Tucked away in between the shiny new skyscrapers of Tokyo are charismatic lantern-lit alleyways known as yokocho. Here you will find old-school eateries and bars in alleys and you can step back in time to an older, cheaper time where you can eat and drink yourself to your heart’s (and pocket’s) content.
What Are Yokocho Drinking Alleys?
Yokocho drinking alleys are a step back in time to the good ol’ days of drinking on the street, a classic pastime which takes you back to a kind of retro ambiance. Yokocho are mostly narrow, slightly dingy, but atmospheric alleys across Japan that are filled with watering holes like Japanese izakayas and restaurants serving beer, Japanese sake, and other Japanese foods to line the alcohol-soaked stomachs of salarymen, locals, and tourists alike.
Going to a yokocho in Japan is a must if you want to participate in the Japanese drinking culture, and makes for a great night out where you can mix with all types of people.
The yokocho drinking alleys are affordable, casual, and great for bar-hopping on your own or with friends, just don’t bring too many, as in true Japanese style, they can only fit around 10 people or less! There are almost too many to count, so we’ve done the research for you and made a list of the ten best yokocho in Tokyo.
The 10 Best Yokocho (Drinking Alleys) in Tokyo
Here are some of Tokyo's best drinking alleys to visit for an evening of drinking and finger food!
- Ameya Yokocho (Ameyoko) – Ueno
- Golden Gai - Shinjuku
- Omoide Yokocho - Shinjuku
- Harmonica Yokocho - Kichijoji
- Nonbei Yokocho – Shibuya
- Niku Yokocho – Shibuya
- Ebisu Yokocho
- Sankaku Chitai Yokocho – Sangenjaya
- Amazake Yokocho – Ningyocho
- Okazu Yokocho – Okachimachi
1. Ameya Yokocho (Ameyoko) – Ueno
Ameyoko’s name has an uncertain origin, with some thinking it comes from the Japanese word for sweets, ame, whereas others state it’s short for “American.” It started off as a huge marketplace post-war, being primarily a black market. Now, there are more than 400 shops that sell clothes, fruit, plants, souvenirs, seafood, and more at pretty decent prices too, for Tokyo. There’s an abundance of food stops too, just check out our Ameyoko Street Food Guide for the best snack spots. It gets hideously busy on weekends and holidays, so it’s best to visit any other time for your own sanity.
2. Golden Gai – Shinjuku
Golden Gai in Shinjuku is probably the most well-known yokocho in Tokyo. It is particularly popular with tourists visiting Tokyo, and it’s rare to find locals in bars that aren’t Japanese only. Each bar has its own unique vibe and interior, from high-end to quirky, there’s a bar to suit style and preference. Drinks prices can be quite steep, and many of the 270 tiny bars have cover charges so be careful. Despite these factors, it does make for a great night out. If you’re unsure where to go, why not read our Golden Gai bars article, or sign up for our Golden Gai tour.
3. Omoide Yokocho – Shinjuku
This yokocho is often fondly referred to as "memory lane" or more accurately, "piss alley." I’ll let you use your imagination for that one. Here you can find narrow, smoky alleys with tiny yakitori and ramen shops selling beers and highballs that are pretty much always full of locals and tourists. If there’s more than two in your party, you’re unlikely to get a seat at peak times, with many spots fitting 10 or less.
Situated to the west of the world’s busiest station, it can be easy to walk past without knowing it’s there if you aren’t looking for it, as it’s hidden behind a row of currency converter shops. It’s perfect for that Insta shot as seasonal leaf decorations and low hanging lanterns adorn the alley, just watch your head!
4. Harmonica Yokocho – Kichijoji
Harmonica is one of the few yokocho in Tokyo that’s open earlier from lunch, due to their number of tiny but tasty restaurants that started popping up at the end of the '90s. It was originally a flea market, but now the area is home to clothing stores and grocery shops as well as specialist shops that sell taiyaki (fish-shaped pancakes filled with red bean paste), tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets), and other treats.
At night the pace turns up a notch when standing-only bars pop-up along with mini eateries. It may shut earlier than other yokocho on the list, but that shouldn’t stop you from bar-hopping around and letting your hair down.
5. Nonbei Yokocho – Shibuya
Nonbei Yokocho actually means “drunkard alley” and is conveniently located right by busy Shibuya Station and the bustling crossing. It was formally the Tokyu Railway Corporation’s head office but changed in the early post-war years. You can find many bars and eateries here, including popular yakitori and teppanyaki joints as well as places serving typical Japanese bar food and drinks.
6. Niku Yokocho – Shibuya
In this video, Shizuka goes on a guided tour of Shibuya, including a stop at Niku Yokocho, also known as "Meat Alley." It’s another yokocho in Tokyo that has a casual atmosphere with reasonable prices and a meat lover’s dream. What makes it different is that it’s on the second and third floors of the Chitose Kaikan building instead of the usual alleyway on the street.
The place is packed with every type of meat dish you could want from Korean barbeque to yakitori and even beef sushi. You can even order take-out from any restaurant on the same floor and have it delivered to the restaurant that you’re sitting in. The dream. Wash it all down with your drink(s) of choice and relax.
7. Ebisu Yokocho
This buzzing food alley is built on the remains of the old Yamashita shopping center and you can find a wide array of food here from Chinese to oden, and from mushroom specialist stalls to fresh fish sellers. Some of the shops are tiny, even for Japanese standards, which will explain why you will sometimes see tables and chairs lined up near entrances.
If you’re gasping for a drink, you’re not to worry as there are plenty of watering holes serving wine, beer, and Japanese sake. Here, most businesses are open until sunrise so you can eat and drink to your heart out, it’s also undercover so no need to worry about the weather.
8. Sankaku Chitai Yokocho – Sangenjaya
Sankaku Chitai is a triangle in Sangenjaya that’s lined with pubs, shops, and Japanese curry stops. It has a distinctly old-school local feel, with all ages, old and young, mixing here and hanging out in the small taverns. Here you can find delicious takoyaki (fried octopus balls), gyoza, and yakitori and wash it all down with a cold beer. What could be better?
9. Amazake Yokocho – Ningyocho
This 400-meter-long street has plenty of hidden gems full of knick-knacks ready for you to explore. There are around 70 shops, so it’s slightly smaller than others on the list, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less worth checking out. It’s known for its “downtown gourmet,” with tamagoyaki (rolled omelet), soba, and yakitori sold here. If you have a sweet tooth, you’re in luck as you can find taiyaki, soymilk donuts, and ningyo-yaki cakes (cakes baked in small shaped molds filled with sweet anko bean paste).
10. Okazu Yokocho – Okachimachi
This shopping street hosts roughly 230 shops, mostly selling groceries and readily prepared okazu (side) dishes that are typically pickles, fish, and vegetables to go along with rice in a traditional Japanese meal. There are a few restaurants and you can find small snack shops selling grilled fish and other foods that have tables and chairs roadside if you fancy a break and a sit-down. Most shops here are closed on Sundays, FYI.
So, there are plenty yokocho in Tokyo where you can eat and drink the night away bar-hopping or sticking to one place. They’re a great way to get involved in the local drinking culture and what better way to make new friends than by rubbing shoulders in tiny establishments while you’re visiting Tokyo!