While the rest of the world drags itself out of bed at 4:00 a.m. to watch a bunch of guys haggle over tuna at Tsukiji Market, I am still fast asleep. After treating myself to a hot bath and an elegant Japanese breakfast, I will be ready to start my day.
I’ll spend the day visiting shrines, admiring strange architecture, and watching boats float down the Sumida River.
At the end of the day, as dusk approaches, I’ll make my way to Ameyoko.
Ameyoko is a bustling market street, adjacent to the Yamanote Line tracks, walkable from Ueno Station. “Ameyoko” is a portmanteau for “Ameya Yokocho” (candy store alley). Candies really were sold there. “Ame” also came to be slang for “America” during the years following World War II when the street served as a black market for American goods.
The side streets leading off the alley also lead to other culinary delights and unexpected treasures.
Today, various products such as clothes, sneakers, and cosmetics are sold alongside fresh fish, dried food and spices. The street has retained the grittiness and character of its storied past. There’s still a sense of the underworld and enough illicit activity for the police to keep a close watch on the area.
It’s chaotic, hectic, and crowded. Especially just after the end of the workday when shoppers fill the streets to bargain with merchants for the best seafood, produce, and specialties from all over Japan.
Opening hours and closing days depend on individual stores, but stores typically open around 10:00 and close around 19:00.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a market street without snacks. A lively young woman from Yokohama, schooled in Boston, runs an oyster stand where you can sample bivalves from many regions of Japan. She also has a nice selection of sake to wash it all down.
If you’re still hungry, another young woman cooks up Takoyaki for a hungry crowd. It’s pretty entertaining to watch grown men burn their tongues because they can’t wait for their octopus balls to cool off.
Tsukiji in the morning is an iconic experience, not to be missed, but Ameyoko at dusk is where and when you’ll find yourself cheek to jowl with everyday Japanese and a noticeable absence of foreigners.