Tokyo is a modern city. The bright lights, loud sounds, and larger-than-life screens are part of what makes Tokyo, well, Tokyo. However, some of my favorite memories of Tokyo are stumbling upon bits of the city’s historic past in places where it was least expected. About a five-minute walk from Shinjuku Station is a small network of alleys with some of the city’s best yakitori. The sixty or so small bars and restaurants of Omoide Yokocho, more colloquially known as Memory Lane, Yakitori Alley, or Piss Alley (more on that later) are a reminder of post-war Tokyo. And it certainly makes for a great place to grab some dinner.
A Brief History of Memory Lane Tokyo
During and after World War II, Memory Lane in Tokyo was a center for black market activities. It was also known for its cheap drinks and yakitori (grilled skewers), and luckily, that’s what it’s still known for today. As for the nickname “piss alley”? It’s a reference to the lack of restrooms and drunk patrons going to the bathroom wherever it was convenient. But don’t worry, there’s a public bathroom in Memory Lane now if you need it. Part of Memory Lane was destroyed in a fire in the 1990s, but there are still dozens of restaurants to choose from. It’s past may be seedy, but Memory Lane Tokyo is perfectly safe to visit.
Where to Eat in Memory Lane Tokyo
We took our time walking through Omoide Yokocho before settling on a place that looked good. You can check out the names of the stalls in Memory Lane here, but I think it’s easier to make a game-time decision when you see a place that looks good. Keep in mind, these restaurants are tiny. You will likely be sitting at a bar rubbing elbows with the person next to you. Since the grill is right behind the bar, don’t be surprised if it’s smoky. It all adds to the experience. If you find yourself in Shinjuku at night, I recommend going to Memory Lane for dinner since Omoide Yokocho feels even more special after dark.
Our visit to Memory Lane in Tokyo was one of our favorite meals of our whole trip to Japan. I didn’t do much reading on Shinjuku before going, so it was even more special stumbling upon Memory Lane. Some websites say it is hard to find Memory Lane in Shinjuku. Just follow your nose and the smell of grilled meat and you should have no problem finding it.