I love Tokyo. It is the most convenient city in the world. These days, you can get almost anything you want — anywhere, anytime (except public transport after midnight). But first, you must find it in this chaotic city that sprawls through 23 wards — each with its own urban hub and maze of back alleys.
Yet, sometimes, out of the confusion, order appears. Some call it serendipity, some call it coincidence, but — me — I call it spooky.
One night, I found myself adrift in Shibuya. Everywhere was packed like the Yamanote at peak hour, so I headed for Roppongi to a spacious late-night place I’ve been stalking. But first I popped into Mogambo’s. From the street I could see three silhouettes at the bar. Of course, we four ended up chatting. By sunrise, I had promised my new friend Tom that I would check out Yen Bar — his recommendation in Shibuya. He even quizzed me an hour after giving directions to make sure I would remember.
Serendipity . . . I decided to begin my foray a couple of nights later with a quick visit to Vision Network. In D-Zone, I met Corey, who works upstairs at Luz’s tattoo and clothing store. I was still deciphering the intricate tattoo visible below the stubble on his shaven head when he told me that he had been to the opening of Yen Bar. Coincidence . . . ?
As soon as I saw the entrance, I knew it was going to be good. Three eyes, painted on a vivid blue wall, stared back to greet me. Beyond lies a warm, inviting world. A classic, dark-wood bar sits shrouded in shadow at the center, its majestic proportions purposely underplayed. (It and the odd panel of stained glass are a legacy of the previous tenants.) But with a couple of striking graphics swathed in red to offset the gloom, the effect is alluring. To the right is a breezy terrazzo area, where mandalas and snakes and puffs of clouds float in a sea of orange and an electronic darts machine glows in a corner. In the back is a dark, draped lounge.
Tatsuya Ono (Ono-san to customers, Ono-chi to friends) runs Yen Bar with his wife, Orie. A new sense of identity has been simmering in Japan since the economic bubble burst. Like many twentysomething Japanese, Ono-san has conquered English and traveled — at least once — outside Japan.
“Movies like ‘Easy Rider’ really impressed me when I was growing up,” he says. “So I went to the States. But when I got there I realized it is completely different.”
One thing he was not prepared for was curiosity about Japan. “People would ask me questions and I realized I couldn’t answer them. I knew nothing about my own country,” Ono-san says, with point-blank honesty.
Yen Bar has become a rallying point for like-minds. Everyone I saw walk through the door was young, attractive and free-spirited. But when G-san walked in and said, “Hey, I met you at that reggae bar last week!” And then the DJ — who had been hunched over the decks and hidden under a cap — turned around and said, “Don’t I know from Celacanth in Jiyugaoka, don’t you?” Well, I can tell you, my spine was fairly tingling . . .
P.S.: Different DJs play different music every night; my old friend Joseph just “happened” to be there . . .