Piss Alley Tokyo
Piss Alley Tokyo was named many years ago, when it was a shady destination for criminals to get drunk together. The place wasn’t very built up back in those days, so instead of using a toilet, people just relieved themselves wherever they could.
Wonderful tiny restaurants
Many of the restaurants in Piss Alley Tokyo only seat 6 or 7 people, the larger ones probably up to 20 and people are often packed in like sardines.
Little “hole in the wall” restaurants
There are some very strange dishes available on Piss Alley.
- Frog sashimi
- Pig testicles
- Soft-shelled turtle
- Still-beating frog’s heart
- Grilled salamander
- Snake liquor
I was not taking any risks so I stuck to the Yakitori.
Yakitori in Piss Alley Tokyo
Great yakitori, this is still the place to eat Japan’s original fast foods: yakitori (chicken skewers), motsu-nabe (offal stew) and hormone-yaki (grilled organ meats). Most items on the menus are made from the rejected body parts of livestock.
Foreign television crews love izakaya Asadachi (Shinjuku 1-2-14, no phone) for delicacies such as pig testicles, grilled salamanders, frog sashimi and other foods. Even for adventurous Japanese eaters, most of the menu is considered off-the-wall. There’s a reason Asadachi has maintained its near city-wide monopoly on serving horse penis.
For the less experimental, standard yakitori joints abound, though truth be told, many of these Shinjuku bars survive as much on location as quality. Finding the best yakitori is often a hit or miss affair. The best strategy is to follow the crowds — or better, go with a knowledgeable friend. A general rule of thumb: the less crowded an establishment, the less you can trust its cooking.
One of the larger restaurants in Piss Alley
Most are not much bigger than a shoe box. 🙂
Bright lights of Memory Lane
The collection of small Shinjuku bars evocatively called Piss Alley (‘Shonben Yokocho’) — or Memory Lane (‘Omoide Yokocho’), as the authorities would rather you call it — is a sliver of post-war Japanese culture a few minutes walk from Shinjuku station. The cramped alley of restaurant and bar stalls offers a ‘nostalgic’ experience, which means something like visiting a decrepit shantytown.
My favourite Japanese song
Busy chef at work
On a Friday night Piss Alley is in full swing. It’s like a film set of tiny buildings, with staircases leading nowhere. The place feels like it’s painted nicotine brown (no smoking laws definitely don’t apply to Piss Alley), and then spritzed with a hot, savory steam. It’s beside the railway (at one point, there’s a rusty ladder up to the main train track out of Tokyo) and the rumble of trains never goes away. Nor does the smell of fried food and sake, as salary-men eat and drink their fill.
My favorite PA photo
Each time I look at this shot it reminds me of the song “Only the Lonely’. The truth, however, is that the run-down, old-timey atmosphere of the Alley is as carefully cultivated as any of the city’s famed theme bars. The theme here just happens to be ‘post-war poverty.’ A black market drinking quarter in the 1940s, Piss Alley earned its name from its lack of toilet facilities, which compelled patrons to relieve themselves against nearby train tracks. The ramshackle post-war infrastructure lasted until 1999, when a fire destroyed most of the buildings and the Alley had to be rebuilt. Along with the renovation came actual restrooms and a new marketing campaign — at least officially, the Shinjuku bars of Piss Alley became Memory Lane. Though none of the current structures are more than a decade old, you’d hardly know it from the grease and grime covering nearly every surface. Although positioned as the ‘ultimate old-style Japanese drinking experience,’ the bars of Memory Lane are mostly staffed by young women from various Asian countries. Between the broken Japanese and hard-drinking patrons, many of them tourists, the area remains a little seedy — just in a new way.
Two American girls
I visited Piss Alley again in September 2015 & chatted to these nice American girls.
It will remain a favourite part of Tokyo for me.
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