Enter Ameyoko and you may wonder if you are even in Japan. Seconds away from Ueno Station, this lively discount shopping street has remained mostly unchanged since first opening as a black market selling American goods after World War II.
The bustling streetway, partially open-air market and partially covered as part of the Ueno Center Mall directly beneath the JR train tracks, is an ideal place to shop for souvenirs, see vendors hawking their wares and sample some of Tokyo’s cheapest, rustic food at the seafood or various ethnic restaurants.
Visit the street during late December, and walking is almost at a standstill. Popular with locals as THE place to buy ingredients for traditional Japanese New Year foods, people flock to Ameyoko in the thousands, hoping to snag a bargain.
Yet bargains abound any time of year. View trays of glistening, freshly caught fish that run for reasonable prices. Haggle cheekily with staff from one of the many fruit stalls for bags of fruit, also heavily discounted toward the end of the day.
Non-perishable goods are draw cards in their own right. Many stores focus on selling one kind of item only, such as handbags, or artisanal denim jeans. Essential stops include the mall’s stores dedicated to surplus military gear, or fashionable silk bomber jackets or sukajan, embroidered with Japanese fonts and motifs. These garments are a throwback to the shopping street’s black-market origins when U.S. goods and candies were sold, and are especially coveted as souvenirs. Ameyoko plays on the words “America, candy and alley.”