Japan taught me a number of things. One of the biggest things was learning how to drink, since during my JET days and nights the seasonal drinking parties pretty much forced me to imbibe the chu jokkii (medium mugs) of beer at the izakaya (Japanese pubs) almost on a nightly basis. I even learned how to partake in the ochoko and tokkuri of sake. However what kept me going without gagging or going completely drunk was the pub food....I just loved the stuff whether it be grilled hokke, sashimi, saikoro steak and my personal love, karaage. Sure, this wasn't exactly health food (although salad and other forms of vegetation were on the menu); it was pure comfort food to be enjoyed among friends in an atmosphere of camaraderie.
It's ironic then that a number of drinking songs involving the quintessential izakaya focus on the lonely and depressed drinker down on his luck. The izakaya lifestyle is usually quite a happy experience but in the world of kayo kyoku, it's often cry-in-your-beer. Case in point: Hachiro Kasuga's（春日八郎）"Izakaya" from 1958. It's as shibui as a glass of very dry shochu as Kasuga warbles about the trials and tribulations of life as a sad sack makes his way to the backstreet watering hole for some liquid comfort. Despite the sad lyrics by Hiroshi Yokoi（横井弘）, I still found a layer of defiance under Kasuga's mournful delivery. The man may be wallowing but he's not totally down and out. By the way, Toshikiyo Kamata（鎌多俊与）was responsible for the music.
I'm not sure when Naomi Chiaki（ちあきなおみ）covered "Izakaya" but her delivery seems very concerned and reassuring as if she were the owner of that pub consoling that distraught customer. Where Kasuga was vibrant, Chiaki has that extra sultry smokiness.
In my city, the izakaya has been the latest gastronomic craze to take up residency for the last couple of years. The Toronto variation though has a bit more rock n' roll in the decor and jazz in the dishes compared to the enka of the original pubs in Japan, but both versions still provide a nice little niche for folks to enjoy food, drink and camaraderie. However at my favourite izakaya, Kingyo, I have found myself ordering the freshly-made ginger ale instead of alcohol. So much for my career as a barfly.
|It's really a Tokyo okonomiyaki restaurant|
but the feel of an izakaya is there.