It’s all too easy to assume that Japanese people spend all their time eating sushi and tempura. In fact, when they go out with friends or colleagues from work, they’re rather more likely to hit up an izakaya—Japanese-style pub—or a yakitori 焼き鳥—grilled chicken—joint.

You’ll find plenty of izakaya 居酒屋 restaurants and yakitori restaurants around every Tokyo station; the bigger the station, the more of them there are. But the granddaddy of all yakitori strips is in Shinbashi 新橋. Come out of the station and you’ll see lots of yakitori places under the railway tracks. Every evening, but particularly on Friday, they fill up with office workers on their way home after work.

Cooking yakitori on a grillYoshiko Kikuraku, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Yakitori is not really the same as the grilled chicken you expect to see elsewhere. It comes on skewers, the cuts tend to be smaller, and they come from all parts of the bird, not just the thigh and breast. They’re also seasoned.

One reason for the perennial popularity of yakitori is that it's economical: for 2,000 to 3,000 JPY, you get to fill your belly with grilled chicken and have a few beers. It’s also a chance to have a moan with workmates about problems in the office. Come to one of the yakitori spots under the tracks in Shinbashi, and you really get to see the lesser spotted Japanese salarīman in his natural habitat!

It’s all a world away from the more upmarket venues to be found in Ginza 銀座, which is on the other side of the tracks from Shinbashi. If you’re looking for a recommendation, take the Ginza exit from JR Shinbashi station and you’ll see a well-known yakitori place called Rashōmon 羅生門. It has been here for so long it’s an institution. It calls itself a pub, but there's no front door, just thick plastic curtains.

The smoke from the grills, the smell of grilled chicken, and the hubbub of conversation, growing more animated as the night wears on, combine to create an inimitable atmosphere.

It helps to be able to speak a few words of Japanese here, as English speakers are few and far between. At the very least, don’t forget to say kudasai 下さい or onegaishimasu お願いします (they both mean ‘please’) when ordering. You’ll find Rashōmon at 1-13-8 Shinbashi, Minato-ku (東京都港区新橋1-13-8). Phone: 03-3591-7539.

Yakitori alley in Yūrakuchō. | Jonathan Lin, CC by SA 2.0 / ©

There’s also ‘Yakitori alley’ near Yūrakuchō station 有楽町駅, which is just one stop north of Shinbashi. Like the yakitori spots around Shinbashi station, the ones here don’t do patio seating. Instead, diners sit on empty beer cases under red lanterns.

A famous old-time yakitori spot in Yūrakuchō is Tonton 登運とん, which is famous for its house speciality, yakiton 焼きとん (grilled pork). It’s been here for well over 60 years and is also open during the day. Tonton is at 2-1-10 Yūrakuchō, Chiyoda-ku (東京都千代田区有楽町2-1-10). Phone: 03-3508-9454

By - George Lloyd.