Japanese drinkers in the incredibly old Tokyo bar, Iseya

Just like everywhere else in the world, Tokyo has an ever-growing number of restaurant/bar/coffee shop chains that attempt to slowly suck the life out of the place by making it another branded, homogenous mass. Luckily, however, the city retains an enormous amount of privately owned establishments; so many in fact that even small pockets of the capital would take several lifetimes (not to mention livers) to fully explore.

Yet despite this vast and varied selection, Iseya, in Kichijoji, still manages to stand out.

Japanese drinkers in a traditional bar

It was originally opened 84 years ago as a butchers, but in 1958 the business was converted into its present form, a yakitori-ya. A date that not only marks its inception, but conceivably the last time it had any kind of construction work done, or enjoyed a good clean.

Japanese drinkers in a traditional bar

An approach that, in our increasingly sterile, indistinguishable world, makes it all the more special. There are no airs and graces. No unnecessary expectations. And definitely no requirements to hold back. It’s a place where people simply go to eat, drink and invariably make merry.

Japanese drinkers in a traditional bar

Japanese drinkers in a traditional bar

After this month, however, it’ll be no more — at least not in its current state — as it is set to be rebuilt. A decision presumably made in the name of progress, or maybe even health and safety. But whatever the reason, it’s sadly time to pour one last drink.

Japanese drinkers in a traditional bar

Then when everyone has had their fill.

Japanese drinkers in a traditional bar

Stumble out.

Japanese drinkers in a traditional bar

And say sayonara, Iseya.

Japanese drinkers in a traditional bar

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Comments

    • says

      Blimey, thank you very much. That’s really kind of you.

      I was going to just post the first picture as that’s my favourite, but a photo story of sorts seemed more appropriate. Glad you enjoyed the result.

      • says

        Too bad it is closing; these is really the scruffy places I have come to enjoy in Tokyo (not the sterile, boring places :-)) Closing as of the start of June?

        • says

          Yeah, it is a shame. No doubt about it. Such places sadly won’t be around forever.

          Nah, June I heard. So my guess is the end of the month.

  1. john says

    A “refit” but not for want of customers it seems. I wonder what the replacement will be?
    I like the smoother (slow shutter) look of the last few, though imagine the ‘live entertainment’ of a precariously balanced man with a camera in the first.

    • says

      No, it’s always super busy. A new modern version might not be anything like as popular. It’s grottiness is arguably what people go for. A prime location though. Apartments above perhaps?

      Interesting to hear you like the look of the last few. They certainly have that end of an evening feel to them. Happy to say there was no balancing involved in the others. At that stage of proceedings, I was in no state to be trying anything as taxing as balancing. Let alone in a precarious manner!

  2. Marc T says

    This place reminds me of a little yakitori-ya that is just east of Shinjuku station. You need to cross over the overhead walkway, down a little street then a doorway that leads to stairs taking you down 2-3 flights to the place. If you don’t know it is there, you don’t know it’s there! Nothing fancy, well worn. I think you actually pass the kitchen on the way down.

    • says

      There must be so many great little places like that. Many of which, like you say, you’d never even know are there.

  3. robashito says

    …places like this is what I really miss about Japan. Life is too short….put a damn smile and cheer the fuck up! :)

  4. robashito says

    no way… this is in Kichijoji? This was one of my stomping grounds as a kid since we lived only a few stations away. It’s a fantastic area and has quite a variety of areas. I remember this Reggae bar, small as ones bathroom, that would spark it up freely and we delinquents would venture out to Inokashira Park for a walk. Good times!

  5. Revenant says

    Thanks Lee. I remember going to this place quite a bit after Japanese classes at a nearby language school back in the nineties. It had such an earthy atmosphere. Great pics

    • says

      Cheers! You’ll be pleased to know it hasn’t changed a bit, although that’s probably clear from the photos. Sadly it’s hard to imagine they’ll be able to recreate anything like the same atmosphere in the new place…

  6. Dosanko says

    I’m always amazed at how a good camera man and story teller can make a place look romatic. Then again, under the influence of love, a dirty hovel is certainly more entertaining than a shmick establishment.

    However, I’ve been to plenty old but not run down or dirty eateries. When they are well kept, it’s all the more impressive and enjoyable and romantic. I don’t know if you can find such places in Tokyo though. The inaka is where you’d have to go – much better food too!

  7. says

    Just got back from having dinner in ISEYA, cheers for the tip. Great place, deliciously dirty and great food. Had to queue up for a bit as the place was packed at 16:30. I have visited several of this kind of places in Sendai as my father in law used to live there during the week and my wife and I visited all his old hangouts and I love these places!

  8. Jason says

    Lee,

    Great post and photos! JD sent me the link—brought back many memories, though, as I used to live a minute walk from the smaller original shop nearby (now, sadly gone—-but re-opened I’ve heard), often went to that one on many, many nights—but spent lots of time in both. Easily spent 4 or 5 nights a week standing on the sidewalk eating raw liver and yakitori, drinking way too much shochu and beer, and shooting the shit with the guys who seemed to have a superhuman ability to cook all those sticks and keep up with the pace while maintaining a conversation. Fucking loved, loved Iseya. Not the best yakitori to be sure, but an institution! My wife’s parents even used to go on dates at both locations!

    Gutted to hear that the Inokashira one set to be rebuilt as well, especially before we can get back to go one last time before it’s done—but your photos a great reminder of what was..

    Thanks!!

    • says

      Cheers, Jason.

      We went at just the right time, as people are now forming huge queues to get their last Iseya fix before it goes.

      Glad to hear the photos provided a good reminder.

  9. says

    Oh man… this saddens me greatly if I’m remembering the same place….. I always love going to kichijoji whenever I visit japan for menchi katsu and this place.

  10. says

    Yup same place after looking at pictures…. man the 80 yen yakitori was awesome. Man I wold love some smilar recommendations in tokyo and osaka. Shinjuku stands always seem to be a rip-off in piss alley

    • says

      Yeah, has to be the same yakitori-ya. Not many places like Iseya. Let alone in one area.

      As for similar places, with similar prices, that’s a tough call…

      • says

        Bummer . Only similar place I’ve ever found was wandering Kyoto and finding some locals hole in the wall. Thanks for the post, those photos brought back some good memories.

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