Roppongi Has a New Sheriff in Town

Masatoshi Shimbo has always felt more than a bit paternal toward the changeling Roppongi district, the inner-city neighborhood where he grew up and his family made its real estate fortune. But Roppongi often breaks his heart, over the decades turning from a U.S. servicemen’s haunt into a respectable business district and then back to disrepute — the gentle women in kimonos giving way to mobsters and drug dealers. Good or bad, in this famously safe city, Roppongi stands out: elegant one block, seedy the next, a multicultural meeting spot known as Tokyo’s most cosmopolitan dusk-to-dawn adult playground. Through it all, Shimbo has fiercely gone to battle over Roppongi’s reputation. Now the 58-year-old merchants association leader is facing a new challenge: bar touts. Popping up sometimes five or six to a block, the mostly young men from Nigeria and other African nations have a particularly un-Japanese way of doing business.

Source: Los Angeles Times
Photo: John M. Glionna

Whiskey and the Highball – Japan’s Retro Cocktail Culture

Domestic whiskey is expected to see its first volume increase in 11 years, mostly due to the recent popularity of whiskey and soda, or highball, among younger generations attracted to the retro cocktail culture and because it is an affordable alternative to beer and other similarly priced tipples.

Domestic whiskey consumption has been stagnant for a long time, with shipping volume on a taxation basis either staying level or even going down since 1989–except for 1997 and 1998 when the tax on whiskey was reduced.

This year is expected to see a 6 percent to 7 percent increase from last year.

The comeback of the highball appears to be leading this surge. Suntory Holdings Ltd., which makes the Kakubin brand of whiskey, introduced a special server for highballs tailored for the Kakubin brand. Its advertisements for the cocktail feature popular actress Koyuki. The number of pubs and other eateries serving Kaku-highballs jumped fourfold to 58,000 in the past year.

Suntory also started selling canned highballs in October only at convenience stores. Kirin Brewery Co. plans to start selling its own canned highballs in February.

The popularity of alcoholic drinks can shift fast, such as with the vintage wine boom in the late 1990s, which was followed by the “craft” shochu distilled spirits boom of the early 2000s and the shochu with soda fad of recent years.

Noting the recent highball trend, Takuya Kano, representative of private research body Sakebunka (drinking culture) Institute in Tokyo, said: “For younger people, most of whom have never drunk whiskey before, the highball is something new to them. It’s not sweet and tends to go well with various foods.”

The reasonable price also appears to be a selling point as people cut back amid the recession. The average highball is about 400 yen while a mug of beer is generally 500 yen to 600 yen at most eateries.

There also is a movement to develop easier-to-drink whiskey. The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co. in March changed its Super Nikka brand to make it less peaty. The company’s spokesman said it is easier for whiskey beginners to accept and has been well received.

“Highball’s popularity spans generations, and it looks like [whiskey’s comeback] has finally arrived,” said Shizuka Ijuin, a novelist and well-known whiskey lover. “An increase of as much as 6 to 7 percent can’t be from just a temporary boost in popularity.”

Suntory also has it’s own spin on the highball.


photos by yto and scaredykat

Bistro Juban Stand – Standing Bar

Standing Bars are not only for middle aged men any more. They once were as they were used by salarymen to drop in after work. They would drink, perhaps have an appetizer, and talk there around the big barrels discussing what ever it was that happened to be happening around the office. That was yesterday. Not today. Today standing bars are a lot more hip and diverse.


For a stylish Standing Bar near Azabu Juban Station, try the Bistro Juban Stand. It is open for all and has a regular fair of many young women and internationals, too. But, besides all those wonderful people being around…well it’s really affordable with 390 yen jugs of beer, 500 yen sake and so-chu, and even appetizers that go for 300 yen, like the Shrimp Peperonchino…did I say yummy? Yummy.


Out late? Don’t like to go home? When you’ve missed the last train, you can just stay there until 4 a.m. the next morning. No biggie, no hassle. They’re open late. If you like to sit and drink, they have a table in the back (Charge 500 yen). But after a few that might be where you want to end up.

During the daytime, they serve their own original curry. It is 490 yen and tasty. They serve 100s of dishes of curry each and every day. I’ve been there and I know you will enjoy just drinking or meeting new friends there. Try it out. But, hey it’s getting cooler outside you say for a standing bar…more reason to find someone and stand a little closer.

Hint: If you need a landmark look for the big barrels placed in front of the bar.


For More Information:

Address: 2-1-9-1F Azabu Juban, Minato-ku
1minute walk from Subway Nanboku line, Oedo line “Azabu Juban” exit 4
TEL: 03-5730-9777
Time: 16:00-4:00am


Toy Kitchen

Toy Kitchen is a great local bar(izakaya) with a great crowd of regulars. Mostly a younger crowd with a few older, wiser, and maybe hipper neighbor characters thrown into the mix. It’s a tiny bar, but has a way of accommodating more in its jovial space. The owner and master of Toy Kitchen is Shingo-san. He’s laid back and cooks some mean eats. The bar is open when he’s not playing with his band. Usually opening around 6 or 8pm and closing whenever. The place is hard to miss. There’s a large glowing lamp, which the owner puts in the middle of the street, when open for business. It could blind a bat, so run into the bar as fast as you can before you actually do go blind. Once inside you will begin to feel much better.

Shingo-san keeps his bar full and plays a mostly rock soundtrack from his speaker enabled walkman, which he tediously DJ’s from his massive selection of CD’s spanning the length of the bar three shelves thick behind him. He’s apt to play a request and even up to hearing something new, if you bring it in with you. The bar is full of friendly people. But knowing a little Japanese helps. It’s easy to find someone to talk to and most of the folks there are regulars. Go and don’t forget to ask what’s on the menu.

Nagasaki, Toshima-ku
Tokyo 171-0051

More info can be found in the map below. Click on the martini glass.