The most deliriously odd watering hole I’ve ever set foot in is a place named Kagaya. Surprisingly, I stumbled across this place in the glum business district of Shinbashi and, at first, it was misleadingly inauspicious- inside, it was a small, simple Izekaya, deserted but for a young man in an apron. He greeted us eagerly and told us his name was Mark Kagaya- a rather unorthodox monicker for a Japanese guy, but I didn’t pry.
Once me and my friends were seated, Mark presented us with a mysterious list of countries and instructed us to pick one, and told us he’d then deliver the first round of drinks in the style of the country chosen. Intrigued, we decided on the USA, and the young waiter disappeared behind a curtain.
We waited, not knowing what to expect. Before long, Mark emerged carrying a tray of drinks. He was inexplicably wearing a luminous green frog costume, and suddenly launched into a surreal, mind-boggling performance, involving lots of screaming and jumping. I sat agape, uncomprehending, as I witnessed this demented scene. Mark vanished again as quickly as he’d arrived, leaving me and my friends shell-shocked.
“What kind of a place is this?” I whispered as I picked up my beer glass which, to my surprise, started shaking uncontrollably. No, I didn’t have a serious case of the D.Ts, the glass was a battery-powered novelty designed to vibrate when lifted. My mate raised his glass and it emitted a loud “moo”-ing noise like a cow.
The eccentric waiter soon re-appeared minus the frog costume, as if nothing had happened, to take our food orders. There was no conventional menu to be seen, but rather a deranged puppet show involving a teddy bear demonstrating how delicious the food was. Utterly confused, we managed to order something by nodding.
The escapades continued, with increasing lunacy. As the liquor flowed, our inhibitions evaporated and my friends and I began to enjoy the infantile merrymaking. The hyperactive host kept popping behind his magic curtain and bringing us games and toys to play with. Table football, balloons, electronic games, and monkey costumes. I was grinning like a stoned toddler all night.
Later, we got chatting to Mark and he revealed that bar-tending had been the family trade for generations and that Kagaya had stood at the very same spot in Shinbashi for over a century. The costumes, games and crazy atmosphere were entirely of his own invention, however. I got the impression he`d have been more suited to a career as a clown in the circus than running a bar. Perhaps, though mismatched to the profession, he felt obliged to continue the family tradition, just as the sons of Kabuki performers are expected to put on make-up and take to the stage. Still, Mark has made the most of the situation in his own unique way, creating a totally original drinking experience.
To be able to regress to the level of a brainless five-year-old while chugging beer is enormously liberating. This was an experience akin to getting shit-faced in a kindergarten, without the subsequent spell in prison. Not that I’d know what drinking in a kindergarten’s actually like, I might add. I do have some principles, for god’s sake.
Kagaya, Hanasada BLDG. B1F, 5-12, Shinbashi 2-Chome, Minato-Ku, Tokyo.