By Carter Cromwell
One of the advantages of taking a trip with JapanBall is that the schedule allows plenty of time for non-baseball activities of your choice, either on your own or with others.
Something to consider while in Tokyo is Ameyoko, a narrow, crowded market between the Ueno and Okachimachi stations of the East Japan Railway Co. There are between 400 and 500 shops in the area. It’s a great place to purchase souvenirs, but it is also a spot for locals, who buy seasonal produce and fresh fish for cooking at home, as well as holiday-themed food and goods.
The shopping street began after World War II as a sort of black market for items that locals were able to obtain from the Allied soldiers then occupying the country. The most popular items were candy and Army surplus apparel and equipment.
Yokocho means “alley,” so it’s pretty clear that the second part of the name Ameyoko comes from that. The first part, however, is up for interpretation. It may have been based on the word ame, which is the Japanese word for candy (ameya = candy shop), or it could have been short for “American.” It could have been a combination of the two . . . or something else.
Regardless, Ameyoko area has survived and thrived.
The shopping area includes an open-air market and an indoor plaza, directly beneath the train tracks. Shops sell items ranging from fresh and packaged food to clothing, cosmetics, household goods, watches, and jewels. Some stores focus on selling just one type of product, while others diversify to one degree or another. A lot of shops sell seasonal fruit in pre-packaged bags or on sticks. More than a handful are dedicated to surplus military gear or bomber jackets (sukajan), which reflect the era in which the shopping street originated.
The area is noisy – and fun – with the sounds of shop owners hawking their wares and consumers haggling to get the best prices. Most shops have signage indicating their steep discounts, but on top of that, shop owners are generally willing to negotiate. Fresh food items tend to be more discounted toward the end of a day, so shoppers can always find bargains with patience.
One shop worth seeking out is Tatakiuiri, a famous chocolate shop near the Ueno end of Ameyoko that has an interesting, auction-like sale model. Tatakiuri translates to “bang-selling.” Why? Because vendors bang sticks to make noise as they fill bags with increasingly more chocolate, waiting for a buyer to swoop in at the standard 1,000 yen price.
The Ameyoko shopping street runs from Ueno to Okachimachi Station along the tracks of the JR Yamanote and JR Keihin-Tohoku train lines. A short walk from Ueno-Okachimachi Station along the Oedo Subway Line can also get you there.
Shop hours depend on individual shops, but some are closed on Wednesdays. They typically open around 10:00 AM and close around 8:00 PM.