Hanako, the popular elephant in Kichijoji.
If I come to Kichijoji, I would love to see Hanako, the elephant who is the oldest one (67 years old!) in Japan. She is so sensitive that sometimes she turns her back on visitors and never shows her face all day long. Despite her lovely round eyes, she's got such a powerful kick when she is in a bad mood, according to my wife (who seemingly has a feeling of closeness). First, my wife takes me to an old yakitori (skewered chicken) bar 'Iseya'.
‘Iseya’, a Yakitori Bar Whose Specialty is Not Yakitori?!
‘Iseya’ is an old style yakitori standing bar which originally started as a butcher shop in 1927, long before Kichijoji became such a stylish town. Their Sohonten (main shop) and Koen branch was both rebuilt last year and lost their charm of Showa-period, but Koen branch still remains my wife’s favorite. ‘What is great about this bar is they open as early as 12:00 p.m.!’ She says that so proudly… She must be having a nice lunch drinking here while I work so hard visiting customers during a day!
‘Well, you must have an unlimited cashflow to afford all these drinks from someone…’ I say. Without even caring about my sarcasm, she keeps telling me how good this place is, saying ‘they have two specialties other than yakitori.’ Their Specialties: Huge Shumai (Steamed Pork Dumplings, 3 for 330 Yen) and a Roasted Corn on the Cob (250 yen)
Surprisingly, just a bite of the savory grilled corn instantly makes my ordinary day special! Now I know why my wife loves this so much.
Shochu is filled to the brim (amazingly, it’s not overflowing!). Enjoy it with some plum syrup.
Plum syrup is placed on the counter. Take a sip of shochu, and then pour some syrup.
In the kitchen, a tough-guy-looking owner who is wrapping a ‘tenugui’ (hand towel) around his head is grilling yakitori and taking customers’ orders in a low voice. Inside the shop is full of grill smoke rising from yakitori. Pouring some sweet plum syrup (which is for free) into the shochu makes me so excited!!
Have a Drink, Looking at the Back of Middle-Aged Men at ‘Manryo’, an Izakaya in Harmonica Alley.
To be honest, I can’t drink much…but I never want her to know that! Well, I already have unsteady gait, but my wife heads toward Harmonica Alley, leaving me behind.
This izakaya, surrounded by clear vinyl curtains on all sides, has distinctive two counters (locals' counter/first visitors' counter). When my wife sticks her head out the curtain, a customer sitting at the local's counter made room for us and let us sit at the first visitors' counter. And when she orders bottled beer, another customer at the local's counter gets the beer from the owner and passes it to her, which is just like a ‘bucket brigade’.
They have a wide selection of side dishes, such as stewed dishes, grilled dishes, and ‘sashimi’. Maybe I should try something new, but I end up making a safer choice and ordering potato salad (400 yen).
On the other hand, my wife adventurously orders some kind of mysterious dish called ‘Negi-maguro-dango’ (leek and tuna ball). ‘You need to try anything, right?’ She looks so proud. Well, this paste food tastes like….How can I explain…? Anyway, it makes my stomach feel heavy. It seems like my wife feels the same way, since she tries just one ball and gives the rest to me! As she gets tipsy and starts to mimic the owner’s way of talking, I decide to pay the bill and leave for the next place.
Special Sake You Should Definitely Try Even If You Pass Out. A Long-Established Bar, ‘Sasanoha’.
‘Sasanoha’, a 40-year-old izakaya, is much older than others in Harmonica Alley. They have no menu and price list, which makes me a little hesitant to get inside. My wife, however, doesn’t care about that kind of thing at all. ‘Money comes and goes. That’s the way life is’, she says. Okay, but do you remember? I’m always the one who pays the bill!
‘Here, you can’t miss their sashimi and the sake called ‘Tsukasabotan’’, my wife says. ‘I usually avoid drinking sake, because it makes me lose my mind. But today, I will definitely drink the Tsukasabotan and I wouldn’t mind getting drunk and even passing out.’ It is a small bar with only five seats at the counter and a small table outside.
The owner looks like Santa Claus, who might appear in the movie. He is such a warm-hearted and fun to talk with.
Sashimi and other food are displayed in the glass showcase. Pointing at the pink meat, my wife asks the owner what it is. ‘That’s smoked whale meat from Iceland. And it tastes really good!’ he talks like he sings. I was going to order just half of the portion as it looks too much for us, but my wife orders one serving without hesitation. ‘You shouldn’t order that way at this place.’ She warns me. The whale meat tastes incredibly good!
We finish eating it in no time, most of which is eaten by her. The sake from Kochi prefecture, Tsukasabotan, is available here in Tokyo too, but the stuff offered at this bar is the special ones only available in Kochi. It sure is easy to drink and goes down smooth. My wife is in a really good mood. Sitting next to me is a little girl eating ‘daikon’ (Japanese white radish), which is a strange sight.
According to the owner, her family has loved and visited this place since her great-grandfather’s generation! ‘Hey girl, let’s drink together when you get old enough!’ says my wife to her with smile on her face, but the girl looks scared. Yeah, she needs to watch out for this drunkard!
To use the public lavatory in the Harmonica Alley, you need to get a key from each bar. It’s very clean. We drink a lot of sake and Shaoxing rice wine, and it costs 4800 yen in total. ‘We have a festival in October, so come back here again if you want to carry ‘Mikoshi’ (a portable shrine)’, said the Santa Claus owner. ‘Wow! Sounds great!’ my wife shouts for joy. ‘It’s about time to go home.’ I push her back slightly, and we head for the zoo in Inokashira Park.