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 Omoide Yokochou 思い出横丁, or "Memory Lane;" but I prefer to use its other name: Shouben Yokochou 小便横丁, or "Piss Alley."
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.
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.
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.
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.