Total oblivion and the completely oblivious.
Food and Drink
The warmth and laid back nature of this septuagenarian restaurant owner resulted in the sort of welcome one always hopes for. That lovely, and in this case immediate feeling of being completely at home in a place you have never even seen before, let alone set foot in.
As the second generation chef in his family to run the business, it’s clearly something he grew up with, but still, such natural charm and good-naturedness can’t be taught. Of course cooking can be, and unsurprisingly, his skills in that department were comparable to his kindness.
But all that will end in 2 years time, as the restaurant, along with other buildings on the same side street, are set for demolition. So after what will be 58 years in operation, his little eatery will close for the very last time, and master-san himself will be forced into retirement at the grand old age of 78.
Going on for 8 years ago, a friend and I, who both live on the same commuter line, decided to explore the area around each and every train station on the way into central Tokyo. A good walk and interesting exploration were guaranteed, but the main purpose was to find the oldest and/or dirtiest little bar in the neighbourhood, and then drink in it. A series of outings that produced more than their fair share of stand out memories, along with many more that are hazy and confused to say the least.
Evenings that as well as booze and good food, allowed us to meet a man who, in my mind at least, is Tokyo’s loveliest bar owner. A septuagenarian who is quite possibly the jolliest. Plus in the bar below, which was found on our inaugural outing, a fella who may well have been the laziest.
The old owner in the photos was shocked to say the least when a couple of foreigners walked into her bar. Amazingly we were the first, at least of the non-Asian variety, in the bar’s 23 years in business. That surprise, along with her naturally shy demeanour, meant she wasn’t exactly the most gregarious of hosts, but once she’d settled down a bit, she was happy to serve drinks and cook what she’d bought in that day. All done with no help whatsoever from her husband, as he spent the evening unmoved in every sense of the word watching television in the back room.
But the beginning of our journey was sadly the end for the bar. Not much more than a month after our visit, it closed down. A simple handwritten sign stuck outside announced the decision, which in many ways seemed like a suitably quiet and inconspicuous send off.
Only recently, however, did I finally get round to taking a post-closure picture. Having started to document the demise of other bars due to death, old age and demolition, I didn’t want to see it disappear and regret not having a photo. Even more so as for me at least there is added poignancy. It was a starting point of sorts — a start in some ways prompted by that simple red awning and the finality of those fading shutters.
A modern-day hero, felled on the 24-hour battlefield that is Shinjuku’s myriad of little bars.
In business for 60 years or so, it’s clearly comfortable in its discolourations and the almost comedic toll those decades have taken. The mesmerising combination of which made sitting down for a leisurely lunch all the more memorable.
Of course how much longer it will last is hard to say, but for now at least it’s still there. There to marvel at of course, but more than anything, there to just simply enjoy.