A flea market is a place or event where people agree to come together to sell their products, and pay rent for that space which they occupy. Reports say that having these bazaars stemmed from the middle east, but it’s old news that this phenomenon has been going on for thousands of years, and has been found to occur all over the world, evolving in form, content, and strategy over time.
Today, Japan is good place for bargain hunters and flea market fans. It is its own mecca of consumerism, giving you choices between large malls along Shinjuku, to unassuming bazaars along humble streets. The range of products sold in these markets is immense. Vendors can be selling anything from freshly caught seafood, dried fruits, tea leaves and snacks, to clothes, shoes, and even watches.
Ameyoko is one of those famous and beloved flea markets.
What Is Ameyoko?
Nestled in Taito is a street that holds a flea market called “Ameyoko Shopping Street”, or “Ameyoko” (アメ横). It is formally known as “Ameya-Yokocho” (アメヤ横丁) but goes by other names as well, such as Ameya alley. In terms of size, it is 164,227 square feet large. There are around 500 shops in this flea market.
Visiting this street is #13 out of the 376 things to do in Taito, and seems to be a tourist favorite, as it has 2,008 reviews as of date. Its located in Ueno, Taito, in the Tokyo Prefecture, nestled on the Yamanote Line. You’ll easily find it if you’re near Ueno Station or Okachimachi Station – just look for the Yodobashi Camera Building where the flea market starts, or Komuro building, where it ends.
The Etymology of Ameyoko
The name of this market is said to have two possible origins. The first one is that the word “ameya” (飴屋) means sweet shop, or candy shop, as the strip used to be lined with shops that sold sugary confectioneries. “Ame” means sweet, and “ya” means shop.
The other possible origin is from when Americans used to sell surplus knickknacks from the army here, post-World War 2. Because they occupied the sides of the road selling these items, people attributed the street them, grabbing the first three letters “Ame” from American, and “ya”, or shop.
“Yokocho”, when translated, means the alley off the main street, but can also mean the collection of different izakaya or pubs along a street. In this case, yokocho lends its first two syllables to join with Ameya’s first two syllables, forming “ameyoko”, leading to two final meanings; the alley full of sweet shops, or the alley full of American shops.
The History of Ameyoko
Before the market existed, the area known as Ameyoko now was once on the map as a residential area that was very cramped. Because the Tokyo Air Raid posed a high threat to this area, residents of those cramped spaces fled. They were correct to do so because, by 1945, it was indeed bombed. From the ashes of those shanties rose makeshift stalls that sold items,
It doesn’t matter which origin story you use to describe the story of how Ameyoko came to be because they are both true. It was known for selling sweet potatoes laced in a sugary or syrupy coating, starting out after the second world war had ended. Some of these sweet shops exist until now.
A Dark Backstory
There is hearsay that goes around about how Ameyoko initially wasn’t that safe of a place to be in. Outlaws and troublemakers would come here to deal their goods, and sometimes even cause a violent scene. To slowly drive them out, a rich man named Hirokichi Kondo was begged by the Tokyo municipal government to sponsor an official market, where he would work with them to select 80 vendors who would comprise the new Kondo Market. That strategy worked, and crime eventually lessened around that area.
Ameyoko Center Building
A building called “Ameyoko Center Building” was constructed in the early 80’s, right in the middle of the street, where the old JR Electric Substation was. In the basement of this building (which serves as a landmark for Ameyoko), there’s a wet market that sells fresh and raw ingredients.
For a unique perspective on the market, you can climb to the second floor to have an elevated view of Ameyoko street. The other floors of the building have an assortment of stores, such imported foodstuffs, as golf equipment, and more clothes. It’s open from 10 AM to 8 PM. The vendors here may not be able to speak English, so come prepared to learn some handy phrases.
As for the streets, they are still known for selling everything from food (both prepared and raw), clothes, obscure collectibles and even skincare items. Feel like you’re paying too much for a certain item? If it doesn’t have a set price, try bargaining.
A Guide to Ameyoko; A Famous Flea Market Street in Japan
What Is Ameyoko Like?
You may want to think twice before bringing small children here, as it is quite crowded, noisy, and busy. It can overload one’s senses with a number of colors, smells, sights, and sounds all packed into a little street, especially if you go during rush-hour, which is around 5 to 6 PM. Then again, that’s the perfect time to go, because you can experience it at its most intense, and see the atmosphere morph, the lights turn on, while day turns into night.
Around this time, you’ll also see vendors selling their items at a discount price, just so they can peddle their stock for that day. If you’re lucky, you can get something at half the price it’s sold in department stores. Don’t be surprised if you hear salespeople loudly shout out for you to buy their goods – it’s all a part of the ambiance of Ameyoko.
Why You Should Go to Ameyoko
Ameyoko is perfect to buy the following items, or do the following things:
- Fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables
- Dried Goods
- Japanese snacks and pastries, both packed and freshly made
- Sports Clothes
- Go out for a beer
- Learn more about Japanese Culture
In Ameyoko, you’ll never go hungry with their countless food kiosks and nearby restaurant options. If you’d rather cook yourself, you can get great deals on ingredients here instead of paying for their premium prices at prestigious shopping malls. Plus, if you haven’t gone yet, it’s a lot of fun to go to a place and experience its novelty. It’s thick with history, as you can see from its clashing etymologies. Being near two stations, it’s very easily accessible, so transportation isn’t an issue.
If you get tired or find the noise, crowd, colors, and action too much, the peaceful Ueno Park is nearby, where you can recharge. All around Ameyoko are tons of other activities to do, such as visiting a temple (like the nearby Tokudaiji Temple), lovely museums and art galleries. In the spring, there are cherry blossoms all over the park that make it even more charming than it already is.
Products Sold in Ameyoko Are Mostly Made in Japan Now
Ameyoko may have been a hub to buy cheap imported items, but that is not so much the case anymore. Aside from the occasional product that is made outside the country, much of what they sell in this street market is locally made. Everything from the fresh fruits, DVD’s of anime, the bottles of drinks, and fish are all locally brewed, caught, grown, or created. You can even get leather jackets, dog tags, and other military equipment too.
Specific stores to visit on your trip that reflects Japanese trends include Shimura Shoten, which sells superb chocolate, sold in bags that cost 1,000 yen for quite a large amount of chocolate. Then there’s POPGIRL, a store that sells fashionable women’s apparel at reasonable prices. Another famous store to buy your next batch to clothe yourself with is Ameyoko Outlet Bobby. Lastly, for your makeup needs, Kanariya Keshohin has you covered.
Food to look out for while you’re in Ameyoko are the Yamatsuki Croquette, which is a combination of meat and potato that is breaded and deep-fried. You can try this out at the Niku no Ohyama. For wrapped Japanese snacks, check out Niki no Kashi. If you want to stay trim, there are delicious and fresh fruits that are stuck on skewers for you to munch on, sold by Kyakkaen. Their melons are ripe, sweet, and succulent.
How to Get to Ameyoko from Ueno Station
Find a station that serves the Yamanote line. At that point, take that line to Ueno Station. Once you’ve arrived at Ueno, go out through the Shinobazu exit. From there, use Ueno park as a guide, which you’ll have to cross a street to get to. Ameyoko should then be easy to spot, as it has a big sign written in three different kanji colored red, with a circular background for each individual kanji. There are two blue hinges that hang on top of the first and last kanji.
Hotels Near Ameyoko
In case you’ve concluded that Ameyoko is a very convenient place to stay and are looking for suitable accommodation when you travel here, here are two recommendations.
Hotel Graphy Nezu, found in 4-5-10 Ikenohata, Taito 110-0008, Tokyo Prefecture, costs 9,750 yen a night but is very highly rated by the hundreds of reviewers on TripAdvisor. It’s only 1 kilometer away from Ameyoko street, and its modern, aesthetically pleasing, and is said to be a great hotel that is worth booking, as it provides you with everything you need.
For something a little cheaper, and right by Ameyoko street itself, there’s Kinuya Honkan. Despite having a similar 4-star rating, it isn’t as famous as its more expensive comparison, Hotel Graphy Nezu, but it’s much nearer and costs about 7,543 yen a night.
Other Flea Markets in Tokyo
Ameyoko is not the only famous street market in Japan. There are others, namely the Nishiki Market, Heiwa Dori Shopping Street, Nijo Market – in Tokyo, there’s the Nakamise Dori, Omoide Yokocho, Shimokitazawa, the famed Tsukiji market and so much more. That’s just a few of what’s available out there.
However, what sets apart Ameyoko from them is all the combined factors listed above. The atmosphere that’s filled with different personalities selling items both local and occasionally international, the heat that comes from many people congregating in one place, and the smells of different dishes being cooked, all in one accessible street.