Eat, Drink, and be Merry in Harmonica Yokocho (Tokyo)
A few weeks ago, my wife Kim wrote about 5 Fun Things to Do in Kichijoji, and one of those five happens to be one of my favorite spots in Tokyo: Harmonica Yokocho. Perhaps you've heard of or been to Golden Gai in Shinjuku, a narrow alley full of small bars. Well, Harmonica Yokocho is like a bigger, better, cleaner, less touristy version of Golden Gai, but don't worry, it does not trade away any of the history or the charm.
Harmonica Yokocho has been around since the 1940s. At a time when Japan was rapidly rebuilding after the war, stores and buildings were cropping up faster than any sort of organized city planning could take place. As a result, a set of buildings next to Kichijoji station ended up with five tiny streets meandering between them. The entrances to those streets between the buildings were said to resemble the valves of a harmonica; hence the name, "Harmonica Yokocho." Inside each of those "valves" emerged tiny restaurants and bars, and now there are nearly 100 of them hidden within this gem of spot. While Kichijoji is now more of a hip location on the outskirts of Tokyo proper, it used to be a working class part of town, and Harmonica Yokocho represents a mash-up between modern trends and the type of establishments that harken back to the days when salarymen, laborers, and OLs (Office Ladies) would all convene there to eat, drink, and forget the worries of the day. There, you'll find traditional places like Oden shops and Izakaya situated right next to beer halls and gourmet wine bars. Unlike Golden Gai and other drinking alleys in Japan, the food in Harmonica Yokocho is a draw in itself, so be sure to bring an appetite with you. And don't be bashful when picking a place. Because Harmonica Yokocho's history is rooted in the working class, the shopkeepers are a gregarious and welcoming lot, used to having a bit of yaritori (back-and-forth) with their customers who've just gotten done with a long day's work. So if you see an open chair, pull it up and shout "Onegaishimasu!" Keep in mind that most of the establishments in Harmonica Yokocho are small, so if you are traveling with a large party (more than four), you'll want to arrive earlier in the evening. Peak hours of activity run between 20:00 and midnight. The standard food and drink will run you anywhere between 1000 and 3000 yen.
Kichijoji is accessible via the Keio Inokashira Line and the JR lines (about 30 minutes from Shinjuku station). Harmonica Yokocho is situated immediately across the street from the North Exit. Zehi, go check it out!
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Sight in Tokyo
Harmonica Yokocho Alley
This alley is comprised of various shops, restaurants and salons.