‘Emergent Tokyo’: What Makes Japan’s Capital so Alluring?
‘Emergent Tokyo’: Ever wondered what makes up the ‘secret sauce’ for the world’s biggest city? Then this book will be required reading. Plus, an interview with one of Emergent Tokyo’s co-authors.
By Noah Oskow
Twilight was coming on as I walked through the narrow alleyways of Shibuya’s diminutive Nonbei Yokocho neighborhood. Despite over a decade of visiting Shibuya for the usual carousing and shopping, I’d somehow missed the yokocho‘s existence; something that has only become easier as Shibuya has been built up, massive highrises obscuring even more of its environs. As the book then in my backpack describes, the block of minuscule bars “sits relatively unnoticed between giant modern skyscrapers, a pocket of life in the midst of the global city.” Somehow, it’d taken reading ‘Emergent Tokyo‘ to introduce me to one of the city’s coolest backstreets.
The backstreets in question are one of many distinctive yokocho neighborhoods scattered across Tokyo. Yokocho (横丁) are narrow, semi-hidden alleyways filled with bars and restaurants; they often carry a feeling of old Tokyo, like something out of the early postwar era. That makes sense, since many of the most famous yokocho emerged from the black markets that crowded around major train stations in the wake of the devastation of WWII. Shinjuku’s now-internationally famous Golden Gai is an especially prominent yokocho; Nonbei Yokocho (“Drunkard’s Alley”) is smaller, both in terms of overall footprint and bar size.
I was with two friends, none of us strangers to Shibuya, but all first-timers to Nonbei. We managed to grab three of the roughly six seats available at Bar Usagi. The tiny space, intimate in the extreme, felt familiar; that would be because ‘Emergent Tokyo’ happens to feature a detailed cross-section of the bar. We got some beers, raised our glasses in the standard kanpai, and enjoyed the cozy ambiance of a space only 4.8m2 wide — and yet representative of one of the urban phenomena that make Tokyo such an incredibly alluring city.