Tokyo’s Infamous "Piss Alley" Frogs, Pig Testicles, and a Still-Beating Frog Heart

    When most people think of Tokyo, they have a very specific idea in their heads: a thriving, ultramodern megalopolis. You probably think of the million time-lapse videos you’ve seen of Shibuya Crossing.

    But that’s not telling the whole story about Tokyo. Tokyo is too enormous to have just one identity. The many different districts of Tokyo have wildly different personalities.

    There’s one place in particular, in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, that has a really distinctive feel and personality. It’s a place that’s sometimes called omo おもde yokochyou 横丁よこちょう, or “Memory Lane”; but I prefer to use its other name: shouben-yokochou 小便横丁しょうべんよこちょう, or “Piss Alley.”

    japanese piss alley in tokyo with red lanterns and wandering people
    Source: Shinya ICHINOHOE

    Piss Alley is about as far away as you can get from the Tokyo that most foreigners get to see. If you’re an otaku, you might go to Akihabara, a bright, colorful district of Tokyo with lots of open spaces. Piss Alley is virtually the opposite: it’s a cramped, dingy place that’s more of a local hotspot than a tourist destination.

    Don’t let the name scare you off. Piss Alley is named for its early years, when it was a shady destination for criminals to get their drink on. The place wasn’t very built up back in those days, so instead of using a toilet, people just relieved themselves wherever they could.

    two people walking through piss alley in tokyo japan
    Source: Sho Ikezoe

    Nowadays, you won’t find people peeing on the streets (well, not generally), but Piss Alley has retained a lot of its local charm. It’s a series of small shops stuffed as tightly as possible into narrow alleys usually only wide enough for one person to walk through. Some people have said that Piss Alley reminds them of a scene straight out of Blade Runner.

    The Food of Piss Alley

    There’s a lot of drinking spots in Piss Alley, the kind where you pull up a stool, have a beer and some excellent yakitori. The restaurants are really cramped (I’m not entirely sure how people move around), but nothing too out of the ordinary.

    waitress serving patrons in restaurant in piss alley
    Source: the waving cat

    Within Piss Alley, there’s also some pretty strange food too. The most notorious restaurant in Piss Alley is Asadachi, a restaurant with a name that roughly translates to “morning wood” (ask your parents, kids).

    The food served at Asadachi isn’t the kind that you enjoy with your coworkers and wash down with a super dry beer. Instead, it’s more like folk medicine; stuff that’s supposed to improve your virility and cure various ailments.

    pig testicles in broth about to be eaten in piss alley
    Source: pelcinary

    So what kind of food do they serve at Asadachi to give you some asadachi? Here’s a small sampling:

    • Frog sashimi
    • Pig testicles
    • Soft-shelled turtle
    • Still-beating frog’s heart
    • Grilled salamander
    • Snake liquor

    Some of the food is straight up killed right in front of you to assure freshness (how else are you supposed to get a beating frog heart?). The menu changes a bit depending on what’s fresh, but you can expect that no matter what you get, you’ll probably consider going vegetarian.

    salamander on skewer stick in front of open mouthed foreigner in japan
    Source: pelcinary