“You know I’d like to see a real Japanese town bar.”

Two days later I find myself riding in those neat smaller vehicles the Japanese folks all seem to drive through Kituski’s narrow, remote, back lanes.   No, wait a minute, this is the main street. But you have to picture a much smaller garbage truck for sure.  A simple sign hangs outside just to the right of a small, plain looking door.

Slightly tripping over the door entrance I quietly flash on how more difficult it will be to make it back out over this same ledge later on. Before me are about seven chairs all pulled up to a four foot high, ten foot long bar. This room is small, no more than twenty by fifteen feet in all.  Beyond this room, on the far side from me, is another doorway leading to what looks to be about the same size room.  It is empty.  Our room is dimly lit, but not dark.

A loud hello, more of a shout of joy, emits from the two female bartenders and other people seated at the bar as soon as we enter from outside. I sit down with my daughter and her friend MO. Now all seven seats are occupied which seems to make our bartenders, a mother daughter team,  quite happy. The room has a warm feeling to it and all of the smiles seem genuine. Drinks, beer for me, Sake for some and Shochu for others, are poured without being ordered. Conversations begin immediately between all the occupants of the room.

It quickly becomes evident my beer glass will remain full no matter what I do about it. Then I’m asked about Sake or Shochu, which do I like better, and I see this is a very interesting subject to the bartenders. Me? I choose Shochu.

Shochu is a mild tasting clear drink, looking much like Sake does, that features a 25% alcohol content, so go slow is the operative word now.  I do. It is, in fact, just today I learned after many sit down dinners during this vacation that the only way to keep your drinking glass from being refilled is to not drink it. No one has a problem if you sit all night with a full glass of whatever in front of you. But if that glass is 1/4 down it’s pretty quickly going to be  filled up to the top again. I’m thinking an alcoholic would have a hard time stumbling out of these bars.

It’s a flat-out great time of it. This small bar has a wonderful karaoke machine, endless beer re-fills, nuts,  crackers, soups, maybe fish and rice, other things I don’t recognize,  strangers who instantly have become friends but most of all this bar has two bartenders who intend on drinking you under their non-existent tables. Yes, this is perhaps the biggest and most delightful change I see at this bar from American bars: the people serving are drinking right along with me, making a party of it too. Clapping, dancing, singing, smiling, serving, slurping, everyone is in this together. And why not? Almost everything the Japanese people seem to feel, do, act out or believe they do together. No one gets hurt; they watch for each others backs in almost every way possible as far as I can tell.

A great example of how this society takes care of its members is this is a place where people almost never drive after they have been drinking. They just don’t do it. Heck, people here won’t even ride in the same car with a driver who decides to drive after drinking. And if they did and the driver was pulled over for any reason, found to have been driving after drinking, well then all the people in that car are in serious trouble. So it’s almost always true to say drunks don’t drive in Japan, a country, BTW,  called Nihon by it’s citizens  when they are  speaking informally about it.

One reason why people don’t drive drunk in Japan is to be caught doing so usually means the loss of your job, pension and  your honor. If a teacher, called a Sensei and greatly respected as such, is caught driving after drinking the ENTIRE school they teach at is punished! Breaking the codes of society in Japan is never just a slap on the wrist-it’s more like a knife in the heart of the whole community. To fully understand what I’m saying here try to imagine New York City , or any American city for that matter, where nobody Jaywalks!? Well no one jaywalks in  Nihon (again, Japan). Yeah, if for some reason the traffic  lights in Tokyo stopped working Japanese people might all die of starvation on the curbside waiting for them to change.

OK. So the driving schools in Japan may be a little short on business. But this is not to say the bars are. I think it safe to say the Japanese people find a way to obey all their laws and still drink enough to drink most people under the table if, that is, anyone could fit under those tables they use-these tables are about one foot off the floor in many cases. Everywhere I went people offered me beer , Sake or Shochu. So I did, indeed in some cases during the course of some visits, try to fit under the tables but I just couldn’t do it. Anyway….

Here’s to the greatest bar experience I have ever had. What a glow; what a time. Just a place to meet others where everyone gets on board for the fun of it. Laughter and friendship are part of it, drinks flow until you stop drinking but safety is always first. When this night was over I noticed we were just told what the cost was-there were never any charts or listings anywhere I could see about the cost of anything, never any ordering of anything either. It was all very reasonable too.

Thanks Nihon. Here’s to you.

Franque

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