What do you imagine when you think of walking down an urban alley? I know back in the U.S. I often associate them with crime, dirt, and bad smells. There’s only a very slim chance I’d ever enter one.
The Sankaku Chitai, day and night
Near Sangenjaya station though is an area of narrow alleys filled with small taverns, izekaya, small restaurants, and even shops. Known as the Sankaku Chitai, these tight little lanes are what are known in Japan as yokocho. In Japanese the word literally means “alleys off the main street,” but it also refers to the small eateries and bars that sit close together on these narrow lanes. Brett and I have walked past these Sangenjaya alleys more times than I can count, but the other day we decided to step off the main street and wander through the area to find out what was there. What we discovered was a safe and clean area loaded with old-school flavor, a place that made us feel like we were stepping back into an older, simpler Tokyo, the one that existed before the onslaught of complex stations, big highrises, shopping centers, and huge apartment complexes.
The most famous yokocho in Tokyo is probably the Golden Gai in Shinjuku, containing over 270 drinking establishments in seven narrow lanes. However, Sangenjaya’s much smaller Shikaku Chitai, a triangle of alleys that form almost a maze, is also well known, especially for its welcoming atmosphere. Open from early evening until the wee hours of the morning, it has resisted the onslaught of redevelopment in the area, and forms an integral part of the neighborhood.