“Hey, this place hasn’t changed a bit!” …and it was true – a typical Japanese izakaya with a counter, a couple of small tables and some tatami space at the back. The interior is mainly brownish wood, a bit like an Amsterdam “brown cafe”, with the odd beer poster covering some of the sprayed-on wall stuff, a TV in one corner, a “maneki neko” in another to welcome in customers, and a blackboard with a selection of food to order with your beer.
Typical, that is, of izakaya about thirty years ago, when I used to frequent this place along with other members of Daihachi Ryodan, which I’d just joined. Right in front of a college it was always packed out, but since the students moved out of town things have quietened down a bit, which might be just as well since the owners are now 78 and 80-something, although still amazingly lively. Even more amazingly, the menu on the wall looked just the same as I remembered it, including the prices! (Of course Japan’s just been through a long periiod of deflation, but even so…) Great food too. Fresh broad beans, squid tempura, beef salad… simple but tasty.
I think izakaya like that are a major Japanese contribution to civilisation and at that time there was one on every street corner, but now you really have to search around, especially for a “Mum and Dad” type, privately-owned place. 80% of the eating-out market in Japan is now taken by 10 companies, who are offering something a notch above junk food. Nearly everything is cooked in factories and carried out to the shops in trucks to be microwaved or put in the fryer. They’ve got the technology down so that it doesn’t taste all that terrible, but it’s the same everywhere and the staff are all working to some Manual so there’s no human contact at all. The remaining 20% is shared out between places like Raffles and, what seems to be the current trend, sort of “neo Japanesque” restaurants with modern decor and “international” cuisine.
Another few years and you’ll have to go to the nearby “Showa Village” theme park to find places like our rediscovery, so in the meantime I’d better make a point of getting over there more often!