By Rod Walters
The Dogo area of Matsuyama is known for many things: its thermal spring with a 3,000-year history, famous glass, literary and art museums, Dogo Onsen Honkan, Yuzuki castle ruins (Dogo Park), along with its oh-so-expensive onsen hotels. What Dogo has not been famous for are its bars—until now. With the opening of Wani to Sai, Dogo can now correctly boast that it has one of the most interesting and unique bars in Matsuyama.
Located in the (now defunct) old red-light district of Dogo, at the base of the steep stone stairs leading to the important Isaniwa Shrine, Wani to Sai couldn’t have opened at a more opportune time. The area itself is dotted with crumbling, beautiful old wooden merchant buildings and brothels evoking a murky past, and massive stone torii gates demarcating the many shrines and temples in the area. This neighborhood oozes with history and a prospect for the future that is easily felt.
Opened by Takahiro-san in mid-2012, this self-styled “circus bar” is an intimate and warm dive bar that features interesting cocktails, European beer, high-end wine and low-end shochu—literally something for everyone. Wani to Sai also serves very good ramen and yaki-niku donburi. The night that my wife, some of our guests from Sen Guesthouse, and I went there, we had both dishes and they did not fail to deliver—everything was extremely good. Also, everyone who orders a drink is given a tsukidashi, a complimentary starter dish served at most izakaya, which was also excellent.
Takahiro-san has had a very interesting life, and it plainly shows in both his character and the decor/ambience of the bar. After graduating high school, he left for Italy to study visual arts. When he met a street performer from Colombia who specialized in marionettes—puppets controlled from above using strings—he decided that’s where his passion lay and quickly started learning how to make marionettes and how to bring them to life. He stayed in Europe for a total of eight years, in Italy and other counties, as a street marionette performer, before moving back to Japan a couple of years ago. He's fluent in both English and Italian, along with his native Japanese.
His interests and experiences clearly make themselves apparent in Wani to Sai. The walls are decorated with circus themed, low-brow, abstract art and various oddities that he’s collected from all over. He also has a couple of his marionettes on display and if the night is slow, and the music is right (which it always is) you just might be able to convince him to bring one of his friends to life. He often has live music and art events.
With the addition of Wani to Sai to Dogo’s (dare I say it) burgeoning art scene, both locals and tourists alike finally have an authentic place to hang their hats, have a proper drink and bit to eat, and, most importantly, meet some interesting folk (both foreign and Japanese alike).
Name in Japanese
ワニとサイ — Wani to Sai
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Owner/operator of Sen Guesthouse in Matsuyama, I have long had a passion for all things related to traveling. This is one of the main reasons my wife and I decided to open our guesthouse and offer advice and support for folks who wish to attempt all or part of the 88 temple pilgrimage around Shikoku or explore Dogo Onsen and the historic castle town of Matsuyama.Hailing from south Texas, I have always been drawn to other cultures and their respective religions-which lead to me studying cultural Anthropology and religious studies in university. After many years of trampling around ruins around latin America and Asia, and a couple stints of teaching d' English in both Korea (Busan) and Japan (Osaka), my wife and I decided to try our hands at providing accommodation.Having guests from around Japan and all over the world has given us the opportunity to share our passion and knowledge of both the pilgrimage and Shikoku. We are constantly searching for new and interesting things to do and experience in our neck of the woods (Matsuyama,Ehime, Shikoku) and invite all to come experience Matsuyama!www.senguesthouse-matsuyama.com