Vowz Bar: Spirits for the Spirit

Tokyo is famous for its themed restaurants and bars. From ninjas to zombies, this city offers up dining experiences beyond your wildest dreams (or nightmares).
Vowz Bar, however, is much more than a bar with a theme—it’s owned and operated by actual Buddhist monks. In addition to an eclectic selection of colorful drinks and “light snacks based on Zen cuisine,” Vowz Bar also offers many of the same services you’d find at your local temple or shrine.
Read on to learn more about the fascinating and seemingly contradictory nature of what is certainly one of Tokyo’s most unique nightlife experiences.

2018-07-18   Araki-Cho, Food & Drinks, Araki-Cho, Tokyo,


Ascending to another world

Vowz Bar offers some vegetarian and vegan options such as the delicious miso tofu pictured here.

Located on the second floor of a nondescript building in the heart of Araki-Cho, marked only with a small black sign, Vowz Bar is extremely easy to miss. However, once you ascend the stairs and enter the establishment you’ll find yourself transported into an otherworldly place.
The bottle-lined bar, distinct smell of incense, and the shrine in the back corner of the room initially create a sense of awe and confusion. Should you pray, give an offering, or simply take a seat and order up a “Nirvana in the Pure Land” cocktail?
Thankfully, the incredibly kind, bilingual staff will quickly put you at ease and get you situated with English and Japanese menus. Both menus are well designed in their own unique ways. The English menu is extremely practical and filled with amusing descriptions and illustrations.
However, when it comes to being thematic, the Japanese menu is truly impressive. It’s designed like a goshuincho, a book for collecting stamps from shrines, and fans out like an accordion for your perusing pleasure. If you’ve taken my advice and picked up your own goshuincho, be sure to collect your stamp from Vowz Bar. It does, after all, have that shrine in the back corner.

David, a fellow Tadaima Japan writer, shows off the Japanese menu in front of the shrine.

Evening service

when one of the monks will lead patrons in a Buddhist chanting session. There’s nothing to fear if you aren’t familiar with the chants. In the true spirt of Japanese “omotenashi” (hospitality), the monks at Vowz Bar will guide you through the process. They’ll even provide you with a romanized script of the chants and help you follow along.
Of course, you can also simply sit back, relax with a fruit-flavored sake called “Another World,” and appreciate the performance. An evening at Vowz Bar is all about enjoying a calm, peaceful atmosphere—a welcome change of pace from the typical Tokyo izakaya experience.

The Buddhist chants are easy to follow thanks to this “cheat sheet” with Roman characters.

A uniquely Japanese perspective

Visitors from western countries may be perplexed by the coexistence of a bar and a Buddhist shrine. According to Yoshinobu Fujioka, who runs Vowz Bar, it’s important to remember that in Japan, sake, and the rice that it is made from, plays an important role in religion. Sake is seen as valuable offering to the gods.
Going beyond religious traditions, sake is also important for easing and smoothing communication. The sect that Fujioka belongs to created bars like this (the first one was established in Osaka) to bring Japanese people closer to local shrines and the monks that run them. The number of people visiting shrines and temples has been steadily declining over the years. Vowz Bar is a fresh take on bringing people together in a relaxed, carefree way.

It’s all about communication

Regardless of your beliefs, Vowz Bar has something for everyone and is well worth a visit. Besides the unforgettable experience of hanging out in a bar run by monks, there’s a calm atmosphere of friendliness that permeates the entire establishment. It’s safe to say that if the goal here is to foster communication and interaction, Vowz Bar’s unique blend of Buddhism and booze is a resounding success.

For an other point of view about VOWZ bar, Read Amelie’s article here.
VOWZ BAR, a bar managed by real Buddhist monks!

Check out a live stream video of after dinner drinks followed by sutra singing at Vowz bar:

If you’d like to visit VOWZ bar, you might be interested in our ‘Eat like a local in Arakicho‘ or our ‘Vegetarian in Arakicho‘ exclusive food tours.

For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website that includes the place information:
http://tadaimajp.com/2018/04/vowz-bar/

Please click here for another article on this place from the perspective of a Japanese person (written in Japanese):
http://jp.tadaimajp.com/2018/04/vowz-bar/

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AUTHOR

Anthony

Anthony

Writer / Translator

Originally from Riverside, California, I've been living, working, and writing in Japan since 2009. Japan has become my second home, and I'm especially fond of Shinjuku, Tokyo. That being said, I also love getting out into the countryside and exploring the entire country. Through Tadaima Japan, I hope to share the wonders of Japan with a wider, international audience. Check out my articles if you enjoy exploring on foot, convenient cafes, and affordable dining.

Information

Address 6 Arakicho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, 160-0007
Hours 19:00 – 1:00
Price 2,000yen-3,000yen
Close Sundays
Access Five-minute walk from Yotsuya-sanchome Station (Exit 4) via the Tokyo Metro Marunouichi Line
Phone 03-3353-1032
Language Japanese
English
Website http://vowz-bar.com/