Monday, February 22, 2010


Between Ueno and Ueno-Okachimachi Stations, in an alley that runs beside and partially underneath the JR railroad tracks, there's a street market called Ameyoko that feels like another time and place, completely different from the clean and modern Tokyo just a few blocks away. The tiny shops display their wares beneath awnings - everything from shoes piled up haphazardly in stacks of boxes to bathing suits to frozen fatty tuna to wonderful baskets of rainbow-hued beans, nuts, and dried fruits. The shopkeepers maintain a noisy chorus of enticement, advertising their low prices and inviting customers to come and buy. The last time I visited the market, it was so tightly packed that it was hard to move forward, but today it was raining and not quite as busy. Still, there were enough people that if I hadn't seen it before I would have been a bit irritated with the crowd.

Though there are all kinds of things for sale in Ameyoko-cho, there are probably more food shops than anything else. They sell in large quantities and at reduced prices from what you'd see in the supermarket or even at another old-fashioned market like the waterside Tsukiji, famous for its crack of dawn tuna auctions. Above, there are a variety of sea products: clockwise from the top right, yellow herring roe, little dried minnows for making broth, black seaweed called wakame (a steal for just 300 yen! I should have bought some!), which is often used in miso soup, and salted salmon steaks, a common item on the traditional breakfast table.
Here are some more fishy products, an amazing variety of tiny dried fish, which are often sprinkled on salads or tofu or rice. They can be deep fried or eaten plain. From left to right above are baby sardines, tiny shrimp, and baby fish of another kind - to tell the truth, I never realized there were so many types of baby fish.
Here's an example of price slashing - huge octopus arms, half price! To their left is sweet-soy-sauce basted grilled eel (eel is almost always sold already cooked, as its high oil content makes it a challenge to cook well), and above them are more fish and fish eggs.
Of course, it's not only seafood for sale. Here's a produce stall selling apples, grapes, oranges, and shiitake mushrooms. There's also an indoor market beneath the street that houses a few ethnic (i.e., non-Japanese) shops, mostly Chinese and Southeast Asian. That basement has to be the most pungent place in Tokyo - the air is full of the odors of fish and meat, and since it's underground there's nowhere for the smell to go. And I'm just guessing, but the tripe and pig's feet can't be helping matters.

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