Gerund series briefly interrupted to deliver this breaking news: today is the last Friday in October, and therefore you have two days left to get your Oktoberfest on. Recommended locations: Baden Baden, Zum BIERHOF (where they do the “Prost” song/dance every 30 minutes or so, kind of like an Epcot exhibit in the middle of Shinjuku), and Frigo.
In honor of the end of October, the cool kanji today is 独. It means “alone” or “single” and also Germany because it’s used in the ateji for Germany (独逸). Newspapers and news programs use it often to refer to the Deutschland, especially when it makes abbreviation easy – e.g. 日独関係 (Japanese-German relations).
Every country has kanji (here is an awesome list), but not all of them get used. The third column in the chart on Wikipedia has the abbreviated version (略称), and it looks to me like those are the ones you see most frequently. Knowing these will be useful when you make that appearance on a Japanese quiz show as the token foreigner someday.
I think Russia (露) and France (仏) ended up with the coolest kanji. The Soviet Union (蘇) had a cool one, too. Another link if you’d like more detailed explanation of each kanji in English.
You have to be a particularly cold-hearted person not to fall in love with the Japanese rail system. The way it all runs on time (barring natural disaster or extreme personal injury). The way local train routes overlap in order to make long distance travel cheap. The comfort and service of the limited express trains. The sheer speed of the shinkansen.
One of my personal favorite parts of the JR system is the array of services you can find within the station gates. Shopping, food, personal hygiene. It amazes me that there is enough demand for these services inside stations. It’s hard enough to run a restaurant outside of a station. Although I guess the foot traffic alone makes a station the ideal place for a business.
I recently spent 12 hours over two days in search of beer within the station gates on the Yamanote Line. The rules? Konbini beer does not count. Preference for draft beer. Must not leave station gates.
Shimbashi – Goody De Cafe is on the lower level of the Karasumori Exit (might be called the Shiodome Exit?) just before heading down to the Yokosuka line. They have Guiness in a can and that silly machine that shakes the pint to foam it up a bit. Assorted snacks and some other beer on tap, too. Open from breakfast onward on weekdays and Saturday (closes early afternoon on Saturday).
Tamachi – Becker’s is by the South Gate, and they have Kirin Ichiban Shibori on tap in addition to the standard menu of burgers and sandwiches. I was surprised a station as small as Tamachi had a restaurant with beer, although it later became obvious that real estate must be pricy at some of the bigger stations, so perhaps it actually makes more sense that a station like Tamachi has one.
Shinagawa – Shinagawa Station has several beer options including sushi and some actual sit down restaurants (all near the Central Exit). There is an eCute shopping center as well, which is where the cafe Paul is located. They have most excellent pastries (cheese bread in the video), Heineken on tap, and patio seating. Definitely one of the classiest places to get a beer in Yamanote Line stations.
(Yes, giant jump here from Shinagawa to Ikebukuro. I checked pretty much all of the stations and was surprised to find no beer-serving restaurants, although I feel like Ebisu and Shinjuku probably have them somewhere. If you can confirm any beer-serving restaurants, I’ll add them to the 号外 list below. Send a pic and I’ll put that up, too.)
Ikebukuro – London Pub is by the Chuoguchi 1. (That’s what I wrote down, but I was drinking and it was a month ago, so it might be Central 1.) Loved this place because it had Bass on tap in addition to a couple of other beers and a variety of little snacks. I had the tortilla chips. Reminded me of a HUB Pub miniaturized to fit within the station, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was connected to that chain.
Tabata – Sanuki Udon are common within stations, but not all of them serve beer. The one in Tabata Station by the North Gate has it on tap along with their standard menu of noodle dishes. Unsure if the beer was Asahi Superdry or a happoshu offering like Honnama. Not much else to say about this one.
Uguisudani – Another small station with a sad little Ajisai Soba/Udon restaurant. They had cans of Asahi Superdry, so I gave it a go. It’s actually kind of pleasant to sit up on the quiet second floor and look out over the train tracks and buildings. Walking through the walkways of the station you can also get a good view of the nearby cemetery.
Ueno – Ueno Station might have the most options in terms of beer. There are several large sit-down restaurants, including Chabuzen which is by the Iriya Exit. Mostly grilled/fried meats and seafood, but as is clear from the video they also have some decent set meals, including sara-udon, one of my favorites since visiting Nagasaki a couple years ago.
Okachimachi – Ramen Suika is by the North Exit and has super frosty glasses of Sapporo in addition to their ramen and gyoza menu. Just across the way from Ramen Suika is a small Italian restaurant that also has beer. Excellent representation for such a small station.
Akihabara – Akihabara Station also has good representation near the Central Exit including a nice curry restaurant and a couple of soba/udon places. I went with Nama Soba near the Showa-dori Exit because it was the only restaurant I saw that is actually inside and outside the station at the same time. There’s a divider in the middle of the eating area that separates the two (that’s what the beer is resting on in the video), but the kitchen is just one big area. Very cool. Judging from the posters, they serve Superdry.
Kanda – Elysee Cafe and Dining Bar was the uncelebrated gem of the restaurants I went to. It’s in the basement of the South Exit and is actually surprisingly expansive once you descend the stairs. They have a very respectable selection of whiskey, shochu and nihonshu in addition to wine and lots of beer – Suntory Premium Malts and one other Japanese beer on tap, and Guiness and Corona in bottles. Draft beer and a lot of the liquors are half off on Wednesdays and Fridays, which means you can get a decent sized glass of Premium Malts for 325 yen! They also have a reasonably priced food menu with lots of choices.
Tokyo – As you’d expect, Tokyo Station has a lot of choices for beer and sit down restaurants (some of my favorites are in Tokyo GranSta in the basement), but the best beer on tap is by far Gargery Stout at Tokyo Grand Cafe which is right between the Yaesu South and Yaesu Central Exits. Nice roasty stout. Highly recommended. I got there too late to try any of the food, but it looks pan-Asian, which also happens to be the theme of their import beers – they have nearly a full selection of tasteless Southeast Asian beers from Singha to Tsingtao and everything in between.
Osaki – According to my roommate, the Becker’s in Osaki Station now serves beer, although I explicitly asked for it and was given only a strange look when I went last month.
Not much time for an update today, so you’ll have to entertain yourselves with the ridiculous amounts of great beer information at Chuwy’s blog Drinking My Brains and Homebrewjapan’s blog…er Homebrew Japan. They both have impressive tolerance (and deep wallets!) and know heaps about beer. Love Chuwy’s comments on Pivo at Pivovar (still need to get there), and I wish I’d known about this incredible list of resources when I lived in the countryside.
Was out at Popeye tonight, sitting at the counter and talking with the guy next to me. He mentioned that he made some beer at one of the craft breweries near Tokyo. I thought that was pretty cool until he told me that he was only allowed to participate until the yeast were added – everything after that had to be done by a professional with a special license. Boo for Japanese alcohol laws.
First stop is under the tracks at Shinbashi. No, not yakitori as you might expect, but Dry-Dock, a cozy little bar with a nautical theme. First floor is standing only. There are a few tables on the second floor (really nice decor), but I believe they require a reservation and a table charge. They have a bunch of regular taps which usually have three Sumidagawa beers, Super Dry, Chimay, a kriek, as well as a rotating guest keg that is always something interesting – currently Old Rasputin, but in the past it has been Green Flash IPA, Hunter’s Point Porter, Old No. 38 Stout, and a variety of others. They also have tasty eats, the baskets of kara-age (with fries underneath) being the best value.
Exit on the Ginza side of the Karasumori Exit and head to the right. Cross the first road that goes under the tracks, and Dry-Dock is just around the bend on the right. Maybe a little hard to find the first time.
Dry-Dock definitely has the best blog of any bar I’ve ever seen. It’s easy to keep track of their events and kegs. I’ve even made an appearance! (Here and here.) Worth checking several times a week.
A quick walk through the Ginza brings you to Houblon, home to an enormous selection of Belgian beers. Upon seating, they’ll hand you an encyclopedia-sized menu listing the six beers on tap and hundred or so bottles they offer. They claim to have some super-rare beers (like the lower alcohol Trappist beers that I’ve read are only available at the abbeys) but are generally sold out, and some of their bottles are prohibitively expensive, but the taps and most of the normal sized bottles are reasonable. I can’t speak for the food, but it always has a lot of people, so it’s probably not crap (ha, now that’s what I call a sound recommendation). The best part of all is that on weekends it opens at noon – it might be the only place serving quality beer between 12pm and 5pm.
Bulldog is just a couple blocks from Houblon in the INZ building under the highway, a short jaunt from Yurakuchō Station. I was very impressed with their selection of import beers. I’ve only been once, but when I went they had a couple of Stone and Speakeasy beers on tap and even more in bottles. They have a large food menu and plenty of tables in addition to the bar and the counter along the windows that look out at the willow trees on the street – a very pleasant place to drink away several hours.
Possibly the smallest bar that serves great beer, Towers fits approximately six normal-sized individuals or four normal-sized individuals and one sumo-sized individual; I imagine it spills out onto the sidewalk during events. From Bulldog, it’s just a little further towards Tokyo Station. It’s probably easier to get to from Bulldog than Tokyo Station, to be honest, but if you’re coming from the station, you need the Yaesu South Exit. Awesome atmosphere: no sign, free snacks (although I was not bold enough to have any), 4-6 quality beers on tap (including a hand pump), and the satisfaction that you are cool enough to know of a bar like this.
Speaking of events, Towers is having a Christmas event today and tomorrow. I’ll be the drunk guy with a Santa hat. See you there.
North from Towers, just a block from the North Exit of Tokyo Station, is Bacchus, a basement bar with great atmosphere and a nice group of regular customers. They have regular rotating kegs in addition to Yona Yona brews – both the pale ale and Tokyo Black are mainstays on the hand pump. Also, a limited selection of quality bottled beers. Decent pub eats, too – I can personally recommend the sausage plate and cheese plate, which are both great to snack on. As far as I can tell, Bacchus is the closest bar to Tokyo Station with quality beer, making it a great place for a pre-departure drink.
Once you’re finished with the crawl, there are multiple karaoke venues to choose from, all within a block from Bacchus. After five beers that are most likely 5-6% alcohol or higher, you’ll be in excellent condition to wail your favorite songs – just make sure you get to the karaoke room before you start singing.
Beering in Japan means supporting actual beer – either the small selection of 100% malt commercial brands, most of the local craftbrews, and a good chunk of what gets imported (although some of it – lambics, krieks, other Belgian stuff – gets labeled as 発泡酒, funny enough). I’ve linked Chris Chuwy before, but I met the man recently, bought him a beer (Iwate Kura IPA), and confirmed that he’s nuts…about beer. He’s been updating the boozelist with amazing frequency and listing lots of beer events I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. Definitely bookmark worthy. Buying him beer and spreading the word means he’ll continue to update.
I neglected to mention Yokohama Cheers when I wrote my short post on beer. Cheers is just a short walk from the West Exit of Yokohama Station. It has to be the only beer bar in Japan with an Israeli chef who can make genuine hummus and falafel. They have some Rogue beers on tap as well as an amazing selection of Belgian beers. Definitely worth several trips.