Shimokitazawa is a magnet for young musicians in Tokyo. Virtually every other kid you pass on the street totes a guitar, and it sometimes seems like half the bars — big and small — are equipped for staging live music.
Toshiro Otomo aims to cater to these musical souls with his Shimokitazawa Bar On, which will celebrate its first anniversary on Oct. 22. “On” is a play on words and kanji readings, representing ongaku (music), with other interpretations including “adult” and “respect.”
Bar On is tiny. And dark. Almost all interior surfaces and furnishings are black, with the exception of the wall behind the bar, which is bright red. The counter seats six; a row of low sofa seats and coffee tables accommodate the same number. A few band posters are taped to the walls. A row of kanji stating the bar’s “ideology” of music, adulthood and respect are hand-painted on a board that hangs above the bar.
Although this is Otomo’s first bar venture, as the master of a joint for music-lovers in Shimokitazawa, he does have a rather unique credential. Otomo once shared an apartment with Hideaki “Billy” Sekiguchi, the late bassist of Guitar Wolf, one of the pioneering bands in Japan’s garage rock scene. Consequently, Otomo shares a little of Billy’s cult status — in my eyes at least, though he rarely mentions it. But his status within the extended Guitar Wolf clan itself is obvious.
Even so, Otomo is pretty laid back about his music preferences. He likes (and plays) rock and reggae — Guitar Wolf (of course) and the Stones from the former; Jamaican artists Ninja Man and The Pinchers from the latter.
Many of his customers, however, are music maniacs. He isn’t the kind of guy who gets all worked up about a particular song, but some of his customers do. Sometimes, when enough tequila has been poured, people pogo off the couches.
But Otomo stands steady and unfazed, as any good helmsman should. The most important credential of all that qualifies Otomo as a master-in-good-standing is the way he connects with people: He has the sort of calm, easy-going personality that people instinctively trust. His solid network of friends has played a key role throughout his life. For the five years before opening Bar On, he worked in a design production company — a job he was introduced to by a friend.
“I found myself wondering what it would be like to run my own business,” says Otomo. “And when some of my friends found out that this space was vacant, they called me and suggested I open a bar.”
It was as easy as that. But now is the hard part. To maximize his chance of success, Otomo mans the bar almost every night — Sundays and national holidays included. He did confess, however, to taking one night off a month, on which occasions he hands over the reigns to a good friend, none other than the elusive Tatsuya Ono, formerly of Yen Bar fame. For anyone who remembers that Shibuya bar, this connection will clearly underscore Otomo’s credibility.
So the next time Shimokitazawa gets to smelling a bit too much like teen spirit, try popping into Bar On and chilling with a calm master and his crazy clientele . . .
Shimokitazawa Bar On; 2-11-4-B1F Shimokitazawa, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo; tel. (03) 3412-4962. Open 8 p.m.-6 a.m. every night, including holidays. Service charge ¥300. Drinks from ¥800, including beer, wine, shochu and mixed drinks.