Kichijoji has long been a famous tourist destination in Tokyo.
Up until recently, Kichijoji has been ranked as the #1 most desirable place to live by Japanese and foreigners alike, and has a reputation for being a lovely and enjoyable place to live as well as visit.
In the heart of Kichijoji, located less then minutes away from Kichijoji station’s bustling north exit, is the Harmonica Alley.
Harmonica Alley (also known as “Harmonica Yokocho”), was originally a post-war black market; it now boosts over one-hundred bars, shops, and izakayas which are packed into it’s narrow streets.
It continues to be an extremely popular drinking spot for locals and visitors alike, and although it has been slightly modernized over the years, its traditional Japanese style has undoubtedly been preserved.
A huge yellow sign with Japanese katakana marks the entrance to the alley, and once you enter it is as though you’ve stumbled into an alternate reality.
Traditional red paper lanterns adorn every corner, and the mostly wall-less exteriors of the tiny shops and izakayas give them a feeling of openness despite the narrowness of the streets.
Most shops are no bigger then the size of a small bedroom, with tables situated closely together in order to maximize space.
Some izakayas consist of only a bar counter or a solitary table which all customers share together, which lends itself to an intimacy unlike the usual drinking destinations to be found in Tokyo.
I personally believe that these types of seating arrangements are not only a great way to maximize space, but are also a great way to encourage customers to interact with each other and strengthen bonds within the local community.
Once you’ve entered and are seated in the izakaya of your choice, you will be presented with a small otoshi (small order, or appetizer) which the izakaya provides you to snack on with your first drink order, such as is shown in the picture below:
Most Izakayas will serve a variety of Otsumami (small dishes made to accompany drinks) or small portions of traditional Japanese dishes.
If you are undecided about what to order, my suggestion is that you ask for the izakaya’s Osusume (recommendation); the owner of the restaurant will then serve you the izakaya’s most popular dish or daily special, similar to the ones in the pictures below.
The dish in the photo above is “ChanJa”. ChanJa is a Korean dish traditionally made with raw fish intestines, but which sometimes contains other types of seafood that have been marinated in Kimchi sauce. Typically served cold to accompany your drink and seasoned with a hint of spice, every izakaya will serve their own tasty version of this delicacy.
Some of the dishes are more traditional, like these whole fried potatoes which have been lightly seasoned with salt and pepper.
Occasionally you will find Izakayas that specialize in a certain type of food, such as the izakaya where the picture below was taken:
This particular drinking establishment specialized in Japanese-style pickles, commonly called tsukemono. The owner even went so far as to call it a “Tsukemono Bar”!
Like many of the izakayas and bars in Harmonica Alley, by day they actually are shops that sell local produce and goods, and only at night do they become drinking establishments.
Because of this, I believe the quality of food and dishes the izakayas in Harmonica Alley serve is actually higher and far superior to the average, run-of-the-mill izakaya to be found in Tokyo.
Although Kichijoji has come to be much more popular with tourists over the past few years, Harmonica Alley is still relatively unknown to most foreign visitors.
You may be surprised to find yourself one of the few foreigners in the entire district.
Unlike similar drinking districts, such as the “Golden Gai” in Shinjuku, which has become extremely popular to tourists in recent years, the izayakas and restaurants in Harmonica Alley still cater primarily to locals and Japanese visitors.
The majority of the menu items are listed in Japanese, and you may be hard-pressed to find anyone amongst the service people or customers who can communicate in English.
Although this may seem intimidating at first, don’t let it discourage you from making a visit.
If you want to have a true “Tokyo Drinking Experience”, there is nothing quite as authentic to be found in Tokyo as what Harmonica Alley has to offer.
1. Ron Ron (龍2、ロンロン)
Address: 1-1-4 Kichijoji Honmachi, Musashino, Tokyo
Hours: 11:30-2:00am(Mon-Fri) 12:00-2:00am(Sat,Sun,Holidays)
2. Shimizu-Ya “Tsukemono Bar 4328” (清水屋)
Address: 1-1-8 Kichijoji Honmachi, Musashino, Tokyo
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