 cherished by locals and travellers alike. To this day, a visit to Piss Alley feels like stepping back into the Shōwa era.

Japan, 〒160-0023 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−2−2, 13 ナガセ西新宿ビル

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip

What to eat

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 of the restaurants in Piss Alley, 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.

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip

What to drink

In case the name “Piss Alley” doesn’t make this obvious enough, this is not a place for fancy cocktails or imported wines. The booze here is bountiful and cheap. Japanese beer, highballs, sours, shochu, and sake are available at every restaurant for a reasonable price.

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip

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 making an effort to preserve the area’s authentic look and feel.

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip

Asadachi

A favourite among thrill seekers and food critics, Asadachi (literally, “Morning Wood”) offers some of the most outrageous menu items in Tokyo – you can order frog sashimi, horse penis, pig testicles and grilled salamander at this little hole-in-the-wall. The restaurant’s name is a nod to the various “stamina foods” on its menu, traditionally believed to boost sexual performance and prowess, amongst other things.

〒160-0023 Tōkyō-to, Shinjuku-ku, Nishishinjuku, 1 Chome−2, 西新宿1-2-14

Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip
Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho-Shibuya Neighborhood-Shibuya-Japan
Carlos Quiapo / | © Culture Trip