Although finding seeds of Western culture in remote locations around the world isn't necessarily a pleasant discovery, Irish pubs are an exception—especially when they are done right. I feel a sense of deep appreciation for this phenomenon whenever I find one in unexpected surroundings. Perhaps it’s related to W. B. Yeats’s assertion that Irishness is an open idea, not limited to race or language, rather more of a connection to an ancient Irish spirit. These pubs are temples to that idea. And in the old castle town of Hagi along the northern coast of Yamaguchi Prefecture, walking in the preserved castle district among the residences of samurai and folk of historic interest, with smoked timber building exteriors and white garden walls capped with black roof tiles, in search of a pint to beat the heat, with your eyes peeled for a welcoming sign, you might walk right past it.
Sam's, and its adjoining renaissance cafe Hotori Tei, are inside one of these of old town homes. The brainchild of Sadao (Sam) Yoshii, this pair of fine establishments brings together East and West, tradition and modernity, not with fusion, but to brilliant harmony with each in its individual place.
Approaching Hotori Tei, one might easily mistake it for either a private home or the kind of restaurant that would empty your travelling wallet in one go. It's neither. All are welcome here. From the street, go through the small yard to a traditional home entrance, or genkan. The sliding door opens to a small space and a hallway. After removing your shoes, step up into the hallway and a passing staff member will guide you into the tatami mat café area. Here you’ll relax in an old Japanese “living room” with a beautifully simple interior and outside views into both the side garden and sculpted central courtyard. The café menu has delicious but reasonably-priced coffees, teas, cakes, and a couple of light meals. The matcha latte is quite popular: a tall and delicious combination of ceremonial Japanese green tea and milk. Additionally, the establishment is recognized by the prefectural government for offering local vegetables and seafood. They are at once traditional and anti-modern—yet ultra-modern. Ahead of their time, they even have free Wi-Fi.
In another wing of the house, there’s a Western-style tearoom looking into an additional courtyard. The old warehouse across the way looks rather plain but houses a very different mini island world. Sam’s years abroad clearly show dividend here. Five years in Australia, then a year and a half on the Emerald Isle not only have made Sam fluent in English (he also teaches business English at Yamaguchi University), but he’s also gained a deep affinity for and understanding of pubs.
Sam’s doesn’t merely provide draught Guinness and Kilkenny in a samurai-style home; the bar is made of Irish spirit. While old-fashioned Guinness posters donated by brewery staff and old Irish photos line the walls, the bar itself was commissioned from a specialty woodworker in Nagano. The lumber is precisely crafted, giving it the feeling that Sam hauled it himself halfway around the globe from Ireland. Even the barstools and flooring—aye even the bathroom door—add enough detail to make that pint go down smoothly. Indeed, sitting on one of those bar stools, even in an old Japanese building along these pavements grey, old Erin calls to the deep heart’s core.
Name in Japanese 庭園カフェ畔亭—teien kafei hotori tei—Hotori Tei Japanese Garden Café