Thursday, February 4, 2016

暁 (dawn)

Growing up in California you become aware of the term "local" at an early age.  The 840 miles (1,352 km) of coastline boast some of the best surfing in the world, and surfers are fiercely territorial creatures.  Though I grew up just 9 miles (14 km) from the beach, the distance was at least 8 1/2 miles too far to ever be considered a local.

Perhaps it was this outsider status as an adolescent that later in life, as a drinking adult, drove me to find my neighborhood watering holes.  I wanted to be a local somewhere.  Like in the theme song to the 80s television show Cheers I wanted to go "where everyone knows your name".

The traditional Japanese izakaya (bar/cafe) can be an intimidating place for a gaijin.  They are often very small spaces seating less than a dozen people all of whom appear to be best friends, and the menus tend not to be in English.  This adds up to a very "locals only" vibe. The truth is, if you have the guts to step into an izakaya and can find a seat they are usually very friendly places where by the end of the night everyone will know your name.

A friend of mine in Katsura opened her own izakaya called Akatsuki (dawn) in November of last year.  It is a tiny place, maybe 128 ft2  (12 m2), with just eight barstools.  The menu and ambiance is more European than Japanese, but she keeps it real with a proper oshibori (wet towel) for you hands when you sit down.

This has become my "local".  I followed the charming proprietress, Ume-san, from another bar in the neighborhood.  Some people follow race horses, some people follow the stock market.  I follow bartenders.  

Besides the Löwenbräu on tap, which I've never seen outside of Germany, it is the warmth of Akatsuki that keeps me coming back.  The people.  In a country where assimilation for a non-native at times seems an impossible endeavor, it is nice to step into a bar and feel welcome every time.

Akatsuki is definitely a neighborhood joint, but it is my neighborhood joint.

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