An old Tokyo bar and its septuagenarian owner

Tokyo regenerates at a frightening pace, and yet in older — or more neglected — parts of the city, it can often feel like time has stood still. Something that’s definitely the case with this little bar and eatery.

Run by its 78-year-old owner, the furnishings clearly haven’t changed all that much in the decades they have both been there. A staggering 46 years to be exact.

old Japanese bar and owner

Brought up in Okayama, the mama-san moved east to Tokyo as a young woman, and, after first living in Shinjuku, she later relocated to the suburbs — opening and then running the bar with her late husband. Something she still does today. Five nights a week. 5pm to 11:30 or so. Cooking, serving and generally being lovely.

old Japanese bar and owner

A routine she intends to continue for the foreseeable future, or for at least as long as her health holds out. Ruefully admitting that it’s talking to customers that keeps her going, and when she can’t do it any longer, a massive part of her life will be lost. As indeed will the bar itself, which will be unceremoniously shuttered up like many other businesses on the same street. And on countless other streets all over the city.

old Japanese bar and owner

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Comments

  1. Bernadette says

    I so regret not visiting bars like this when I was in Tokyo. I wanted to so much but never had the nerve. They seemed so intimidating! Thanks for letting me see them through your photos!

    • says

      They are certainly fascinating little places. But places that sadly won’t last forever…

      I’m not that brave myself. Never go alone. Always with a pal!

      • KenC says

        When I visit places like this with Japanese friends I always get a great welcome but like most of the other people who have responded I would be nervous about trying a new one alone.

        • says

          Yeah, it’s a weird one, isn’t it? Experience says there’s no reason at all to be apprehensive, and yet it’s so hard not to be…

    • says

      It’s near Hitotsubashigakuen Station on the Seibu Line. Will have to go back to get the exact location as we walked about a fair bit before finding it. But no more than 5 mins away.

  2. winnie says

    Lovely pictures!

    I don’t dare to go in too by myself. I would love to go in if my family or friend can accompany me.

  3. Jaska says

    Surely there shouldn’t be anything to be afraid of going in to such an eatery. It’s not as if the cook of establishment is going to make a dinner out of you right? Right?

    • says

      No, that’s very true. Or at least I hope so!

      Seriously though there really isn’t anything to be afraid of. Not in the slightest. And yet I always feel a little apprehensive before entering. Why I can’t really say, although it probably has a lot to do with not knowing what it’s like on the inside, and how those inside will react.

  4. says

    Lovely shots, Lee, and great storytelling as usual. The contrasty b&w looks fantastic on this set.
    Given that my wife is also from Okayama, this might be one excellent point to strike up a conversation – if we can find that particular place next time we come to Tokyo.
    But I guess, navigating the side alleys will lead us to many a place like this, as you have shown in a couple of your previous posts.

    • says

      Thank you very much!

      Yes, I dare say you’d be greeted like long lost relatives. I’m sure she’d have plenty of things to you ask you both about her old hometown. But yeah, if it wasn’t this one, you’d have no trouble at all finding another.

    • says

      It was. She’s struggling with a bad back, so not sure how long she’ll continue. Hopefully for another few years though.

    • says

      We had sashimi. Tempura. Katsu. Tofu. Oh, and sausages. Pretty much everything on the ‘today’s recommendation’ menu, which I suspect was the whole menu!

      And I’m happy to say that everything was top notch. Not to mention cheap.

  5. says

    Wow! Wonder if she started out in pre-war Shinjuku, when it was considered in the boonies of Tokyo? Bet she’s got some tales to tell.

    • says

      An age wasn’t mentioned, but I got the impression she was a young woman rather than young girl when she moved to Tokyo, so the 1950s perhaps? But either way, you are right, she must have some real tales to tell. I can’t even begin to imagine the changes she must have seen…

  6. Don says

    I’ve been out of touch lately, so this was a warm and beautiful welcome back to the site. Thanks as always, Lee! :D

  7. says

    Lovely pictures. I love so many things in Tokyo but this nostalgic atmospheres are my favorites. Seems we have this in commun actually. Although I don’t photograph them yet. Well, I’m also looking for a lunch and photography partner to enjoy this type of small shops. Definitely, your blog is added to my favorites!

    • says

      Thank you!

      Yeah, they are fascinating places to visit, and photograph. Not to mention that if they don’t quite live up to your expectations, you still get to sit down and have a few beers, which is never a bad thing.

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