Spring in Tokyo 2019: Dropping by Ameyoko for lunch

COVER Tokyo Ameyayokocho - Spring in Tokyo 2019: Dropping by Ameyoko for lunch

It’s a known fact that one of the best things about Japan is its cuisine, but if I really think about it, I feel like I haven’t been as impressed by what I’ve eaten in Tokyo compared to places like Sapporo and Fukuoka. It’s been difficult to make a proper food itinerary for Tokyo because the places I want to visit are scattered all over the place, and it just seems more intimidating to explore this bustling metropolitan compared to the more laid back prefectures I’ve fallen in love with. Thankfully, I was able to have my first truly memorable Tokyo meal when we visited Ameyoko.

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Ameyoko is the abbreviated name for what this place is actually called: the Ameya Yokocho. All the locals simply call it Ameyoko, and so that is what we will do as well.

There is some debate as to how it came to be called Ameyoko, and so far there are two theories: Some say the name means ‘candy store alley’, from the Japanese word ‘ame’ or candy. (There’s a popular discount store here specializing on Japanese sweet snacks called Niki no Kashi.) Others say the ‘Ame’ part in the name is attributed to ‘America’. This area is historically known to have been the site of a black market peddling American goods after World War II, so I guess this second theory is pretty plausible as well.

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Today, you can mostly buy seafood and produce here at Ameyoko. It’s also known as a bargain or thrift market. Don’t be surprised if someone suddenly comes up to you with a placard advertising their wares on sale! There’s a store here that sells my favorite Japanese bag brand Mis Zapatos for good prices. I suppose you can say this is a good place to shop for street fashion items for those who like discounts.

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Anyway, the highlight of our visit to Ameyoko is the meal we had at Shutei Juraku Ueno [酒亭じゅらく 上野店]. I cannot remember why we chose this place out of all the other places, to be honest. I think it had to do with the pretty pictures on the menu they had outside, and the fact that it was a decently priced sit-down establishment for Tokyo. We had an early lunch to avoid the lunch crowd, so the restaurant was still mostly empty when we arrived. It’s quite spacious, with traditional wood interiors, though perhaps a bit too dark for my taste.

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One of the most awesome things about Japanese restaurants is how they have these special menus for lunch and dinner where you can order curated set meals for a good price. It’s mostly tailored for office workers, but it’s also a good option for the tourist on a budget. And frankly, these seat meals often feature very attractive combinations.

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I ordered one of their lunch platters, consisting of a small bowl of chirashi don, two pieces of shrimp tempura, and a small portion of cold soba. I gobbled everything down to the last tiny piece of rice. I can nitpick this and say the sashimi isn’t the freshest I’ve had in Japan, but gosh darn it, I couldn’t care less. It was still delicious! My brothers were also very satisfied with their orders, though admittedly some of the servings look a little small. But that’s Tokyo for you. 

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Ameyoko is easy to navigate since it mostly moves in a straight line, but around halfway there is a fork on the road. The right branches off to Uechun (Ueno Nakadori), a small alleyway that seems to mostly house eateries and shoe stores. I honestly don’t think you’d get lost in this area as long as you stay within that Y, though sometimes it can be quite crowded so you may get separated from your companions. Just something to note. It’s best to designate a store to meet up at in case this happens. 

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I look forward to exploring more of Ameyoko’s thrift stores (and buying more Mis Zapatos bags lol) when things are all better in the world. Whenever that may be.

How to get Ameyoko:

  • On the JR Yamanote Line, alight at Ueno Station and take the Shinobazu Exit. Once on ground level, it will be easy to spot the ‘Ameyayokocho’ arch across the street
  • On the Tokyo Metro, take the Toei Oedo Line (E) and alight at Ueno-Okachimachi Station

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