The Last Supper

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I enjoyed a hearty bowl of jyoramen
上ラーメン at Ramen Taro ラーメン太郎 in Kobe.

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Into the Izakaya (居酒屋)

Last night, three of my friends and I had a great experience in the most quintessential of all Japanese dining and drinking establishments, the izakaya. People back at home in the United States or outside of Japan may be familiar with the word “izakaya”(Japanese – 居酒屋) and know it is similar to a Western bar or pub, but it is so much more. Last night’s experience at one of the local izakayas in Kobe was an experience I certainly will remember for a long time to come. 

The hustle and bustle of Kobe’s Sannomiya neighborhood is similar to what you find in any of Japan’s major urban centers: people on every street corner yelling for customers to frequent their restaurants, twinkling neon lights glistening on every square inch of storefront, bustling night life, and convenience stores on every corner. I really love urban centers so I like the hustle and bustle of living in one of Japan’s largest cities, but last night was a distinct change of pace merely paces away from all of the glitz and glamor of Kobe’s most lively neighborhood. 

As soon as you reach Ikuta Road’s terminus, you encounter the JR Railway’s overhead tracks which support trains bound for Osaka, Himeji, and a host of other places in the Kansai Region. Directly underneath those tracks is one of my favorite back alleys in all of Kobe. Lining this narrow alley, I encounter what I consider to be quintissential Japan. There are small shops with bicycles and greeters out front, eagerly luring potential customers to their (non-chain) restaurants, izakays, and stand up bars. These storefronts have lanterns shining and large banners and flags outside saying what their stores offer. 

Last night, my friends and I ventured into an izakaya on this street and after we parted the cloth curtain in front of the Japanese-style sliding doors, we entered a place that is the type of place I always image when I think of Japan. 

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There was a large sushi counter and bar right past the main entrance. Older men smoked cigarettes and discussed the past and bygone eras while salarymen unwound from a long day’s work in the nearby entertainment district. Japanese-only menus lined the walls of the store while vacated seats were quickly filled by new parties eager to have a cold Kirin Lager and enjoy some a la carte items, which are standard fare in the izakaya. The atmosphere in this izakaya was electric – men yelled for servers to refill their beer, I yelled for more karaage (fried chicken) and some shrimp sauce, and a couple seated behind us were on a date. 

The combination of the smoke filling the restaurant, the unique aromas coming from the kitchen, the sounds of orders being placed, customers leaving and entering the restaurant, and patrons calling for their next plate all make the izakaya a memorable experience in Japan. American izakayas do not compare to the energy at the izakaya last night. 

I have attached a few pictures to help you feel the mood of what we saw. They do not give the izakaya the justice it deserves. 

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Taking in the Moment

As time comes to pass, Kobe’s Chinatown is quickly becoming one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city for several reasons. One reason, in particular, makes me keep coming back to the quaint part of town, though: liveliness. At the heart of Kobe’s Chinatown is a pagoda with some benches, a small open space, followed by more benches, and a nice fountain. Imagine this area to be surrounded with lanterns hanging above as you take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Chinatown in Japan. 

I love to people watch, so I headed down to Chinatown on Saturday for an afternoon of relaxation, language practice, and people watching. What ended up happening was very different than what I expected to encounter. 

I ran into a friend of mine in Sannomiya during the walk to Chinatown and we decided to enjoy some Cuban cigars in Chinatown as we relaxed for the afternoon. I have not had a cigar since I arrived in Japan, so this was such a great idea. Following our trip to the tobacco store, we embarked for Chinatown to do some people watching and to pass some time. Suddenly, a light rain began to fall and the mood of Chinatown changed dramatically. The edge of noise began to fall as some people left the streets while others lingered. As dusk began to settle in, Chinatown took on a different personality as it was dominated by small families bustling about, eating noodles and chatting about the weekend’s activities. For such a small part of the city, this energy should not be there, but it certainly was. Breathing in the smells of street food and watching the kids frolic about was magical for me, and I still do not know why. 

My friend and I sat back, enjoying our cigars, taking in the whole scene. I found it glorious. A passing rain shower and a random encounter with a friend really made the afternoon so much more enjoyable than I had expected just a few hours earlier. I hope this photo can do something to convey how Chinatown felt on that late afternoon. When the shower stopped, my friend and I carried on to the JR station to go to our next destination. 

However fleeting, we were able to escape from everything, even if only for a few hours, on Sunday. This is another reason why I enjoy Japan so much. Image