Back in December 2019, a friend and I drank in the little bar below. We’d actually tried to get in several months earlier, but even though it was only late afternoon when we turned up, it was still completely full. Of course being so small meant space was limited to begin with, although when we did manage to squeeze in and claim the last two seats, it was amazing how many people were actually crammed in there. An element that made it one of the more intimating bars to enter, but we really needn’t have worried, as from the moment we sat down we were treated just like everyone else. A bit of a rarity to be honest, as foreign faces are few and far between in such places, so to be be accepted like a local was lovely.
Wedged as we were in the back corner, food and drinks were passed over, but gradually, as some customers left, and others entered, we were moved to the counter where the mama-san photos were taken. She was in charge of serving drinks and food, while the master worked the grill that looked out onto the tunnel. The latter a feature that made the place truly unique — all the colours the camera recorded, its wonderfully dingy nature, and the fact that the other businesses there had long since closed down. A combination that made the bar even more welcoming.
We’d planned to visit again a while back, but then found out it was temporarily closed. Something that’s never a good sign with such places, as temporary closures all too often turn into permanent ones. And sadly that’s exactly what happened. Over 40 years of serving, entertaining, and creating a cosy, wholly inclusive atmosphere, had come to an end.
In the hope of getting a last exterior shot before it was more than likely boarded up, I recently took a trip out there, and purely by chance the master arrived to clear away some stuff. It turns out the final decision to close had only been taken a few months ago. One that was made with a doubly heavy heart. He simply hadn’t been able to manage there alone, after his wife, the mama-san, had died.
Such is the cycle of life … and death. A sad story beautifully told. Thank you for taking the time and effort to document it.
Yes, that’s very true. And you are welcome. The chance to drink in there and experience it even just the once was without a doubt a real treat.
I feel this is very bittersweet. It looked like a happy bar where everyone was a friend. The loss is hard but I think it is also something to celebrate.
That’s a very nice way of looking at it. Nothing lasts forever, but at least this was a place of happiness for many years, and for many people.
I’m struggling to find a suitable phrase that encapsulates the combination of the excellent photographs, concise and moving storytelling, and the apparent good fortune of being in the right place at the right time – but which is really the result of a lot of hard work.
Nah… I give up, but to get the gist. You have a gift, and you share it with us.
Thank you very much. That’s very kind of you.
It was amazing timing to see the master there. Definitely made the journey feel doubly worthwhile. It was also nice to see him chat to other people passing by. For such a small place, it’s closure, and the mama-san’s death, will have affected a lot of people.
Thanks so much for sharing this. How sad for the master! And for their steady customers for whom this must have felt like a welcome refuge from life’s daily stresses.
What a great movie set it could have made. I can readily imagine a TV series about the Master, his wife, and some of their customers.
My pleasure. Drinking in there is a very special memory.
Yeah, there was a real sense of community, so it will have been felt by many people in many ways.
That’s so true. Never seen anywhere quite like it. Doubt I ever will too.
Such warm colours.
I’ll have to give up the struggle and leave it to someone else for an apt comment.
Some things last a long time, as Daniel Johnston sang.
Yeah, the colours were something else.
There really isn’t much that can be said. It’s sadly the usual end for such places. They thankfully do last a long time, although longer still would be nice…
and the record (photos) and memories might last awhile, and perhaps even those tulip/pacman light shades made it out of there in one piece.
Yes, would be nice if they were taken and used elsewhere. Be a real shame to just throw them away.
So sorry to see the place close down. These are special little places and I can say I’ve never experienced being in such a place. For some reason I love older, somewhat grubby, run down places like this. The closest I’ve been is older cafes and diners in rural America, places my dad would call ‘greasy spoons’, but with our rules and regulations in this country a place like this little bar would get shut down by authorities for multiple violations.
Yeah, they really are special. Little homes from homes and small communities. Something that is arguably more important in Japan than many other countries.
And yes, they simply couldn’t exist in many other regions which makes them even more special.
Hi Lee —
A question for you: do you ever share the photos you take of people with them? I.e., do they know of this blog? I’d like to think so — as I think they’d be happy to see the respect you accord them and the appreciation they’ve garnered via your photos of them. And, in the case of this master (and others like him): I’m sure it’d bring back happy memories to see the photos of his wife that you took of her.
That’s very kind of you, and a very good idea. In the past I’ve shown the occasional photo, but not in a set like this. Often when I’ve got something along these lines it’s already too late…
But yes, I’m sure the master would be happy to see these photos of his wife. No idea when he’d be there, but going back again there’d always be the chance of seeing him again. Be even better if I printed them too.