Ameya-Yokochō (アメヤ横丁), Ameyoko (アメ横) for short, is a well-trodden street market under and around the viaduct carrying the JR Yamanote Line and JR Keihin-Tōhoku Line, between Ueno Station and Okachimachi Station. The entire market is really three different shopping streets. In addition to Ameyoko on the west side of the viaduct, there is the Ueno Naka-dōri Shōtengai (上野中通り商店街) which connects as a spur running off Ameyoko to the southwest, and Okachimachi Ekimae-dōri (御徒町駅前通り)—lit. “street in front of Okachimachi Station”—another shōtengai on the east side of the viaduct. Because of the large degree of porousness facilitated by the many cross through passages and side alleys, as well as the inherent chaos and messiness of a lively street market, the distinction tends to fade into the background.
You’ll generally hear two versions of where the name originates. The primary explanation, and the one found on the English and Japanese Wikipedia entries, is that it’s ame-ya as in ‘candy shop’, as many once populated the market stalls. The other is that the ame stands in for ‘America’, from when the location was a black market selling American products in the aftermath of World War II. I’ve gleaned no additional insight from my walks here over the years, but at least I know what to do should I ever come across someone claiming one definitive answer.
Ameyoko is another of those Tokyo spots that seems to make it onto even the shortest visit itineraries. When here, it’s easy to see why. It’s one of the best places to just completely submerge yourself into the flow of humanity and, if you need any, pickup a few souvenirs as evidence of your journey. But this is still a quotidian marketplace catering to local needs, so the predominance of produce, seafood, low cost clothing and appliances, and food stalls preserve the original function and feeling.
Between the hawkers and crowds, and the constant onslaught of sights, sounds and smells, the experience could be overwhelming for someone not used to so much sensory input. That was certainly the case for me the first time I came to take a look. In the years since, I’ve come to derive great joy from feeding off the energy of places like this, reaching a state of immense calm as I let everything wash over me.
The right fork is the entrance to Ueno Naka-dōri.
Green tea, green seaweed, green awning, green baskets. I sense a theme here.
Of all the images that came back from Tokyo, I think I like this one the most. This frame contains the full expression of what is possible through dense and compact development, in a way that charts and reports can never really convey.
This is the south end of Okachimachi Ekimae-dōri.
This is the closest I ever got to Tokyo Skytree. This project is all about what happens at ground level.
With bars and food stalls opening out into the street, the boundaries become fluid.
Everything here is either under or adjacent to the rail viaduct. The constant rumble of trains is part of the collective din. When I think about transit oriented development or talk about it with others, the first thing in my mind isn’t service levels, connectivity and reach (though these are all very important). It isn’t costs, funding and revenue streams (these are also important). And it certainly isn’t the “loss of freedom” from reducing or restricting use of cars. It’s this. Extensive transit infrastructure not only accomplishes its explicit function of moving people around, it’s a host onto which so many interesting things can be grafted. Investing in transit is how you build communities.
This post is part of The Tokyo Project. Click here to go to the introduction and table of contents.