Tokyo’s neighborhoods always offer one or two little bars (or sunakku) where down-home drinkers can shake off the workday blues. The greater Jiyugaoka area offers more options than most, and its most recent and welcome addition is Fukukaze.
|Kudo-san (center) and his cohorts serve up Kyushu’s finest shochu.|
Roughly translated, Fukukaze means “serendipity on the wind.” Kudo-san, the master, has worked in restaurants since he was 19. In addition to having certified skills as a Japanese chef, including a license to prepare fugu, he is also a qualified French and Chinese chef. One night he was lamenting his work conditions to a friend. “I always end up working under a boss and being responsible for those under me. I feel trapped in the middle.”
His patient, understanding friend asked, “Why don’t you open your own place?” And so he did. But the way it has all come together amazes even Kudo-san. “I started looking for a space and soon stumbled upon this building.” It wasn’t connected to the city’s gas mains and was therefore empty. So, with no key money down and the first few months rent-free, he started transforming the ground floor into a bar.
Kudo-san scoured the city for three months looking for the best cuts of wood and bamboo to create the interior he envisioned. He then contacted an old school friend, who is now a member of an architects’ collective in Kyushu. One phone call was all it took to have the entire DeeArt crew readying their tools of trade for a trip up to the capital. A week later, Fukukaze emerged.
Long, beautifully lacquered slabs of wood serve as the main bar and benches. Smaller, arabesque pieces serve as low tables in back, which is strictly shoes-off. Beyond, a wall of bamboo conceals the bathroom — though it hardly needs hiding, with its beautiful handmade glass washbasin and earthy assortment of bric-a-brac. A pair of geta sit ready for clomping to and fro.
Because of Kudo-san’s culinary skills, the menu offers many tasty treats, but the main focus at Fukukaze is on its range of regional shochu — all from Kyushu. They now number 30 and are served straight up or on the rocks. Kudo-san’s favorite is Mankoi from Amami Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture. You may also order the ever-present izakaya favorite — chuhai, but Kudo-san makes it with a vodka base instead of shochu.
“Good shochu is too good to be wasted on a mixed drink, but cheaper shochu has too much flavor,” he grins, as I taste the proof and smile back.
His most delicious and original concoction is cleverly called the “Okusawa,” a play on words with the name of his neighborhood and another typical izakaya drink — the sour. It is so good that other bars in the area are adding it to their menus, too, but the recipe remains a secret among the owners.
But the best thing about Fukukaze is that it stays open late. As the inner city extends its hours of business beyond dawn, so too is an inner circle of proprietors in the suburbs.