- In the Footsteps of the Wandering Shamisen Player
- Nostalgia for Times Past
- Sake Bottles Selected with Care
In the Footsteps of the Wandering Shamisen Player
I first learned about Yoko’s izakaya, Kanae かなえ, located in the heart of Arakicho, Tokyo’s secret gourmet town, through Amelie’s interview of Chie, the singing mangaka. Although we had first encountered Chie at Ringo no Hana, she chose to be interviewed at Kanae, partly because of the old-fashioned, intimate interior, but also because it’s one of the places where you can ask her to play the shamisen (7pm to 11h30pm).
Opened in the first half of 2018, Kanae is the latest addition to an area filled with dozens of gourmet restaurants and bars. I decided to drop by with my mother, who was visiting me in Japan at the time, on a Saturday night after visiting another Izakaya closeby, Doromamire. Located near the end of a narrow street running parallel to Sugidaimon dori street, Kanae was easy to spot because of the big, white shop sign, and red lantern (“chokin”) hanging outside.
As I mentioned above, Kanae is a pretty small place, with only one four-person table, and three counter seats. Right next to the entrance was a raised tatami Japanese-style seating area. Fortunately, we were the only customers at that time, so were able to sit at the table and ask the owner, Yoko, as many questions as we wished.
Nostalgia for Times Past
“Isn’t it kind of rare to have a tatami seating space in an izakaya nowadays?” I asked. Yoko replied that although that was true, it did fit in with the theme of the place: she wished to recreate a Showa-era style izakaya or Japanese-style bar. The 1950s up until the end of the 1980s was a special time in Japan’s history, and many people still have nostalgic feelings about that period. It’s not uncommon to find a replica of a Showa-era shopping street in entertainment districts like Decks Odaiba and Namjatown in Ikebukuro.
Although I loved the restaurant style, I was glad that I could sit at a table. Despite living in Japan for many years, I still get uncomfortable when having to sit crossed-leg on a tatami for a certain time, and sitting Seiza style is totally out of the question. I was also happy to note that the Showa theme didn’t extend to the restroom facilities: they were as modern as one could wish them to be.
[2019 UPDATE] I learned through a Facebook update from Yoko that the tatami space had been replaced with another table. Although it fit perfectly with the Showa era theme, I can very well imagine that even Japanese, especially the younger generation, may feel uncomfortable sitting on a tatami for a long period of time.
Sake Bottles Selected with Care
No sooner had I sat down, that my eyes were drawn to the collection of bottles sitting on the bar counter. On closer inspection, I saw that it was a mix of sake and shochu bottles, a Japanese distilled spirit. Yoko regularly buys sake herself, and posts pictures of her latest acquisitions on Facebook. The three selected available sake are written on a whiteboard, but if you can’t read Japanese, you can simply ask Yoko for a recommendation, as she speaks some basic English. An “ichigo” which is 180ml (usually 2 cups and a half) costs 1000 yen, whereas a glass (bigger than a cup) is 700 yen.
I decided to start with a sake from Yamagata since I had been there recently for sightseeing: a junmai daiginjo called eiko fuji or glorious Fuji (fruity and a little sweet). Next, I tried a hiyaoroshi sake from Fukuoka called Niwa no uguisu (dry and vibrant). Both were fine choices that I had never tasted before. Yoko told me she buys most bottles from a store called Suzuden specialising in local sake near Yotsuya station. If you are in the area, it’s worth checking out: they have chilled cellars that store sake at the correct temperature!
I wanted some light food to go with the sake so Yoko recommended the mini fried chicken with cut spring onion and a salty sauce (“mini karaage no shionegi dare”), which was quite tasty. There are other dishes on the food menu, but it seems the speciality is japanese-style fried chicken or “karaage”.
[2019 UPDATE] Another change at Kanae is that they have started offering weekday lunches. For 850 yen you can get a plate of 6 big “karaage” with a serving of rice and miso soup. You can also choose two more items for free from a list that includes coffee, dessert and salad. I tried it just after New Year and I heartily recommend it!
I asked Yoko to tell me a little more about herself. Originally from Niigata prefecture, after moving to Tokyo she first lived nearby in Arakicho itself. Thus she knew about the neighbourhood’s gourmet reputation, and therefore decided to open her izakaya here.
I also wondered about the name of the place “Whose name is it?” I asked, since to me it sounded just like a Japanese name. “Actually it’s not a name,” she explained, “it’s derived from the Japanese verb ‘kanau’ meaning to wish. I want people to feel that this is a place where their wishes can come true”.
I know that one of my wishes has already been realized – the outside sign is clearly written in hiragana, which makes the store so much easier to find for those who aren’t fully kanji literate. I wish that more stores would follow suit!
For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes additional location details:
If you chose to visit this izakaya after reading this article, don’t hesitate to tell Yoko you found out about it through the Tadaima Japan website.
If you liked this article, please share it by clicking on one (or all) of the buttons below!