February 21, 2007

Looking more like a vintage toy emporium than a drinking hole, Characters, a self-styled “cafe/bar/fleamarket” offers the unique opportunity to drink while browsing for used toys. A shrine to Western retro pop-culture, you can knock back beers or coffee in the company of ancient McDonalds Happy meal toys, stuffed Bugs Bunnys and plastic Pink Panthers. Colourful and weird, it looks like a bar you might find in Sesame Street. If you’ve ever wanted to get wasted in Toys R Us, you can finally do it without getting arrested.

Although all the toys and trinkets within seem to be of American origin, Characters bar is a quintessentially Japanese joint. Mad places like this don’t exist anywhere else in the world because drunken lads would be too tempted to steal the toys for souvenirs, as an amusing alternative to traffic cones.

Most of the toys are for sale, but they ain’t cheap, even though most of the merchandise could be found gathering dust in every attic or charity shop in the USA. However, if you’re getting smashed, be careful you don’t become overwhelmed by nostalgia and fork out a fortune for a Gremlins lunchbox or a Flintstones frisbee, as I once did.

In addition to the pleasing presence of artifacts like ALF dolls and Mr T action figures, the music is fittingly old-school and fun. Tunes by the likes of Duran Duran or KC and the Sunshine Band are usually spinning, and often old 1980s music videos are being shown on the TV behind the bar. They do a nice selection of cocktails, and Characters has the dubious distinction of being one of the only places in Yokohama where you can buy 7Up.

As ever in Japan, space is at a premium, and the place is so crammed with shelves and cabinets full of valuable toys and commemorative plates, you might feel uncomfortable about making any sudden movements. When you add alcohol into the equation, the words “bull” and “china shop” spring to mind.

Closing time is 2AM (or midnight on Sundays), so if you want to continue the night somewhere more hedonistic, there’s another bar directly above called “Party Animals” which should fit the bill. But by that time you’ll probably be feeling dizzy from all the bright colours, and uneasy from the benign gazes of Smurfs.

Characters Bar
Kikuya Bldg 1F
1-19 Ishikawa-cho, Naka-Ku,
Yokohama Shi 231-0826
Tel: (045) 6503080
Open on Tuesday to Saturday from 3PM to 2AM, and Sunday from noon to midnight.

Papa Don’t Preach

February 20, 2007

Here’s a amusingly-named bar in Kawasaki City. Presumably it’s what the people inside say when their Dads come to take them home.

Cutesy Halloween Bar

February 15, 2007

The more warped kids in school wished it was Halloween every day, but it actually is in Yokohama’s “Halloween” bar. You can go to this Halloween-themed cafe/bar all year round and act and dress like a weirdo without fear of reprimand.

Having said that, if you turn up in the middle of spring in a Freddy Krueger costume you’re still likely to raise a few eyebrows.

Keeping it creepy, the music is classic Halloween tunes like Transylvania 6-5000 and Monster Mash. And the décor is all pumpkins and ghosts as you’d expect. There are numerous dolls and pictures of Jack Skellington from “The Nightmare before Christmas”, a ubiquitous face in Japan. Seemingly that film is Japanese people’s only frame of reference to Halloween- I wonder who the hell’s renting all those Freddy and Jason movies I see in the video shops.

Yep, in this joint it’s strictly a kid’s party version of Halloween, with no blood-dripping chainsaws or ice-hockey masks in sight. The staff are all very sweet and would probably have nightmares for weeks if they watched something like “the Exorcist.”

Disappointingly there are none of the novelty cocktails (like “Dr Jeckyl’s Potion” or “Vampire’s Blood”) I’ve come to expect from these places. But still, the bar is worth a visit for the novelty value. Presumably it’s good fun on October 31st.

Tel: (045) 314-7856.

Shark Tank

February 14, 2007

Across Japan there are countless unconventionally-themed novelty bars, which make drinking all the more enjoyable. For instance, I’ve been to a Luther Vandross-themed nighclub, a Frankenstein bar, and a truly macabre restaurant modelled on a prison hospital where, upon arrival, you are handcuffed by girls in nurse-outfits and led to a cell in which you can drink cocktails from test tubes and eat food served in bedpans. A classy joint.

I’ve also been to a bar named “Real” in Fujisawa city, where my table was balanced on top of a large water-tank containing two small, live sharks. I looked down through the perspex at the scary beasts swimming around beneath me while I sipped whiskey. It was like something you’d find in the lair of an evil criminal-mastermind from a James Bond film. It was hard not to imagine the floor sliding away, dropping me to my bloody doom. Later, when I was wasted, I got kicked out of the bar for jumping up and down on the perspex to see if it would break. (I’m a complete dickbrain.)

Bar Real, Fujisawa 23 Bldg 201, 1-4-3, Kugenumaishigami, Fujisawa 251-0025
Tel: 0466-26-4336

Partying with the Japanese Captain Birdseye

February 13, 2007

Submerged under the streets of Shinjuku’s Kabukicho district is this little aquatic-themed izakaya, where you can get mashed in a cabin with portholes and pictures of fish on the walls, with lifebuoys and diver’s helmets hanging from ceilling.

In command of the vessel is the salty old seadog “Captain” Kaji Aishin, a jolly bloke who looks like a Japanese Captain Birdseye. He clearly relishes his role when he emerges periodically to greet the customers. Someone really should teach him some expressions like “up periscope!”, “shiver me timbers!“ and “ooh-aarr me hearties!” to complete the effect.

You’ll notice in the picture above that, although Captain Kaji is dressed as a naval officer, he’s making a hippy peace sign. They aren’t one hundred percent devoted to authenticity in “Dining Bar Submarine”, you see. In a real submarine, I’m fairly sure they don’t generally play an inexplicable mix of heavy metal and eurobeat music, like in this place. Still, the drinks are cheap here, so at least you can drink like a fish. Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

If you think recreating the claustrophobic atmosphere of “Das Boot” is a strange way to wind down on a friday night, it could be worse – the Captain owns another bar named Titanic!


Dining Bar Submarine, Pocket Building B1, Kabukichuo 1-17-4, Shinjuku-Ku
Tel: (03) 5285-3480. Open from 5pm to 5am

Pissed-up Pig.

February 9, 2007

This is a bar sign in Yokohama. I love it because it’s so uninviting- the pig looks as miserable as sin, like a jaded, bloated alcoholic.

Ridiculously Cheap Beer!

February 9, 2007

I was so awestruck when I found this extremely cheap beer in Okinawa that I had to take a picture. It’s about 80 US cents, or 40 English pence. And to make matters even more brilliant, the bar is near the beach! Sadly, after a couple of hours in the place, in my inebriated state, I forgot to jot down the address. Doh.