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Now reading A Guide to the Back-Alley Bars of Tokyo

A Guide to the Back-Alley Bars of Tokyo

Late night drinking, tucked away in the back alleys of Tokyo.

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Yokochos are the backstreets of Japan. In the postwar years, they were often flea markets, but nowadays they are more likely warrens of little bars and izakayas where you can whittle away your night. Each spots seats ten (or fewer!) people around a bar with the shop owner at the center tending to everyone’s food and drink needs.

Wandering through yokochos is an essential Tokyo experience—you find something new every time. Often you’ll end up joining in the conversation with the other guests and spend the rest of the night drinking shochu and nihonshu with them, making new friends for the night. The Japanese call this barhopping “hashigo.” Here’s how to do it like an expert.

A quick guideline to the drinks menu at izakayas:

Draft beer or nama biru (生ビール) is the usual choice but there will also be bottled options.

Shochu (焼酎) A Japanese distilled alcoholic beverage. It is typically distilled from rice, barley, sweet potato, or buckwheat. Shochu can be drunk neat, on the rocks, with water, or mixed with oolong tea, or a lemon or grapefruit soda.

Nihonshu (日本酒) Rice wine better known to non-Japanese as sake. Nihonshu can be drunk cold (hiya 冷 or reishu 冷酒), room temperature (jouon 常温), warm (nurukanぬる燗) and hot (atsukan 熱燗).

Golden Gai

A former red-light district comes to life.

Sanchoku Inshokugai

Head under the train tracks for regional specialty shops.

Harmonica Yokocho

East meets West with a series of both Japanese and European themed izakayas.

Hoppy Dori

An all-day affair for an early start to your drinking. Or a very late end.