Nihon Saisei Sakuba: offal, offal, lovely offal

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Nihon Saisei Sakuba is Tokyo at its low-down liveliest. This standing-room-only tachinomiya eatery, in the center of one of Shinjuku’s busiest entertainment districts, sells the highest quality pork motsu offal, carefully grilled on bamboo skewers over binchotan charcoals.

The extensive menu, pasted onto two thick pieces of cardboard, lists delicacies such as larynx, spleen, birth canal, tongue, choice uterus, brain, rectum, diaphragm, and cartilage—all at rock bottom prices.

The restaurant is supplied with the best quality offal from its parent butcher shop in Chofu, a nearby suburb. Don’t let any preconceptions deter you. These grilled innards are surprisingly delicious. Try the mixed plate of five sticks with a dab of fiery mustard.

Grilled vegetables such as shiitake, long onions, and shishito-togarashi sweet green peppers, are excellent too. And don’t miss the grilled “bread rolls” made with rice flour.

College students stand next to middle-aged salarymen, who stand elbow to elbow with laborers, as they quaff down mugs of draft beer or tumblers of shochu. The name saisei sakuba means re-energize yourself. And that’s exactly what this place does for you.

The joint fills up quickly, but that makes it even more fun.

3-7-3 Shinjuku. Tel: 03-3354-4829. Open daily from 3pm to midnight. Nearest subway station: Shinjuku san-chome, Exit C3. Marunouchi Line.

Omoide Yokocho: Memory Alley in Shinjuku

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Entering Omoide Yokocho, Memory Alley, just a short stagger from Shinjuku Station, can deliver the same surprise and shock that the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and Dorothy experienced in the  “Wizard of Oz” when Toto pulled back the curtain on the great and powerful Oz to reveal, behind the flashing lights, gimmickry and glitz, a simple old man imbued with kindness and generousity.

This ramshackle collection of 44 tiny eateries jammed together elbow to elbow is Tokyo behind the curtain.

A city with dirt under its nails.

A neighborhood that thinks that the limit of progress and change is replacing a burnt out lightbulb.

Every night souls by the hundreds fill this enclave for yakitori, nikomi (simmered tripe), nikujyaga, beer, shochu, and the companionship of fellow drinkers.

Food is cheap here. Alcohol too. But the yakitori are carefully attended to. Beer, sake, and shochu are fairly poured.

Some joints serve up rather delicious eats.

Others offer only basic sustenance.

Wander in. Look for an empty seat or two at a crowded counter. Everyone is welcome.

In the film, the great and powerful Oz exhorts, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!” But you ought to take a closer look at Omoide Yokocho. Click your heels together three times, and you might find yourself home.

Northside Asagaya: Star Road

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Northside Asagaya Buchi

Northside Asagaya is a hip, bohemian enclave of easily a hundred bars, pubs, restaurants, wine bars, snack pubs, coffee shops, and assorted spots for entertainment.

Northside Asagaya ItalianSpots like Buchi Yakiniku (above), or what must be Tokyo’s narrowest Italian restaurant, the newly-opened Don Tsucchi, barely wider that its double door entrance.

Lovely little shops like the art gallery/milk bar, Inelle, (below) are crowded up against raucous-sounding bars like Jamb Jamb and bars overgrown with potted plants and lost umbrellas hanging from door jambs.Northside Asagaya Inelle

Left out of the station and left again takes you into the delta area called Star Road, the main branch of which runs parallel to the tracks. But like any great river, Star Road is fed by many smaller alleys, lanes, and passageways, all of which also seem to be named Star Road.

Northside Asagaya spare umbrellasNorthside Asagaya jazz n' booozThe bars, shops, pubs and eateries are crowded shoulder to shoulder, like passengers on a rush hour train. There are coffee shops open for breakfast and joints that open only after 10 pm, places for Japanese saké and places for “Jazz ‘N Boozz.”

Most of the places are slowly deteriorating into rust and sun-rotted wood. But the owners, both young and old, have spunk and grit: new wire will hold up a sagging sign, a poster thumb-tacked to a door will serve as remodeling, and a fresh coat of paint on the door will hopefully attract enough customers to pay the bills.

North Asagaya Star road wiresAnywhere along your way down Star Road, look up and you’ll see a Tokyo trademark—the skein of power lines and telephone wires, connecting each place to every other place in a web of electric energy.Northside Asagaya Kankara

Reserve an evening for wandering about North- and Southside Asagaya. Then, on another night, do the same for other equally worthwhile “boozz”  and nightlife destinations along the Chuo Line: Kichijoji, Ogikubo, Nishi-Ogikubo, Koenji, and Nakano.

Southside Asagaya: Club Pollen

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Club Pollen vertical

A fire broke out the other day in southside Asagaya. Southside Asagaya is an “entertainment” area—a warren of narrow alleys and streets with bars, restaurants, snack pubs, dry cleaners, ramen shops, a chanko restaurant, green grocers, several joints serving French, and a funky little blues club called Chicago, where Naomi-san, the master, worships at the altar of Guitar Slim and serves Red Eye beer, tomato juice and beer, for 500 yen the glass.

Club Pollen Snack&wiresSirens wailed and a small fire truck made especially for such narrow streets rounded the corner quickly followed by another. They moved through the crowded streets about as fast as I could walk, so I followed—past the snazzy Snack Yuu, past the Sen Sen Record emporium, until Snack Kurumi, where from the other direction, two more engines had pulled up and parked along with an ambulance.Club Pollen Sen Sen Records

Several policemen had already arrived on their bicycles. The man from the dry cleaners stepped out of his tiny shop to take a look. Curious pedestrians started to mill about. The firemen started to congregate in front of a snack bar called “Pub Pollen.” A small wire-strengthened kitchen window of the snack bar had been shattered and thin wisps of smoke were leaking out.

Club Pollen neighbor KurumiNow over two dozen firemen in full gear—helmets, hoods, and oxygen tanks—had crowded into the narrow alley in front of the shop. A large flat hose was unrolled. Coils of rope were made ready. One fireman with a megaphone started speaking to another fireman a meter away, realized the loudspeaker was not necessary, and put it back into the truck. Another fireman stood with a long pick ax. The police tried to keep the onlookers back.

Nothing much seemed to be happening. The firemen spoke excitedly to each other. More wispy smoke, as from a cigarette, slipped out the jagged hole in the window. After a few minutes of walkie-talkie chatter, the hose was rolled back up and stowed. The firemen began loading up their trucks.

At that moment the elderly mama-san, a bent-backed woman wearing athletic pants, a flower print blouse, and a brown knit sweater vest came out, bowed and apologized to the police and the fire department. Evidently, it was literally a flash in the pan that had flared up while heating some oil for fried rice. The window was broken to let out the smoke. The woman apologized several times then hurriedly went upstairs to apologize to those neighbors.

The efficiency of the Tokyo Fire Department was noteworthy. They had arrived within minutes of the emergency call. Fire has always been Tokyo’s number one enemy, followed closely by real estate agents.

Soon the fire trucks left, southside Asagaya went back to minding its own business. The next day a new window glass had been fitted and snack bar Pub Pollen was back in operation.