We go on a post-midnight gyoza run to a shop with no staff — all part of our new normal in Japan.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic hit Japan earlier in the year, Tokyo has come out worse for wear. As the city with the highest number of infections, less people are going out to eat and drink, and shortened operating hours at bars and restaurants have been so financially damaging that some businesses have been forced to permanently shut up shop.

In order to survive, business owners are now thinking outside the box, looking for creative ways to adjust to the new normal. And in a climate where customers would prefer to limit their interactions with other people as much as possible, unstaffed stores are gaining popularity, offering everything from ramen to used clothes, where the customer completes the shopping experience on their own from start to finish.

One business with experience in unstaffed stores is Yukimatsu Gyoza, which has over 50 outlets throughout Tokyo and its surrounding Kanto region. Serving the hungry masses since 1940, this gyoza chain sells fresh and frozen gyoza from staffed branches, and frozen gyoza from unstaffed locations, and now they’re expanding their staff-free operations with a new store in Tokyo’s Asagaya area.

One of the great things about Yukimatsu Gyoza’s new store is the fact that it never closes. Yep, that’s right — this gyoza joint is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

So of course, we decided to pay the store a visit for some late-night gyoza, heading out just after midnight when the chance of bumping into anyone else would be low. It felt odd to be walking along a main street in Asagaya to eat gyoza after midnight, especially when all the izakaya in the area were closed, in line with requests by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to shorten their business hours during the pandemic.

When we saw a brightly lit store come into view, we knew we were closing in on our destination. And when we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find it was a clean, attractive little space, with a cute little noren curtain above the door that read “Unstaffed Direct Sales Store“.

We were excited to step inside, and when we did, it felt odd to be alone in front of three freezers stocked with frozen gyoza with nobody else there to watch our every move. There was a surveillance camera on the ceiling, and next to the freezers was a screen where a video with instructions on how to use the store played on a loop, making the experience feel eerily dystopian.

The only products available at the store were frozen dumplings, sold in packs of 36 for 1,000 yen (US$9.41), with special sauce sold separately for 200 yen. We opened the freezer door, took out a bag of gyoza, and wondered… how were we meant to pay?

We looked around for a payment machine, as unstaffed stores often have a machine like the ones used at ramen stores where payment can be made. Instead, we found an unexpected analogue system — a wooden box with arrows showing where the money should be placed.

▼ There’s no way to get any change, so it’s important to make sure you’ve got the right money on hand.

With nobody around, we left the store and walked home triumphant with our pack of gyoza. By the time we got home it was 1 a.m., but that didn’t stop us from firing up the stove to fry up our dumplings, and with cooking instructions on the back of the pack, it was a quick and easy process.

▼ Just look at these plump beauties!

▼ We arranged them in a circular pattern inside the pan…

▼ Put the lid on to add steam while frying…

▼ Added a splash of water…

▼ And this was the result!

Not only did they look fantastic, they smelled incredible, and we had no regrets whatsoever about cooking them up after one in the morning. We tore one out from the circle, dipped it into some sauce, and took a bite. It was absolutely filled with flavour, thanks to the fact that Yukimatsu like to fill their dumplings with plenty of vegetables, particularly lots of leek, which makes each bite insanely tasty.

The robust flavours make these gyoza taste as if they’ve been freshly homemade, which is a testament to the quality of Yukimatsu’s expert craftsmanship. The only problem is, now we’ve had a taste of midnight dumplings, this is a late-night habit we could used to!

Store Information
Gyoza no Yukimatsu Asagaya Store / 餃子の雪松 阿佐ヶ谷店
Address: Tokyo-to, Suginami-ku, Honamanuma 1-18-11
Hours: 24 hours a day, seven days a week

Images: SoraNews24
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