Moving away from the tourist spots and the expat nighttime hangouts such as Shibuya, Roppongi or Asakusa, it can be intimidating for a newcomer or visitor to decipher the Japanese-only izakaya menus in some of the less well-known areas of Tokyo.
Tokyo Kanpai Summit, a new social-networking service, seeks to solve this problem by pairing up tourists visiting Japan or newcomers to the city with locals who want to meet someone from another country.
“When we went backpacking abroad, the most memorable thing was becoming friends with the locals,” says TKS brand director Kohei Hisada, whose experiences traveling abroad with one of the other three TKS founders served as inspiration for the startup.
After registering on TKS using your Facebook account, you can create a profile detailing what sort of activities you’d like to do — or if you’re a local you can enter what sort of bars or restaurants you would take your foreign guests to. A minimum of two people are required on each side, and while it may seem invasive that people can view other users’ Facebook profiles through the website, Hisada says that it’s a necessary safety measure to allow everyone to see beforehand what kind of people they’ll be meeting.
“Our main concept is to convey the core of Japan,” he says. While there are other groups such as Tokyo Pub Crawl that promote intercultural communication and bonding through drinking, TKS is ideal for those who want to stay away from big tourist traps such as Roppongi and who prefer smaller gatherings. “We want deeper communication than you get at international parties,” says Hisada.
Since starting on July 15, the service has gathered more than 400 users — 80 percent of them Japanese.
“It seems very interesting,” says 32-year-old participant Akihiko Sugita, a company employee working in Tokyo. “In Japan you only speak Japanese, because there are Japanese people around you. There aren’t many opportunities like this, so I would like to participate more (in TKS).”
In addition to the matchmaking service, TKS also organizes small weekly gatherings promoted on its Facebook page in some of Tokyo’s lesser-known drinking spots, often out-of-the way bars that visitors or newcomers to the city would rarely stumble upon by themselves.
Kyle Jones, a 20-year-old tourist from Canada spending a month in Japan, ran into one of the founders of TKS while he was chatting with a companion.
“We were both intrigued, so we went to an event on a following Saturday,” says Jones, attending a TKS event at Bar Carshalton (4-5-12 Idabashi, Chiyoda-ku; 03-5212-6020; carshalton.jimdo.com) in Kagurazaka, where guests tried sake-based cocktails.
Since the meeting, Jones has made an unexpected trip to an onsen and a fireworks display with TKS organizers, activities he claims he would be too intimidated to do alone due to the language barrier.
“The kind of structure they provided in the meet-up was very beneficial to me. It made it easier,” he adds.
Angela Erika Kubo is a freelance writer and bar lover based in Tokyo. Follow her on Twitter @aekubo.