// Overseas travel blog
// Overseas travel blog
Sometimes it pays to go back to the same place twice. Usually I'd be strictly against double ups when foreign nooks and crannies remain unexplored, but then there are times when repetition and familiarity are the only saviour in the face of chaos.
Having made a plan to find a Sake bar near Shibuya station, we found ourselves in drizzling rain unsuccessfully trying to navigate the wormhole exits and overpasses to our dinner destination. We were attempting to use Google Maps minus Wi-Fi but our little blue dot wasn't moving and my rage level was growing by the minute. I had to escape.
We made a split decision to leave Shibuya i.e. 'Surfers Paradise on steroids' , and soon enough the train took us back to the previous night's streets in the little district of Ebisu. In fact, a few road crosses and we right back outside the ramen restaurant where we'd each slurped down a steaming bowl of vending-machine-ordered, chef-prepared and immaculately balanced noodles.
We'd initially ducked into the narrow dining hall because it's competition on the opposite side of the street had had a line to get in, and we'd been far too hungry to wait. This night, however, the line was gone and so we decided to see what the fuss had been about. What lay inside was completely unexpected.
We eased our way through the glass doors, having to push with care as not to open them onto the two men on tiny stools eating their dinner in the doorway. They looked up at us as we glanced around inside. The place was a flurry of frying noodles, groups laughing and clinking beers, girlfriends lighting cigarettes and leaning elbows onto the tiny square table between the group of four. It was izakaya heaven, not just one restaurant, but a network of ten to fifteen - it was hard to tell - mini restaurants, wine bars and grills side by side.
After doing a slow lap through the narrow walkway, brushing past locals, we found a free table and took a seat on the low wooden stools.
An izakaya is basically a casual place to down a beer or some Sake, and perhaps a light meal or some snacks to accompany. We couldn't read any of the menu and it's Japanese script, so the waiter called over a younger guy to take our order. Within minutes we had two cute little Sake glasses, and a white ceramic bottle filled with a locally renowned ferment. Shortly afterwards and a plate of gyozas and another of chicken karaage arrived.
The Sake was crisp and slightly citrusy, which was a welcome combination in the heat. As we ate and drank, people came and went. A table of people seated beside us left, and shortly afterwards was replaced by a group of three men in their late forties to early fifties. The group soon grew to four with the addition of a 29-year old woman (we were to learn).
We were well into our Sake, and they into their beers. The little izakayas all around were buzzing with people. During a pause in conversation I glanced sideways to see why the table of four beside us had quietened, and saw that they now sat watching a roving magician, staring intently at a pack of cards as he flipped and shuffled them. I made eye contact with a couple of group members, and then watched on. Soon the table was cheering as he performed the final trick, and they moved to their wallets to grab notes to give the entertainer.
As he left, they began a very broken conversation with us. The woman was 'kawaii', and consistently tried to engage with us despite that she spoke Japanese 80% of the time and we didn't understand a word. We had a great time nonetheless.
Five minutes or so passed, and we were greeted by a new entertainer who placed a song list, in English and over page in Japanese, on the table. The group encouraged us to pick a song, but we declined. They refused to accept our reluctance and urged us to point to a song. I took the lead and chose ABBA - Dancing Queen, and before we knew it, the guitarist was playing and singing, and all six of us were clapping and singing along to our own karaoke versions. It was bizarre! We gave him a big round of applause and he even did an encore, before the group paid him his dues and he, too, strolled off.
By that time it was about time to call it a night. We had only made it through half of our second Sake bottle and decided to gift it to our karaoke counterparts on departure. It was a perfect trade off for their good humour and geniality and they waved us off into the night.