Kichijoji polls as the #1 place in Tokyo where people want to live. It’s convenient and yet it retains the nostalgic atmosphere of a traditional shopping area. You can take in the retro feel while popping into the many tiny shops which crowd the pathways in the Hamonica Yokocho (Harmonica Alley), located right next to Kichijoji Station.
Twilight is the best time to visit
Harmonica Alley is located right outside the north exit of Kichijoji Station. There are about 100 cozy shops lining these small alleyways, all of which exude a nostalgic Showa period (the preware, post war era) feel. The Hamonica Kitchen is one of the popular places that can be found here.
The best time to go is as the sun is setting and the lights are just turning on, when a mysterious vibe begins to fill the air. This area is also known as a drinking town. As night sets in, customers coming home from work stop by for a quick drink and some food, and the mood changes drastically from daytime. TV’s Rui Yoshida of Sakaba Hourouki (bar wandering) fame can even be seen here sometimes!
Harmonica Alley wanderer’s notebook
Harmonica alley was originally a post-war black market in front of Kichijoji Station.
It received its name because the two-story buildings lining the streets resembled a harmonica’s mouthpiece. Facing the areas of Heiwa Dori, Daiya Machi, and Musashi Dori, Harmonic Alley consists of the streets Nakamise Dori, Chuo Dori, Asahi Dori, Noren Shoji, and Jowakai Dori, all of which lead away from the station.
Although it’s right in front of the station, I noticed some people there who seemed lost, so I’ve shown the entrance to Nakamise Dori in the picture above. From here, all of the alleys are connected, so you can go to any of the other streets
Cool clothing stores, too!
In addition to places to eat, the alleys also have clothing, accessory, flower, and fortune teller shops. With a huge variety of stores, you can explore all day and never get bored. The shops here have any and all kinds of clothing, so you can probably find something right up your alley!
One of the charms of Hamonica Yokocho is that both new and long-established shops coexist in an eclectic mix crowding the maze of alleys. It almost makes you wonder what country you just stepped into. This is one of the reasons why it’s a very popular tourist attraction.
The warmth of a traditional shopping spot
Most shoppers in the day consist of people looking for ingredients for dinner. The warm and friendly conversation from the shopkeepers here is what attracts most regulars.
Going during the day is great because things like fresh fish, dried goods, pickled goods, prepared dishes, and snacks can be bought on the cheap. It kind of makes you feel as though you live in the popular Kichijoji area. You can also come for lunches like as tuna bowls, pot stickers, taco rice, and much more.
The famous treats of sweet shop Ozasa
Ozasa’s Yokan (bar of jellied sweet red bean paste) are called Maboroshi no Yokan (meaning legendary or rare Yokan).
They are only sold at the store, and only 150 pieces a day with a limit of 3 per person, making that only about 50 who can obtain these sweet treats. To get some you have to line up before dawn and receive a numbered ticket at 8:15am, then return between 10am and 6pm to exchange it finally for the Yokan (1pc 675 JPY).
Some days, people start lining up from 2am, making these super valuable!
The photo is of people buying Monaka (bean jam filled wafers). These are available in red bean or white bean and aren’t restricted in number, but beware that these sell out quickly as well.
Have a stroll and take in the charm
Hamonica Yokocho Asaichi (Harmonica alley morning market) is held every 3rd Sunday of each month. Also, around every August 24th, there are special events held which give yet another thing to look forward to.
Get a taste of Retro Tokyo at Hamonica Yokocho.