Kampai! 

The World of Japanese Spirits from Awamori to Zakuro-shu

Sunday
Mar112018

Kampai is out!

A very, very nice surprise this morning.

My latest work, Kampai, has managed to break the top ten in Japan. 

I'm not crazy about the cover, to be honest. And, the final product is very different from what I intended to write, but, but, but, there's still a lot of interesting information thrown in with anecdotes of my life in Japan. A Kampai! 2 is in the works, and may come out perhaps next year.

Lemme tell ya, this has been perhaps the most productive nine months of my life. In addition to the dozen or so articles I have written for a number of different sites, mags, and journals, I have pumped out:

a new novel (A Woman's Hand), rewritten another (Rokuban), gotten half done on a third (A Woman's Tears),

Monday
Sep032012

Seasonal Brews

Nippon Beer's Shironigori

   The Shironigori is such a good "Weißbier" I was tempted to go back to my local Lawson's convenience store and buy their entire stock. The can says this beer is shipped directly from Belgium. I'm not sure if that is a marketing gimmick or fact. Anyways, get it while supplies last.

Suntory's The Royal Bitter

  Not bad. Tastes like something you might find in a British pub, only with more of a head on it.

Asahi's Aki Yoi

  Much cheaper than Aki Aji, this happôsei (see Happôshu) from Asahi called Aki Yoi (an early evening in autumn) also has none of the charm of Kirin's seasonal beer. Treat yourself to a Suntory Kaku High Ball, instead.

Yona Yona Ale

   A very hoppy beer that reminds me of a good microbrew you might find in Oregon. A real keeper.

   Price: ¥260

Sapporo's Nihon no Irodori

   "The Color or Spice of Autumn", made with "some" barley harvested in Hokkaidô, is a remarkably unremarkable beer. Glad I bought the smaller can. 

   By the way, why is everything called "Premium" these days? Perhaps I can get a t-shirt with that written boldly on the chest.

   Price: ¥224

Kirin's Ichiban Shibori Stout

   Lessee.

   First off, the can states, "Just taste 'Ichibanshibori Stout.' The first wort gives a marvelously deep taste. The aroma of roasted malt and smooth creamy from enrich your precious time." That was either written by a fiendish drunk, or was meant as a kind of Buddhist kôan to meditate over while you enjoyed your brewsky. Whichever the case, this stout just doesn't quite live up to the advertised hype. A marvelously deep taste? Not really. A deep-ish taste, perhaps. Smooth and creamy? Nah. It does have have a good aroma, though, one which reminds me of my home-brewing days. Now that I think about it, I could have made this beer myself, and Kirin could have done much better. 

   Want a good stout? Treat yourself to a Guinness.

   Alc./Vol 5%

  Price: ¥217

Kirin's Tanrei Draft

   This was disappointing. I was hoping for the poor man's version of Kirin's Aki Aji. What I got was Kirin's Tanrei happôshu (low malt beer), the same old crap in a colorful, autumny can.

   Live and learn.

   Fortunately, this lesson was cheap: only ¥141.

   Alc./Vol 5.5%

Helios Goya Dry

   Helios Goya Dry from Uchinaa (Okinawa) is made with goya (nigauri, a bitter gourd native to the island). Because of its novel recipe Goya Dry can't legally be called a beer. I found a beer from Karuizawa that was also classified as a hôpposhu because it had contained coriander/cilantro. 


  A sticker on the can says Goya Dry has been crowned gold medal winner at a number of beer contests in Japan. Is it really that good? You'll have to find that out for yourself. I will say, though, that it is certainly both bitter and dry.

 

 

Sunday
Aug122012

Boston Cooler

   When my waiter at Mamma Mia informed me they wouldn't be able to make me a mojito because they were out of mint, I told him to just throw something together that was "sawayaka" (refreshing). A few minutes later, he returned with a drink called a Boston Cooler.

   "What's in it," I asked.

   The waiter screwed his head and sucked air through his teeth. "Shall I ask . . ."

   "Don't worry about it," I replied, reaching for my iPhone. A quick search of Boston Cooler cocktail came up with mixed results. 

   The Gourmet Underground Detroit site claimed the Boston Cooler was, one, not a cocktail, and, two, a Detroit City original:

"In the city where Fred Sanders is credited with inventing the ice cream soda, pharmacist and founder of America’s oldest soft drink, James Vernor, took it one step further with the Boston Cooler. Originally a mixture of sweet cream and spicy, tickle-your-nose Vernor’s ginger soda, the drink eventually morphed into a thick, vanilla ice cream-based blended shake that is still available at Detroit-area Dairy Queens and independent ice cream parlors."

   Interesting as that may be, it had nothing to do with the tangly, light cocktail sweating on the table before me. Although I couldn't find any English language pages with information on the background of the drink, I did find a number of Japanese-language sites which did.

   The Boston Cooler, I learned, is one of many so-called "city cocktails". Others include, the Frisco (which was featured on Rachel Maddow a few weeks ago, the Manhattan, and so on. Recipes for the Boston Cooler vary, but most call for the following:

2 oz of white rum

1 oz of fresh lemon juice

1 tsp of sugar. (Some recipes recommend powdered sugar,

    the Japanese ones I found call for syrup)

3-4 oz of soda water or ginger ale

   One recipes suggest pouring the rum and lemon juice into a tall glass (collins glass) first, then stirring in sugar, adding ice and filling glass with soda water or ginger ale. This reminds me of the slipshod way drinks are mixed by many "mixologists" in the U.S.

   A more promising recipe says you should add lemon juice, sugar and 2 oz of club soda together in a collins glass, fill the glass with cracked ice, add rum, then top with club soda, and stir. "Garnish with a spiral of orange or lemon peel, and serve." (By all means, do not forget to serve!)

   A more thorough recipe found in the Japanese Cocktail Recipe 1000 recommends pouring the rum, freshly squeezed lemon juice, syrup in a shaker. After shaking it, pour it into a "zombie glass" (or a similarly large glass) that has ice in it. When it has cooled, top off with ginger ale (or soda water if there is no ginger ale) and stir gently. Garnish.

   To be honest, I would have preferred drinking a mohito, but the Boston Cooler was a pretty good substitute on that hot day.

Saturday
Jun162012

Nakamura

   The psychiatrist arrives, looking as dejected as always. It is as if he’s got the entirety of his patients’ anxieties stuffed in a rucksack strapped to his back. He takes the seat across from me and sighs.

   “I’ve brought something for you,” he says and pulls an isshô-bin[1] of Nakamura (なかむら) imo shôchû[2].

   It is not the first bottle of imo shôchû this kind doctor has brought me. A month earlier, he gave me two bottles of Isami (伊佐美), a hard to find and somewhat pricy[3] imo shôchu that is widely considered to be one of the “Three Greats”.[4]

   In spite of hailing from the prefecture of Kagoshima where most imo shôchû is made, the psychiatrist says he doesn’t drink much. Bottles from patients and friends, all of whom assume he is a drinker like so many of his countrymen, usually end up gathering dust in his home.

   “I’m happy you like imo shôchû,” he says, handing me the bottle.

   “And, I’m happy you’re happy.”

 

   When I first came to Japan a lifetime ago, it wasn’t uncommon for students to present their teachers with expensive bottles of whiskey or brandy. During the two major gift-giving seasons—o-chûgen in summer and o-seibô in winter—the pickings were particularly good and I remember returning home from work often overloaded with gifts. Thanks to the stockpile that would build up because of this largesse, I could go for weeks without having to buy beer or other alcoholic drinks. Them was the days!

   Unfortunately, after nearly two decades of economic malaise punctuated by lackluster recoveries, the tradition of lavishing goodies upon teachers and other people who have been “kind to you”[5] has fallen by the wayside somewhat. I wish I could say by exactly how much sales have fallen over the years, but I can’t find any reliable data.[6]

 

   Unlike the time he gave me the bottle of Isami, the doctor says he’d also like to try the Nakamura himself. I ask him if he’s driving—everyone has become highly aware of the problem of drunk driving in recent years[7]—and he says, no.

   I fix him a glass of rock ice and pour him a drink.  

   “Are your wife and son out?”

   “They’ve gone back to her parents’ home,” I say, as I return from the kitchen. “My wife hasn’t been feeling well lately, morning sickness and all that. It’s been much harder on her this time.”

   We click our glasses together. “Kampai! Cheers!”

   Although I prefer the Isami he gave me earlier, this Nakamura is not a bad consolation at all.

   “Very nice,” I say.

 

   I’ve been having some trouble filling this time slot with students. Before the doctor started, a young professor of sports psychology and good friend, attended the class on and off for a couple of years. I would help her with her reports and when the lesson finished my wife would counsel her for the next two or three hours on matters of love. A really sweet dealer in Koishiwara ceramics also belonged to the class for about six months, but was often absent. She eventually quit due to conflicts in scheduling. And for a short while, two young women, employees of the savings division of Japan Post Holdings, were coming regularly but eventually dropped out due to the difficulty of the class. So, week-in and week-out, it’s often just the two of us, the psychiatrist and me, chatting honestly about life.

   Does that bother me? No. It’s the nature of the work. In all my years of running a “school”, I have only once had a full register of students and that was back in the days when Koizumi was Prime Minister. Oh, the memories!

   No, the best I can hope for is to have an average enrollment of three and a half to four students per class. That means in one or two classes I’ll have six students, the maximum, three to four students in most, and a couple of classes with only one or two students, like the doctor’s class. Why not combine the less profitable classes, you might ask. Because I would still have an average of three and a half to four students. Only now, instead of 3.5 students x 15 classes (52.5 students), I would end up with 3.5 students x 12 classes (42), or about ¥80,000 ($1,000) less in income every month or almost a million yen over the course of a year.

   And, there’s no telling which class will be the anemic one and which will out-perform all others. Whereas my Thursday evenings used to be very quiet, they now roar. Wednesday was once a popular day with so many students I sometimes didn’t have a place to sit myself, but has been rather quiet lately. That’s just the way it is.

   I’ve found that if I focus too much on the number of students I have, I’ll invariably see those numbers start to drop off. Best, to enjoy the time, to make one student feel as welcomed as six.

 

   “Would you like some more,” I ask the doctor.

   “Just a little.”

   I go into the kitchen, dump the water out of his glass, add fresh ice and pour him a second glass.

 

   The doctor once admitted that talking to people who suffer from depression all day can be really depressing.

   “I can’t imagine that it would be barrels of fun,” I replied.

   “Barrels?”

   “It doesn’t sound like much fun.”

   The doctor told me months earlier that he had originally been an orthopedic surgeon but changed to psychiatry so that he could have more time to pursue his interests of karate, the classical guitar, and English.

   I asked him how many patients he saw every day.

   “Fifteen.”

   “Is that a lot?”

   He replied that it wasn’t, adding that a typical psychiatrist might see double that number. “Most people, when they hear that I’m a doctor, assume that I earn a lot of money.”

   It was tempting to ask how much he earns, but I didn’t.

   “I once met a rich psychiatrist in Tokyo,” he said, “who saw fifty patients a day.”

   “Fifty!”

   If that psychiatrist worked a ten-hour day, I calculated in my head, then he was “seeing” each patient for about ten minutes.

   I asked how a psychiatrist could possibly treat a patient’s problems.

   “The man is not a psychiatrist,” the doctor replied. “He’s a drug pusher.”

   “Why don’t you try seeing more patients yourself?”

   “I wouldn’t be a good doctor then,” he said. “That’s the irony of being a doctor in Japan: you don’t make a lot of money because you’re good; you make a lot of money because you see a lot of patients.”

   “You could say the same thing about a lot of things.”

   About twenty-five years ago, I was driving with my mother when a Lionel Richie song came on the radio. “Ugh! What crap!” I said, and turned the radio off. My mother countered that Richie was a very popular singer. “And Budweiser’s America’s best selling beer,” I shot back. “Doesn’t mean it’s good. Sheesh. Even Hitler was wildly popular for a time.”

   And that’s also how it also is with shôchû. The major brands, such as Kirishima and Shiranami, are okay, but if you want to enjoy something special you’ll have better luck searching among the smaller, lesser known distilleries such as Nakamura.

 

Kampai! 

なかむら (Nakamura)

Produced by Nakamura Shuzô located in Kokubu, Kagoshima prefecuture

25% Alc/Vol

¥3,980

Nose: ★★★★

   Slightly sweet potato smell.

Palate: ★★★★

   Not much bite, mellow taste.

Overall: ★★★★

Best enjoyed on the rocks

 

 

 

Kampai!

伊佐美 (Isami)

Produced by Kai Shôten located in Ôkuchi city, Kagoshima prefecture

25% Alc/Vol

About ¥6,000

Nose: ★★★★★

   Crisp, sweet potato smell

Palate: ★★★★★

   No bite, mellow.

Overall: ★★★★★

Best enjoyed on the rocks

 


[1] Shôchû, like many Japanese spirits, usually comes in one of two sized bottles: the larger isshô-bin (一升瓶) which holds 1.8 of happiness and the smaller 900ml hanshô-bin (半升, half shô). Glass bottles for nihonshu (saké) didn’t become commonplace in Japan until the late eighteen hundreds. Until then, saké was usually carried or sold in taru (barrels) or tokkuri (ceramic bottles). In 1899, the Eigashima Shuzo Company, a saké brewer and distillery located in Hyôgo prefecture, established a glass factory producing bottles for saké. It would become the first brewer to sell seishu (refined saké) in 1.8-liter glass bottles.

[2] Imo shôchû is a “rough Japanese liquor” distilled from sweet potatoes. In addition to sweet potatoes, shôchû can be made from buckwheat, corn, brown sugar, rice, chestnuts, and saké dregs.

[3] I found an ishô-bin of Isami a week later at an upscale supermarket going for about \6,500 ($80). That’s two to three times more than you’d have to pay for an ordinary bottle of shôchû. The popular “Kurokiri” produced by Kirishima Shuzô, for example, sells for around \1,700 ($21).

[4] The other two being Mao (魔王) from Kimotsuki County (肝属郡) and Moriizô (森伊蔵) from Tarumizu City (垂水市). Both are located on Kagoshima’s Ôsumi peninsula.

[5] People who have helped or cared for you (お世話になった人, o-seiwa ni natta hito) can include relatives, match-makers, teachers, superiors, doctors, lawyers, landlords, and so on.

[6] One interesting change to the summer and winter gift-giving custom is that people have become more creative in the types of gifts they give. Whereas they might have sent off the same gift set of beer or detergent to everyone on their long list, they now send a few select people things they know the person would like. And rather than buy the gifts at upscale department stores like the usually did, they.

[7] While the drunk driving laws in Japan are famous for being on the strict side—the legal limit is now 0.03 blood-alcohol level (down from 0.05 before 2002), compared to 0.08 in many states in the U.S and the U.K.—a number of cases of drunken driving by public officials and governmental employees has refocused attention on the problem. A zero-tolerance policy towards driving under the influence is now being enforced. Interestingly, city officials in Fukuoka were ordered to abstain from drinking any alcohol outside of home for one month after two city employees were involved in yet another drunken scandal.

The Freakonomics blog has some interesting statistics on this, such as a BAC of 0.05 (roughly two drinks, and legal in many states) “leaves a person with about a 38 percent increased risk of crashing. So, in the year 2000 alone, an estimated 2,600 people were killed in accidents involving drivers who were intoxicated but not technically under the influence.”

Wednesday
Feb292012

Satsuma Shiranami Kuro

   When Shōkichi[1] first opened for business about eighteen years ago, Taishō[2] had a policy of taking ten days off a month. If it looked like it was going to rain or if there was a K-1[3] kickboxing match on TV, you could be fairly certain that Shōkichi would not be open for the night. Over the years, however, Shōkichi’s business hours have grown terribly erratic. Taishō claims Shōkichi is now open twice a week, but I’ll be damned if I ever see his yatai[4] on the corner anymore. In those astrologically rare occasions that I do find that he is open, I am usually overcome by a sense of urgency, an imperative almost, to go: there’s no saying when I’ll find him open again. It could even end up being six months later, as was the case last night when on my way home from my wife’s parents’ place, I saw Taishō assembling his yatai.[5] I hadn’t been feeling well that day—I had almost passed out while shopping earlier—but there was his yatai beckoning me. My wife, who would have otherwise poo-pooed my going out for a drink in my condition, agreed. Why, she was even envious. Since the birth of our son almost two years ago, she has only been to Shōkichi a handful of times.

   “I’ll bring some oden[6] home for you,” I offered.

 

   When I peaked under the noren curtain, Taishō smiled at me and said, “Long time no see!”

   “And whose fault might that be?” I shot back. The customers sitting at the counter laughed.

   I took my customary seat in front of the oden tub and warmed my hands on it. Then, recognizing the woman to my left, I said, “O-hisashi-buri desu ne.”[7]

   The nice thing about Shōkichi is that most of the customers are regulars, motivated by that very same imperative to go to the yatai whenever they find it open. I’ve recommended that he use Twitter or Facebook to inform people when he’s open—I would be more than happy to help him set up an account—but Taishō is so hopelessly analog in his ways that he can’t be bothered.

   “You realize how long it takes me to just answer your text-messages?” he says. “Takes me more than ten minutes just to reply to you that, no, I am not open for the night.”

   “How about sending up a flare or some fireworks just before you open?”

   Taishō groaned.

   You might get the impression that Taishō is an old fart, but he is in fact only a year older than me. When he first opened his yatai for business he was about 29 years old and had a full head of hair. (He now hides his balding head with a towel; and his beard has more salt than pepper in it.)

   I was living and working in the neighborhood then and would pop into Shōkichi for dinner and drinks once or twice a week. And though I was studying Japanese at the Y[8] in those days, my real classroom was the yatai. It’s where I learned the local dialect, Hakata-ben. It’s also where I learned how to talk to Japanese men (though, I still have trouble catching everything Taishō says.)

   Over the years, Taishō and I have become friends. I think he’s been living vicariously through my romantic escapades. He often jokes to the other customers that it’s not fair that he is still a bachelor while I’ve already been married twice.

   The best time to be at Shōkichi is when there aren’t any other customers to interrupt our conversation. It’s when I can be truly honest with him. He has been critical of the things I have done, such as my womanizing past, but he has never allowed it to come between our friendship. In that sense, he’s been a tolerant observer of the vicissitudes of my life. Perhaps that’s because he, like myself, was raised Catholic, and he has managed to retain the positive aspects of that faith—tolerance, love, charity, honesty, mutual respect, and so on—while ridding himself of the baggage—guilt, sexual repression, rigid conservatism, mindless religious formalism, etc.

   Speaking of Catholicism, Taishō once told me a funny story about the time he had to serve as an altar boy. He was assisting at Christmas Mass and was dressed in the flowing altar boy vestments of a long black cassock under a crisp white surplice, the same kind of kit I had to wear when I was a naughty little Catholic schoolboy. During what I suspect was a special extended service for the holiday, he was standing next to the altar, holding a large candle in his hands.

   As he was standing there with that big candle in his hands he dozed off for a few seconds and the burning end of the candle touched his surplice. It must have had some flammable chemicals in it keeping it so stiff because it suddenly went up in flames.

   “I was a ball of fire when I woke up,” Taishō recalled. “The priest took the decanter of water off the altar and threw it at me, then tackled me to the ground and rolled me over and over until the flames were out. It’s a miracle that I wasn’t burnt.”

   Taishō added that he was never asked to serve as an altar boy again after that.

   Ostracism by fire.

   “What’ll you have?”

   “Shōchū, o-yu-wari de.”[9]

   “Imo?”[10]

   “Yeah.”

   Shōkichi was serving Satsuma Shiranami Kuro that night. Why? Because it’s cheap and tastes okay. The food at Shōkichi, on the other hand, while dirt cheap—you can enjoy a satisfying meal and a couple of drinks for less than ¥1,000 ($12)—is damn good, so much so I’ve given up eating yakitori anywhere else.

   After warming myself up with the shōchū, I ordered some oden for starters, then skewers of yotsumi, butabara, aspara maki, ume shiso maki, jaga batah . . .[11]

   “That’s a lot of food. Have you eaten?”

   “No, I haven’t,” I replied. “I’m going to take half of it back for my wife.”

   “I see.”

   “She isn’t expecting again, is she?”

   “No. We’ve been trying, but no luck.”

   “Need me to pinch hit?”

 

   The oden, as always, was served first. I’ve tried my fair share of oden over the years and nothing quite compares to Taishō's. In the bottom of the tub, he’s usually got an egg that’s been simmering for several days and has become nice and brown. He’ll usually fish around for one of these and give it to me. (This reminds me of a comic strip my wife drew after we had been to Shōkichi a couple years back.)

 

   The skewers of grilled meats and veggies came about twenty minutes later, along with a second glass of Shiranami Kuro.

   Like the oden at Shōkichi, the yakitori can’t be beat. And nothing is better than the butabara. Order butabara at any other yakitori-ya or robatayaki-ya[12] and you’ll be served a half-cooked slab of pork, but not here. Taishō always grills to perfection—nice and crispy. A niece of mine once stayed with me a few years ago and every now and then she mails me to say that she’s hungry for that “pork thing” she used to eat at Shôkichi.

   “The butabara?” I ask.

   “Yes! Butabara! I could kill for it right now.”

 

   I’ve mentioned already that most of the customers are regulars and that seems to be the way Taishō likes it. He can’t quite relax whenever a new customers sits down at the counter and you can see the relief in Taishō’s face when after a few dishes the stranger leaves. Nothing is worse than when a wet blanket comes around and lingers on for longer than he is welcome.

   One time a dreadfully nerdy man in his early thirties sat down between my wife and me in our usual spot and a group of customers with whom we had been yukking it up. The guy tried in vane to strike up a conversation with Taishō but the normally loquacious master of the yatai became tight-lipped. An awkward silence descended upon the food stall.

   The guy ordered a beer and asked for a second glass so he could share it with Taishō.

   “I don’t drink,” was the brusque answer.

   It was a lie, of course. Taishō did drink from time to time, but with the punishment for drunk driving having become so severe of late, he can’t indulge the way he used to.

   When the guy tried to share some of his food with the others, there were no takers. And later, when he went to pay, he offered Taishō a tip. This in a country where tipping is a rarity.

   Taishō refused outright.

   “Well, then, give it to your wife.”

   “I’m not married!”

 

   As I ate, I ordered a third glass of shōchū with hot water.

   There are a number of ways to drink shōchū, o-yuwari being one of the most popular. Hot water has a way of bringing out the sweet fruitiness of the potatoes and as I write this I can’t help but wonder if the same is true of vodka. I tend to drink my shōchū o-yuwari in the wintertime to warm me up on cold nights, and on the rocks the rest of the year rather than mizu wari,[13] like so many people prefer it. Shōchū can also be mixed with beer, called bīru wari,[14] coffee[15], or even with tomato juice, a drink I have christened the “Bloody Hanako”[16]. (Try it, you might like it.) One thing I have never seen is a person drinking shōchū straight the way vodka of is drunk in Russia. I don’t even think I, Boozer of the Hill, have ever had shōchū straight, which makes me kind of curious right now.

 

   When the alcohol is flowing and the atmosphere in the yatai has become convivial, the conversation can be frank and downright hilarious.

   I remember once bullshitting with two men in their fifties. One of them was going on and on about how his friend beside him was a womanizer and refused to settle down.

   “Fifty-five years old and he’s still chasing girls in their twenties!” the man chided. “Can you believe that?”

   I took a sip of what must have been my sixth or seventh glass of shōchū and declared, “As long as a man still has hair on his head, it is his Moral Duty to fool around with young women!”

   The man elbowed his friend in the ribs and said, “But this guy’s got no hair!”

   Looking up from my glass, I noticed for the first time that his friend was wearing an awful toupee. How I failed to notice it earlier is a testament to how much I had been drinking.

 

   Last night, I stopped at three drinks. Ordered some more oden to take home to my wife and paid the ¥2,000[17] bill.

   As I was leaving, I turned around and said, “See you again, soon.”

 

 

Kampai!

 

さつま白波黒 (Satsuma Shiranami Kuro)

25% Alc/Vol

Rate: ★★★

 


[1] Shōkichi (小吉, literally “little lucky”) is one of the fortunes you’ll find on o-mikuji (お神籤, sacred lot, written oracle) at shrines. Daikichi (大吉, lit. “big lucky” is the best fortune you can get. Many people prefer shōkichi or chūkichi (中吉, lit. “middle lucky”) as it leaves room for improvement. With daikichi, there’s nowhere to go but down. It’s always better to be at the beginning of a lucky streak than near the end of one.

[2] Taishō, which literally means “general” or “admiral”, is what customers often call the owner of a Japanese style restaurant. Even though I know his real name, I always call him Taishō.

[3] K-1 is a kickboxing promotion based in Japan. It combines techniques from Muay Thai, Karate, Taekwondo, and so on.

[4] Yatai (屋台), food wagons or mobile food stalls which were once common throughout Japan, are something of a rarity nowadays. Fukuoka City, however, still has about 200 or so licensed yatai. While most yatai in the city serve yakitori and ramen, some specialize in Chinese, Italian and Okinawan dishes. The City of Fukuoka has an incomprehensibly schizophrenic policy towards the food stalls: promoting them as a tourist attraction on the one hand and, on the other hand, ensuring their eventual demise by putting strict limits on who is eligible for the licenses. It would be a crying shame if they allowed the yatai to die out.

[5] The yatai are usually hauled out by hand or towed to their regular spot and assembled a few hours before opening. Because Shōkichi opens for business at eight in the evening, Taishō can usually be found setting up his stall as early as five-thirty.

[6] Oden is a Japanese winter dish made with boiled eggs, Japanese radish, bamboo shoots, thick slices of deep-fried tōfu, kon’nyaku, and so on, stewed in a broth flavored with dashi and soy sauce. It is usually served with a mustard spicy enough to singe your nosehairs.

[7] Japanese for, “Been a long time, hasn’t it?” Remember this phrase, you will use it.

[8] Yes, the YMCA. I also studied Japanese for several years at the YWCA.

[9] O-yuwari (お湯割り) means mixed with hot water.

[10] Imo means potato and refers to the sweet potato variety of shōchū that I like as opposed to the other types (rice, barely, sugarcane).

[11] That is, small cuts of chicken, fatty boneless pork ribs, asparagus wrapped in pork, thin slices of chicken with pickled plums and beefsteak leaf, and potatoes with butter.

[12] A robatayaki-ya (炉端焼き屋) is a restaurant which serves fish or meat and vegetables grilled over a sunken hearth as opposed to a yakitori-ya (焼き鳥屋) where skewers of (predominately) chicken are grilled over a charcoal fire. Incidentally, Fukuoka (and possibly Kyūshū) is unique in that you can find pork dishes, such as butabara and bēkon maki, served at yakitori-ya.

[13] Mizu wari (水割り), mixed with water.

[14] A relative’s 90-something-year old grandfather drinks his shōchū this way.

[15] Yes, coffee.

[16] Bloody Hanako © 2011 Aonghas Crowe. All rights reserved. No unauthorized use of any kind.

[17] About twenty-four bucks.