Sunday, January 22, 2017

The origins of Alley Restaurants in Tokyo

After World War II, the shopping area of Shinjuku West gate was completely destroyed. Prior to the war, this was a place of commerce, selling shoes, bathing supplies and clothing in front of Shinjuku Station.

Small booths were set up next to each other and they were selling oden (different foods cooked in Japanese style broth), boiled potatoes, boiled red beans, tempura, used books and cooking utensils. The booths were divided by reed screens. All were destroyed by fire.

Out of this grew “Lucky Street.” Lucky Street was a black market made up of stalls divided by plank boards. These sprang up during a period where the economy was under control of the Japanese Government. People started gathering to Shinjuku West Gate area to begin their own commerce.

During the reconstruction of Tokyo, the Japanese government severely rationed flour which was used for making Ramen and Udon noodles and other daily Japanese traditional dishes. As a result of this, the entrails of cows and pigs from the occupation troops were used as a source of food. Thus the birth of Matsu-Yaki (grilled organs of animals) was created and became prosperous for the shop owners.

One of the features of the shops that is carried over from this time is their closeness to each other. The shops original were only separated by a single board. Even today, the shops are built in tight configuration to each other.

During the 1950’s, the “Yakitori-cabaret” made their presence. The shops served grilled food as well as Shochu, which is a distilled spirit stronger than wine or beer but weaker than whiskey or vodka. These were served by dressed up hostesses. In the 1960’s, expansion and building construction eliminated over 300 of the shops.

Only the shops from Shinjuku West gate hall were able to survive. It is now known as “Omoide-Yoocho” or the “Corner of Memories.” It is a part of the history of Tokyo, off the beaten path but worth the visit.

A link to the history of Shinjuku and its rebirth after the devastation in post war Japan.

The origin of the city's name and its ties to Tōkaidō road (東海道?, "East Sea Road").

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