Take a walk (and a beer) down Memory Lane

When I am taking visitors out and they start on the whole tired “Tokyo is like Blade Runner, without the flying cars” thing, I usually just nod and take them to Shinjuku Nishiguchi… Making our way toward Sakuraya and its floors upon floors of useless electronic gadgetry, before taking a sharp turn into the insanely narrow backward recesses of 思い出横町 (Omoide Yokochou: Memory Lane).

Impossible not to experience at least some level of self-sufficient ‘bet-they-don’t-mention-this-in-lonely-planet’ pride when you walk through that über-authentic remnant of post-war Tokyo, trying to catch your breath amidst the carcinogenic fumes of kushiyaki barbecues and slaloming between drunk salarymen and people sitting at the street-side stalls in an alley that is barely big enough to walk with your arms outstretched.

But beyond the postcard-style ambiance and the bobo traveller exotic value, Omoide Yokochou (or rather, Shomben Yokochou as most people call it) is truly an awesome place for some after-work quality time. Providing both abundance of alcohol as well as plenty of incredibly cheap, yet relatively salmonella-free (tis Japan, still) food.

It does help to speak Japanese, as you are unlikely to encounter much English-speaking skills at all in this area. And half the fun is of course to mingle with the inebriated working classes of Tokyo (male to an overwhelming majority, although there’s always the odd salary-girl or two).

Of course, Antoine is no Tokyo novice: his Japanese is way better than mine and, thanks to his Kyotoite girlfriend, injected with enough kansai-ben colloquialisms to sound at least ten times more authentic… Nonetheless, he has been hanging around trader bars for way too long. And when upon meeting up with me, he announced that he hadn’t been able to stop by an ATM and consequently only had 4000 yens in his pocket, implying there was no way to do go out on less than 50,000 yens a person, it just sounded way too much like a challenge…

The night was fun, shared between the Albatros bar (slightly out of place with its cozy friendly vibe and imposing alcohol selection, yet as ridiculously tiny as every other joints) and some random yakitori joint, where more beer was had and much drunken conversations with our neighbours ensued.

One sad thing I learnt while discussing with the owner of Albatros was that the days of my favorite Tokyo spot were counted: a redevelopment plan is underway that would basically replace the whole thing with one of these damn department store. Unfortunately, a quick web search confirmed this

So hurry up to go enjoy its unique atmosphere and cheap beer before it goes…

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