After an incredible home-cooked meal with my new-found friend Ryutaro and his wife and young son, I was asked if I would be interested in going out for a couple of drinks at a local watering hole. It was still relatively early in the evening and, with a belly full of miso-glazed salmon, edamame, nabe, scallops, pork stew and potato salad, I said yes.
We walked five minutes into town and arrived at Tanto Bar. One of the nice things about Kawayu-Onsen is that it only takes five minutes to walk just about anywhere. The entrance to the bar is marked by a sign attached to upper floor of a two story building and after navigating the stairs to the lower level I arrived to a surprising environment.
Given my experience during the week in the area, I anticipated walking into the bar to see wood carvings, well-worn bar stools and the odd historical photograph or two. So I was slightly taken aback when I saw the high-backed black leather booths surrounded by concrete forms, the well-dressed bartender and the dart boards at the far end of the drinking establishment.
I noticed that the bartender was casually drinking a pint of beer in between mixing drinks and serving the customers. However, my slightly raised eyebrow lowered when I learned that he was also the owner. In keeping with the incredible hospitality I was shown during my week-long visit, Tanto’s bartender and owner, Kenichi Miyazaki, made me feel right at home. We decided to continue the sake drinking that started at Ryutaro’s home and ordered a brew from Eastern Hokkaido. Kenichi brought the bottle to the table and then placed our glasses into small, square containers. The sake was then poured into the glasses until it overflowed in the square containers holding each glass. It became the perfect metaphor for my time here in Kawayu-Onsen.
The night wore on and the drinking continued. We moved onto shochu mixed with soda water and lemon and further into the evening, drank local Hokkaido beer. Tanto Bar has the only dart boards in town and in typical Japanese fashion, they’ve been modernized. The dart tips are made of plastic and when they hit the dart board your score, along with suggestions on where to aim next, are displayed on the monitor above the board. Ryutaro and I played the first game and when Kenichi passed him his personal set of darts he keeps at the bar, I knew I was in trouble. I lost, of course, and then lost to Kenichi and eventually to another person at the bar who wanted to play a game with the international visitor.
Later in the evening my friend, and local nature guide, Shinobu stopped by for a couple of drinks at the end of the evening. By this time the large party of eight beside us was halfway through their “Karaoke concert” and in between songs introduced themselves and tried to convince me that I should try and sing at least one song. I managed to avoid exercising my vocal chords and focused on the beverages and the conversations.
Before leaving, Kenichi and I took a picture together, now on a Facebook page somewhere no doubt. We ascended the staircase after calling it a night. In my inebriated state I wasn’t sure if I’d had too much to drink but as we walked back home for the evening I could have sworn I saw a large, blue, dinosaur-like creature and thought, “Yep, no more shochu for me.”