If we approach the Inokashira Park from Kichijoji JR station, we can easily find a two story concrete house just before the pond at the base of a huge Metasequoia tree. While downstairs is an ordinary grocery, upstairs is an izakaya though many park visitors might overlook it. Every time I passed by the house after dark, I noticed the lit upstairs windows and heard pleasant voices from there. I became eager to drink there with friends and enjoy the rare setting.
While people in the West celebrate Christmas at this season of the year by holding parties, Japanese people get together for bonenkai: forget-the-year-party. Nowadays Christmas parties are rather for families and young couples in Japan. Bonenkai on the other hand offers officemates and hobby friends a good reasoning for getting together. I therefore proposed my usual drinking companions to have a bonenkai in the izakaya in the Inokashira Park in a weekend evening and they accepted my offer without delay.
To my surprise, we were only allowed to reserve seats for the time frame of two and half hours starting from 16 o'clock in the afternoon.
The izakaya is called subLime and belongs to an izakaya chain. Generally speaking I am not a fan of chain restaurants or bars. They have certain level of food and service quality and their prices are reasonable thanks to the bulk purchase of materials and the manualization of service and cooking. On the other hand, their food and service are usually characterless and lack human touch. However, this subLime offers not only food and service but an excellent location and I became ready to pay for it.
When we got together, there was just a group of mothers and their small children. We started with our usual glass of beer and wanted to continue with different types of alcohol. SubLime in principle offers shochu and sake by the glass, but we wanted a bottle of shochu because we are all heavy drinkers. Then, a staff of the izakaya said he was very sorry, as he could only offer a bottle of Aka-Kirishima because it was the last bottle he had. This was a surprise, because Aka-Kirishima is a rare item and eagerly looked for by shochu lovers.
Though its tidbits were not more than average, we were satisfied with subLime because of Aka-Kirishima and the view to the Inokashira Park. We know that it is awfully difficult to reserve seats at the cherry blossom time, but we would try it.
Anyhow, we had to leave subLime before the time when we usually start drinking. Therefore, it was very natural that we went to another izakaya to continue our drinking session. The second izakaya is called "Kakinoki" and in clear contrast to subLime with respect to everything. Kakinoki is a family run izakaya and we oldies liked its interior, people and food, though it does not have the attractive setting subLime can offer.
Such an izakaya is not popular among young people, because of its old fashioned style; the interior is not elegant, the menu contains very traditional housewife dishes and there are no elegant waitresses or waiters. However, such a place is what we badly miss when we are away from Japan for a long time.
Kakinoki has a 40 years' tradition; in other words the lady owner started this izakaya 40 years ago and now she works together with her daughter. While we were drinking at the only table of the izakaya, her granddaughter was sitting at the corner of the counter and doing her homework; on the above photo you see her head on the right bottom corner and her notebooks lie scattered on the counter.
Diverse kinds of appetizing food are placed on the counter in big bowls. But, we were comfortably drunk and did not try many. Instead, we tried to understand the handwritings which were framed and hung on the wall. As you see on the above photo the lady owner explained us the background history of the calligraphy, though she could not explain its meaning.
Later I checked the origin of the four Chinese characters. They come from "I ching" the old Chinese book on divination. The four characters explain the essence of divination and mean somewhat like "visualize subtle things and discover hidden truth" (It seems to me that the order of the first two characters is the other way round!) . I think such a principle can also apply to science, but I am not sure in which way such a proverb can be applied to izakaya.