KYOTO – Takumi Shiraishi is enlivening company.
In conversation, he throws in questions, some answers, quite a few anecdotes and the odd curveball, such as his idea to scrap private universities. It helps that he’s been around the block; the day after graduating from high school in Kyoto he took off for London with nary a plan or a companion. Here in Japan, he’s lived well off the beaten track at times, on islands to the extreme north and south of the country.
All this might help explain how Shiraishi became both publican and restaurateur, but his own reasoning is simpler, and more instinctive.
“I didn’t want to dress properly,” he says. “And I didn’t want to follow orders. And, above all, I wanted to work in my flip-flops. So I started my own business.”
Sure enough, when I look down, Shiraishi, 39, is wearing his flip-flops. And why not? It’s the middle of summer, over 30 degrees Celsius outside and he’s the boss.
We’re in Beer Pub Takumiya, which Shiraishi opened in 2015 as the craft beer revolution was well underway in Japan and around the world. In 2017, he followed it up with Takanoya, a second craft beer pub a short walk from Takumiya. And then, earlier this year, Shiraishi added one more to his roster: Crafthouse Kyoto near Kyoto Station.
While craft beer is the most obvious common denominator of Shiraishi’s three pubs, in terms of appearance and DNA, the pubs are unmistakably siblings. And ruling over them all is Shiraishi in his flip-flops, a reluctant, or at least reflective, capitalist.
Shiraishi didn’t enter blindly into the world of pubs and restaurants. During his 11 years of living the island life he worked in bars and hotels, first on Rebun Island, which appears on maps as a little speck off the northwestern tip of Hokkaido, and then for a decade on Ishigaki Island, which is closer to Taiwan than it is to mainland Japan.
When Shiraishi eventually made his way back to his hometown in Kyoto around the age of 30, he continued working in hospitality and event planning first at Plan Do See Inc. and then later at Dublin, an Irish bar not far from where Takumiya now stands.
Shiraishi had the work experience, and he had grown up in a family environment where he was encouraged to stand on his own two feet and have a go at things, and so, after four years running Dublin, he decided to strike out on his own and open Takumiya.
One thing’s for sure, Shiraishi knows how to design a good-looking bar. Beginning with Takumiya, Shiraishi favors elegant and simple design, eschewing the clustered faux-nostalgic look of many an Irish pub.
But that aesthetic is also an invitation to hipsters, and while Shiraishi welcomes all, his intention from the beginning has been to build a community with long-lasting connections to the pub.
In some respects, Shiraishi sees the pub setting as a classroom, where serious, and frivolous, ideas can be considered. Up Shiraishi’s sleeve — if he was wearing a dress shirt — would be discussions on capitalism, the environment and the education system in Japan. As well as food and drink.
“What I like about (drinking) beer is that it begins with a toast. It gets people talking. A pub is a place where people can connect,” he says.
As with most craft beer pubs, another factor that gets punters talking is the drinks menu. At Takumiya, all the beers on tap are from craft brewers in Japan, while at Takanoya it’s mostly foreign brews, and Crafthouse Kyoto has a mix of domestic and import brews.
Though the lineup of draft beers changes often at each pub, customers can expect a strong showing from domestic heavyweights such as Minoh Beer from Osaka, Daisen G Beer from Tottori Prefecture and, nearer home, Kyoto Brewing Co.
All of Shiraishi’s pubs serve food, and while it’s simple fare, it’s head and shoulders above generic “pub grub.”
Take, for instance, the beautifully colored organic salad of vegetables grown in nearby Shiga Prefecture that includes asparagus tips and manganji pepper with an umami-laden sauce made from beetroot. Along with it, Shiraishi procures a fruity saison beer from Y. Market Brewing in Nagoya.
Shiraishi gives his chefs a fair degree of leeway so that the menu is varied between each of his pubs. But more than anything, he is invested in making pubs that are a good place to work and a great place to eat, drink and be convivial.
Craft beer from ¥700; English menu; English spoken