Many visitors to Kyoto find themselves overcome with a sense of tranquility. Even for people who aren’t Buddhists themselves, there’s just something soothing about being around so many temples and their stoic monks.
You know what else a lot of people find relaxing? A nice cold beer! So when we recently found ourselves in Japan’s former capital and looking for a calming presence, we decided to make it a double by going to a bar run by a genuine monk.
We stepped into the establishment on a humid Saturday evening, and at first it seemed like one of the many fashionable bars you can find in Japan’s major cities, if a little on the traditional side in its interior decorations. As a matter of fact, the atmosphere was so inviting that every seat was full, so we had to wait a while for a table to open up.
When one finally did, the owner beckoned us to sit down. “I’m terribly sorry to have kept you waiting so long,” he apologized in a soft but warm voice.
Takahide Haneda’s outfit speaks to his daytime job as the head priest of Kouonji Temple. By night, though, he runs the Bouzu Bar (bouzu being the Japanese word for “monk”).
▼ Even the bell you ring to signal that you’re ready to order is shaped like those used in temples.
This isn’t just a fun hobby for Haneda, though. Before opening his own bar, he spent a year studying bartending and learning all he could about various types of alcoholic beverages. His personal areas of expertise are Japanese wines and microbrews. “There really are so many good ones,” he explains. Haneda has so much confidence in Japanese spirits that the Bouzu Bar’s wine selection is entirely domestic.
There’s no need to worry about the food being the sort of austere fare you’d eat in a monastery, either. During our visit, we nibbled on soy sauce rusk cubes, which had a pleasant sweetness instead of the saltiness you might imagine.
We also got a plate of grape cream cheese and crackers, which went well with just about everything we drank.
Putting our faith in Haneda’s expertise, we asked him for his drink recommendations, which included a glass of Japanese white wine and two microbrews, the first from Hokkaido, and the second a bottle of Fuji Sakurakougen Beer from Yamanashi Prefecture
All of them were outstanding, so much so that we asked how Haneda knew just what we’d enjoy. “Sometimes, others can see into our hearts more clearly than we can ourselves,” he offered, an explanation somehow simultaneously enigmatic and reassuring.
Haneda’s aura is so pacifying that since the opening of the Bouzu Bar, he’s only had two customers get sloppy drunk, an astonishingly low number for alcohol-loving Japan. We could see why, as even though it was our first time talking with Haneda, soon enough we were discussing our worries and concerns with him. As could be expected from a consummate religious advisor/barman, he alternated between direct and indirect methods of offering his opinion and advice, often leading into a line of thought with phrases like, “Some people say that….”
His concern for his customers’ emotional well-being doesn’t end when they close out their tab, either. After we paid our bill, Haneda sent us on our way with a pre-printed paper giving us a little more food for thought relating to what we’d talked about together. The text indicated it was the 82nd variety of sheet, revealing that Haneda wealth of advice is at least as large as his cocktail repertoire.
Kyoto Bouzu Bar /京都 坊主BAR
Address: Kyoto-fu, Kyoto-shi, Nakagyo-ku, Aburakoujidori, Takoyakushi Kudaru Yamada-cho 526
Open 8 p.m.-midnight
Closed Sundays and Thursdays
Photos © RocketNews24
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