Tokyo can be a horribly frantic city. One that all too often barely gives its residents time to breathe. But amidst the crowds and seemingly incessant noise, there are pockets of calm to be found. Places where one can sit down. Have an afternoon sake. And let the hustle and bustle slowly fade away.
Like so many of Tokyo’s bars that are old, cramped and in need of a good clean, this one was a real joy. Serving cheap food and booze, it was packed full of character. Not at all lacking in characters. Plus signs of its 30-odd years in existence were plastered and splattered all over the walls.
So pretty much perfect, really.
No smartphone. No tablet. Just the simple pleasure of beer and a good book.
For a country obsessed with rules, regulations and infuriatingly convoluted ways of doing unimportant things, Japan is oddly lax when it comes to the likes of food hygiene. Small eateries that’d be shutdown in a heartbeat in other regions, or old places with cooking appliances that haven’t experienced a good scrub in decades, are oddly commonplace. In fact they thrive, with the grime arguably adding to the gourmet experience.
And the same goes for slightly larger concerns. The clutter, cramped conditions and relative uncleanliness are just accepted. Or if not accepted, then at least ignored.
Tokyo gives the impression of being impatient to modernise, yet look down most side streets, or wander away from the city’s main thoroughfares, and it can be a very different world indeed. A world that quite unashamedly seems to have little to do with the present, let alone the future. Just like this wonderfully old and grubby little bar.
A going concern for 34 years, the sprightly 78-year-old owner now looks after the place alone after his wife died a decade ago — cooking food, serving drinks and generally being lovely.
A far cry no doubt from the kitchen he once cooked French food in, but after an altercation with his boss, he opted to go it alone, opening the no-nonsense izakaya (Japanese pub) he not only runs, but also lives above. Where almost everyday he makes far more basic fare.
In equally basic settings.
A set-up that not only suits him, but also his very comfortable and content customers.
Japanese standing bars like the one below tend to differ from their far more common, chair-based cousins, in that they force complete strangers to drink together.
But just like weddings, work parties and other formal affairs, the conversations still don’t really flow until the booze does.