People | 20 QUESTIONS

Bernd Haag: 'Learn a new language and start to think global'

by Florian Meissner

Special To The Japan Times

Name: Bernd Haag
Age: 52
Nationality: German
Occupation: Beer pub owner
Likes: Sports, reading a book on a trip, my business


1. What first brought you to Japan? My profession — few German beer pubs existed in Japan 20 years ago. I was also in love with a Japanese woman.

2. What’s keeping you here? My love for Japan, which has become my home, and the people living here.

3. Who in Japan do you most admire? Old-school rock musician Hiroshi Kayamatsu. I’m fortunate to have heard him play at my bar.

4. Where do you go to escape Tokyo? Hakuba (Nagano Prefecture). It’s a very calm and beautiful place.

5. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? Shōganai. It’s like saying “no problem,” which is a good thing to say when something’s gone wrong.

6. What do you hear more often at your bar, prost or kanpai (cheers)? That’s a tough one to answer. My general philosophy is that everyone is welcome, whether they say prost, kanpai, cheers or whatever.

7. You opened Bernd’s Bar in Tokyo’s Roppongi district 20 years ago. How has the place changed since? Unfortunately, it has changed in a very negative way, especially around Roppongi Crossing. There’s a lot of wheeling and dealing these days, as well as prostitution. Luckily, I opened my bar far from Roppongi Crossing 20 years ago.

8. What is your most memorable moment? Meeting former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. He has visited my place several times, and was very nice and easy to talk to.

9. Which group of people are usually your most cheerful guests? Japanese groups. They’re really nice and fun.

10. What kind of experience are you trying to create for your customers? The experience of being in a real German pub, which even in Germany has become scarce. When customers enter the bar, they don’t feel like they are in Japan anymore.

11. What is the most popular dish that Japanese customers like to order? The sausage plates. Like the beer, I import all sausages or make them myself.

12. What is the most popular dish that German customers order? Tartare, curry sausage, sour beef. They also order different kinds of pasta.

13. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? The pub was packed recently with people, and everyone was drinking and having a good time. Out of nowhere, one of my long-term customers ordered a chamomile tea. This is a particularly irritating order for a beer pub owner to receive.

14. Describe your most embarrassing moment. When I was in Japan for the first time more than 20 years ago, I wanted to have a beer before going to sleep. So, I went to a Japanese bar close to my hotel in Yokohama. Although I was dressed in a nice suit and politely tried to convey my desire to drink a beer, I was rejected for being a foreigner. Thank God Japan has changed a lot since.

15. If you could drink beer with anyone from history, who would it be? Helmut Schmidt. Unfortunately, he is too old now to visit Japan.

16. How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator? Put him on a diet.

17. What do you think about while standing on the train? I think a lot about my family and my wife, as well as my friends in Germany, some of whom have I unfortunately fallen out of touch with. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed many people on trains have no eyes for their neighbor anymore, only for their electronic device.

18. Tell us a quick joke. From a lonely hearts ad: “Woman looking for a man with ponytail. Haircut doesn’t matter.” I’ve often tried to translate this joke to English, but actually think it doesn’t really work.

19. What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a bus driver and managed to realize that dream, driving tourists, mainly from the U.S. and Japan, through different parts of Europe when I was a young man. That’s how I met my Japanese wife, who was a tour guide back then.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? Get off your ass and explore the world. Learn a new language and start to think global.

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