Omoide Yokocho-The Memory Lane, #1 Must-See in Shinjuku Area

Since I ever put step in Japan, I was interested to see genuine places like Omoide Yokocho Alley, which feeds my needs as a photographer based in Tokyo. The Memory Lane, the other name of the alley, is one of those places that fit the bill for everyone, be it for experiencing it or for photographing it.

Omoide Yokocho Alley is a perfect place for portrait sessions of any kind and theme, street photography, experiencing Japanese foods and drinks, the latter making up for a shadowy fame; hence the epithet “piss alley” (the other name by which this place is known as). More about all these below.

Table of contents:

What is Omoide Yokocho Alley?

Omoide Yokocho Alleys, apart from being extremely famous, is a maze of tiny alleys, colloquially known as “piss alleys.” The old fashioned back alleys are renowned for being filled with small stalls featuring bars, ramen, casual food diners, yakitori izakayas, and other Japanese traditional eateries. The area dates back to the time right after World War II, when it was a black market.

In non-pandemic times, the area is packed with tourists and locals alike, experiencing the foods, drinks, and overall authentic vintage vibes. After all, the rough translation from Japanese is Memory Lane and for many locals is one of the fewer places to remember and feel the nostalgia of different times.

Although the surrounding area has almost no cues of the past, the little alleys stubbornly thrive and stay alive. I personally hope the big construction companies will never get to it, and I believe this place is one of those that must be preserved at any cost.

Night street photography in Omoide Yokocho

The area was partly demolished to accommodate the new Shinjuku Station. A fire from the 1990s also had an impact in reducing the size of it. Some sources mention that the local government helped rebuild some of the fire-damaged sections, making sure to restore them to their original Showa-era original looks.

Where is the famous alley?

Located in Shinjuku City (mistakenly known as one of the capital’s neighborhoods- where Tokyo Greater Area is, in fact, is a sum of smaller cities- at least technically speaking- am I wrong?), you can reach the Memory Lane from the West or East gates of the Shinjuku Station in only a couple of minutes of leisure walk. Below you can see its address, as I can find it on Google, click here to be redirected to a Google Maps link.

1 Chome-2 Nishishinjuku, Shinjuku City, Tokyo 160-0023
〒160-0023 東京都新宿区西新宿1丁目2

Many eateries will open from 3 or 4 in the afternoon, until midnight or later, until the last client finds its way home. The official website (click here for the English version) has the official business hours and other information about the stalls available that are properly licensed.

Omoide Yokocho South Sign doubled in English
One of the entries to the maze of the small Omoide Yokocho Alleys

Omoide Yokocho roughly translates into “Memory Lane”, also known as “Piss Alley.”

Yes, the translation from Japanese means roughly Memory Lane. In the Land of the Rising Sun, names to places have a meaning, either locally or nationally. I don’t think I ever encountered a place that doesn’t have at least the tiniest bit of history.

You may be wondering why on Earth, a place with such great vibes is also known as “piss alley.” Well, because the area serves quite a lot of beers (I’m kidding but no kidding), combined with the lack of public restrooms, has earned it the nickname “piss alley.” One must relieve himself somewhere, right? 🤦

Tasty and cheap Japanese food and drinks

As mentioned above, the area was originally an old black market, which today is a legalized Japanese vintage restaurant area. The current Omoide Yokocho food stalls are still retaining their tradition to the ancient black market era and are perfectly safe to visit(like any other place in all of Japan).

Fresh Yakitori from a restaurant in Omoide Yokocho

Among the most popular foods you can eat nowadays are yakitori and nikomi (beef tendon stew) alongside cheap beers and sake. One of the most famous (or infamous to some) will serve rare delicacies as fried frogs, salamanders, and some aphrodisiacs like bull penises to go with your beer. I hope you didn’t read grow, do you?

The general rule applying to foods served here is what is know locally, quickly prepared izakaya food, mostly grilled seafood, grilled chicken (all the yakitori variations), grilled meat, and grilled intestines. I know for some of you some of the dishes I mention here sounds strange, to say the least, the intestines are tasty and full of not vitamins, but proteins. Some people believe that eating intestines before a physical competition will keep you stronger throughout the challenge.

Why shouldn’t you miss visiting Omoide Yokocho?

After I moved to Japan in 2019th, I started making lists over lists with places to visit. I started with the top ten places to visit in Tokyo. Then I made a new list of twenty places, and so on and so, until I just forgot about lists and planning everything. I just realized that I couldn’t possibly see all the places other people have seen and experienced in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Instead, I started focusing on places that are drawing me to them. If you want, love at first sight. This is how I got to find out about this alley in Shinjuku. I used to use Instagram extensively to see places that are photographically speaking, “worth seeing” to me. Below is my Instagram travel account, where I post mostly photographs I take in Japan or any other places I visit worldwide. All follows are much appreciated. Thank you! 

The embedded photograph above is self-explanatory as to why I fell in love with this alley. See the smoke filling out the passage? Well, imagine how mouth watery it smelled from all the grilled yakitoris. It would be best if you visited the Memory Lane Alleys to see yourself. As a photographer who loves street photography, the place is absolutely invaluable.

Not to mention that there takes place a lot of family photoshoots. Here I shot a night portrait photoshoot (see here the article featuring the photos I took) with a gorgeous blonde model living in Tokyo.

Yellow lanterns at Omoide Yokocho

I always love to wander around and observe the people doing their thing. As you can assume, these photos are from when Japan is still closed to tourists during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. If you research online, most images are filled out with crowds of people. Nowadays, the place looks a little scary, with fewer customers populating the izakayas.

With all things considered, I will forever love Omoide Yokocho Alleys. No matter the reason, whether I go there for a paid photography session or in my spare time for street photography after, I put some peace in my stomach. I mean, how can I say no to the friendly owners of the vintage food stalls?

How to get to Omoide Yokocho when you are in Tokyo?

The easiest and fastest transportation would be the subway trains, but busses are available too. You can experience the old Japanese taxi cars that have self-opening doors, but that may prove pricey if you consider the taxi fares in Japan.

If you are a tourist visiting Japan, I highly recommend you buy a sim card (or rent a data device from the airport) to use the Google Maps App to route you around. As a general rule, pay special attention to the trains’ timing because you may end up in a different direction, or some of the express trains won’t stop at your desired station. While a two-minute difference for trains doesn’t sound much, the instances mentioned above can happen. Shinjuku Station, the station you have to go off for Omoide Yokocho, is a station where every train will stop, being one of the world’s biggest train stations, so no worry here.

Thank you for reading my thoughts about Omoide Yokocho. I hope you feel inspired to visit it and book my photography services for fantastic portraits. I will gladly spend time with you there and show you around while documenting precious moments for your family.

All photographs in this article are mine and can be purchased by pressing the contact button below.

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