Despite its impression of being a modern, cutting-edge city, Tokyo still offers a number of nostalgic neighborhoods where visitors can enjoy eating and drinking in a setting reminiscent of Japan’s good old days.
In addition to great food, Japanese-style street performers, such as singers, musicians, and magicians, rove around from shop to shop, adding to the lively atmosphere and creating an experience that is truly unique to Japan.
An example is the Norengai series of neighborhoods comprising old kominka (Japanese-style houses) that have been rebuilt and converted to izakaya and eateries in various areas of the city. The newest, Otsuka Norengai, can be found to the north of Otsuka Station, just one stop away from the bustling shopping and entertainment center of Ikebukuro on the Yamanote Line.
Not far from the station, scores of lanterns softly glow, illuminating an area characterized by small establishments oozing the retro charm of the Showa Period (1926–1989). The clatter of the Tokyo Sakura Tram rattling through the neighborhood adds to the atmosphere of half-forgotten yesterdays, which can be found again in Otsuka Norengai’s cozy taverns.
Comprising 11 izakaya, Otsuka Norengai invites you to spend a quiet evening sampling a single shop’s menu, or a lively night of pub-crawling that stretches into the wee hours of morning.
Find fresh seafood, including seasonal specialties, at this seafood izakaya. Seafood aficionados will find plenty to choose from—cooked and raw—including sashimi and sushi, salmon roe, octopus, and overnight himono (dried fish). Those less inclined to ocean fare can mine an extensive menu that includes pork belly, fried chicken, and tomato pizza, among other items. The drink menu is considerable, with a huge choice of carefully selected sake, as well as shochu and other izakaya standards.
Whether you want to wash down some takoyaki with a quick tipple at noon or start a night of festivities well before sunset, you’ll find what you need here. Open for lunch and dinner, this shop has a number of takes on the humble octopus dumpling, including a double dose in the form of takosando—takoyaki sandwiched between two octopus-flavored crackers. As a bonus, there is a stellar view of the tramline.
Rare meats, including basashi (horse sashimi), are on the menu at this izakaya. Cooked options are also available, such as steak, ramen, and a number of side dishes. Match your beverage to your basashi with Hokusai’s recommended ginger-infused drinks, or go for the gusto with the senbero-wari (low-cost mixed drinks). Of course, the izakaya also serves shochu, sake, beer, and other standards.
Specializing in pork dishes, with a menu leaning heavily towards skewered items, Butamamire also offers pork served off-skewer in many forms, including gyoza, sukiyaki, katsu, and offal—the entrails and internal organs. Chicken also makes an appearance, as do a variety of side items ranging from pickles and salads to tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelets) and yakisoba. Pair them with a broad selection of honkaku shochu and sake or explore the rest of the extensive drink menu.
Expertly fried chicken happens here, where guests will find everything from half-chicken dinners to gizzards. Not surprisingly for a pub named “Crispy,” the rest of the menu is also heavy on the deep-fry, with a variety of oil-immersed vegetables and seafood. Non-fried options are also on offer, notably a beautiful black potato salad, and the Paripari stocks everything from beer and wine to shochu and sours.
Daring offal aficionados will find a lot to love about Satsuki, which is known for hormone among other yakiniku options. Specializing in Japanese beef—but also offering pork, lamb, and chorizo—Satsuki has plenty for patrons to choose from as they grill the night away. Choose a table or zashiki (tatami seating) for a grill of your own, or sit at the counter and enjoy a few drinks from the bar’s menu of highballs, sours, cocktails, shochu, and more.
This kushiyaki (skewered meat) shop aims to go beyond simply providing patrons with a flavorful experience. Shidajukuseidori Juhachiban has all five senses in mind as it serves up a wide variety of skewers in a carefully created environment. You’ll find yakitori aplenty—including aged chicken and skewers of chicken parts rarely found in shops—as well as pork, beef, and seasonal vegetables. Wash it all down with honkaku shochu, carefully selected sake, wine, beer, highballs, or chuhai—a traditional Japanese highball made with shochu.
At AGALICO Gyozaro, dumplings are king. This specialty shop handcrafts its gyoza, cooking up juicy morsels that are served with several house dipping sauces. While the shop offers traditional gyoza, it ventures beyond the standard with cilantro-Genovese gyoza, tomato-mozzarella gyoza, and more. The menu also includes an extensive selection of non-gyoza options. For drinks, all the usual suspects are available, as well as tequila, traditional Chinese Shaoxing wine, and makgeolli, a Korean sparkling rice wine.
Tao Pai Pai
Revelers in the mood for tunes mixed with retro vibes will find all they need to sing the night away just upstairs from AGALICO Gyozaro, in a Showa-style snakku (snack bar) complete with karaoke and a disco ball. Be prepared to sing for the crowd, though, as this is old-school karaoke with a social side. As with any snakku, food and drinks are available—including nomihodai (all-you-can-drink) and utaihodai (all-you-can-sing) options.
Eel connoisseurs seeking exceptional fare will find meticulously selected eel at this unagikushi (skewered eel) and yakitori shop. From small bites to generous portions—in several different unagidon (eel rice bowls)—a variety of options await. Ufuku also serves basashi, and several dishes made with suppon (Chinese soft-shell turtle), in addition to standard yakitori and vegetable skewers. Drinks round out the menu with beer, wine, whiskey, shochu, and sake, among other standards.
The sushi is anything but average at Uozushi, where even the rice—seasoned with black vinegar—stands out. A host of unique creations, from grilled shrimp with sea urchin sauce to Rossini-style maguro (lean tuna topped with tuna liver and truffles) await the adventurous. The menu also includes fried items and tsumami, small foods to accompany drinks. Speaking of which, the menu favors sake—a shop specialty—but includes the standards plus several green tea chuhai concoctions said to reset your palate for the next round of sushi.
Whether the hustle and bustle of modern life is wearing you down or you just need a novel pick-me-up, Otsuka Norengai—with its Showa charms—is the perfect antidote. A visit to any—or all—of its 11 shops is sure to provide a salve for the soul and a much-needed recharge.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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