Since I’m living with family in Japan, I get to know the area around my place a little more than other popular parts of the city like Shibuya or Harajuku. I live in Ueno, which is not quite suburban… but it’s not quite so bustling either. It feels like a very family-friendly area, as it has the Shinobazu Pond (a little pond where you can ride swan paddleboats on sunny days, or a traditional rowing boat if your arms are up for it) and the Ueno Zoo. But, one of my favorite parts are the alley street markets near Ueno Station — “Ameya Yokocho” or “Ameyoko” for short.
It’s said to be called Ameyoko because it was named from the American black market after World War II, or ame (which means candy in Japanese) street/stores, and the soldiers would call it that for short. I’m not quite sure, as the stories all seem to differ, but interesting bits of history nonetheless!
There’s not so much candy anymore, but rather, this place has become known for its fresh fish and fruit. There are multiple alleys that seem to be grouped by type of merchandise, but this is a good spot to get affordable clothes, souvenirs, produce, and street food! There’s really so much to see and it’s so easy to shop.
This is a really good place to get gifts for your friends back home, as there are more traditional snacks like little fish strip crackers with sesame paste (this sounds weird to some, but it is so tasty!!) and more vendors that are family businesses. Personally, I would stay there for the entire day, just to get a sampling of all the different kinds of food offered here. A lot of it is fried, but I think that’s characteristic of street food, as you can walk around with your food on a stick or pick at small bits of karaage (fried chicken). But one thing for sure is that everything feels authentic and gritty (in the best way)!
Writing this post made me think that there are actually a lot of alley street markets in Japan. I guess part of it is due to their packed architecture, but this means that some streets become so specialized in what they’re offering… and I find this really interesting because the U.S. (especially the big hubs like New York and Los Angeles) seems to boast its diversity. But here, they are offering the same product, but with slight differences per store (and then you can compare traditional vs. modern takes on some foods).
Above is a picture of the monjayaki (pan-fried vegetables and batter) street in Tsukishima, which is full of monjayaki restaurants — but each of them try to be unique by pairing it with a special ingredient or just having cool ways of cooking it. These subtle differences makes exploring these alley street markets all the more fun though!