Harmonica Yokocho Back Street Alley in Tokyo

Aired: Jul. 30, 2020

The second installment of J-Street featuring “Yokocho,” or street alleys from photographer Yamaguchi Masahiro’s photobook: Tokyo Back Street Alleys. This time, we’ll introduce the “Harmonica Yokocho” alley in Kichijoji, Tokyo. It is lined with almost a hundred shops, bars, diners, fish, pickle stores, fashion boutiques in the daytime and sake bars at night. This time, CATCH JAPAN host Maxwell Powers visits Harmonica Yokocho and talks with locals about the effects of the coronavirus on the area.

Harmonica Yokocho
Photographer Yamaguchi Masahiro
Yamaguchi Masahiro talking with a shop owner in Harmonica Yokocho
Some dried fish products sold in Harmonica Yokocho

Viewers’ Voice

The iconic Tokyo backstreet alleys I thought can only be seen in films indeed are alive and real. The smell, feel, and texture of the alley ways are reminiscent of an era when Japan is shaping its culture. Through photographic images of the past that witnessed history, people and shops of the olden era remain a pillar of stability while operating on a very modernized time. Harmonica Yokocho represents both golden and contemporary times thru the opening of doors and pulling down of shutters. Though times have definitely changed and the backstreet alley community evolves, the people here remain resilient and out for one another in this uncertain time and uncertain future.

From the Philippines

Considering how deeply rooted most people are to their history and culture, it’s quite important that they are preserved at all costs. Sadly, that is not the case for the Tokyo backstreet alleys whose classic sceneries are ever disappearing due to modernization. Photographer Yamaguchi Masahiro, through his work, documents this problem sublimely in this segment; the excellent background narration detailing the history of these back-alleys is just the cherry on top. Nevertheless, it’s laudable that there are still some businesses that have stood the test of time and are staying true to the classic demeanour of the alleys.

From Kenya

Harmonica Yokocho still looks like a beautiful, eclectic, and magical place to visit. The gentle narration and music enhanced the sense of otherworldliness. I’m glad to see that Harmonica Yokocho is battling through the pandemic however I am sad to see what a struggle it is. It warms my heart to know that they care for the health of their older customers. I too hope that it will soon be safe for them to return.

From the UK

Production Note

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, new coronavirus cases have been continuously increasing in Tokyo in mid-July 2020. Our team returned to Harmonica Yokocho to ask locals how things were. We found that people working at stores are supporting each other and that customers are continuing to support their local stores as much as they can. It is our hope that we’ll all have a chance to go and check out Harmonica Yokocho very soon.

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