There is a special species of bar in Tokyo called Tachinomiya. Translated literally, it simply means 'Standing bar'. And that is just what they are - bars with high counters, where you stand up to drink instead of sitting down. But there is more to it than that. In other drinking establishments, you have the choice to either keep yourself to yourself or speak to your friends (and possibly the barman, but only when you want a drink). At a Tachinomiya it is not only 'ok' to speak to everyone, including the barman - it's almost a rule: you have to.
Almost everyone I know in Tokyo who can actually speak Japanese, says that it was a regular visit to a Tachinomiya, not language school, that finally got them having real conversations. My Japanese needs some serious help, and I had developed a strong liking for hot sake, so I was very interested. So, since I couldn't afford daily language school this term, so I decided to audition a few places on the Tachinomiya trail.
The first place was in Shibuya. It was so small it didn't have a name. You put money in a basket, order a whisky and a terrible deep-fried morsel, and wait. Quickly the drinks and the food arrive...and the conversation starts. First, you talk to the barman 'cold night isn't it' or some other small talk...but THEN the person next to you at the bar, who has probably already had one or two, starts talking to you as well. They speak to you in Japanese. So, you answer in Japanese. I was nervous and tongue-tied at first, but after my second whisky, I was fine (until the following morning, at least).
Since then, I've visited a few Tachinomiya but my favourite is Furin, in Setagaya's Gotokuji
Not only are the drinks good and cheap, the karaage not TOO greasy, and the owner super-kind...but it's also the place where, completely unexpectedly, I met an artist who drew pictures of Japanese Yokai on his hand, Rolf-Harris style
The pictures only got better as the evening wore on
As if that wasn't enough to make sure I was absolutely delighted for the whole evening, my artist friend left and rushed back to the bar, to insist on giving me a lovely gift: two manga drawn by Shigeru Mizuki, the author of the famous Yokai manga Gegege no Kitaro, and grandfather of contemporary 'Yokai evangelism'...
...wrapped up in a Yokai hanky!
Now, I'm not saying that you always get a gift like this if you go to a Tachinomiya - but I think its wonderful that people this nice even go to them.
Later that evening, I went to another Tachinomiya - just as friendly, this time with a Tengu theme
I couldn't complain (especially when a glass of hot red wine arrived in front of me without me even having to ask) about anything except a slightly sore head in the morning.
A very good day!