Tokyo Backstreets Series Pt. 1: Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku

Tokyo Backstreets Series Pt. 1: Omoide Yokocho in Shinjuku

Fuad Olajuwon

Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated with small spaces. Places cramped together like bundles of sticks. On a cold, wintry evening, I pass by what seems to be an alleyway. Straight out of Blade Runner, Omoide Yokocho is a sight to behold. About a 10-minute walk from JR-Shinjuku Station, this series of backstreets, and tight spaces give the area a gritty, underground feel.

There are several paths into the concrete jungle, so take one and enter into a new reality. The narrow walkways have intersections where you can branch off into a new part of the alleyways. Home to more than 50+ restaurants, the area has its own unique appeal best experienced personally. Nighttime is busiest, as salarymen and tourists gather around for an evening with friends, coworkers, and lovers. There’s truly no place like it.

Omoide Yokocho has dozens of dining options. If you’re looking to grab a full meal, there are a few ramen shops to satiate your palate. Still, yakitori and other curious treats are the name of the game in this part of Shinjuku. Many of the restaurants have an English menu, so you don’t have to worry about whether a particular place is foreigner friendly. In fact, cruise on over to the establishment Asadachi (which if your Japanese ability is high enough, should give you a chuckle), and eat some of the strangest foods Tokyo has to offer.

For my meal, I chose a confined space with a lady standing near the entrance. With a smile as big as Shinjuku itself, I moseyed on into a seat. For the vegetarian inclined, have no fear! Many of the shops here have options that can accommodate even the most stringent of diets. In the shots below, here are a few of the dining samples that you’d find here at Omoide Yokocho.

As you can see, complimentary edamame accompanied the main course of vegetarian delight. Roasted peppers, garlic, piiman (little bell peppers), and negi (onions) lightly dipped in teriyaki sauce were the main course of the evening, along with freshly cooked rice to complete the meal. This little moment of culinary satori set me back less than ¥1000, so all-in-all, it was worth it. If you want to dine at some of the more specialty shops, it’s recommended to bring a little extra yen with you, but overall, you can have a positive experience with only a few bills in your pocket.

If the food isn’t your fancy, there are a few clothing shops around as well. From men’s suits and women’s boutiques, to resell shops that have discount merchandise, feel free to do a little shopping as well! There’s even a Daikokuya, a shop that specializes in getting tickets to the Shinkansen and events around town for a price cut. If you’re looking for something in particular, then Omoide Yokocho may be the place for you. Next time you’re in Shinjuku, don’t hesitate to stop by. You’ll leave with an unforgettable glimpse of Japan that remains hidden in plain sight.