Popping salty umibudo pearls in your mouth under kawara roof tiles and Orion beer lanterns is the quintessential Okinawan izakaya experience. It’s just that, this time, you’re technically in Tokyo, but does it really matter? There’s a jar of menacing habushu on the counter and a goya champuru dish coming your way. And with another 19 eateries from all over Japan, you could, theoretically, end your night by slurping Hokkaido ramen next door. Allowing your tastebuds to travel has never been easier than it is in Shibuya Yokocho in Rayard Miyashita Park.
Gotta Eat ‘Em All!
The izakaya in Shibuya Yokocho are perfect for a pub crawl or some serious foodie exploration. Once you’ve had your Okinawan purple potatoes, you can pay and go to the next store to eat Nagoya chicken wings, Kobe beef or Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki. Or even better, let the food come to you. Shibuya Yokocho has a special menu that allows you to order certain dishes from other restaurants in the yokocho food hall. You can have a gyoza party with signature dumplings from various regions, a yakitori skewer bonanza or ramen galore. Drinks can be ordered too, so you can have Niigata sake delivered to your Kansai table. The most beloved local specialties are selected for the menus and key ingredients are often sourced straight from the prefectures.
OK, You Can Play With Your Food
The food is great, as it usually is in Japan. But the bonus flavor point at Shibuya Yokocho is “fun” and it’s a valuable spice. You can order a firefighters’ bucket full of alcohol or an aquarium with shochu and chili peppers swimming in it like incandescent goldfish. The playful element of Shibuya Yokocho sets itself apart from more orthodox izakaya and that’s precisely why it’s attracting the local crowds. If you start singing impromptu praises to the food, maybe check out the karaoke area on the first floor, as well as the spot in the retro Showa-style kissaten on the second floor.
Ceci N’est Pas Un Restaurant
The Shibuya Yokocho concept has several entertaining layers to it and regional cuisine is just one of them. The whole complex is inspired by a retro Showa Era shotengai shopping district, deliberately weathered to resemble the 50s. Izakaya are inhabiting stores one would expect to find dotted along a traditional shotengai. Hokuriku food is served in a sento, complete with bathing stools and a Mount Fuji mural. Tohoku cuisine is housed in a vegetable store, while you can find delicacies from the Kinki region in both a dagashiya toy store and a retro record bar. There’s even a mini-Yokohama Chinatown and a sumo food restaurant. The restaurant is staffed by former sumo wrestlers who make hearty stews and show it’s possible to pivot to a new profession. There is even a real-deal Shinto shrine, the mini Kitaya Inari Jinja, where you can draw your fortune.
An Ongoing Festival
Between summer festivals and New Year lion dance performances, Shibuya Yokocho aims to become a 24/7, 365 days a year, entertainment yokocho. There’s always some promotional event going on, new food on the menu and limited-edition sake. It’s a welcoming place, especially to those still figuring out their food and sake preferences. There are over 2,500 menu items in total across the 19 stores, so even the pickiest eaters can find something to munch on. And once they do, they can actually eat it in a retro firefighting station. And that’s what fun tastes like.
Rayard Miyashita Park
6-20-10 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku
Photos by Anna Petek