Memories and notes of an European, first time in Japan, written or rewritten one year after the trip.
During our two weeks trip, we spent four nights in Tokyo. Each of those days sooner or later in the evening we went to Shinjuku, that is a special ward (kind of district) of Tokyo known for its night life. In popular language, Shinjuku is the area in the neighbourhood of the Shinjuku railway station (considered the biggest in the world), where people enjoy the nightlife or to be precise late evenings as the most commuter trains depart around midnight. People come there straight after work.
THE LIGHTS OF SHINJUKU
The first thing that attracted out attention as we arrived there for the first time was the street views full of colourful neon advertisements and the atmosphere, the noise, the crowds and the party feeling. Below some pictures.
The streets of Shinjuku during night-time, only few of many.
THE CITY OF CONTRASTS
If looking closely, Shinjuku is a place of contrasts. At the first sight the streets have a modern fleur. Office building, quite much lights, modern transport infrastructure including railway flyovers, very modern underground passages. In quite close neighbourhood from the ‘neon’ streets, there are many elegant office skyscrapers and other office buildings like those on the photo below.
But if you look closer and visit some side streets full of small izakaya (restaurant and pub all in one), which are usually full of locals and tourists enjoying delicious food and alcoholic drinks you will see pictures you do not expect to see in that kind of modern place. They look like out of a different world.
An entrance to an izakaya in one of the side streets of Shinjuku. If you look closer on the left upper corner you will see a small fragment of a railway flyover. The office district you can see on the picture above, was just behind it. Would you believe?
The inside of a small izakaya. I did this picture from the street, a quite narrow one, maybe of two meters width, quite close to the main streets that can be seen on the series of pictures above.
Of course not all izakaya and restaurants look like that. Most of those in main streets have quite a regular look. You will also find there many international and Japanese chain restaurants.
Inside a more regular Japanese style izakaya. The first one we visited in Japan. In one like that you will be asked to take off your shoes. I photographed it as we were about to leave. Only a quarter before the room was full of Japanese enjoying a drinking party. If you look closer, you can see the frames when movable panels may be installed. This way the open space may be turned into private lounges. They are of course not sound proof, but still you are among yourselves
SAKE FOR BEGINNERS
In all Japanese izakaya you may drink sake, which is the traditional Japanese rice wine. Unlike typical wine, sake is produced in the brewing process (and not by fermentation). Sake may be drunk either cold or hot (warm). In most restaurants during our journey we were served sake in simple glasses. However, while in Shinjuku we visited one izakaya, where we knew sake was served traditional way. We wanted the experience.
Cold sake served traditional way.
We decided to try sake served cold. The glasses were first put into small boxes. Then sake was richly poured into glasses so it overran the glass edge. First we were supposed to drink that what was inside the glass, then we drank the sake that overran either directly from the box or from the glass after pouring it back into it.
Of other Japanese alcoholic beverages we tried in Japan were the Japanese beers (most popular), shochu (a kind of vodka made of rice), umeshu (plum wine) and Japanese whiskey.
A small hint: In Japan, you theoretically do not give tips. However, you are served some small appetizers of your host choosing like the one on the picture, for which you will be billed.
THE DRINKING PROBLEM
Japanese drink much alcohol, one may say too much. However, the alcohol consumption per capital in this country fell in recent 20 years or so. Tokyo ranks top on the alcohol consumption map. Drinking parties, among co-workers are considered as a way to bond and build a team. Although Japan is quite low in international comparisons that assess the consumption of pure alcohol per capita (around 70th position) looking on that what is going on in Shinjuku one can only confirm the opinions that the Japanese have a drinking problem. Our observation was that unlike here at home (our country ranks much higher in those ranking lists than Japan) this may lay in constant drinking parties (a couple of those a week) and weaker heads. But this is only speculation.
White collar, who seemingly missed the train home. I made this picture in one of the Japanese major cities at the entrance to bank premises. around 8 am.
The late trains from Shinjuku are full of more or less sober people. But often you can see white collars indeed very drunk, barely keeping straight. Sometimes they do not manage to take the last train like this one on the picture. The view like that is rare, but not unusual.
JMA, June 2017
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