Name: Kosuke Kurotaki
Occupation: Owner and bartender of Wokini in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo
Likes: Alcohol, surfing, golf, camping, all things fun
Dislikes: Rats, ghosts
1. You are from Maruyamacho, aka Shibuya’s “love hotel” district, is also where your bar is. What’s it like there? It’s an exciting neighborhood where people meet, communicate and spend time together. It’s full of drama and history, too. Maruyamacho once had dozens of geisha.
2. Does being born and bred in Shibuya make you streetwise? I don’t know about that, but I was born in Maruymacho, then moved to Jinnan, and then to a huge 100-tsubo (330 square meter) house in Hotogaya at 14 after my dad made it big in his business. Then the bubble burst and it changed everything. We were forced to move to a tiny place. I was a self-indulgent, reckless kid, but that terrifying experience taught me the menace of money. Steady and solid does it.
3. What does the name of your bar mean? Wokini means “a new life, a new path” in the Native American Lakota language.
4. Wokini is in its 16th year. What’s the secret to its longevity? Customers come first — that’s a given. For me, staff members are just as important and I try to keep them happy. They’re an assertive, tough-to-tame bunch (average age 46), but who wants to work with dull “yes-men”?
5. What’s great about your line of work? You get to meet an amazing variety of people, both good and bad.
6. What’s the biggest flop you’ve had at work? Optimists don’t notice flops.
7. What do you think the world needs more of? Laughter. There’s an art to making people laugh. I want people to laugh and have fun. You can’t live without fun, but having fun takes effort.
8. Why are you known locally as the omatsuri otoko (festival guy)? I’ve been carrying mikoshi portable shrines (at festivals) for 18 years. Shibuya’s biggest summer festival is held annually on the third weekend of September with 14 mikoshi from different areas being paraded in the streets (it will be Sept. 15 and 16 this year). It’s great fun. As a board member of the Maruyamacho neighborhood association, though, I suppose I should take a backseat role now and leave the action to the younger lads.
9. How do you relax when you’re not working? I enjoy golf, surfing and making campfires. Intense, solitary concentration helps me take my mind off everything else.
10. Are you a natural extrovert? As a kid I was actually quite sensitive and super conscious about making sure I was not disliked, but in this business, it turns out I’m good at sensing customers’ feeling and needs.
11. Why bar work? When a high-school drinking buddy took me to my first bar (rules were more lax then), I knew there and then I had to learn to make cocktails and become a bartender to be popular with girls.
12. Wokini has a great record collection. How many records are there? About 2,000. We started with 700, but patrons would say the empty shelves were embarrassing and kept donating records.
13. Which record gets played the most? I’m not sure, but when I’m feeling good, I tend to play Brazilian musician Eumir Deodato de Almeida’s song “Love Island.” Nice and mellow.
14. As hard as it is in this internet age, you try to keep your bar hidden away. Why? Where’s the fun in easily finding your favorite bar?
15. Do you have any future business plans? I want to try out a similar sort of bar in a different location and also open a “snack bar,” a typical Showa Era (1926-89) bar usually tended by an elderly lady, a place of sincere human communication, not driven by sex.
16. Words to live by? Ingaōho — what comes around goes around.
17. What kind of people get on your nerves? Boastful people. I found myself mentioning this interview to friends with a slight sense of pride and twitched.
18. Has anything been really bothering you lately? Siri refuses to understand me. I asked it for the last train time from Asakusa and its reply was “gorilla.”
19. What makes Shibuya so special? It was an icon of coolness in my youth and it continues to attract many young people. But if you dig deeper it also has so many sophisticated hangouts for grownups — and you can’t find them on the internet.
20. Do you have any advice for the youth of today? Is it true they don’t go out to drink? If so, go out and meet people! Time spent with flesh and blood is priceless. You’re missing out on all the fun!