Exploring Tokyo through its drinks culture is a great way to get under the skin of the city…
Before spending an evening in the buzzing Shinjuku nightlife district with my guide Kyuma Mogi, I hadn’t realised the Japanese make such a huge variety of spirits and beers. Of course, I was aware of sake, and knew that the local businessmen work hard and drink hard, but there is so much more to find out.
Kyuma was actually raised in Brooklyn and studied at a culinary school in New York before moving back to Tokyo. He used to be a sommelier, set up three restaurants in America and is now focusing on bartending, and I found him a fascinating character who was perfectly placed to bring this aspect of Japan’s culture to life.
We began our evening in an izakaya – essentially a Japanese pub. Kyuma expertly navigated us past the neon lights and skyscrapers and up a nondescript stairway. The pub itself didn’t scream authenticity, but it soon became clear it really was frequented by local businessmen after work. As we chatted I began to understand how much pleasure Kyuma takes from food and drink from seeing the way he carefully chose bar snacks and local classics to suit my vegetarian diet on the fly.
Next Kyuma took me to a tiny bar up another hidden staircase, where I met award-winning bartender Koji Esashi. There was no menu – Koji makes each drink to a brief based on your ‘flavour profile’. And this was when everything Kyuma and I had been chatting about came to life, from the crystal-clear ice, high-grade ingredients (my Japanese-style mojito included yuzu marmalade) and up-to-the-minute equipment to the flair with which it was all pulled together. It was pure theatre, and I watched long after I’d finished my own drink.